The ultimate Grey Poupon car, except sideways on dirt. Funded by Christian Dior and his Jules fragrance, the Corniche rally car competed in the fearsome Paris-Dakar. In truth, there's very little Rolls-Royce to the Corniche rally car: it's a tubular chassis fitted with a four-wheel-drive system from a Toyota Land Cruiser and a small-block Chevy V-8. But, it looks like a Rolls, and that's what counts.
There are two main forms: stage rallies and road rallies. Since the 1960s, stage rallies have been the professional branch of the sport. They are based on straightforward speed over stretches of road closed to other traffic. These may vary from asphalt mountain passes to rough forest tracks, from ice and snow to desert sand, each chosen to provide an enjoyable challenge for the crew and a test of the car's performance and reliability.
Analysts spend thousands of hours trying to mathematically determine what will trigger the next rally and how long it will last. Technical analysis is especially prevalent in this effort, although less sophisticated indicators such as hemline fashions or the NFL division of the latest Super Bowl winner also provide fodder for such predictions. This in turn can sometimes lead to speculation that a rally is just around the corner, which can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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.
In an attempt to cut costs, since 2006 new regulations required mechanical front and rear differentials, while the central differential remained active. Active suspension and water injections were also prohibited. Cars entered by a manufacturer had to be equipped with the same engine for two rallies; further limitations were imposed on the changing of some parts, including suspension, steering, turbochargers and gearboxes.
Between 1997 and 2010, the regulations mandated that World Rally Cars must have been built upon a production car with a minimum production run of 2500 units. A number of modifications could be made including increasing the engine displacement up to 2.0L, forced induction (including an anti-lag system), addition of four wheel drive, fitment of a sequential gearbox, modified suspension layout and attachment points, aerodynamic body modifications, weight reduction to a minimum of 1230 kg and chassis strengthening for greater rigidity. The maximum width was set at 1770 mm while front and rear tracks shouldn't exceed 1550 mm.
When rallying really took off in the ’80s and ’90s it spawned a new type of performance car. These cars were built for tarmac and mud stages, so their road-going cousins were naturally well-suited to real world conditions. What’s more, they often had four doors, plenty of legroom and a boot (trunk) in the back. And the best bit? Pretty much anyone could buy one and, depending on how deep your pockets were, become Blomqvist, McRae, or Mäkinen.