Whenever the subject of rallying crops up amongst enthusiastic followers, it’s an absolute dead-cert the term Group B will be uttered with equal awe and reverence. As it absolutely ought to be.
It’s probably nothing you didn’t already know, but here’s a quick 101 on Group B rallying. It was a set of FIA regulations introduced in 1982 that brought important technologies to the sport, most notably turbocharging and all-wheel drive. Cars like the Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16 and Lancia Delta S4 escalated in performance and grew dominant, with power levels ultimately exceeding 600hp.
Inevitably, people got hurt – even killed – when these gravel supercars bested the control of their valiant pilots, sending what were effectively wheeled Molotov cocktails in waiting spiralling into the scenery. After just five short seasons the FIA outlawed Group B, confining it to the history books as the most exciting period the sport has ever witnessed.
For many of my generation, Group B is something we experienced via grainy VHS or delayed telecasts, and that low-res coverage still feels like the only authentic way to remotely experience the madness. It just seemed intrinsic to the nature of the beasts, and in a sense it preserves the mystique that surrounded the killer legends.
Yet here I was, strapped into the passenger bucket of a period correct example of one such death machine. You know, doing whatever it takes to get the job done and bring a story to the people. Emotives? A mixture of apprehension and naturally, excitement. Palms? Slightly sweaty, clasped tightly at my lap in that ‘I don’t know whether I should grab something for dear life or what’ pose.
It was only a quiet backroad on the rural outskirts of Auckland, but hunkered down in the co-driver’s spot peering between the squared off A-pillars at the twisting ribbon of asphalt that lay ahead, it felt legitimate. I was Fred Gallagher, period co-driver to Juha Kankkunen, ready to embark on Special Stage 1 of the 1985 Rally New Zealand.
Then came the assault on the senses. Sure, the Celica was never the crème de la crème of the Group B crop, with its two-wheel drive chassis instantly at a disadvantage versus its all-paw peers. But hell, this thing was violent. Elegantly, satisfyingly, stupidly-giggling violent.
Sat next to me in the driver’s position, owner Ross Clarke eased onto the tarmac and dropped the hammer. To the ears of a certified petrolhead, what happened next was symphonic. Old race engines of this level just have that distinct tone. It’s rough, ready, yet finely balanced, in this case building to an 8,000rpm crescendo of turbo whistle and exhaust cackle. Perfect.
Scrambling for traction, Ross deftly pitched the car through the cambered turns. Grainy film flashbacks played over as he applied a gentle touch of counter-steer, dancing through the bends like Björn Waldegård on the Monte Carlo. This was Group B.Faithful
One crucial tidbit of information about Ross, is his thorough dedication to rallying. He originally hit the gravel in the ’80s behind the wheel of a Ford Escort, progressing to a Mazda RX-3 packing potent rotary power. Then a defining moment. A club rally crash left Ross with a broken back, which put a temporary hold on his rally career and changed the direction of his involvement for the near future.
He began servicing for New Zealand rally star Neil Allport, and over this period of the mid-1980s Ross was lucky enough to experience direct exposure to the Group B era. Allport himself campaigned a Group B RX-7, but it was the arrival of the works teams for the annual WRC round that ignited a spark that would culminate in the form of his own Group B weapon a couple of decades later.
Before getting down to the business of Group B, Ross made his return to rallying with another historic Toyota build. Built to exacting Group 2 specification, Ross’s 1975 Celica was a hint of the future, itself gaining a Speedhunters feature back in 2012. That car left his garage in 2015 destined for the UK, welcoming the dream rally build.
While the Celica Twin Cam Turbo never enjoyed outright success on the shorter stages of the European rallies, Ross proudly acknowledges the success the cars found in Africa. Six straight wins no less, on both the Safari and Ivory Coast rallies, each feared for their car-breaking nature and demand for endurance. It was enough to prompt him to build his own.
That’s right, build. Not buy. Although 30 of these TA64 Group B Celicas were built, only seven remain, and buying one is a couple of levels of difficult. The first, of course, is the exorbitant cost. The second, well, the owners simply don’t want to let go of their cars. Remember that connection with Neil Allport? His rally car expertise and workshop services would become instrumental in creating Ross’s second attempt at the ideal Toyota rally replica.Blurred Lines
Starting with a painfully pedestrian SA60 Celica road car, Ross’s original intent was to build it to Group 4 spec. In short form, an injected naturally aspirated 2.0-litre, with goals of about 260hp – the ideal combo to fend off the BDA Escort gang in classic rallying. But as is a story so prevalent in contemporary times, the internet turned up and changed the plans.
