Something of a one-trick Pony that ended in absolute chaos, and would kill the Group B Rally for good.
In order to trace this peculiar car, you need to trace back in history to the early 1980’s. In 1984, French car builder Peugeot unleashed upon the masses their magnum opus, the Hot Hatchback to end all Hot Hatchbacks, the 205 GTi, a car with monstrous amounts of speed, but also the grip of Sandpaper. This mixture of speed and performance put it in good stead to become a king of motorsports, and that’s what it did when Peugeot developed a rally version of the car known as the T16 (Turbo 16), a 16 Valve, Mid-Engined, Four Wheel Drive, Turbocharged version of the production model. The T16 absolutely lacerated the opposition, and thus the challenge was on to build a car to beat it. Lancia brought forward the Delta S4, Audi, a short-wheelbase version of the Quattro, British Leyland even romped up to the challenge with a Turbocharged Austin Metro. But what of the great and powerful Ford, who’s Escort RS 1700T prototype of 1980 seemed archaic in comparison to the competition.
In 1983, Ford was forced to drop the 1700T on grounds problematic development and long outdated design, but the company wasn’t willing to let their baby go that easily. The result was that much of the work carried out in the production of the 1700T was placed
into their new project to combat the Quattro and the 205, the RS200. The car was styled by Ghia of Italy, and the design was done on similar principles to that of the competition, including a mid-engine for 50/50 weight distribution, Four Wheel Drive for greater power, but was different in that the car was built with a fibreglass/plastic body, with the frames being produced by Reliant, the company that gave us the glass-fibre menace known as the three-wheeled Robin. The chassis was designed by Formula One driver Tony Southgate, being fitted with double-wishbone suspension for greater structural rigidity, and contemporary experts noted that the RS200 was probably the best-balanced car of the era. The front windscreen and taillights were donated from the Ford Sierra, but the engine was something completely different, being developed as a joint venture between Ford and world renowned engine manufacturer Cosworth. Between them the company developed something absolutely spectacular, a 1.8L 400hp Coswarth BDT. Top speed was 118mph, and 0-60 was in 2 seconds! By today’s standards that would give most supercars a run for its money.
But, and this is a big But, building the car was one thing, getting the car into the race was another. Group B Rally rules explicitly stated that in order for cars to compete, they either had to be based off a current production model, or they had to have at least 200 road-going variants available. This was done so as to stop the larger car companies from simply building and overpowered, ungodly one-off. The result was that in addition to the
400hp Rally cars, Ford also built around 200 road-going versions with 250hp engines and available for the price of about £50,000. With the criteria filled, the RS200 could now enter Group B rallying and attempt to grapple with the European competition.
Initially, the car was quite a success, coming 3rd in the 1986 WRC Rally of Sweden, but was notable for heavy amounts of Turbolag, thus dampening acceleration making it highly uncompetitive. However, disaster struck at the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, where an RS200 came off the track and slammed into a wall of spectators, injuring 30 and killing 3. This was later compounded the same year at the Hessen-Rallye in Germany, where Swiss F1 driver Marc Surer lost control and crashed into a tree, killing his co-driver and friend Michel Wyder instantly. This however was the beginning of the end, as following the crash in Portugal, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), banned Group B rallying at the end of the 1986 Season, right in the middle of when Ford was developing an additional version for the 1987 Season called the RS200 ‘Evolution’, with a quoted power output of over 550hp. The result was that Ford’s developments on the RS200 went up in smoke, and now they were left with 200 obsolete rally cars that had cost them £10 million to develop which they couldn’t sell because the economy had just crashed, and no one was going to buy a £50,000 sports car that’s notable only for maiming and killing people on a Rally Stage when money is tight. In the end the RS200 was simply given away for tuppence, and today barely one ever remembers it, especially when compared to the
Escort Cosworth RS of the late 80’s and early 90’s that brought Ford back into the European limelight.
It is rather sad because this could have been quite a promising little sports car. Not exactly a Ferrari 355 mind you, they didn’t have Connelly Leather on the seats nor were particularly large, but perhaps a bit more work may have seen them somewhat competitive on that front. Instead they’re often seen as one of the worst cars in history, and will often top people’s lists as the biggest automotive failure of either all time or at the very least the 1980’s. Today they’re very hard to come by, but unlike other cars of the 80’s they do last, seeing as their bodies are made of fibreglass, which doesn’t rust. I’ve never actually seen an RS200 myself (no matter how hard I try to find one), but I would hopefully one day be interested to catch a glimpse of one of these unique but sadly doomed little cars.