Queen City Cars & Coffee is back! The past two years hosting this show have been absolute blast, and I’m stoked to be putting it on again this year. Last year, over 90 cars attended, about 30 more than the first year. For QC3 (just made that name up right now and I dig it) the goal is set at 125 cars. Let’s rally together and make it happen! Invite your friends, invite their friends, invite people that aren’t your friends, invite your grandma, your neighbor, the guy who cleans your septic tank, it doesn’t matter. Just invite them. I genuinely think we have the chance to create something epic and put the Manchester car scene on the map. This year’s show is on Saturday, September 13 from 8am to 12pm at the Arms Parking Lot in Manchester, NH. Be sure to follow @_DoranD_ and @TopDeadCenter on Twitter for updates. I’m beyond fired up for this, and I can’t wait to see everyone there!
The boys and girls over at Yuppie Racing definitely know how to put on a car show. The first time I heard the name of the show I said what everyone else says when hearing it for the first time. “Cars and copters? Like, helicopters?” Yeeup. A car show, with helicopters. In the immortal words of the Sauce Boss, Harley Morenstein from EpicMealTime. “Take something next level, and inject it with smart ideas. That’s how you do [Yuppie Racing], player.” Or something like that.
There are a lot of great car shows out there, but none quite like this. Over 1,000 cars turned out for Cars & Copters, now in its fourth year. Everything from exotics to muscle cars to savagely tuned Subarus, Mitsubishis and Nissans turned showed up this past Sunday at the Plymouth Municipal Airport in Plymouth, Mass. This is quickly turning into the premiere car show in New England, and for good reason. Cars & Copters isn’t just about cars and having a good time – money raised from the event was donated to the Jimmy Fund, so keep an eye on the Cars & Copters Facebook event page to find out exactly how much was raised. If this year’s event was anything to go by, the 2013 Cars & Copters show will likely blow your mind. Check out the slideshow of photos below, and get yourself to next year’s show!
Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I’ve just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you to stop what you’re doing, and listen. CANNONBALL! – Ron Burgundy, Anchorman
It’s about to get crazy here at TDC. Want to know why? Let me break it down for you – Tomorrow begins the Yuppie Rally!!! A 2200 mile road trip of epic proportions down to the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, back up to Atlantic City for a post-Rally shindig, then back home. 20 cars are running this year, and your esteemed author will be riding shotgun in several, including a Stasis Engineering tuned Audi R8 (yes, that’s awesome). I’ll be blogging on the website each day, posting up photos and video both here and on the TDC Facebook page HERE, tweeting like a fiend (@Top_DeadCenter), and generally causing as much mayhem as possible. (see below photo)
So stay tuned to TDC this week, it’s going to be AWESOME!
One of my all time favorite automotive quotes comes from freelance auto journo Andrew Frankel (@Andrew_Frankel). His experience driving the almighty Bugatti Veyron for the first time is still the best I’ve ever read: “When I finally stopped accelerating I had to slow down and do it all over again, just to make sure I hadn’t been dreaming. Whatever your definition of fast, be it defined by Porsche 911, Ferrari F430 or Mercedes SLR McLaren, the Veyron will take it and, in one instant, burn it before your eyes. Time and distance fuse into one unintelligible fog in your head. In the public road environment, there has never been anything like this.”
I would be so bold as to take that one step further and rewrite it for this week’s Car in the Wild, the Nissan R35 GT-R. “… Whatever your definition of fast, be it defined by a Porsche 911 Turbo/GT2/GT3, Ferrari 430/458/FF, or pretty much anything else you can think of, the GT-R will take it and, in one instant, burn it before your eyes… In the public road environment, nothing can touch the GT-R’s shattering performance for such a bargain-basement price. Supercars costing three times more than the GT-R are robbed blind.”
Like the Veyron, there are few superlatives left to describe the GT-R; they’ve all be consumed ad naseum by anyone who has ever driven one. Its world crushing performance continues to baffle even the most seasoned automotive journalists years after its launch. One of the most interesting things about the GT-R is when you look at it on paper, it doesn’t seem like it would eat some of the best cars on the planet for lunch. A twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood produces “only” 480 horsepower and is responsible for hauling around a rather portly 3,800 pounds. The end result, however, is quite frankly a little ridiculous — this $85,000-ish car sprints to 60 miles per hour in the mid 3-second range, and continues running onto a top speed of 193 miles per hour. Those figures embarrass some of the finest thoroughbreds from anywhere in the world. Subsequent updates to the GT-R increased horsepower to 540, and dropped the 0-60 mph time to a stunning 2.9 seconds. There are only a handful of cars you can buy that are capable of cracking the 3-second barrier, and this incredible performance comes from the same company that produces the Leaf electric car and the Titan pickup truck.
