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!
Synaptic3 Performance is a prime example of what this website was started for. Located in an out-of-the-way, unassuming business park in the fully unassuming town of Candia, NH, brothers Ron and Dana Salb have created a world-class performance shop that is turning out some of the most complete builds to be found on either road or track. Simply pulling into the shop’s parking lot is proof enough that Ron and Dana are for real. A handful of Synaptic3 tuned and customized Mazda RX-7s, RX-8s, and Subaru STIs effortlessly shatter the cloudy, dull gray that permeates this late fall day—deep paint hues, pearlescent carbon fiber hoods, and lithe, aggressive stances make for a striking welcome party.
The seeds of Synaptic3 Performance have been taking root for years. Ron and Dana starting tinkering with friends’ cars as well as their own, using their parent’s garage as an impromptu shop. Both Ron and Dana have kept their lives and careers woven around the automotive industry and have continued to build Synaptic3 even while pursuing school or other interests. The brother’s diverse skill sets, along with their infectious enthusiasm, is the driving force behind Synaptic3 and its growing success.
The Synaptic3 that exists today began in large part because of the rally scene. The ability of Ron and Dana to fabricate FIA-spec rollcages really helped jumpstart the company. The result has been Synaptic3 tuned cars that have not only competed in Rally America, but have won rally championships as well.
“While we have a fair amount of exposure in Rally, it’s actually a pretty small sport and community,” said Dana in an email interview. “We’ve worked on a half a dozen full blown rally cars. Some started out as virgin chassis, other were revamps of previous rally cars that were gutted and rebuilt to bring up to current class specs. We’ve covered everything from building FIA spec roll cages and chassis preparation… to doing motors builds, setting up suspensions, building wiring harnesses, fuel systems, and safety systems, etc.”
Two things are readily apparent immediately after stepping into Synaptic3’s crowded, but clean, shop. #1, the market for customization is as unique diverse and the people who enjoy it—a customer’s race-prepped Porsche awaits its turn on the lift, several Mazda RX-7s sit in various stages of completion and manage to look fast even while motionless, and a Nissan Sentra Spec-V is getting finishing touches on its crazy custom turbocharger setup. And #2, the guys here are really good at what they do.
“We’re currently working on a forced induction application for a brand new Nissan Sentra Spec-V. The customer is very contentious about the details. It’s going to be quite the sleeper. We have a number of big turbo Subaru’s being built and a host of third generation RX-7s for street, track, and show all leading into the winter.”
One of the things that makes this shop so special is the level of engineering and attention to detail that even the smallest parts receive. Case in point—Ron and Dana stick their heads under the hood of the turbo Spec-V to explain in detail all the time and effort that went into designing a single bracket used to move a part out of the way of the new turbo piping. Beautifully fabricated and covered in crackle finish, it’s a small but perfect example of their work.
“We can build you a tube chassis frame, an award winning stereo system, install and dial-in your track suspension, or turbocharge and tune your daily driver,” said Dana. “Two members of our staff have Bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Design (product design), so we can come up with solutions and execute them in a unique and effective manner.
A range of cars find their way under the wrenches at Synaptic3, but Ron and Dana’s specialty is tuning Japanese cars. They have found that Japanese cars are a preferable platform to work from because they begin life at the factory with a superior level of quality and allow for higher levels of tuning and customization. This mirrors their own quasi-obsessive standards.
“We adhere to our own best practices that we’ve developed over the years. We sweat the details, and will not cut corners to get a job done quickly. Many customers have told us it is that reputation that has brought them to us. We take the time to make sure aftermarket components not only fit but allow for service in the field should it be necessary.”
When a car comes into the shop, Ron and Dana’s first mission is to figure out what exactly a customer is looking for. Instead of getting right to work, they start with questions—Do you know what you’re looking for? Are you going racing with the car? What kind of racing? What is the purpose for upgrading? A concerted effort is made to clearly define what the customer is looking for, and then working to build a solution that meets or exceeds the customer’s end goals.
One of the significant customer service elements that Ron and Dana employ is to take meticulously detailed photos the car in its various build stages. Synaptic3’s website has literally thousands of such photos and they provide a unique glimpse into the kind of work Ron and Dana are capable of.
Next to Synaptic3’s main building is an unassuming steel shed that serves as the company’s dedicated dynamometer room. Inside it has to be one of the most thorough dyno setups ever put together. Instead of being installed into the floor, the all-wheel-drive Mustang 500SE unit sits above the floor, allowing for easier access to car’s underside and the dyno’s moving parts. Built directly into the wall facing the dyno are four giant fans capable of pushing 40,000 cfm through the room, while a dedicated exhaust fan sucks fumes out from the back of the building. Like anything Ron and Dana do, this facility was heavily researched and designed to meet their exacting standards, and it’s clear the guys are proud of the setup.
