Watching a car skid sideways on a muddy track is a fascinating sight, and since the Paris-Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition of 1894, drivers and manufacturers have rallied to test their machines against each other.
Inaugurated in 1973, the World Rally Championship formalized the many rallying events around the world and ushered in an era of some fantastic purpose-built rally machines. Read on to see 10 of the best ever made. To qualify, they must have delivered heroic feats or captured the public’s imagination like no other.
Our selection of the best rally cars ever is:
- Alpine A110
- Lancia 037 (last RWD to win WRC)
- Audi Quattro
- Peugeot 205 T16
- MG Metro 6R4
- Ford RS200
- Toyota Celica
- Subaru Impreza WRX
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
- Citroen C4 WRC
1. Alpine A110
- First WRC Champion
- Weighs just over 700kg and can run 130mph
- Winner of the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally
The WRC was born in 1973 and Renault’s sports division, Alpine, decided to participate with the already successful A110, a small rear-wheel drive, rear-engined sports car.
Robust and agile, it won just about every race the works team took part in, winning the first-ever WRC constructors’ title. The modern Alpine A110 for the road may be a much more advanced machine, but it stays true to the lightweight philosophy that made the original such a success.
2. Audi Quattro
- First four-wheel drive rally car
- Five-cylinder turbo engine produced up to 591 hp
- Driven by rally stars like Walter Rohrl and Hannu Mikola
This is the Michael Jordan of rally cars, ushering in a new era of four-wheel drive dominance that revolutionized the sport. Its sheer dominance over the RWD opposition on slippery surfaces helped the Quattro achieve 23 wins in six years, as well as two Drivers and two Constructors’ Championships.
Its off-beat five-cylinder engine remains one of the best sounds in motorsport. You won’t find one for sale today, but a modern RS3 Sportback offers an equally tantalizing five-cylinder soundtrack and that all-important Quattro layout.
3. Lancia Rally 037
- Last rear-wheel drive car entering the WRC. wins
- 200 street models built for homologation purposes
- Allegedly Walter Rohrl’s favorite rally car ever
The Lancia 037 was the last rear-wheel drive rally car to ever win the WRC. It was outclassed on gravel and sand by the grippy Audi Quattro, but the mid-engine layout, lag-less turbo and balance of the rear-wheel drive gave it an edge everywhere.
It won the Constructors’ Championship in 1983 and three more years in the top three between 1984 and 1986.
4. Peugeot 205 T16
- Mid-mount turbo engine with over 400 hp
- The crazy road version was detuned but kept the mid-engine AWD layout
- Driven by rally stars such as Ari Vatanen, Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen
The 205 T16 could very well have been the most successful WRC rally car had it not been for the Group B class’s elimination at the end of the 1986 season.
After a handful of entries and three victories in 1984, this small French rocket ship won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in 1985 and 1986.
5. MG Subway 6R4
- 256 to 410 hp from naturally aspirated 3.0-litre V6
- 6R4 stands for 6-cylinder, rear-mounted engine, 4-wheel drive
- Engine was used in turbo form in the Jaguar XJ220 supercar
The MG Metro 6R4 only shared its name and a few panels with the then-popular Metro city car, with an advanced four-wheel drive system and 3.0-liter V6 engine where your mom’s groceries usually went.
Unusually for the time, it did it without a turbo, but it still delivered 410 horsepower and proved to be very fast. Reliability issues and a very short rally career (it was introduced just a year before Group B was banned) meant it had to prove its worth in the hands of privateers years later.
6. Ford RS200
- Fiberglass body built by Reliant (Yes, the company that made the Reliant Robin)
- 444 hp from mid-mount 1.8-litre turbo engine
- Two massive crashes triggered the events that eventually led to the abolition of the Category B category
While most other rally cars were based on production road cars, the Ford RS200 was designed from the ground up to compete in the WRC.
A fairly powerful turbo lag and two serious accidents prevented the RS200 from achieving success in the WRC Championships, but it proved very successful in the European Rallycross Championships from 1986 to the end of 1992.
7. Toyota Celica GT-Four
- Most successful Japanese rally car ever
- Four-wheel drive and front engine
- Dominant for most of his WRC career
Developed to meet the WRC requirements of Group A, the Toyota Celica GT-Four proved extremely successful in the hands of drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen, each winning a drivers’ championship – two for Sainz.
It also won the constructors’ trophy in 1993 and 1994, becoming the most dominant rally car of its time. Unfortunately, it was also the subject of possibly the most extensive cheating scandal in WRC history, involving an illegally modified turbo system that saw the team banned for part of 1995 and the entire 1996 season.
You can’t buy a Celica anymore, but the Toyota GR Yaris is a great consolation prize, and about as close as you can get to a road-legal rally car.
8. Subaru Impreza WRX
- Winner of three drivers’ and three constructors’ championships
- Competed in various forms from 1993 to 2008
- Driven by rally stars like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Petter Solberg
Anyone who had the slightest interest in cars in the 1990s will remember the blue and gold Subaru Impreza WRX that flew through bumpy rally stages at the hands of legends like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz.
The Impreza became a dominant force in rally events around the world, eventually winning over 160 championships during its long rally career. The limited edition road vehicles it inspired have long become valuable collector cars.
9. Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
- Achieved four drivers’ titles and one constructors’ title
- Produced 280 (limited) horsepower from 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine
- Driven by rally stars like Tommi Makinen and Richard Burns
The Lancer Evo battled the Impreza WRX throughout its career and Tommi Makkinen’s impressive four-in-a-row titles from 1996-99 proved how competitive this car was.
The sheer number of ‘evolutions’ this model went through showed how committed Mitsubishi was to incrementally improving its star rally car to stay on top.
10. Citroen C4 WRC
- One of the most dominant rally cars ever
- Won 36 out of 56 races entered
- Driven by rally stars like Sebastien Ogier and Sebastian Loeb
It may have looked like a souped-up family hatchback, but the Citroën C4 WRC was one of the most dominant and mechanically reliable rally cars ever.
It didn’t hurt that it was run for much of its career by towering talents such as Sebastien Ogier and Sebastian Loeb, but you can’t score points if you don’t finish and the C4 WRC almost never failed, with over 64% of the are races in the process. With four drivers’ titles and three constructors’ titles, it remains one of the most successful rally cars in history.
Picking just 10 rally cars to represent the best of the best is an exercise in frustration simply because one will inevitably miss out on some very worthy competitors.
The Lancia Stratos and Lancia Delta Integrale both deserve their own article, let alone a mention, while the astonishingly dominant Volkswagen Polo R WRC is another impressive modern rally car.
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