Touring car racing: people’s racing, with cars anyone can relate to, featuring door-to-door, smash-and-grab action and an emphasis on entertainment. It’s a category that I’ve always loved watching, right back from when I was a kid. Living close to UK’s legendary Brands Hatch track in Kent, I was spoiled growing up, spending many happy weekends following my dad around the paddock and marvelling at the outrageous machinery we came across.
Screaming F1 cars, thundering prototypes, wheelie-popping GP bikes – but it was the touring cars that fascinated me. I could see the same cars parked out in the fields outside the track. The thought that I could possibly own one of those cars seemed incredible – okay, in a very different form, but I was perfectly willing to believe the dream…
I still am, though in a sort of time capsule, basically taking in 1993 to 2000. My high opinion of cars that most people might consider mass-produced boredom on four wheels is completely dominated by the impact of one specific racing category.
Its rules dictated large family cars to be used as the base. It didn’t sound great, I’ll grant you.
A Vauxhall Cavalier? What lack of will to live would make you buy one?
A Ford Mondeo? Could there be a less charismatic car?
What could be exciting about those cars? Well, you can see for yourself. The answer came in two words. Super Touring.
Thankfully, it seems old Super Tourers never die. There was a one-off race at the Silverstone classic a couple of years back, and that toe in the water provided the catalyst for a full-blown series organised by the Historic Sports Car Club in the UK. It was easily my highlight of the day that year, with a select group of late-era Primeras, Cavaliers, Accords and Mondeos reminding me just how awesome the cars were.
The biggest problem had been how relatively new these cars were, meaning they were too recent for a lot of historic series, but couldn’t be run in anything contemporary. So this year, after a lot of work, the five-round Super Touring Car Championship has been launched as an outlet for cars’ current owners to live the dream and get their cars back where they belong: on track. Since then, there’s been a constant stream of Super Tourers dusted down and brought out of retirement.
It’s simply incredible how popular it’s been, and this year I got to live out my Super Touring fantasies once again at the Silverstone Classic. A previous round had been held as a support to the current British Touring Car Championship – it’s lucky that the contemporary series is on such a high, otherwise they could have been made to look a little silly in the face of these ‘old’ cars!
Owners have popped out of the woodwork with unexpected racers, and more are being revealed all the time.
They’re being recovered from unlikely places as well. This Honda Accord was being used as a hillclimb special in Montenegro for instance!
It seems like when the Super Touring bug bites, it doesn’t let go. Several teams ran multiple cars, their awnings temples to particular models. One’s never enough…
Even better, rather than just a single example, you can now see entire squadrons of particular cars.
Not only that, but original drivers of the era have been getting involved, like feisty Scot John Cleland, BTCC champion in 1995, who has bought his 1997 Cavalier back and is as punchy as ever.Back With A Bang
It’s not surprising that Super Tourers are so popular: just look at the cars! For me, they just tick every box.
Low. I mean low low, splitter scraping, sparks-flying low.
Arches. The wheels are tucked so deep inside and so close to the arches that they might as well be glued together. Remember this isn’t some style trick that only works when the car is static – this is proper, pushing-the-boundaries engineering.
Driving position. The seats are mounted as far back and as centrally in the cockpit as rules would allow, meaning long steering wheel extensions had to be installed and you’re almost driving from the back seat.
Aero. They may have still looked pretty stock on the outside, but as the years rolled on, the cars got more and more complex.
Formula 1 and World Rally teams were involved in developing cars: Williams with the Renault Laguna.
McLaren with the BMW E36.
Prodrive with the Ford Mondeo.
This new renaissance of Super Touring is no playground either. I’d say it’s as much of a bullring as it ever was…
Pushing on track and against the opposition has forever been the name of the game in touring cars, after all.
Forty-one cars were out at Silverstone. The grid covered three decades of touring car racing, but the majority were from the glorious 1990-2000 two-litre period.
Alfa Romeo bounced back in the late ’90s with the 156, which then spanned the gap to the slightly less exciting S2000 era that followed Super Touring. Still, any excuse to feature an Alfa…
The late-era cars naturally dominate the revived series. The final year of Super Touring in the UK, 2000, boiled down to a straight shooting match between trios of cars entered by Ford, Vauxhall and Honda, and those machines are still fearsomely quick in any context.