When asked if he could describe what Synaptic3 was all about in one word, Dana paused, let out a deep breath, and thought for a moment. He then looked up and said, “Dedication.” And, after seeing the inner workings of the shop and spending several hours with Ron and Dana, there couldn’t be a better word to describe Synaptic3. To learn more about the company and how they can help you on your next project, be sure to visit the Synaptic3 website at www.Synaptic3.com, and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.
Welcome, Synaptic3 Performance, to The Torque Tube.
Many thanks and much respect to Dana and Ron for their time and energy for this piece, and for allowing me to poke around their shop.
Thank you everyone for a spectacular year! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for TDC and I wanted to share it with you. Check it out, and here’s to an even better 2012!
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.
grav-i-ty: (n). The force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward the center of the earth.
chal-lenge: (adj). A call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc.
If you’re going to do battle with gravity, be prepared to be in for the long haul; the force of gravity never sleeps. People pit themselves against gravity’s endless pull in a range of different ways: skydiving, rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing, or anything else that tests mental and physical fortitude and comes soaked in adrenaline. Few people, however, seek to test their limits of fortitude on one of the most challenging mountains in the country six times in one year, in four different sports, all in competition. Welcome to the world of Tim Mather.
The premise for Mather’s epic battle with gravity, appropriately named the Gravity Challenge, was simple: compete in all the events held at Mt.Washington in a single year, which included auto hillclimbing, running, skiing, and cycling. Mather’s athletic background, unwavering dedication, and familiarity with Mt. Washington made him uniquely qualified to undertake this herculean feat. Mather was gracious enough to speak with TDC about the Gravity Challenge, his inspiration, and his racing career.
What was the inspiration for the Gravity Challenge?
Mather’s primary inspiration for the Gravity Challenge was the return of the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb after its decade long hiatus from Mt. Washington. Mather was actively involved in hillclimbing for many years and the return of the epic ‘Climb’ event created the perfect opportunity for Mather. “The goal was to do [all the events] in one year. I can’t win them all because I cant afford to spend the time to win them all, I was just going to participate… It was hard with my personality because I like to win, but I wanted try to do it and have fun and to keep my life balanced… When I was thinking about the challenge I though, ‘How perfect is this, I can take all the things I love and do all of them… too good to be true to not try.'”
How did you get into the auto hillclimbing and racing scene?
“My high school was holding autocrosses, got interested in it, and I scraped up a few dollars and bought a 1984 Mazda GLC Deluxe and my career started. Ran that car for a number of years… and ended up opening my own car stereo business, and the racing petered off for a bit.” Mather eventually got back into the racing scene and purchased a 1991 Nissan Sentra that played double duty as his daily driver and his race car.
Over time, Mather pursued other types of racing like rallycross and ice racing.” A typical year would start in the winter time and I’d go down to Massachusetts and do ice racing, and then some time trial racing in the spring. At that point I had gotten into rallycross and a little bit of rally, and my car really wasn’t ready for that so I ended up buying a old Subaru GL and I did a couple of Apple Hill rallys in New York to kind of cut my teeth on the sport, and then went to a rally school with the Sentra. Bob Legere did most of fabrication on the Sentra.” Legere is a world renowned fabricator and resource for Opel cars and parts.
“In the fall of 1992 I did my first hillclimb… While I was [at the Mt. Ascutney hillclimb], I got the opportunity to take some of the hillclimb employees up the hill.” Mather found out about the Mt. Washington hillclimb from these employees and it immediately got him thinking. “That winter, I bought a bolt on cage and then did the Mt.Washington hillclimb.”
Nissan Sentras, especially from the early ’90’s aren’t exactly known as performance machines. How did you get that race-ready?
“There were a lot of custom made parts that were primarily made by Legere because there was basically nothing available [for the Sentra]. Talk about ignorance is bliss, we didn’t know any better… We did a new engine in the car, but it was still basically stock, really nothing crazy about the car. I wanted to keep it turn key, pump gas, emissions legal.” As the car was his daily driver as well as his race car, he didn’t have much choice in keeping it mostly stock. “I built my racing career around low horsepower cars that really centered around the actual driving.”
How did you get into other sports like cycling? What kinds of events did you compete in before the Gravity Challenge?
