Rally racing is one of the oldest, purest and most extreme forms of motorsport, characterized by its checkpoint format rather than timed laps around a circuit. Whether held on public or private roads, or as a road or stage race, rallies push both driver and machine to the limit and punish them in a way no other competition can. Therefore, rally cars are designed to withstand the high stresses of the most difficult conditions: broken/gravel roads, wet forests, slippery frozen tundras, dusty sandy deserts or winding mountain roads.
With almost 130 years of rallying comes a rich selection of legendary rally cars. These cars have earned a deserved cult status due to their revolutionary features, outstanding shine and raw mechanics. While some iconic rally cars are statistically superior, some others have left such an indelible mark on the world of rallying that it’s hard to ignore them. Here’s our list of the most iconic rally cars of all time, starting with the sane back catalog of unforgettable races and countless competitions, to sifting through.
10 Lancia Stratos HF
Lancia has been at the forefront of rallying over the years and the Lancia Stratos HF is the perfect embodiment of its success. The Stratos HF won the World Rally Championship three times in a row, dominating formidable competitors like the Audi Quattro from 1974 to 1976.
With drivers such as Björn Waldegard, Sandro Munari, Bernard Daniche and Markku Alen at the wheel, the Stratos HF provided spectacular scenes on the rally stages, winning 17 events between 1974 and 1981. Aside from the success and impressive 2.4-litre Dino-derived V6, the Stratos HF was arguably one of the smartest and most elegant rally cars to grace the sport.
9 Peugeot 205 T16
The Peugeot 205 T16 wasn’t the most successful Group B rally car, but its win rate sets it apart from numerous rally cars. The 205 T16 (turbocharged and 16-valve) utilized an ultra-short 100-inch wheelbase, advanced all-wheel drive and a perfectly balanced, transversely-oriented mid-engine.
With over 400 horsepower and an impressive lightweight of 1,980 pounds, the 205 T16 was brutally fast and set fast times through the corners. The Peugeot 205 T16 won just under 50% of the Group B races it competed in, winning back-to-back championship titles in 1985 and 1986.
8th Fiat 131 Abarth
The diminutive Fiat 131 was an Italian car revered across Europe, but Fiat turned the humble rear-wheel drive car into a rally monster. Fiat modified and widened the 131’s bodywork to accommodate fully independent suspension, then upgraded the engine to a 2.0-litre, 16-valve mill and mated it to a five-speed manual gearbox.
The Alpine A110 and Lancia Stratos dominated the early 1970s, but the small family sedan 131 dominated the roost in the late 1970s. The Fiat 131 Abarth won the constructors’ title from 1977 to 1980 and helped Walter Röhrl and Markku Alen to the drivers’ title. Between 1976 and 1981 the Fiat 131 Abarth racked up an impressive 18 victories in rallies.
7 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
Rallies in the late 1990s witnessed a fierce battle between two Japanese heavyweights, including the extremely agile and blisteringly fast Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. In addition to the combination of 2.0-liter turbo engine and all-wheel drive, the Lancer Evo has shaped its dominance in the competition by legendary Finnish rally driver Tommi Makinen.
Tommi was a force to be reckoned with in this rally car, rivaling Colin McRae’s Subaru to win the WRC drivers’ title for a record four consecutive years from 1996 to 1999, with Mitsubishi winning the constructors’ title in 1998. The pair consistently won rallies five iterations of the 1994 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, including 22 of Tommi Makinen’s 24 WRC victories before moving to Subaru.
6 Subaru Impreza WRC
The unmistakably iconic blue color with yellow livery was Subaru’s color of war during its most dominant era in the WRC. Powered by legendary rally drivers such as Colin McRae, Richard Burns and more recently Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg, the Subaru Impreza’s successful rally campaigns have seen the road legal specials achieve iconic status.
The Subaru Impreza boasts six WRC titles in eight years of competition; three drivers’ titles (1995, 2001 and 2003) and three consecutive constructors’ titles (1995 to 1997). In addition, the Impreza has won over 160 championships in numerous competitions worldwide, including Lebanese and Finnish titles.
5 Audi Quattro
Most engineers ruled out 4WD systems in rallying because the increased center of gravity and added weight would result in slower times. Audi turned the sport on its head with its sophisticated four-wheel drive system, the groundbreaking Quattro. The incredibly advanced system gave the Quattro rally car incredible cornering grip and the ability to fire down the straights.
In addition, the revolutionary system eliminated the dreaded turbo lag, which represents an enormous advance in supercharging systems. The Quattro made a name for itself after winning back-to-back Group B titles in 1983 and 1984 and the Manufacturers’ title in 1984. The Quattro won eight world rallies, three in ’83 and five in ’84.
4 Citroën C4 WRC
The Citroën C4 may be the forgotten middle child of the French automaker’s small family car segment, but it certainly is a dominant beast in rally garb. Introduced in 2007 to replace the Xsara, the C4 WRC obliterated its competition, winning three constructors’ crowns and four consecutive drivers’ titles within four years of competition.
Despite stiff competition from what was then a well-funded Ford M-Sport team, the legendary Sebastian Loeb drove the C4 WRC to claim an incredible 34 of the 36 WRC victories to his name. In addition to victories, Loeb has recorded an impressive 46 podium finishes from 56 events, not to mention 403 fastest stage times. A rule change is the only reason the C4 WRC stopped winning, but it only paved the way for the equally dominant DS3 WRC.
3 Lancia Delta HF
Lancia is a well-known rally name, dominating the sport with the 037 Rally, the Stratos HF and the revolutionary Delta S4 rally cars. However, the Delta HF and subsequent HF Integrale, which came after Group B, are the most successful Lancia rally cars in terms of outright wins.
Before Citroën demonstrated its competitive prowess, Lancia’s Group A era was an unstoppable era that allowed the Delta to put the Lancia name back in the spotlight and reaffirm the Italian automaker as the largest WRC producer. The Delta won 46 events in its six-year stint, taking home a record six consecutive Constructors’ and four Drivers’ titles.
2 Toyota Celica Turbo
Considering that performance sedans and hatchbacks took over rallying for the last two to three decades, the Toyota Celica was one of the last true sports cars to dominate the sport. Aside from how it eventually fell from WRC glory in its recent campaigns, the Celica’s track record goes back the ‘Whistling Pig’ days in Group B races.
Although struggling with the sticky, dry rallies of Europe, the ST185 Celica won high-speed rallies in Finland, Sweden and New Zealand, as well as tarmac competitions in Catalonia, Tour de Corse and Sanremo. The Celica’s most significant hallmark, however, was its toughness in the brutal African rallies that earned it the nickname ‘King of Africa’ with six victories on the continent. The Toyota Celica has four drivers’ championships, two constructors’ titles and 30 rally victories on all continents.
1 Volkswagen Polo R WRC
The Volkswagen Polo plays second fiddle to the Golf GTI on the road, but it’s enjoyed basking in the WRC spotlight. Hailed as the most elaborate and professional racing car ever produced by a rally team, the VW Polo R WRC has had an overwhelming 80% win rate, making it one of the most dominant rally cars in WRC history.
After Sebastian Ogier fell out with the Citroën bosses, he switched to Volkswagen and claimed 31 of the 43 WRC mammoth victories that the Polo R WRC achieved in four years. Thanks to the new WRC technical regulations, the 320hp, 1.6-litre turbocharged Polo has an incredible 87 podiums and 12 titles on top of its victories that would take time to beat.
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