They bear little resemblance to even the cars of a couple of years before. Look under the bonnet of the Mondeo, for instance, and you have to use binoculars to see the engine it’s mounted so far back – more GT1 style than touring car. These were the engineering pinnacle of an extreme series.In The Beginning, There Was Fire
So how did it all come about? My Silverstone experience was a great excuse to delve back into the birth, meteoric rise and predictable death of the Super Tourer.
Touring cars have always been the epitome of the race on Sunday, sell on Monday philosophy – and by god that approach worked. I know it did in my case, because I almost bought a run-of-the-mill Mondeo as a second car, for goodness sake, ruining any cred I had for my Beetle. I certainly wouldn’t have done that without the influence of what I saw at the racetrack…
I want to stress I almost bought it. I got a Rover instead. Oh. I see what I’ve done there. If only it had been this kind of Rover.
Saloon car racing has been in existence since the year dot – after all, it’s a lot easier to take something from a forecourt and go racing than enter into the realms of bespoke competition machinery like single seaters. The UK has always had a particularly strong scene, pitting everything against anything across the years in a competitive mash-up of breath-taking proportions. Mini against Falcon, Cortina against Camaro, Capri against BMW. On it went. But as the 1980s drew to a close, times were a-changing. It was all going to get a lot more serious.
The ’80s spawned the goliaths of Group C endurance prototypes and Group B rally weapons, but humble saloons were next on the list to get the icons-of-the-future treatment. I was fortunate that my well-curated childhood meant that I hit the sweet spot of the most glorious and extravagant period in touring cars: the Super Touring era of the 1990s. It was a perfect storm – the right time, the right rules, the right cars.
Taking humble, mass-produced econo-boxes that would normally be seen hogging the outside lanes of motorways and turning them into the most honestly aspirational yet extreme racers there were, manufacturers were given the opportunity to show the the more aggressive side of their output. A ferocious Mr Hyde from a meek Dr Jekyll.
The scene had been set for a while in the UK. A new two-litre formula had been introduced in 1990, showing the future direction as the Ford Sierra RS500 Group A beasts hit their swan song. You had to have a Sierra to have a chance, and Group A was effectively a one-make series. Stunning, fire-breathing cars they were of course, but how about some variety? Some new blood?
For 1991, the BTCC became wholly two-litre Class B-based, dropping the previous, confusing multi-class approach. The target was no-holds-barred racing, winner takes all.
It worked magnificently. The bar to entry was low and the interest quickly went stratospheric.
Pretty much every car company had a two-litre model in its range: the rules dictated big four-door saloons, meaning the cars looked substantial from the off, no matter the model. In ’91 you had Toyota, BMW, Peugeot, Nissan, Vauxhall, Ford, Mitsubishi and Rover competing. Mazda joined the party the following year; Renault the next.
BMW M3s dominated for the first couple of years, though they pretty much withdrew across Europe when the new FIA rules dropped for Europe, based on the UK series. It shows a name helps. FIA Class 2 doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? Though the actual Super Touring name was only officially adopted in ’95.
This was when things really took off, leading to the purple patch that I still go weak at the knees over. There were the awesome cars, charismatic drivers and enormous numbers of fans at the tracks.
Alfa Romeo had blitzed Super Touring the previous year with the variable aero 155 (variable in the fact that they got around the production-based rules by having a splitter that could be repositioned off the front of the car and removable rear wing brackets, a bit like the old BMW CSL dodge), but all the cars went through a rapid evolution.
There was the technology – the 155’s aero and Audi’s quattro of course, and the quirkiness – Volvo’s 850 estate of ’94, but also the variety.
A different manufacturer won each year between ’94 and 2000, a pretty much perfect result for fans and the series in general. Vauxhall, Audi, Renault, Volvo, Nissan and Ford all lifted the trophy at year end.
Super Touring went global as well. It was adopted in Australia, Scandinavia, South Africa, Japan and even the US had a brief fling with the unfamiliar concept of four-door saloons.
As ever, spiralling costs through supreme sophistication killed the series. Back in 1990, you could buy a shell and probably spend five times the price of the car getting it ready for competition. Say £60,000. In Super Touring’s final year in the BTCC in 2000, it’s estimated that Prodrive spent a million pounds per car, with a £3m operating budget for each of the team’s three Mondeos. Things were out of control, and completely out of reach to independent teams.
