Words: Tim Nevinson
Photos: Jared Clark & Quinn Hamill
First displayed at the Turin Motor Show in 1984, the RS200 owes its existence to changes in homologation rules dating from 1979 — a time when the 4WD Audi quattro, in spite of many drawbacks to its configuration, came to dominate World Championship rallying. In 1979 FISA, the motor sport regulatory division, legalised all-wheel drive. At the time it was generally felt that the extra weight and complexity of 4WD systems would cancel out the performance benefits, but in 1980, when an Audi quattro driven by Hannu Mikkola was used as course clearing car on a rally, and its times beat the actual rally winner by nine minutes, people started to take notice.
The new car was indeed heavy and cumbersome, but its traction was, by the standards of the day, incredible. Ford had withdrawn from works rallying after the success of the RS1800 Escort several years previously. After the quattro was announced, but before it started winning, Ford began the design of the front-engine rear-drive Escort RS1700T at Boreham, revealing it prematurely in the summer of 1981, and homologating it by the start of 1983. By this time Audi was winning — and stealing headlines — with its quattro, taking victories from the mid-engined, but rear-wheel-drive Lancia Rallye 037. Peugeot was about to announce the definitive Group B rally car, which looked vaguely like the then-current front-wheel-drive Peugeot 205, but featured a mid-mounted turbocharged engine and four-wheel-drive.
The RS1700T was obsolete before it got in to low volume production, and when Stuart Turner took over Ford motor sport the RS1700T project was cancelled. A whole new policy was required, which Turner put out to tender to various design groups as ‘B200’ (Group B, 200 units). The requirement involved analysing what was out there or coming up, looking into collective crystal balls, and coming up with a concept that would take the current Group B regulations to their logical extreme, chew through the current Group B competitors and spit them out. Turner gave them an open book, with no constrictions to use any currently available Ford stock items.
Tony Southgate, designer of the BRM and Shadow Formula One cars — and later many of Jaguar’s Group C cars — came up with a good solution, but John Wheeler from Ford came up with the best.
Turner set the two of them off, with Southgate designing the structure and Wheeler the drivetrain, while famous single-seater designer Mike Pilbeam became the detailer.
The body styling for the new mid-engined four-wheel-drive two-seater was designed by Fillipo Sattino of Ghia in Turin, his main challenge being to ensure that two full-size spare tyres could be carried within the bodywork. Rally stages in those days were not the sprints we see today in the WRC.
Sattino did end up using some Ford parts, but not many. The screen and rear lights came from the then-current Sierra, as did the doors — but with the bottom 102mm cut off — and the engine was a development of the turbocharged Ford Cosworth BDT, albeit with a larger 1800cc capacity.
The B200 concept had the Lancia 037’s mid-engine, low build and tiny frontal area, and a better version of Audi’s four-wheel drive. The turbocharged and intercooled engine was mounted longitudinally, stepped off to the left hand side and canted at 23 degrees from vertical, with the Hewland gearbox in front of it rather than behind as in most mid-engined cars. Drive then went to an FF Developments magnesium transfer box at the front of the car, and then back out of either end of the Ferguson transfer ’box along the centre line to the front and rear differentials (this transmission was the basis for the stillborn Jaguar V12 220 4WD).
Overall ratios could be changed during an event by swapping drop gears out of the primary transmission, and the design allowed for mechanics to swap the whole unit in no more than 10 minutes. The transfer ’box from FF Developments (which was behind the Jensen FF) could disengage front wheel drive on the move, or lock all the differentials by use of a three position lever on the transmission tunnel. New at the time was viscous coupling limited slip differential technology.
Tony Southgate did not use state-of-the-art Formula One Kevlar construction because at that time it was not even a low volume production proposition, but he used the next best thing — Ciba- Giegy 5052 composite aluminium honeycomb sandwich sheeting. This was used for deep box-section sills, a fully stressed platform floor and transmission tunnel made into a box by a similarly constructed front and rear bulkhead, with steel sub-frames jutting out front and rear. The body was all fibreglass. Aston Martin-Tickford was contracted to develop and produce the interior trim for the road car version.
