Sierra Mania: 30 Years Of The Legendary RS500

The 1980s was arguably motorsport’s most exciting era to date.

Turbocharging technology was progressing at a rapid pace, manufacturers invested heavily in motorsport, and the likes of Formula 1 and Group B rallying were pushing power output and performance to incredible, and often dangerous levels.

In contrast to Group B’s barely existent boundaries, Group A (first introduced in 1982) operated under limits of power, weight and budget.

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Tucked away in a quiet corner of Autosport International 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham was a stunning collection of one of the most loved Group A racers from the time, the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth.

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Each presented in their original liveries from the ‘80s, the display was a celebration of 30 years of the legendary machine.

It seems fitting to introduce the story of the RS500 with this video of an epic battle between Andy Rouse, Tim Harvey and Lawrence Bristow from the 1989 BTCC Birmingham Superprix. This event took place on closed roads just a stone’s throw from the National Exhibition Centre in which the cars sat.

If that doesn’t have you perched on the edge of your seat, arms coated with goosebumps then please check your pulse.

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Following the appointment of Stuart Turner as head of Ford Motorsport in Europe in 1983, the realisation soon dawned that Ford was no longer considered a competitive force in motorsport around the world.

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The Sierra had launched the year previous, and Turner decided it to be the ideal candidate to boost Ford’s motorsport program. It had the bases covered: a three-door chassis that was rear-wheel drive with reasonable aerodynamic performance (that could, and would, be improved upon) and in desperate need of a marketing uplift to boost production car sales.

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Success in Group A touring cars was the goal. The FIA’s rules stipulated that eligible Group A contenders had to be derived from road-going vehicles. A run of at least 5,000 production cars needed to be built, with a minimum of 500 homologated ‘Evolution’ versions if a model was to be deemed eligible.

Many of these homologated versions are the ones that automotive enthusiasts still covet to this day – the BMW E30 M3 Evo, Mercedes-Benz 190E Evolution, Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, to name but a few.

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Ford’s long-term partnership with Northamptonshire-based engineering firm Cosworth would prove fruitful for procurement of a suitable powerplant for its Group A campaign. Cosworth had developed the naturally-aspirated YAA engine, based on Ford’s Pinto unit and so a turbocharged version evolved, designated the YBB. With 204bhp on tap and great tuning potential, it would be the foundation for Ford and Cosworth’s ongoing relationship.

Ford’s production run of over 5,500 Sierra RS Cosworths allowed the chassis to be homologated for Group A and, in 1987, Aston Martin in Tickford were given the task of converting and producing the 500 homologated versions, dubbed the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth.

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Along with a modest power increase to the tune of 224bhp thanks to a stronger Cosworth YBD block, larger Garrett T04 turbocharger, bigger intercooler and intake and fuelling improvements, the 500 road-going RS500s also received suspension alterations and subtle exterior changes to make them more stable and aerodynamic.

At the time, one of the 500 production Sierra RS500 Cosworths could be yours for just £19,950, around £52,000 in today’s money, allowing for inflation.

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Alongside the E30 M3 Evo, the RS500 was one of the first Group A contenders to be designed as a race car, modified for the road, rather than the rest of the lineup at the time, which were production cars modified for the circuit. A second intake plenum and fuel rail, present but unused on the road-going RS500, allowed race teams to push the envelope when developing the competitive cars. Most of the cars that you see in these images hit the circuit with over 550bhp being sent to the rear wheels.

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Race RS500s were constructed by the likes of Andy Rouse, Graham Goode, Terry Drury, CC Motorsport and Dick Johnson, each bearing an instantly-recognisable and iconic livery.

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Ultimately, the RS500 went on to storm its class in Group A around the world, and is considered one of the most successful touring cars of all time. With series victories in the Australian, German, Japanese, British and New Zealand touring car championships, as well as victories at the Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Spa 24 Hours.

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The Group A touring car class was discontinued by the FIA in 1988, but the heroes of the era, such as the E30 M3, R32 GT-R and RS500, are still revered by car enthusiasts to this day.

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Times have changed and it pains me to say it, but I can’t imagine us looking back with such fondness on any Super 2000 touring car chassis 30 years from now. At the time of the RS500 the road-going and race-bound machines felt like siblings, rather than the distant cousins of modern touring cars.

Of course I could be wrong – what do you think?

Jordan Butters
Instagram: jordanbutters
Facebook: Jordan Butters Photography
jordan@speedhunters.com

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37 comments

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1

One of my all time favourite cars, period

2

Thanks for the article Jordan, nicely done.

I still drive one of my 2 XR4ti's almost every day and I've never grown tired of it. What really surprises me about the car, is how well it stacks up against far more modern machinery. With a handful of upgrades, it still out performs most of the cars I come across; does very well at track events.

3

This car helped define the era. Please continue to post stories of this great car. I hope to own one day.

4
NikkSquidBonnett

Would be really interesting to read a post detailing the subtle differences between cars prepared by different teams.

5

That Labatt's RS gave me an instant throwback to Goodwood last year.

