The Ford RS200: Rapid Rally Hero Turned ’80s Icon
Among motorsports cars that transitioned for production-based homologation duties in the 1970s through the 80s, few proved more brutally effective—or primed for infamy—than Ford’s staggering RS200. Developed to spearhead Ford’s Group B rally effort against all-star competitors ranging from Audi’s indecently quick Sport Quattro to the ever-dominant Martini Lancia Delta S4, Ford aimed to out-hustle even this fearsome opposition through extreme engineering. The spartan mid-engined RS200 may have competed for just one turbulent season before the FIA canceled Group B outright in 1986. Yet its acceleration, tenacity, and advanced technical concepts presaged rally car development for decades to follow. Its reputation only grew following Group B’s collapse, as events subsequently turned the RS200 into a legitimate motorsport icon.
Birthed for Rallying’s Golden Era – Group B’s Wildest Weaponry
While so-called homologation specials date back decades in racing lore, the computerized, big-budget sportscar technology arms race that Group B regulations enabled through the ‘80s proved unprecedented. Lacking displacement limits or strict minimum build volumes, automakers poured funding into developing the fastest, most advanced purpose-built machines for rally competition with only scant consideration for production practicality or durability. The FIA-mandated manufacturers construct just 200 examples for public sale but offer wide freedom otherwise. Naturally, this environment fostered extreme performance even by contemporary sports car standards.
When Ford flirted with abandoning rallying in 1983 after lackluster prior results, the burgeoning Group B formula convinced management to double down. Newly hired project head Stuart Turner prioritized shedding weight while integrating the most effective all-wheel-drive transmission mated with a compact yet powerful motor.The product of Ford’s 3-year development blitz emerged in 1985 as the RS200, boasting an aerospace-grade composite chassis and body hiding a potent mid-mounted 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder pumping out between 250-500+ horsepower depending on the state of tune. Weighing under 1,200 kg (2,645 lbs) assisted by a composite kevlar body squatting just 1.1m (43 inches) tall, the RS200 proved Ford’s fiercest rally weapon ever.
On Stage & Special Stages – Thrilling Power Matched Only by Danger
In experienced hands, the lightweight RS200’s tremendous power-to-weight advantage translated into astounding performance often compared to a wayward rocketship rather than an automobile. 0-60 mph evaporated in a LeMans prototype-like 3.1 seconds – a shocking figure even among ‘80s supercars. The RS200 retained enough mechanical grip to rein in its rated top speed beyond 150 mph through forest gravel, desert sand, tarmac, or snow. Skilled drivers threaded narrow rally stage roads at improbable speeds by wrestling its precise if nervous steering inputs helped by advanced tech like computer-controlled active center differential torque vectoring doled power based on available traction. This freed drivers to push flat out trusting their RS200s to stick.
But that same compliant suspension travel benefiting off-road stability compromised asphalt manners. Combined with the notoriously laggy then boost turbo motor’s delivery, the RS200’s live-wire reflexes frequently bit overzealous owners. By 1986 alone hundreds crashed to total loss despite under 200 road examples completed. Among accidents, the worst came in ’86 when 3 spectators died at Rally de Portugal struck by Joaquim Santos’ airborne RS200. Though driver error caused the fatal incident, Group B machines shouldered the blame. Citing safety concerns over cars growing too fast for organizers or fans to control amid crowded spectator special stages, the FIA pulled the plug on Group B at season’s end.
Ford RS200 Legacy as a Coveted ‘80s Icon
The RS200 existed too briefly to establish a motorsport record to match its raw potential before external forces intervened. Yet for Group B enthusiasts and Ford devotees, the immediacy of its staggering performance benchmarks coupled with its rarity and racing link granted future collectability long before 1980s nostalgia emerged.
Today, prime condition Ford RS200 trade between starry-eyed Gen X buyers for solid seven-figure sums with no signs of slowing. Less pristine racers command lower yet still substantial valuations stretching into mid to high six digits. Either as garage sculpture or active historic rally entry, the RS200’s cutting-edge design and specification even 35+ years post-launch manages to quicken pulses through sheer presence alone. For all the tragedy and triumph tied to its reputation, Ford’s feral rally rocket endures as one of motorsport’s transcendent 80s firestarters.