The suspension was unusual too, in that it had the option of running four coil-over shocks both front and rear, in a similar fashion to off-roaders or dune-buggies. This gave the parallel link suspension much better tunability and damper cooling for events like the Safari Rally. I saw the B200 being tested at MIRA by Jackie Stewart and a number of rally drivers before its announcement, and quite a few changes were made before it was announced, ready for the 200-car production run. I was also lucky enough to see the production facilities whilst the cars were being built, which was done at two factories in the Midlands, the GRP body at Reliant in Tamworth, and assembly in the ex Norton factory at Shenstone in the West Midlands. Two hundred cars were built and another 12 subsequently built from parts.
When it was announced the engine was a BDT Cosworth of 1803cc, but with a 1050kg weight this would have to get bigger, and there was scope within the rally regulations for this to happen.
Eventually with higher boost and a 2.1-litre engine it would reach 485kW (650bhp) with a 0-100kph time of just over 2.5 seconds, but as announced the 1.8-litre BDT engine was type-approved at 186kW (250bhp). Two power upgrades, 224 and later 261kW were offered and naturally, as with most Group B rally cars, an Evolution version was made. There were a dozen of these, and 20 of the 200 original run were officially retro-fitted with Evolution enhancements before they left the warehouse.
The ‘S’, or Evolution, had to run a longer motor, as at 1800cc the BDT bores were nearly in the water jackets. The longer BDG ‘E’ engine was so long that a cut-out was made in the bulkhead so the distributor could fit in, and be adjusted from inside the car! In its debut season of 67 events, the RS200 won 19 times, but not in international championship events. Swedes Stig Blomquist and Kalle Grundel were employed to drive the works cars, Grundel finished third on its debut, Blomquist winning the South Sweden Rally. However, as the season went on the RS200 — along with the other dynamite Group B cars — was attracting just the sort of publicity Ford didn’t want.
Beginning of the end
In the rally of Portugal (March, 1986), Portuguese national champion Joaquim Santos crested a rise to find the road blocked with spectators crowding to see the fastest cars come through. Trying to stop, he lost control of his RS200. Thirty-one people were injured and four were killed. In Holland (October, 1986), a Ford RS 200 crashed into a tree and the co-driver died. After these events and the fiery death of Henri Toivenen in the Lancia S4 Group B car, the manufacturers and regulatory bodies got very windy about Group B rally cars. Some pulled out straight away, and others were forced to when the FIA banned these powerful supercars.
Of course, we know that these accidents (which is what they were) could easily have happened with two-wheel-drive cars, and that the attention we now pay to crowd control and fuel cell safety would have considerably reduced the risk of these tragic events being repeated. The withdrawal was a knee-jerk reaction, and WRC cars today are certainly as fast.
However, at the time, the £10M Ford invested in the RS200 was wasted, and it had a big stock of cars that were initially very hard to get rid of — although they are collectors’ pieces now. Stig Blomquist (now an NZ resident) went on to use the RS200 to great effect in rallycross and at the Pikes Peak hill climb, and won the Swedish Hillclimb championship. Indeed the RS200 was one great rallycross car.
Believe it or not despite the RS200 never having competed here, there are believed to be four RS200s in New Zealand. One has been imported by Bill Williams, and was a prize-winner at the Ellerslie Concours. This RS200 is so immaculate and original it is unbelievable, but it’s no trailer queen — Bill has used the car on the Auckland Domain Hill Climb. Another is the car you see here, Ford RS 200 #119, belonging to Peter Johnston (PJ) of Genuine Vehicle Imports.
