Colin McRae began his competitive career in motorsport riding trial bikes at an early age, despite being more interested in four wheeled machines rather than two wheel bikes. At the age of sixteen, through the Coltness Car Club, McRae discovered autotesting, he soon traded his bike for a Mini Cooper and started competing. A year later, he began to negotiate with another club member to use his Hillman Avenger for the Kames Stages, a single-staged rally venue not far from McRae's home. McRae finished the event fourteenth; first in his class although he had run most of the event in a higher position.
With victory in the Safari Rally in 2002, McRae made the record books as the driver with most event wins in the World Rally Championship. His record has since been broken by Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm. McRae's contract with Ford came to an end following the 2002 season, and after reportedly asking for wages of five million pounds a year, Ford decided against renewing the contract, reluctant to commit such a high amount of their budget to a driver's salary. The two parties split on amicable terms, with Ford's European director of motorsport Martin Whitaker stating "On behalf of all of us at Ford Motor Company I would like to publicly thank Colin and Nicky for their efforts during the past four years with the Ford team. I wish them both well in the future." McRae said of his time with Ford "It's been a very successful four years, we've achieved a lot of very good results and I'm quite happy that myself and Ford have had a very successful partnership."
This particular era was not to last. On the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, four spectators were killed; then in May, on the Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen went over the edge of a mountain road and was incinerated in the fireball that followed. FISA immediately changed the rules again: rallying after 1987 would be in Group A cars, closer to the production model. One notably successful car during this period was the Lancia Delta Integrale, dominating world rallying during 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 – winning six consecutive world rally championships, a feat yet unbeaten.
However, if you are heading for a spin around your favourite backcountry twister, then there are few cars better suited. Independent suspension all-round, a turbocharged 230hp 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive, mixed with the early signs of Ford’s newfound commitment to handling, meant the Cosworth would devour pretty much any flavour of road in its path.
Built by the freshly created Advanced Vehicle Operations at the Ford Aveley plant in Essex, the Mexico went on sale between 1970 and 1974 with a 1600cc pushrod ohv engine. It cashed in on Ford’s success in the London-Mexico Rally of 1970. With a shade over 90hp, the Mexico could reach a heady 99mph, but this was enough to light up the rubber around the 13” steel wheels mid corner, giving you easily controllable drifts at relatively safe speeds and almost perfect balance.
The 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally followed four years later. The rally travelled southwards into Africa but a navigational error saw most of the rally become lost in Algerian desert. Eventually only seven teams reached the southernmost point of the rally in Nigeria with five teams making it back to West Germany having driven all legs and only the winning team completing the full distance. This, coupled with the economic climate of the 1970s the heat went out of intercontinental rallying after a second London–Sydney Marathon in 1977. The concept though was revived in 1979 for the original Paris-Dakar Rally. The success of the Dakar would eventually see intercontinental rallying recognised as its own discipline; the Rally Raid.
Gruelling long distance events continued to be run. In 1967, a group of American offroaders created the Mexican 1000 Rally, a tough 1,000-mile race for cars and motorcycles which ran the length of the Baja California peninsula, much of it initially over roadless desert, which quickly gained fame as the Baja 1000, today run by the SCORE organization. "Baja" events now take place in a number of other countries worldwide.
While nowadays we are used to rally cars being visually close relatives to hot hatchbacks and saloons, it wasn’t always this way. The Lancia Stratos was the first car purpose built for the World Rally Championship; however, its rakish supercar looks and Ferrari-sourced V6 suggested it was better suited to the car park outside Monte Carlo’s casino than the world’s toughest rally stages.
The causes of rallies vary. Short-term rallies can result from news stories or events that create a short-term imbalance in supply and demand. Sizeable buying activity in a particular stock or sector by a large fund, or an introduction of a new product by a popular brand, can have a similar effect that results in a short-term rally. For example, almost every time Apple Inc. has launched a new iPhone, its stock has enjoyed a rally over the following months.
While Ferrari built race cars before Enzo Ferrari ever considered making a street car, they're not typically seen sliding around on dirt. That wrong was righted with the Ferrari 308, which was homologated for rally in Group 4 and Group B classes. Why watch Magnum P.I. reruns when you can scour YouTube for videos of 308 rally cars tearing up dirt stages, flat-plane V-8s wailing? Fantastic.
But this wasn’t enough. By 1984 rallying was all but deregulated, and Audi Sport introduced the Sport Quattro: a shortened, more powerful version of the original coupe, and regulations insisted that 214 were built for the road. With its wheelbase shortened a meaningful 12.6 inches between the B- and C-pillars, the Sport Quattro was more nimble and the bodywork featured numerous GRP and carbon-Kevlar panels. A massive KKK-K27 turbocharger helped increase power to 302hp on the road, while Stig Blomqvist had access to over 450hp in the rally Group B version.
Most of the works drivers of the 1950s were amateurs, paid little or nothing, reimbursed their expenses and given bonuses for winning (although there were certainly exceptions, such as the Grand Prix drivers who were brought in for some events). Then in 1960 came arguably the first rallying superstar (and one of the first to be paid to rally full-time), Sweden's Erik Carlsson, driving for Saab.