The 1986 Ford RS200 Evolution Is a Group B Rally Beast
Rallying, like many other forms of automotive racing, makes automakers pursue intriguing and oftentimes kooky solutions to speed. Renault, for example, turned a front-engine, FWD hatchback into a mid-engine RWD one. The Citroen 2CV Sahara has 4WD and two engines. And the Lancia Delta Integrale’s predecessor, the Delta S4, had both a turbocharger and a supercharger. The Delta S4 needed them because it raced in Group B, where it faced down similarly loony cars like the Ford RS200 Evolution. And even today, the RS200 is still a beast of a machine.
The Ford RS200 comes from the insanity of Group B rallying
Today, even races like the King of the Hammers have rules, regulations, and restrictions. Admittedly, some of them are loose, but they’re still there—not to spoil the fun, but to keep everyone safe. That wasn’t the case in the 1980s when Group B was in its heyday.
MotorTrend describes the 1982-1986 Group B Class’s regulations as “the vaguest rules this side of cheese rolling.” Automakers were basically free to use any materials, powertrain layouts, and power outputs they wanted, Autoweek explains. Besides the 200-unit homologation rule, the only requirements were that the race cars needed two seats and as low a curb weight as possible, The Drive reports.
The result was a racing series filled with cars with “insane power-to-weight ratios, short wheelbases…and huge potential for disaster,” Autoweek reports. Group B cars were simply too ridiculous for anyone to handle. And after several accidents and deaths, it was canceled in 1986.
The cancellation meant the Ford RS200 only raced for one season, Hagerty reports. But it finished that year with 19 wins and 32 podium finishes. And that was thanks to “groundbreaking” technology and performance levels, Petrolicious reports.
Although it used a few contemporary Ford parts, the RS200 is a “bespoke vehicle,” Automobile reports. It has a custom tube-frame chassis wrapped in fiberglass body panels styled by Ghia. And mounted in the middle is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine linked to a five-speed manual and AWD. But to get the RS200’s weight distribution as close to 50/50 as possible, the transmission is mounted ahead of the driver, DriveTribe reports. Also, you can adjust the AWD’s torque split on the fly, Road & Track reports.
In road-going form, Ford detuned the RS200 to 250 hp, while the race cars made around 500 hp, The Drive reports. Combined with the AWD and the fully-independent double-wishbone twin-damper suspension, that made the Group B rally car agile and fast. But Ford wanted it to go even faster.
A Ford RS200 Evolution is a street-legal “freakin’ monster,” MotorTrend says
Group B allowed manufacturers to introduce modifications to their race cars. And to do so, they had to sell 25 more of these “Evolution” models, MotorTrend explains. This is where the 1986 Ford RS200 Evolution comes in.
Like the earlier model, the Ford RS200 Evolution has AWD, a five-speed manual, and a mid-engine layout. But instead of a 1.8-liter engine, it has a 2.1-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, Automobile reports. One that makes 600 hp and propels the roughly-2600-pound car from 0-60 mph in 3.07 seconds. That was fast enough to make the RS200 Evolution the 0-60 mph Guinness World Record holder for 12 years, DriveTribe reports.
Even in road-going form, the Ford RS200 Evolution is fairly spartan. Inside are two Sparco sport seats, a red-leather steering wheel, some carpets and gauges, and that’s about it. Plus, if you wanted to really race your car, a fire extinguisher and a roll cage. But you do have a lever that switches it from AWD to RWD and back, MT reports. And some ‘Evos’ were built with a more road-friendly synchronized transmission, instead of the more performance-oriented straight-cut-gear one, The Drive reports.
The Ford RS200 Evolution isn’t really a road car, though. Admittedly, the steering is fairly light, and the ride quality is surprisingly good. But the clutch and transmission are extremely demanding, requiring near-perfect throttle blips and lightning-quick shifts, Automobile reports.
And then there’s the speed and sound. You can feel the engine revving in your teeth, Petrolicious reports. It’s “ferocious,” The Drive reports, the exhaust echoing with pops, bangs, and barks. And the acceleration once the turbos spool reminds Automobile of “the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperspace.” To paraphrase MT, the Ford RS200 Evolution is simply a raw and gritty monster.
With legendary status comes a high auction price
Although Ford may have built 200 Ford RS200s, it didn’t necessarily sell all of them. Most sources pin the “sold” number at 146, Autoblog reports. And only 24 of those cars were Evolution models, R&T reports. Combined with their Group B pedigree, and these rally racers can be really expensive.
As of this writing, Stratas Auctions has a 1986 Ford RS200 Evolution coming up for sale. MT estimates it will likely go for around $500,000. And that’s not necessarily a crazy-high price. Earlier in February 2021, a 1986 works car went for just under $447k, Hagerty reports. Even the detuned road cars are pricey: in March 2019 one sold on Bring a Trailer for $280k, R&T reports. Just restoring and updating an RS200 Evolution can cost over $200k, Canepa reports.
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