PJ has a thing about Group B cars and has previously owned and competed in a MG Metro 6R4 and the ex-John Woodner Peugeot 205 T16. PJ achieved limited success with the Peugeot. It was fast and mighty, but it also broke down four times while leading a rally. Both the Metro and Peugeot were state-of-the-art, pushing the boundaries of known technology at the time, and were very hard, not to mention expensive to prepare. PJ took the Peugeot 205 T16 to Ireland for his 50th birthday (the two Metros went too) and ran it in the Rally of the Lakes in Southern Ireland. The Peugeot never came back, as PJ sold the vehicle to Kevin Furber, an ex Peugeot works driver who now runs in the Peugeot Rally Challenge in Great Britain.
Undaunted by his experience with the temperamental Peugeot 205T16, 18 months ago PJ bought this RS200 for Ron to tinker with. PJ found his RS200 in a classic car showroom in Putney, London. It had a bit of a chequered history as it was stolen from the first new owner, then later recovered and then purchased by Graham Hathaway, an ex-international BTCC, rally and rallycross driver (and British Champion) who has become a the centre of the RS200 world. Graham built this car up as a tarmac competition car, running a 261kW (350bhp) kit. Ron McMillan (of Road, Race and Rally in Penrose) was briefed by PJ to retain all its original looks but modernise the necessary components to make it reliable for Targa. Peter Davidson rebuilt the 1800cc BDT with dry sump lubrication, Pectal engine management and a Garrett roller bearing turbocharger. Power output is modest to give reliability over the full Targa distance — 283kW (380bhp) at 8200 rpm and 542Nm of torque. The transmission is an X/Trac dog ’box unit. Ron has fitted 235/40×18 Dunlop tyres, Proflex shocks with Eibach springs, and six-pot front brakes, four-pot rear and a hydraulic hand brake, as well as an adjustable pedal box. All-up weight is 1152kg, and the car is geared to give a top speed of 240kph.
First indications are that the RS200 is a lot more stable than the Metro and Peugeot (due to a slightly longer wheelbase). We wish PJ the best of luck on this month’s Dunlop Targa, and congratulate him on continuing to allow the NZ public a chance to see these rare and spectacular rally thoroughbreds.
Engine Four-cylinder, light-alloy 16-valve Cosworth
BDT, Garrett T04 turbocharger, intercooled
Transmission RWD or 4WD, (driver-controlled) with front,
rear, and centre Ferguson viscous-control
limited slip differentials. Lockable centre diff.
Torque split of 37% front/ 63% rear (or 50/50
if centre differential locked)
Suspension Front independent by double wishbones,
twin coil/ spring/ damper units, adjustable
anti-roll bar, and adjustable ride height
Rear independent by double wishbones,
twin coil spring damper units, anti-roll bar,
adjustable toe-control link, and adjustable
Bore/stroke 86 x 77.62mm
Fuel system Bosch fuel injection, and Ford EEC I electronic
engine management system
Steering Rack and pinion steering, 2.3 turns lock-to-lock
Max power 172kW (230bhp, DIN) at 6000rpm (rally car:
up to 283kW (380bhp). Rallycross: 462kW (620bhp))
Max torque 210lb/ft @ 4500 rpm
C/R 8.2:1 and 0.8 atmospheres (11.5psi) of
boost. (Rally car: 7.8 compression, and up to
1.2atm, 17.3psi boost)
Brakes Servo-assisted ventilated disc brakes front and rear
Wheels Speedline composite road wheels
Tyres 225 OVR-16
Length / Weight 3988mm /1050kg (est)
Front track 1499/1496mm
186kW road car, 1803cc
0-96.5kph 6.0 sec
Max speed 225kph
Competition car, 462kW, 2100cc
0-96.5kph 2.3 sec
Max speed 290kph
RS200 configuration as originally conceived:
Mid-engined, two-or four-wheel-drive, two-seater coupe.
Fully-stressed platform structure, in Ciba-Geigy aluminium honeycomb
sandwich, steel front and rear chassis extensions, steel skins.
Built in tubular roll-cage. Removable GRP front and rear.