Seeing a car skittering sideways along a muddy track is a captivating sight, and ever since the Paris-Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition of 1894, drivers and manufacturers have taken to rallying to test their machines against each other.
The World Rally Championship, inaugurated in 1973, formalised the many rallying events around the globe and ushered in an era of some amazing purpose-built rallying machines. Read on to see 10 of the best ever made, to qualify they must have achieved heroic feats or captured the publics’ imagination like no other.
Our pick of the best rally cars ever are:
- 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
- Weighed just over 700kg and capable of 130mph
- Winner of the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally
The WRC came into being in 1973, and Renault’s sporting division Alpine decided to take part with the already successful A110, a small rear-wheel-drive, rear-engined sports car.
It was rugged and nimble and won just about every race the works team took part in, clinching the first ever WRC constructors’ title. The modern-day road going Alpine A110 may be a far more advanced machine, but it stays true to the lightweight philosophy that made the original such a success.
2. Audi Quattro
- First all-wheel-drive rally car
- Five-cylinder turbo engine produced up to 591bhp
- Driven by rally stars like Walter Rohrl and Hannu Mikola
This is the Michael Jordan of rally cars, ushering in a new era of all-wheel drive dominance that revolutionised the sport. Its sheer dominance over the RWD opposition on slippery surfaces helped the Quattro take 23 wins in six years as well as two drivers’ and two constructors’ championships in the process.
It’s off-beat five-cylinder motor remains one of the greatest sounds in motorsport. You won’t find one for sale today but a modern RS3 Sportback offers a similarly beguiling five-cylinder soundtrack and that all-important Quattro layout.
3. Lancia Rally 037
- Last rear-wheel drive car to win the WRC
- 200 road-going models built for homologation purposes
- Allegedly Walter Rohrl’s favourite rally car ever
The Lancia 037 was the last rear-wheel-drive rally car to ever win the WRC. It was outclassed on the gravel and sand by the grippy Audi Quattro, but its mid-engined layout, lag-free supercharged engine and rear-wheel-drive balance gave it the edge everywhere else.
It won constructors’ championship in 1983 and top three positions for three more years between 1984-1986.
4. Peugeot 205 T16
- Mid-mounted turbocharged engine with over 400bhp
- Crazy road-going version was detuned but retained mid-engined AWD layout
- Driven by rally stars like Ari Vatanen, Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen
The 205 T16 could well have been the most successful WRC rally car were it not for the disbanding of the Group B class at the end of the 1986 season.
After a handful of entries and three wins in 1984, this little French rocketship took both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 1985 and 1986.
5. MG Metro 6R4
- 256 to 410bhp from naturally aspirated 3.0-litre V6
- 6R4 stands for 6-cylinders, Rear-mounted engine, 4-wheel-drive
- Engine was used in turbocharged form in the Jaguar XJ220 supercar
The MG Metro 6R4 shared just its name and a few panels with the then popular Metro city car, having an advanced four-wheel-drive system and 3.0-litre V6 engine where your mum’s shopping usually went.
Unusually for the time it did without turbocharging, but still made up to 410bhp and proved to be very quick. Reliability issues and a very short rally career (it was introduced just a year before Group B was banned) meant that it had to prove its worth in privateer’s hands years later.
6. Ford RS200
- Glassfibre body built by Reliant (Yes, the firm which made the Reliant Robin)
- 444bhp from mid-mounted turbocharged 1.8-litre engine
- Two massive crashes triggered the events which eventually led to the abolishment of the Group B category
Whereas most other rally cars were based on road-going production cars, the Ford RS200 was designed from the ground-up to compete in the WRC.
Rather potent turbo lag and two serious accidents prevented the RS200 from achieving success in the WRC championships, but it proved highly successful in the European Rallycross drivers’ championships from 1986 all the way to late 1992.
7. Toyota Celica GT-Four
- Most successful Japanese rally car ever
- Four-wheel-drive and front-engined
- Dominant for most of its WRC career
The Toyota Celica GT-Four was developed to comply with the Group A WRC requirements, and proved extremely successful in the hands of drivers like Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen, winning them each a drivers’ championship – two for Sainz.
It also took the constructors’ trophy in 1993 and 1994, becoming the most dominant rally car of its time. Unfortunately, it was also the subject of the possibly the most elaborate cheating scandal in WRC history, with an illegally modified turbo system seeing the team being 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 even had a mild interest in cars in the ‘90s will remember the blue and gold Subaru Impreza WRX flying across bumpy rally stages at the hands of such legends like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz.
The Impreza became a dominant force in rallying events around the world and eventually won over 160 championships during its long rallying career. The limited-edition road-going vehicles that it inspired have long become valuable collectors’ cars.
9. Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
- Clinched four drivers’ and one constructors’ title
- Produced 280 (regulation limited) bhp from 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine
- Driven by rally stars like Tommi Makinen and Richard Burns
The Lancer Evo fought with the Impreza WRX throughout its career and Tommi Makkinen’s impressive four-in-a-row drivers’ titles from 1996-1999 proved just how competitive this car was.
The sheer number of ‘evolutions’ this model went through showed just how committed Mitsubishi was in incrementally improving its star rally car to stay at the 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 beefed-up family hatchback, but the Citroen C4 WRC was one of the most dominant and mechanically reliable rally cars ever.
It didn’t hurt that through much of its careers it was piloted by towering talents like Sebastien Ogier and Sebastian Loeb, but you can’t score points if you don’t finish and the C4 WRC hardly ever failed, winning over 64% of its races in the process. With four drivers’ and three constructors’ titles, it remains one of the most successful rally cars in history.
Choosing just 10 rally cars to represent the best of the best is an exercise in frustration, simply because one will inevitably leave out some very worthy competitors.
The Lancia Stratos and Lancia Delta Integrale are both deserving of their own articles let alone just a mention, while the astonishingly dominant Volkswagen Polo R WRC is another impressive modern rally car.
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