Finnish rally restoration specialists Makela Auto Tuning (MAT) and their website became responsible for the Celica’s transformation to Group B firecracker. MAT had previously restored a couple of genuine works TA64s to former glory, documenting them with thousands of detailed images. Ross decided that with such a resource at hand, between Allport and himself the task was possible.
But without the right engine, could it possibly be authentic? Again, courtesy of the internet Ross struck up a relationship with Gerd Dicks of Rallye Engine, a German engine builder who handily built the competition engines for Toyota Team Europe (TTE) in period. Even handier, he still maintains a comprehensive inventory of historic Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and TTE components.
Better again, Gerd was more than happy to sell Ross an engine. And not just any engine, a real-deal TRD 396 Evolution powerplant, built in March 1985 and dropped into Juha Kankkunen’s 1000 Lakes Rally contender for that year. Engine #111.
Aesthetically, the 396E is related to Toyota’s 3T-GTE production engine. Like the showroom model, it also has a wide twin-cam 8-valve head. Displacement is 2,090cc in this Evolution form, right to the limit of the Group B capacity rules. Inside it’s all TTE: forged, lightened and balanced internals lubricated by a dry sump setup.
Everything beneath the engine bay is period correct. On the hot side, a fabricated stainless manifold provides spent exhaust gases to a KKK K27 turbo. The sizeable TTE wastegate is a particular indicator of just how far we’ve come in terms of turbo management.
Pressurised air flows through custom piping, via the front-mounted intercooler and into a cast magnesium TTE inlet plenum. This is a particularly neat piece of kit, incorporating individual throttle butterflies. The engine management is a deviation from the 1980s, with Ross electing to use a Life Racing ECU in place of the TTE EPROM-type units used in period. It’s a step in the direction of user friendliness and reliability.
The 396E’s 410hp (305kW) would normally be channelled through a Hewland dog box, but with this option proving unobtanium, Ross shifts via a slick Lampola gearset installed into a W57 Toyota casing. Not only does it permit knife-through-butter quick shifts, but the straight-cut soundtrack adds to the authentic ambience inside the Celica.
Outside, things again blur the line between replica and genuine. MAT came to the party, shipping a set of their body panels to the Southern Hemisphere. These are moulded from genuine TTE panels enabling millimetre-perfect proportion with all creases and vents in exactly the right place.
From truncated front end – the showroom model Celica had pop-up lamps – to the boxed fenders and the elaborate bootlid, the fibreglass body work is the essence of 1980s competition. Finished in the Marlboro livery of Middle Eastern Celica pilot Mohammad bin Sulayem, its homage to the styling cues that further enhanced Group B’s appeal.No Stone Unturned
Preparation of the shell, like Ross’s past Celica, was entrusted to Neil Allport Motorsport. With the MAT archive at their disposal, the Allport team built up the Celica shell according to the works car detail.
Each chassis brace and roll-cage tube is in place, although unlike the works cars the cage is now chromoly steel rather than the alloy of period. A subtle touch, only visible to those who know, is the Allport Motorsport chassis tag on each strut top, a laser-etched tribute to the TTE-built cars’ chassis ID plates.
The suspension is based around MCA shocks damping King Springs race coils at each corner. Ross has elected to run the stronger Safari-spec upright in the front, with Alcon calipers clutching 2-piece rotors.
The live rear axle is a custom take on a Toyota G-series housing, now five-linked and running a rear swaybar. A Cusco limited slip differential sends power through floating axles to 8-inch-wide Minilite wheels at each end.
Inputs to those Minilites are handled within the tight cabin confines. While the interior fit and finish is to show car standards, there’s a distinct void of anything non-functional. It’s a hell of a place to strap in, watching the analogue dials of the Stack instruments indicate the engine’s vitals.
The tacho is period TRD, as is the Halda rally computer. But concessions to safety dictate the usage of modern seats and belts, in this case OMP and Schroth Racing, which ensure a comfortable, safe environment for living out WRC dreams.
And that’s exactly what Ross intends to do. The Celica is still fresh as a daisy, clean from top to toe and testament to the thorough build quality of the Allport workshop. In fact, the day of the shoot was the first time Ross had given the car a squirt on the loose stuff. The smile at the end of the day spoke volumes; this was the stuff of dreams, of ambition and of misty-eyed nostalgia towards an era of legends.
This is rallying past recreated in its most unprocessed form.