The previous year, now multiple BTCC champ Matt Neal was competing in a Primera run by his family team and took a giant-killing win at Donington that I remember had me on the edge of my seat. His was another car present at Silverstone.
And the dominating Mondeos? Two of the surviving three chassis from 2000 were racing, with the third rumoured to be joining the series in the near future. Not bad, huh?
It seems that if a car wasn’t destroyed, there’s a good chance it’ll show up in the STCC sooner or later.
What’s great about a series like this is that it’s not about rose-tinted nostalgia, tootling round on demo laps. It’s about showing off what these cars were – and still – are capable of. Body panel repairers must be rubbing their hands with glee!
Once again, the right time, the right rules, the right cars.
Toca touring Car ! PS1
Good old days...
Riccardo25 Ha, I still drive my 159 Sportwagon like I'm Giovanardi, much to the distress of my friends...
Jonathan Moore Riccardo25 the 159 is vauxhall tho
HSSLTYO Jonathan Moore Riccardo25 Argh! Never say that to me!
Well, it was the GM Premium platform, but I've got one of the later ones which is 'more' Alfa. I Want To Believe...
QD Of course it is! My bad: obviously brought about by my issue with the model that followed. I won't even mention the whale of a car that is the Insignia... Thanks for the spot!
Jonathan Moore HSSLTYO Riccardo25 Don't stop believing Mr Moore! Never!
Third picture down is a Vauxhall Cavalier, not a Vectra - they were only sold as a Vectra under the Opel, Chevrolet and Holden brands, and Vauxhall from the second generation (Vectra B) onwards.
Also, I'm in total agreement with you - this was hands down the best era for touring cars, and I have to say that it's probably my favourite motorsport series ever (in part thanks to Gran Turismo 2 and TOCA on PS1 and Scalextric models of them being prominent in my childhood memories). It's great to see these cars out on track again where they belong.
Great shots too, I'm definitely jealous!
Speedhunters_Bryn Jonathan Moore HSSLTYO Riccardo25 Thanks pal, it's all I've got...
Great article, I was there on the day Matt Neal won his first race in 1999, I was sat on the infield of the old hairpin as he shoved the nose of his Primera down the inside of James Thompson, the crowd literally went wild, Ive been to Donington for the BTCC every year since and Ive never felt the same level of excitement as I did on that day.
There was just something about the super touring era that makes it the greatest in the BTCC's history. Nowadays its very much a British championship but back then it was international, every big name driver wanted a crack at it!
Im just thankful I had a chance to experience it first hand.
Not to mention the solution for gearbox placement in the Mondeo: The gearbox was rotated 180° on its transversal axis and its driveshafts ran THROUGH the V of the V6!
I remember renting a car in the UK and when the agent pulled around in a Primera, I was like "OMG, A SOUPERTOURING CAR?!"... then I drove it. The 2.0/auto felt like it made 80 horsepower... but it was 80 SUPERTOURING horsepower.
Oh man, this is awesome. I love this era of BTCC cars, and I'm Canadian.
milkplus Hehe... amazing! That's exactly the feeling!
Jonathan Moore I was there at the first race at the Silverstone classic. Excited was not the word after growing up watching super touring on the TV I didn't blink! See you at Oulton Park tommorrow for the Gold Cup? I'll be stood staring at Matt Neals Primera or a Prodrive Mondeo
The best era of motorsport ever...
But no Carina E ?? We got one in Belgium
(For sale if someone interested !)
Great coverage man! I remember when i was younger i used to watch these races a lot!
milkplus Best comment of the day.
Speedhunters_Bryn Jonathan Moore HSSLTYO Alfas will always have something unique inside... Call it soul, if you want, but surely, they aren't just...cars....
That Sierra!?!?!?! That car is just... I can't put it into words how amazing it is
"I know it did in my case, because I almost bought a run-of-the-mill Mondeo as a second car."