The GT-R certainly isn’t the prettiest car on the road, but it definitely does pack a deadly punch. Since it’s introduction in 2007, the GT-R has been a champion both on and off the track winning multiple racing titles as well as the 2009 International Car of the Year award, and Car of the Year awards from magazines like Top Gear, Motor Trend, and Evo. Admittedly, a lot of Top Gear videos get posted on TDC, but it’s usually for a good reason. Following that tradition, here is yet another hilarious Jeremy Clarkson segment, this time reviewing the GT-R. Enjoy.
In the TDC Dream Garage, there will be a plethora of precious machinery from all over the world — gleaming red Ferraris, bombastic yellow Lamborghinis and naked carbon fiber Paganis from Italy, decadent Bentleys and Rolls-Royces from England, and savagely purposeful BMWs and Porsches from Germany. Amongst them will be an alpine white Nissan GT-R from Japan, bristling with technology and an insatiable Napoleon complex, always looking to land a knockout punch on cars far above its pay grade.
Read an interesting fact about the Mercedes-Benz CL recently – Mercedes-Benz will sell as many of these coupes in a year as Ford will sell of the F150 in a single day. In a single day. Not only is that difference so enormously vast it’s actually hard to comprehend, it also speaks volumes about the exclusivity of the CL, and the ubiquity of the F150. Out of all the cars offered in MB’s diverse portfolio, every model except for the G-Class SUV and the SLS AMG supercar sell fewer models than the CL, giving it a rarity that few other cars enjoy.
This particular model, the CL550 4Matic, isn’t barnstormingly fast, it doesn’t hold the fastest lap time at the Nurburgring, and it can’t outgun rivals like the Ferrari 612 in pure power. It’s 5.5-liter V-8 makes 382 horsepower which is enough to motivate the big coupe to 60 miles per hour in about 5.5 seconds, so world dominating power is not its game. What the CL550 does have, however, is class. And it has it in spades. The flared wheels arches, acres of creased hood, and the tight belt line that streaks from front to back, all give the CL550 a distinct and powerful presence on the road. And while there certainly aren’t any ugly cars in the MB’s stable, the CL’s design definitely makes it one of the most attractive. Inside, its standard MB stuff—vast stretches of leather blended together with wood and other high quality materials to create a cosseting and comfortable place from which to command the road.
“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but a car of this caliber (and pricetag) needs to light my hair on fire and mash my face like Play-Doh when I step on the gas.” Fear not, because you can have your CL with heaping, prodigious piles of righteous horsepower courtesy of MB’s tuning division, AMG. Step up to the CL 63 AMG, and the comparatively piddling 5.5-liter V-8 is replaced with a 6.2-liter V-8 which makes a properly massive 518 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. And if that still isn’t enough, you can dig deep into your wallet and have the CL 65 AMG which dumps the V-8 engine all together, and instead uses a 6.0-liter twin turbo V-12 to bludgeon poorer motorists into submission. The 65’s volcano of an engine churns out 604 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. Yeah, that’s a lot.
The price for this handsome coupe—which is based on the venerable S-Class luxury sedan—is about $80,000 in CL550 trim, and over $130,000 for the CL 65 AMG. That’s also a lot. There will soon be a newer version of the CL-Class hitting the streets when MB launches its refreshed S-Class sometime later this year. Let’s hope the power and class of the current generation continues into the new model. With an emphasis on power. Yeah, lots of power.
Welcome to the brand new Top Dead Center series, “Chasing Racing Dreams.” This series is about the epic adventures that make racing of all kinds so exciting, and it explores the world beneath the driver’s helmet. You’ll read about what it’s like to be a part of a racing team, the experiences of driving a car in anger on an open stretch of tarmac, the people who standout in their sport, and about the different racing schools that make New Hampshire special. TDC has chosen the Dalton, NH based Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center to be featured in the inaugural edition of Chasing Racing Dreams. Be sure to visit the school’s website Here to learn all about their classes and programs. Enjoy!
Dusk is moving in as I jump into a well worn white Ford pickup truck with Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center’s Director of Training, Chuck Long. We’re headed out on the school’s six or so miles of roads across their 550-plus acres of land. Long’s baritone voice fills the cab as he asks me if I’m ready to go. The rally school’s students have left for the day and I can’t wait to check out Team O’Neil’s famed roads. I slam the door shut and say, “Hell yeah.”
