16th December 2021

The RS200: Ford’s flawed Group B contender

The explosions of creativity witnessed during the 1980s were unlike anything ever seen before. In an era defined by excess, a mantra of more is more gifted us some of the most iconic objects of popular culture. But while music, TV and film would change forever, the effect of motorsport’s true decade of decadence didn’t last long on the rally stages.

Few things embody eighties absurdity quite like rallying’s Group B era - a new set of FIA regulations introduced in 1982, which ushered in a brave new era of homologation. With far fewer stipulations around weight, boost, and use of technology, manufacturers could get creative – and were only required to sell 200 road-going equivalents of their new machines to qualify.

When Ford entered the ring in 1985, it was somewhat late to the party. It’s Boreham-based motorsport HQ had spent the early eighties working on the ill-fated RS1700T - a front-engine, rear-drive silhouette which loosely resembled a Mk3 Escort – but the car’s lack of four-wheel-drive meant it could never match the competition. Development of the RS200 began hastily in ’84 - a new mid-engine machine that would utilise the engine and technical innovations intended for the RS1700T.

The engine was a turbocharged BDT Cosworth unit, itself a close relative of the legendary BDA which won Björn Waldegård the 1979 driver’s title, behind the wheel of the Escort RS1800. Externally though, a brand-new design by Ghia gave the RS200 a striking, contemporary appearance. The windscreen, taillamps and doors were Sierra 3dr items, though the latter were shortened to meet requirements. Ford called on Reliant Motors for their fiberglass expertise, and the lightweight RS200 bodies were produced by the Tamworth-based manufacturer made famous by the Robin three-wheeler.

Delayed progress meant Ford missed most of the crucial 1985 rally season, with Timo Salonen taking home glory in his Peugeot 205 T16. 1986 saw Group B graduate to a new extreme; cars were now often running well in excess of 400bhp, and events were reaching new heights in popularity. A factory RS200 achieved third place at Sweden, piloted by Kalle Grundel on home turf, and the upcoming Rally de Portugal held promise. Tragically, a serious accident at the event would claim the lives of three spectators, and soon the writing was on the wall for the entire Group B class.

Period road tests also reflected the cars prickly handling characteristics – even the ‘watered-down’ road version demanded absolute commitment from its driver. CAR Magazine famously crashed a D-registered press car, during a head-to-head test on the Isle of Skye alongside Audi’s Sport quattro.

Those wondering what the car could achieve with additional development received an unlikely answer. As the eighties progressed, the RS200 would go on to become a rallycross superstar, later securing the European Rallycross Championship in 1991.

Today, the RS200’s rarity is reflected in its value. Far less than the original 200 examples survive today – find one, and you’ll need in excess of £150,000 to secure it. Despite its tumultuous past, Ford’s finest Group B effort deserves to be remembered – not least as a window into a truly memorable era, the likes of which we’ll never see again.

Which contender is your Group B rally hero? Let us know in the comments below.

I was a Boreham in Essex and remember seeing the last model on display trimmed out in Ghia form and being sold as a road version, I think 9 were brought by someone from Japan

Racinggreen, 17/12/2021