6

Awesome article!! One of my all time favorite cars, such a beast!

7
8

Looks cool. Never had the chance to see one in person, in the flesh

9

great

10

Its amazing it started looking like this.

11

JaySwaffield I like even this one :)

12

ohc I have Sierra too. It handles sooo sweet.

13

As Im Sierra enthusiast and owner of two Sierras Im very proud at its racing history. Thank you sier for this nice article. Speedhunters should write more about this great cars. Only article I have found here before was about Texaco Sierra,wich was great but..... while Skyline and Supra are absolute saints here ( wich I adore too), you guys dont write about car that deserves more. I was wondering why is that. You have your guys in Ireland and UK,and Finland is  country where you visit a lot and there are some of the greatest Sierras in the world.
P.S Pay a visit to Skogen racing ;)   Its not all about Cosworth either.

14

Nice to see some love for the Group A period on Speedhunters! For me it was the golden era of motorsport, where the cars on tracks/stages were closer to their mass-produced brethren in the showroom than ever before. Competition was very close in that period as well, which is something that a lot of people seem to overlook when considering the "best" time for any given motorsport. 
Will we look back as fondly on the current crop of Touring Cars? For my generation, who grew up with Group A, probably not. Having said that I still enjoy modern Touring Car racing and, like the vast majority of motorsport disciplines, I realize that things have had to change to keep the sport running.

15

great

16

just as Ashley replied I'm stunned that people able to earn $9967 in four weeks on the 
internet . see this here.............  http://bit.ly/2iKWY1m

17

I love Group A, call me sentimental.
https://youtu.be/fBKqAaEVWi0?t=1m6s

18

shoulda been the images for stance done right - these cars always looked like there were boxing - bobbing and weaving :)

19

motorness That's the hallmark of a "proper" touring car in my mind. Imperfect. Small tyres. Plenty of HP. A chassis drivers had to adapt to, rather than adapt the chassis to the drive like a single seater or modern spaceframe type car.

20

Also worth watching this classic set-to between the great Andy Rouse and the equally great Steve Soper: https://youtu.be/NxFjyMUWLF8

21

Very cool that Brocky's and Dick Johnson's ATCC spec Sierras are preserved there.

22

After 3 months of planning its great to see such posotive comments regarding the display 

Thank you 

Paul

23

It should be mentioned that these cars were balanced on a knife edge when it came to Group A runes. Both Sierras were disqualified from Bathurst in 1987 due to non compliant parts and additives in the fuel.
They are fantastic race cars but they weren't without controversy.

24

Being Group A, most parts were strictly controlled / homologated parts...(or at least we're meant to be) AFAIK, the major difference was in how the engine was built / tuned... Basically you had high static compression and Lewis's boost, or low static compression and big boost. I recall reading an article about DicK Johnson Racing (who went the low comp / high boost route) saying that without the turbo, the low comp engine made about 80hp on the dyno

25

I'm confused by the FINA sponsored car.... The front bar is the standard Cosworth one, without the slot under the grille, but it's running the additional rubber lip on the wing and 2nd tailgate spoiler of the RS500.....

26

DavidFarrington Also has a number plate. It's probably a replica

27

DavidFarrington 
This car was only finished the day before the show , the owner will be fitting the correct front bumper and rear top spoilers very soon once there all painted , 
Sadly he ran out of time ,, but it was better to have the car there as it was that not at all .
The car had that number plate back in the day ,, I can assure you that every car on the stand is 100% the real deal 
Paul

28

Vittorio Jano DavidFarrington 
The car had the number plate fitted back in the day ,

29

Paul linfoot Vittorio Jano DavidFarrington Didn't know that. Always learn something new :)

30

Shaunock Strangely the controversial wheel arches were okay outside of Australia. Also Brock qualified the winning Commodore after qualifying his other car, which was against the rules and meant that the eventual winner started the race from the wrong spot.

1987 WTCC was full of controversies right from the first race.

31

I'm a Sierra fan (and former owner*) from way back, so it fills me with a slightly inappropriate level of joy to see these cars getting their moment in the sun again. Australian Group A was a big part of my youth, so thank you for the images of the DJR and Brock cars.

*I owned an XR4x4 about 20 years ago, and true to a magazine's summary it was "Surprisingly capable. Drinks fuel, eats gearboxes." Damn it was fun four-wheel drifting it in the wet.

32

Maybe now it would be opportunity to show you my Ford Sierra GT.
Pain and anything else has ben done by me with help of my bro and friends.

33

Vittorio Jano DavidFarrington Good spot – images of it in action back in the day show the RS500 grille and bumper so maybe it had a shunt and a more economical repair? It's not a replica however. It was built for the 1988 BTCC by CC Motorsport and raced by Bob Sands.

34

Paul linfoot DavidFarrington Saws this too late - thanks for the input Paul!

35

contestedground Gahhhhh this is amazing!

36

absolutely love this!!

37

@http://www.livefyre.com/profile/6232842/


Super clean example, what engine are you running?

Here's a picture of mine.

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