For years people have been telling me about Team O’Neil and for whatever reason, I didn’t do anything about it. Perhaps it was because rally racing never really excited me that much. I was content to follow Formula1, catch the occasional MotoGP race, or get hypnotized by NASCAR until I got bored watching them go around in a circle. All that changed, however, with a trip to the New England Forest Rally this past June. Watching guys in turbocharged monsters tear through the woods over broken roads, then flick them around hairpin corners as billows of dust rose like boiling silky waves behind them hooked me immediately. When the opportunity arose to visit Team O’Neil and learn what the school and rally racing was all about, I jumped at the chance.
Located in Dalton, New Hampshire, Team O’Neil is near-as-makes-no-difference two hours from my house. It’s still dark as I climb into my car and head north. The curling white steam from my coffee cup makes a small foggy cloud on the inside of my windshield. Somewhere near Concord, the sky cracks open and the sun reveals cloudless pale blue above, and blurs of red, orange, yellow, and brown along the highway. It’s going to be a beautiful day in northern New Hampshire.
Once off the highway, country roads lead me to the unassuming dirt road that doubles as the driveway to one of the most comprehensive driving schools in the country. The crisp, snappy morning has me pull on my hoodie as I get out of my car and although I need more coffee, I’m already tingling with excitement. Inside the school’s main building, Chuck Long is the first guy I meet and he shows me to the classroom where we’ll begin the day. Moments later, a small convoy of cars pull into the school’s parking lot and the six guys taking this week’s session jump out. Judging by the look in their eyes, they’re just as fired up as me to be here.
“In 1992, the economy was bad and I was worn out as a mechanic and I decided I needed a break,” said Tim O’Neil, the “O’Neil” in the school’s name. After getting out of the Air Force, where he was an airplane mechanic, O’Neil was convinced by a few of his stock car racing buddies to lend his mechanical skills to their racing effort. Eventually, “helping out” turned into driving, and O’Neil started racing stock cars. It’s funny how sometimes the simple things can have the biggest impact. O’Neil’s career path took a major change when he read a copy of Road & Track magazine that featured a rally car on the cover. “I picked up a Road & Track and there was a rally car on it, and I had an epiphany… I sold my stock car and got into rally. Rally was the only type of motorsport where you can be a ‘poor guy’ and still succeed.”
O’Neil’s success on the rally circuit formed the foundation for the Team O’Neil Rally School, and he went fulltime in building the school in the late 1990’s. “I went to England and travelled around a bit and worked as an instructor for Ford of England. I really got a buzz out of teaching and I taught a lot of people… [Eventually] I wanted to go back and start my own driving school.”
The walls inside the classroom where the students, Long and myself are gathered for the morning instructional session looks like a teenager’s bedroom: magazine articles on the school cover the walls, neatly organized plaques proclaim victory achieved at dozens of rallies, there’s an autographed Ken Block photo, and a framed Travis Pastrana jersey with the superstar’s signature and sarcastic quip, “Tim, You’re insane!”
“You come here with your own skill set as far as driving goes and everybody’s a little bit different, we’re just going to add another tool into the tool box,” said Long. “If you’re at the school for two days, you’re not going to walk away a rally champion. You will, however, learn skills and techniques that you likely didn’t know existed and you will definitely be a better driver for it.”
All six of the students here this week came with different goals: some want to learn how to control their car better in bad weather, some are looking to become a rally driver, and some simply want to add rallying skills their already accomplished road racing skills. The school has classes that run from two to five days, and no matter your reason or your length of stay, Team O’Neil teaches the same fundamental driving principles across the board.
One of those fundamental principles is car control. Knowing how to make your car perform the way you want, whether you’re on a slippery winter road or on a rally special stage, is essential to becoming a better driver. “[The school’s] program revolves around left foot braking and about 12 other maneuvers,” said O’Neil. “I collected all the stuff that I had the hard way [from racing]… I based the program on those mistakes and from listening to other drivers from around the world… I took everything I had gained and put together a curriculum for the school.”
After the morning classroom session, we head out to the skidpad. The skidpad is a large dirt circle that is used to get students familiar with how a car handles on low-grip surfaces and what over- and understeer feel like. The small lime green Ford Fiestas the school uses look like toy slot cars as they circle the skidpad. After a few laps, the students jump out and switch drivers. Between each switch off, there are big smiles and high fives.