“I spent a year and a half road racing, and it got to the point where I won my class in 2000, and between disbanding the race and really being done with the sport, I got into cycling. One of the guys I was racing with had a bike and sure enough, I could ride! I slowly got into cycling, bought a road bike and started riding.” The bike shop Mather purchased his bike from was into the triathlon scene and they introduced him into the sport. So Mather pretty much parked his race car to pursue this new passion. “Off I went into this next part of my life into multi-sport.” Mather’s resume includes an Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid and a spot in the Boston Marathon.
How did finish in your events in the Gravity Challenge?
Climb to the Clouds– “I had no expectation on how I would do. There were a lot cars in the class, I hadn’t been there for a long time, but I decaled [the car] up, bolted the tires and wheels on it and away we went…. It was such a neat feeling to go through sections of that mountain flat footed. It’s so much fun!” The weather on the first day of the hillclimb was rainy and driving conditions were poor and Mather felt he would place well at the back of the pack. To his surprise, he finished far out in front of his competition even though many were putting down bigger power figures. That trend of feeling like he was running bad times when he was actually crushing the competition continued throughout the weekend, and Mather won his division. “It was very unexpected, but I was very, very happy… You dust the car off after nine years, dust the driver off after nine years, and go out there and hammer… It was really fun.”
Ski to the Clouds – “It poured the whole time, but I didn’t come in last! There were only three people behind me, but I didn’t come in last.” Mather’s goal with the skiing event was not to try and win, but to finish and enjoy the experience. It was his first ski race and his first time skiing up a mountain (what a mountain to cut your teeth on!)
Mt.Washington Roadrace– “I did much better than I thought I would do.” Mather set a personal goal to finish the run in under one minute 45 seconds, and he did just that finishing in an impressive one minute 40.52 seconds, putting him 31st in his age group.
Newton’s Revenge/Mt. Washington Bicycle Hillclimb/24 Hours of Great Glen – Back in 2006 when Mather was in his physical prime, he competed in a bike race at Mt. Washington and qualified the “Top Notch” class. Getting into this elite group is like qualifying for the Boston Marathon. From an excerpt on the Newton’s Revenge race on Mathersports.com, “At the seven mile mark I caught and passed another top notch rider. I turned off my watch as I knew it was going to be close for a top notch finish. The clouds were very thick and I could not see 10’ in front of me but I could hear the cow bells and the cheering at the finish… As I looked up, I saw a 1:21 on the clock, NICE!!! I just made it across the line and almost fell off the bike. I got my medal and my fleece blanket and just hung on my bike for a few mins to collect myself… I had nothing left, just the way I enjoy finishing a hard effort!!!”
What are your plans for the future? Will you keep racing?
“I see myself getting into hillclimbing… and I’d like to travel and see some tracks and have some fun… I dunno, there’s a piece of me that wants to do a half Ironman in June… I know there’ll be cars in it, I know my wife will be in it, I know there will be athletics in it, so we’ll see where all that falls.”
Welcome, Tim Mather, to The Torque Tube.
Much respect and many thanks to Tim Mather for his time and energy for this interview. Be sure to head over to his website www.Mathersports.com for more information on the Gravity Challenge, and to www.Mathermotorsports.com for specifics on his Sentra hillclimber. Welcome, Tim Mater, to The Torque Tube.
Travis Pastrana is one of those guys who really doesn’t need an introduction with words, his deeds are what precede him: X Games Champion in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, and rally racing, NASCAR driver, multiple Rally America Driver’s Title winner, and action sports superstar. Pastrana has managed to squeeze in several lifetimes worth of epic adventures into his 27 years, but this interview isn’t about his exploits on the motocross track or behind the wheel of a stock car. Pastrana was gracious enough to spend some time with TDC talking about his September 8, 2010 run up the legendary Mt. Washington Auto Road.
For the uninitiated, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is a twisting, undulating ribbon of tarmac and gravel that ascends the mighty Mt. Washington. Man has been climbing this road for over a century: 2011 actually marks the 150th anniversary of the Auto Road. Motorsports is also deeply ingrained here; the Road played host to the Mt. Washington Hillclimb for many years. The previous record up the 7.6 mile road was set during 1998 Hillclimb by Frank Sprongl in his 1982 Audi Quattro S2 at a blistering pace of six minutes and 41.99 seconds. A few years later in 2001, the Auto Road began a decade long hiatus from hillclimbs as sponsorship malfunctions kept the race from being run. All that changed when a joint effort between the Auto Road and Vermont SportCar created the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb that occurred this past June. Pastrana’s run in September didn’t qualify as an official “record run” (it wasn’t held during competition), but it did annihilate Sprongl’s record by more than 20 seconds: Pastrana blitzed the Road in six minutes and 20.47 seconds. In the process, his coming to the road and setting such a quick time helped stimulate substantial attention for the Auto Road and its rich motorsports history and helped kick off its big 1-5-0 birthday celebration. Check out two great videos of Pastrana’s run up Mt. Washington here, and here.