My love affair with these cars is so great I took it that one step further. I bought a 1995 Volvo 850 wagon/estate, dropped it low with performance, not stance, suspension and a couple other little driving enthusiast aids. It may not be a fun car to drive like my MR2, but by god is it both useful (built a deck with it) and a blast on the highway. Like the original Super Tourer, it's not nimble, but will hold wide open corners like no body's business. I love it! And all the others that have a history in the series, I look upon them with different eye's than most.
Man, I want a garage full of these cars. Everyone thinks that F1 is where all of the engineering is, and while they have more aero to work with, Touring is more about the suspension and motor which is way more interesting to me.
Stunning photos as always, Moore. I wish I could be along side you and learn from you how to photograph racing this well.
I used to play Midtown Madness back in the day like it was my job, and I had every mod and custom car out there. But the one I remember the most was the Rapid Fit Mondeo. I'm not sure why, but I think it was a mix of my young age and see a race car that sat so low but looked so good, and a car I've never seen before in America. I saw it as a cooler racing version of the Taurus. And the Nissan Primera brings up memories, but I can't pinpoint them other than just a feeling of my past.
Back to my childhood! I used to love this cars. I still do.
That's why i love speedhunters so much. From the daikoku parking lot just to the 90s on silverstone.
BTW the article is an absolute masterpiece. You got the thing about touring cars just right. I can remember watching french movie "TAXI" all over and over again when i was child. There was that 406 inspired by the touring version and that's why everything with Peugeot badge on it was for me the best car ever. I used to gaze at brand new 406 at the dealership. I can also remember playing TOCA and Gran Turismo on my friend's playstation and being amazed how cool these "everyday cars" were compared to all the lamborghini and ferrari in NFS i had at home. And even today i admire more decent looking sedan or station wagon with powerful engine than rather useless supercar.
And what touring cars do for compacts and midsize, the rally does for super mini.
God these cars are beautiful, very nice detailing.
What wheels are on the Primera?
Dear god what I would do for a crateful of spare parts off that Accord *swoon*
I've only rarely EVER seen bits and pieces of these cars for sale, they are like crocodile's tears and are the one item Honda owners lust after more than JDM stuff.
GTRSv They're VOLK's of some sort, probably magnesium, but otherwise, it's fairly hard to tell.
for the love of god that's an E30 not an E36!
Super Touring is more or less responsible for the "rice" phenomenon, BUT to us mere mortals this type of racing was as good as it got, and the "race on sunday, sell on monday" approach only made the "relationship" that much stronger.
More articles like this, please.
XTad French "TAXI" movies are best!!
This is the stuff. Super touring for the win.
Would love a grassroots series like this with the costs not ending in 1 mil for a car.
Lovely post! Need to dust off the old TOCA for this!
Wildhamsterscelica Yep, I like the true aspirational nature of touring cars, and those late-era machines were technologically pretty damn advanced: almost into GT territory. Glad you liked the post!
Budd19 Awesome work there! Now that's carrying through the TC dream.
LukeEVOVIII They are... very cool. And yet fiery. So, hot as well. If you see what I mean...
WayneW Ah, interesting! No, it's strange that there's no Carina in the series as yet, but I'm sure one will come out of the woodwork: they were run by Rouse, weren't they?
ThePicGarage Jonathan Moore Ah, I wish I could be there! I am trying to secure a nice Super Tourer for a feature shoot...
Acc Yep, amazing pieces of engineering. They certainly spent the money!
Jason Hardy Lucky guy! I remember watching it on TV and jumping out of my seat when he won!
burkey Never mind the sighing... Yes, apologies: an editing error on our part: there was a bit of an upload error and some images got swapped round. I'm more concerned no one noticed the Alfa reference with a picture of a Honda! All fixed now: thanks for the spot.
This was the best touring car racing ever! Glad to see these cars are still raced!
burkey Yup. Rookie mistake for an enthusiast site.
@Sammy Well, you could argue that the modern BTCC NGTC rules are along those lines: not cheap exactly, but certainly at a level where private teams can effectively build their own cars, which is pretty impressive. Also, that cuts out some of the manufacturer ebb and flow, which should give more stability and prevent the boom and bust race series so often are subjected to...
But yes, TOCA! Win! Time to fire up that PS1 emulator...
apex_DNA We're glad you enjoyed this story! We'll see what we can do in future
Damn, this brings back memories for me too! Great times...
need car feature from super touring class
Nice article, excellent pics too thanks!