Each of the students rides with an instructor and another student in the backseat. One of those instructors is Alan Moody. Like all the other instructors at the school, he is an accomplished rally racer, having come in 3rd place in his class at this year’s New England Forest Rally, and winning the 2010 Eastern Regional Championship in his division. He sits in an old Jeep Grand Cherokee, one arm resting on the door, telling me what it’s like to teach here.
“I attribute a lot of what I’ve done in rallying to what I do and have learned at the school,” said Moody. “What we’re doing with [the students] is teaching them muscle memory which is developed through repetition, repetition, repetition.” When asked how he keeps his focus inside the car when blasting down a rally stage he said, “You have to clear your mind of everything else. The world just falls away.” Most times in a rally car, the driver is accompanied by a co-driver who is responsible for reading course notes and telling the driver about the road ahead. “It allows you to drive what you can’t even see.”
After the skidpad exercise, the students move into the slalom. The slalom is designed to teach them one of the most important things they’ll learn today: target fixation. Roughly translated, target fixation means wherever you are looking, your car will follow. The Fiestas set off weaving around the slalom’s bright orange cones. The first couple of runs get a little hairy as the limits of driver, car, and the course are discovered. A few cars spin out, some get sideways, and a couple of cones are flattened and dragged unceremoniously under the car. The students run the slalom dozens of times throughout the course of the day and each time they get faster, smoother, and more confident.
Long’s words from the morning classroom session are beginning to make more sense out here on the course. “We’re going to teach you the technique, then you’re going to do it ad nauseum,” said Long. “It’s our job as instructors to put you in a ‘controlled’ uncontrolled environment to see what your natural instincts are. If they’re incorrect, we have to tell you and show you the proper way to do it. Half the battle of becoming a better driver is learning your instincts… If we’re going increase your limits, we have to find out where they are to begin with.”
I ride in the backseat of several different cars throughout the day, helmet strapped on tight and an ear-to-ear grin on my face. Moody gives rapid fire instructions to one of the students, pointing to the next target and motioning with his hands when to turn the wheel.
“Okay, second gear, bring it up to 4,000 rpms. Now, look at the outside cone, now TURN, add the brake, don’t lift on the throttle. Straighten it out and look for the next cone. Now BRAKE, and TURN, keep it smooth. Don’t lift on the throttle!” In the backseat, the other student and I are tossed side to side as the car zings around the slalom. With the correct amount of steering, throttle, and braking input, the normally uneven and challenging slalom course transforms into a smooth ribbon of controlled chaos.
Following the slalom is an accident avoidance course with Mike Doucette, the school’s Assistant Director of Training. Students are presented with “accident” scenarios that incorporate the skills and techniques they’ve learned. After a short debriefing, the mud splattered Fiestas are driven back to the garage and await inspection and cleaning, and Moody holds a “mechanical empathy” class in the garage. We stand underneath one of the school’s older Volkswagen rally cars that’s been put up on a lift. Moody points out specific parts and sections of the car that have been upgraded for rally duty: students crane their necks to look at protected gas and brake lines, beefy front control arms, skid plates and stiff rally tires.
Long and I bump along in the Ford pickup on the school’s gravel roads that snake through the woods. These roads will be used later in the week for the student’s to practice their new skills: blind crests, long uphill sweepers, off-camber corners, and a range of other terrain awaits in the hills surrounding the school. We climb one of the hills and reach the newly opened northern section that has a skidpad and a large open area that will be used for the slalom and other exercises. As the big Ford descends one particularly steep stretch of road that leads into a sharp left hander, I find my palms sweating as I think about slinging one of the school’s Fiestas around it: I cannot wait to come back here and take the school as a student.
As I climb back into my car and head home, my biggest take away from the day is the amazing level of passion everyone here has for what they do. Not only are they all accomplished racers, they also love teaching and helping people understand all that’s involved in what they teach. O’Neil talked at length about how one of the school’s primary goals is to increase the awareness level of each student and to give them the necessary knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful, whether it’s to enter a rally, or simply to know how to handle their car in an emergency situation.
“When you have more knowledge on how a car works, that knowledge builds people’s confidence. It’s pretty powerful stuff,” said O’Neil. “We need to get through to the person who doesn’t think of themselves as a racer. They want to be one, but they’ve never had the chance. People want to see that confidence in themselves.”