What’s it like to drive the Auto Road?
“It was the coolest thing; it’s truly a road that is a great rally road. Honestly, it is so good it could be fun with a horse and buggy! (laughs) When we drove it, the weather was absolutely ridiculous. It was sunny at the bottom, a little rainy in the middle, and by the end, you couldn’t even see road right in front of the car.” When asked how he was able to see when visibility is so poor Pastrana said, “As long as I have a solid ten feet in front where I can see, I’m okay. Having a co-driver is really important as well. With good weather up there, it’s definitely possible to break six minutes.”
What was the thought process behind coming to Mt.Washington to make a run up the Auto Road?
“It was always something I knew about, the Auto Road has always been famous, I grew up looking at that road. When they said they were going to reopen the road… Some of the top guys at Red Bull and Vermont SportsCar were super enthusiastic and said, ‘We have this guy who wants to run up the road.’ I just wanted to get up there and drive the road.”
“So many people were way pumped, there was good hype around it and everyone felt like they were part of something cool… Everyone was so passionate about it, that’s what made it so great… One other cool thing that happened on the road is that I almost hit a bear! We’ve accidentally hit a deer before, but never a bear… A little black bear ran across the road during one of the runs.”
During the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb in June, Subaru Rally Team USA driver David Higgins, who hails from the Isle of Man, set a truly staggering time up the Auto Road of six minutes and 11.54 seconds, setting a “true” record time and seriously raising the bar for future drivers hoping to conquer the Road. In the process, Higgins bested Pastrana’s time by a lengthy margin. It makes for an interesting situation for Pastrana: Higgins beat his time up the Auto Road and essentially replaced him at Subaru when he left to pursue other motorized passions, like NASCAR. (You think Pastrana might be a little competitive?) There is little doubt Pastrana will be back on the Auto Road for another shot at the record.
How do you feel about David beating your time?
“I knew that David was going to be at least as quick as me… It was exciting to get beaten by David, I was just hoping the weather would move in on him! (laughs) It meant a lot for David to get such a good time, and I’m sure he wants to get back up there and break the six minute mark. It meant a lot to race my mentor up there, but it would be great to get that record back on American soil.”
Will you be back for another attempt on the Auto Road?
“I’d like another shot. There’s an ongoing battle for that record right now and with good conditions, breaking six minutes is definitely feasible. Who knows if the conditions will be right though in a place with the worst weather in the world!”
Pastrana has excelled in a wide range of motorsports and has performed at a tremendously high level in all of them. In one final parting question he was asked, if he had to choose, would he pick one form of racing over another?
“The beauty of it is I haven’t had to choose! From age four to 18, all I thought about was motorcycles. From 18 to 24, it was all about rally… What I like is changing my focus and now trying to figure out the new elements of pavement and racing in NASCAR. NASCAR is all about precision. You can drive a stock car really fast for about eight laps or so, and then you start to slow down because you took it too fast… Rally is all about aggression, calculated risks. Motocross is all about will. I am always looking for the new challenge.”
Welcome, Travis Pastrana, to The Torque Tube.
– Much respect and many thanks to Travis Pastrana for his time and energy for this interview. Thanks also to Vermont SportsCar for providing the photos, and for Lars Gange for taking them. Serious thanks also goes to my good friend Meg Skidmore for without her help, this interview would not have been possible.
TDC recently had the distinct pleasure of going to the Climb to the Clouds hillclimb on Sunday, June 26 held on the Mt. Washington Auto Road. This was the first hillclimb the Road has held in several years and the it was put on not only to bring back the historical hillclimb, but also to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. The event brought out hundreds of spectators, over sixty drivers, and the absolutely epic backdrop of the majestic Presidential mountain range made for one truly spectacular event. Those in attendance saw the 13-year old Auto Road record held by Frank Sprongl be utterly annihilated by rally champion David Higgins and his Vermont SportsCar prepped 2011 Subaru WRX STI. It was an amazing event, so keep an eye on the Climb to the Cloud’s website for updates on the next hillclimb, and photos and articles from the event, as well as the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s website for all the details on this amazing road. In the meantime, enjoy the slide show below!
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.