A cool era of touring car racing
apex_DNA I disagree that riced out cars were inspired by these. Clear tail lights, underbody fluros etc?
Pancakes apex_DNA No, but the Super Touring-style rear wings, front splitters, muffler tips, upsized wheels/tires, and racing livery got the ball rolling. Then came the VeilSide-replica aero kits, "fart-cans", heavy large diameter wheels, wild graphics, etc. It was a matter of time before the real stupidity began with neon undercarriage lighting and all the tackiness associated with "Racing Inspired Cosmetic Enhancement".
Clear taillights was a Euro thing that got integrated into the "import scene" later on, just like the current "stance" trend which is usually "blamed" on Japanese VIP and drift culture, but Europeans have been doing it since the '80s - look at some of their wide-body cars from that time period, most are running wide low offset wheels with stretched rubber).
Sure it wasn't just Super Touring that "inspired" these kind of modifications, there was a also a bit of "lowrider euro" and original "sport compact" style that had a hand in developing this phenomenon.
In the end, this is only my opinion based on my limited knowledge, understanding, and exposure to said phenomena.
apex_DNA Pancakes I can see how you make the link yip
Wow, is that Mondeo V6 at the bottom of page 2 using shower injection? MORE PICS PLEASE! The 90's were such a great Motorsport era... DTM, Group A WRC... ahhhhh.
OMG PERFECT!!! TOCA 2 flashbacks
"A Vauxhall Cavalier? What lack of will to live would make you buy one?"
Did the Vauxhall have a turbo 4x4 version, like Vectra As had? Because that's something I'd possibly buy if I was looking for something like that, even with all its problems.
These cars are a little before me, Are they, and the racing better than today's new NGTC rules? I am really loving the BTCC at the minute.
roeby Hello there! 'Better' is subjective... I think the current racing in the BTCC is arguably as good if not better than it was at the height of Super Touring, and I'm a big fan of the current NGTC cars. If anything, I think they hark back to the look and feel of old style STs, whilst trying to keep budgets to sensible levels – the thing that caused the death of the ST era. However, the STs are definitely impressive machines, and technologically perhaps a level above. But you get what you pay for... The best thing is now we can see both eras in the flesh – sometimes on the same weekend!
Loved catching Super Touring races on TV in the middle of the night back in the mid 90s. These are still great looking cars and I'm happy to see that they are still being run.
Jonathan Moore roeby That said, which are the faster cars? Also, what engines were the super tours running?
the twr volvo 850 and s40 were the ultimate super tourers to me and neither are pictured here
More engine/suspension pics please!!!! I love watching these cars in action. I also love the fact that they still retain a good percentage of the original frame/body!
WayneW Not looking to buy but would like to know more about the car. Can you PM / email me
I keep reading this article and it brings back so many memories. Watching Speedvision and thinking my honda will be like that!! Favorite article on Speedhunters.
BTCC and JTCC were the main reason I grew to love cars. Images simply can't convey the experience of watching it on TV as a kid. It had all the excitement of Nascar, but with REAL drivers and real driving (turning both left AND right, trail braking, rev-matching, etc.).
Many years later, I'm still dreaming of building a Primera to take to the track.
Reading this made me think of the racing history in South Africa. Th different categories of racing that branched from it, the Opel Super Boss (Boss S, fitted with the C20XE, racing cams and a LSD right out the factory) that took BMW on head to head with their E30 325is (325 coupe with a 2.7l motor) and the 20B powered Mazda mx6.
Ahhh the days of being a 90's kid
I miss those days, wish they brought those days back when racing cars looked a lot like their street siblings
"My high opinion of cars that most people might consider mass-produced boredom on four wheels is completely dominated by the impact of one specific racing category."
This guy gets me. I LOVED watching BTCC in the late '90s when I was little and always look fondly on '90s Primeras, Lagunas and so on.
Oh, forgot to add, my favourite race I can remember is Donington 1998, one of the most exciting races of any kind ever!
In the 80s , teenagers around the world had a Countach, or a Testarossa poster on their room wall. As I became a teen in the late 90s/early 00s, I got a giant pic of Giovanardi flying on a curb with his angry, red, fascinating 156! Clearly, our family car was a red 156 Sportwagon...