– Many thanks to Team O’Neil and the school’s dedicated and talented staff for assisting me with this article and allowing me to tag along. Special thanks to Tim O’Neil, Richard Dale-Mesaros, Alan Moody, Mike Doucette, Wyatt, Komar, and Chuck Long.
This past Saturday marked the 26th annual Concord Kiwanis Car Show held on the campus of the New Hampshire Technical Institute. Over 200 classic cars and trucks turned out on a perfect late summer day for one of the best private car show’s TDC has attended. There were replica Ford GT40’s, 1930’s sedans, more muscle cars than you could flex a muscle at, trucks, show cars, rat rods, and a ton of other fantastic sheet metal in attendance. Check out the gallery below for a small taste of what the show was like. Be sure to get there for next year’s show!
The Ford SVT Raptor makes pretty much every other truck on the road look tame. And this is the 5.4L V8 version, so it packs a serious horsepower punch to match its incredible off-road prowess. Spotted over by Fratello’s in Manchester, this is absolutely one truck that would have a spot in the humidity controlled, air conditioned TDC Dream Garage.
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Another anonymous post from a loyal TDC reader. This piece is fan-flippin-tastic.
So, I got to thinking the other day on my commute to work, as is the place where I do most of my pondering; if money were no object, what would I be driving right now? It’s sunny and warm with a light breeze and The Police rocking out on the radio. If money were no object I wouldn’t have to be limited to driving just one car, I could have a different car every day of the week! Seeing as how I am never going to have that kind of money, I’m going to sit here and post my thoughts online. Feel free to post a comment or two if you agree or disagree with my choices.
Monday. Does anyone actually even know that Sunday is the first day of the week anymore? Either way, Monday is pretty much the crappiest day of the week. It is the day you spill hot coffee on your lap at the first stop light on your commute, it’s the day when the meetings happen, and the day lasts longer than you want because of the extra e-mails that built up over the weekend, and you still have to pick up groceries on the way home. Friday was a great finish to last week but any good boss will tell you how to improve come Monday morning. “Hey, thanks for the appreciation and boost in office morale, prick.”
So what do you drive on Mondays? This would be the daily driver, the to-and-from work car. You want to have reasonably good gas mileage but when money is no object, you can’t be a Prius driver. You can just go and buy your carbon credits. My choice would be the Audi RS4 Avant.
Mileage is decent providing you stay out of the throttle, there is room for the wife and 2.5 kids with space in the trunk for groceries, all-wheel drive for the occasional snow squall or heavy downpour, and last but not least a straight up fire breathing, Bumble Bee Camaro killing, kraut eating German monster under the hood. Enough said. When you want to pass the jerk in the left lane that is doing the speed limit, pop that DSG level down one, mash the pedal and smoke him.
Tuesday. Although somewhat of a follow up to Monday’s blues, Tuesday is a new day. It’s the day where you and the guys have a man-night. A few brews at your local gastro-pub and rousing discussions of work, women, sports and, of course, who has the nicer car. Keep in mind that you’re filthy so all your friends are loaded too. You may have money, but you’re not one of those rich guys who buys a car because of its social status. You have seven cars of purpose and you drive each one for a reason. Testosterone Tuesday means muscle car: the 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt.
The end of the night rolls around and you bring the boys out back to the private parking spot in the parking garage to show them your Tuesday ride. The car that only has about a hundred sisters (111-127 cars produced, sources disagree), came stock from the factory running an 11.6 second ¼ mile trapping at 124 mph, 3,203 lbs with full fluids, 427 cubic inches (7.0 liters for you young guys), four barrel carbs, and a high rise manifold that cranked out 657 horsepower at 7,000 rpms. Your buddies were wondering why when you arrived you were shaking. It’s because you just drove an American Drag-Strip Demon and it took everything to keep it on the road without you melting the tires at every stop light. It is speculated that the Thunderbolt was the fastest production drag car ever produced.
Wednesday. Some may call it “Hump Day.” What part of the population actually humps on hump day? My guess is less than 30%. Monday and Tuesday have sucked at work. Your boss is friendly but an underhanded dick, your “administrative assistant” called out sick because her daughter has a runny nose, and your wife is off getting a treatment at the day spa. Sounds like you’re taking a day off too! What would a self respecting class, gentleman like yourself do on your day off?
Get out of town? Check. Quench your thirst for speed on the water? Check.
Sitting on the beach is for guys that are either whipped into doing so by their wives, obsessed with getting tan and being “Snooked out,”or you have a stomach that crests so much when lying down you can’t see the ocean. You are none of those men. You are handsome, you have chiseled abs, wear white polos with the collar in the correct “un-popped” position, sport Ray-Bans, and create some of that aura and mystery for the unfortunate women that can’t have you. You my friend have a boat. Not just one, many. Sunday cruising on Golden Pond is done on your one-of-a-kind 1938 Chris Craft 29’ twin engine Sportsman.
Weekend sailing trips are enjoyed on the Hinckley SW70, and your day out by yourself or with the guys is done on the Statement Marine 42 foot v-hull powered by twin Mercury Racing 1075SCi engines (look it up.) Straight nasty and classy. The 2011 model has not been released yet but it is poised to be the Bugatti Veyron of off shore power boats.
But we digress; we’re here to talk cars. What do you drive down to the yacht club? Today it’s the 2009 Mercedes Benz G55 G V12 S Bi-Turbo by BRABUS. This German colossus is propelled by a twin turbo V12 that crushes the 0-60 mph run in a scant 4.3 seconds. It’s not meant for top speed but if you needed to go 150 mph, you can. Need to move the boats? Again, no problem. That connecting rod shredding, tire smoking, war machine of an engine produces 700 hp at 5,100 rpms and 973 lb-ft of torque at 2,100 rpms. For the Love of God and All Living Things that are Good, you could tow your vacation house around with that kind of power. If the infamous Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDi can tow a Boeing 747 (seriously, check it out on Youtube) with only 553 lb-ft of torque, can you imagine what you could move with this thing? Not to mention it hasn’t really changed shape in thirty years. The G is stately and refined, low key enough to show up to a wedding and bad ass enough to pull a Jumbo jet around on your private air strip.
Thursday. Back to work. Ever stare at the dainty girl walking by and you don’t quite know why she’s so beautiful? There isn’t one thing that sticks out, she’s just subtlety perfect. When you get her home, however, she breaks out the whips and chains and makes you cry like a little boy. The Cadillac CTS-V is a little like that. Dainty and cosseting when you need it to be, then dangerous and a little freaky when let loose.
The V is subtly different than the regular CTS sedan: A little bit lower, a stonkin’ chrome grill, a hidden pair of brake discs the size of formal dinner ware, and a little “V” badge on the boot. I can hear you all screaming, “But, what about the Porsche Panamera Turbo S or the Mercedes E63 AMG?!?” Let’s just go ahead and eliminate the Porsche right now. It currently holds the new record at the Nurburgring in Germanywith a 7:56minute lap time, beating out the Caddy by 3.32 seconds, but I’d rather make out with a walrus and shag a manatee than own the Panamera. It’s so ugly it’s not even funny. Really, it’s not funny, so stop laughing. I’ll give up those three seconds on the track and take the CTS-V, the second fastest four-door family sedan on the planet. Not to mention, the CTS-V is bringing the swagger and the old school class back to the Cadillac brand.
If you tried to take Grammy for a ride and make her get in the back of a Panamera, she’d hit you with her cane and walk to wherever you were going. “What about the E-Class?” you may ask. Well, that’s a toss up. Edmunds gives the Caddy the advantage, Road & Track gives the Benz the #1, and Motortrend has the CTS-V losing to the RS4. Seeing as how you already own the RS4 and the ridiculously awesome G Wagon, you diversify and choose the nostalgic Caddy with the volcano under the hood.
Coming next week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Can you even stand to know what you’re going to be driving on Friday?!
The Group B rally series ran from 1982 to 1987 and featured some of the wildest and most powerful rally cars ever made. The regulations on the cars were simple: There were none. Manufacturers were free to create as much power as they could, crank out as much boost pressure as possible, and use whatever materials they could find. And unlike other racing series, only 200 “homologated” road-going versions of each race car needed to be made.
Group B spawned cars like the Audi Quattro, one of the most dominant cars of its time and platform from which the current Audi cars have grown. Group B also popularized new technology like all-wheel drive, and it brought into focus the limits of both man and machine on the rally stage. Gnarly powerslides, tight twisting forest roads with 500+ horsepower on tap, and spectators practically standing in the middle of the road were all pretty standard fare for Group B racing.
The demise of Group B was caused by the very thing that made it so appealing; danger. After several fatal crashes, some involving both drivers and spectators, the FIA shutdown Group B. Since then, it has been succeeded by the WRC and other rallying series’, but none have been able to match Group B for its outrageous machinery. If given the chance, here are the Group B cars I’d love to have tucked into my dream garage.
Many times in life, something great is born from failure. In the case of Ford and Group B racing, it was the R1700T, a failed automotive project that was intended to become Ford’s Group B rally car. The lessons learned with the R1700T lead to the creation of a successful purpose built rally car: The Ford RS200.
The RS200 was mid-engined, four wheel drive, cranked out around 450 horsepower in racing trim, had a fiberglass body, and had a chassis designed by former F1 engineers John Wheeler and Tony Southgate. Like several of the bat-shit crazy cars that competed in Group B, the RS200 was involved in several fatal crashes that helped contributed to the end of the Group B era, specifically the 1986 Portuguese Rally. Following the end of Group B, the RS200 competed from 1986 to 1992 in the FIA European Championships, and some where fielded as circuit racers.
Although it never achieved significant success on the Group B circuit, the road going “Evolution” version of the RS200 was without doubt the car’s most exciting flavor. Around 24 of the 200 road cars were turned into the Evolution edition which used a modified version of the Ford/Cosworth engine found in the racecar, and rumor has power ranging from 550 to up to a staggering 815 hp. In the right form, the RS200 could put down a high 2 to low 3 second 0-60 time, ridiculous even by today’s standards, never mind the 1980’s. Umm, yes please.
Lancia 037 and Delta S4
The Lancia 037 made its Group B rally debut in 1982 at the Rally Costa Smeralda in Italy. Rear-wheel drive, with a supercharged 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine making 300+ horsepower, the 037 won the 1983 World Championships with the legendary Walter Rohl in the driver’s seat and Finnish Markku Alen as co-driver. Lancia fitted their car with Kevlar body panels, independent double wishbone suspension both front and rear and dual shock absorbers at the back to deal with the punishment rally racing could inflict.
The 037 was soon made inferior with the introduction of all-wheel drive and the dominance of machines like the Audi S1 and Peugeot’s 205 T16. Lancia was forced to upgraded the 037 to an Evolution 2 model, and then introduce an entirely new car in the Delta S4 to stay competitive.
One of the things that made the S4 unique was that it used both turbocharging and supercharging to help churn out around 480 horsepower. The Delta 4 was blessed the benefits of each system; low- end grunt with the supercharger, then top-end power from the turbo. When operating a peak performance, the S4 could cranik out an enormous 32 psi of boost. This, combined with AWD, could propel the Delta S4 to 0-60 mph in an incredible 2.3 seconds. On gravel.
The S4 featured a tubular spaceframe and fully detachable carbon fibre bodywork, so if the car was accidentally planted into a tree, at least changing the body panels wouldn’t be too complicated. Speaking of crashes, the S4’s legacy was tinged with tragedy as it was the car that really signaled the end of Group B. Driver Henri Toivonen and co- driver Sergio Cresto, overcooked a corner in their S4 at the 1986 Tour de Corse and plunged over a cliff, killing both men. Group B racing continued on for a while longer after this accident, but it proved to be an major accelerator for the decline of the series.
Audi Quattro S1
Of all the Group B rally cars, the Audi Quattro S1 is without doubt one of the most iconic. Born from the Audi Sport Quattro of the early eighties, the S1 was introduced in 1985 and is widely regarded as the most powerful rally car ever fielded. Its inline 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine unleashed around 600 horsepower to all four wheels, shattering the 0-60 mph in the low 3 second range. Though brutally powerful, the S1 actually only won once race, the 1985 San Remo rally. Even so, the S1 and its predecessors were absolutely instrumental in helping sculpt rally racing into what we know today.
One of the most unique features of the S1 was the recalculating air system for the turbocharger. This ingenious system kept the turbo spinning at high rpm’s when the throttle was closed so that when the driver put his foot down, power delivery would be crushing and nearly instantaneous. Later generations of this technology are still used today and are known as “anti-lag” systems. The gearbox found in the S1 also continued to evolve after the golden light of Group B faded away, eventually becoming Audi’s DSG system.
Another distinct characteristic of the S1 was the sound. No, let me rephrase that. It was the SOUND. Think of a savage, un-muted exhaust, with one of the most intense wastegates ever. It reminds one of Top Gear from a few seasons back when Jeremy Clarkson tested the Prodrive P2. “It sounds like squirrels are being pushed into the engine… This car is a squirrel mincer!”
If you’ve never seen videos of the S1 in action, stop reading this right now and go watch one. Many of the classic rally film clips from this area will be of the wide, square bodied S1 unleashing on some legendary course some where, rooster-tails of dirt spraying from the wheels. Are you still reading?
Peugeot 205 T16
Peugeot’s entry into Group B racing was the 205 T16, so named because of the car’s turbocharged, 1.8 liter 16 valve engine. In racing trim, this squat, boxy rally monster made around 450 horsepower, and it took the Manufacturer’s titles in 1985 and 1986. Watch videos of the 205 T16 catching air over rolling crests and getting seriously sideways around gravel roads, and it’s easy to see why some people look back on the Group B era as the golden age of rally racing. It was these early rally machines like the 205 T16 that gave birth to today’s rally inspired road rockets like the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Evolution.
After the end of Group B, Peugeot created the 405 T16, loosely based on the company’s 405 sedan. The 405 T16 competed in and won the famous Paris-Dakar rally, and set a Pike’s Peak hillclimb record that stood for several years before being broken by the legendary hillclimber Rod Millen. The record setting run by driver Ari Vatanen was documented an award winning film called Climb Dance. Watching Climb Dance will give you an entirely new appreciation for not only Vatanen’s driving skills, but also the incredible road that climbs Pike’s Peak. At several points in the film, you may find yourself clenching, uhh, parts of yourself, as Vatanen slides around hairpin corners with nothing but the vastness of air only inches from his wheels.
Peugeot also campaigned the 405’s for several years in the British Touring Car Championship during the 1990’s, as well as the French Supertourisme Championship, which it won in 1994 and 1995.
Porsche’s original intent with the legendary 959 was to have it compete in Group B racing. Manufactured from 1986 to 1989, the car was first known as the “Gruppe B”, a pretty obvious hint as to what it purpose was. After the FIA pulled the plug on the series, Porsche turned its focus with the 959 to creating the world’s fastest street car (which it achieved in 1986), as well as a successful competitor in the Paris-Dakar rally and the Le Mans endurance race. Although it never actually competed in Group B racing, there is no question that the 959 became one of the world’s most sought after road cars and it owes it all to Group B.
Besides being gorgeous, wickedly fast and wildly rare, the 959 was really a technological showcase. It was the first high performance vehicle to use an advanced all-wheel drive system, capable of managing the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels, a precursor to the systems that can be found on a lot of modern cars. The 2.5-liter flat six featured sequential turbochargers and made around 450 horsepower. The price in the crazy 80’s for this dream machine? About $225,000 for each of the 337 cars made, with several later examples made in the early 90’s selling for far more than that.
At the time it was launched, the 959 went head to head with iconic machines like the Ferrari F40. While the F40 was a pared down racecar for the road, the 959 was classically Porsche; it created staggering performance through exquisite engineering, precision, and state-of-the-art technology. While the F40 announced its arrival with giant wings, NACA ducts and triple exhausts, the 959 was subtle and refined in comparison. The 959 became the platform for which much of the systems and technology found in Porsche’s 911 series came from. Das ist gut.
Like the Porsche 959, the Lancia Stratos was never actually a Group B competitor, but it helped set the stage for the monstrous Group B machines by defining what rally racing had the potential to be.
Three years in a row, from 1974 to 1976, the Stratos took the rally championship crown. Its distinct wedge shape was powered by a mid-mounted Ferrari V6 and made roughly 300 horsepower in naturally aspirated form, and well north of 500 horsepower in forced induction guise. Unlike some other rally cars which began life as a street car and were reengineered into rally cars, the Stratos was the first car designed from the ground up to be a rally machine. Only 492 examples were originally built with numerous others produced by imitators as kit cars. But as the interwebs have thoroughly documented as of late, the real Lancia Stratos is experiencing something of a revival.
Funded by wealthy German businessman Michael Stoschek, the new Stratos has the underpinnings (engine, chassis) of the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, and promises to be one exciting machine. Its design was started by Jason Castriota of Pininfarina and Stile Bertone fame, and pulls many of the elements of the old car into its fantastic design – the low stance, distinct shape, short front and rear overhangs. And like the old car, the new Stratos will have an exclusive limited production run and will very likely to be bought up by eager enthusiast and collectors quicker than it can make the sprint to 60 mph. Considering it accomplishes that in a shade over 3 seconds, the new car is almost guaranteed to make the Stratos name a legend for the second time.
Seeing the iconic Stratos brought back to life is incredibly exciting. That’s why I’d have the old and the new car, both in their green and white livery in my garage. Now all I have to do is talk to Stoschek and convince him to give one up.