With reviews of the wonderful Ford Focus RS pouring in this week, it's hard not to look back at Ford's previous RS cars. My mind goes straight to the iconic RS200, a car more like a Lancia Stratos than anything else to come from Ford. A car that has captured the imaginations of car enthusiasts since it debuted in 1985.
Rally in the Group B era, was as popular as it ever had or would be. The FIA's Group B class created some of the wildest ever cars to ever compete in the sport and fans all over Europe couldn't get enough. It's long been considered the Golden Age of rally.
Ford's European racing division naturally wanted in on Group B, but instead of building a heavily modified version of one of its current models, it decided to build an entirely new car from the ground up. , Ford initially tried to develop a Group B version of the Escort, though not much is known about that car.
The RS200 was unlike any of its production car based competition–which included the Peugeot 205 T16, Lancia Delta S4 and the Audi Quattro S1 among others–and yet, it was somehow cooler for it.
Per the FIA's requirements, Ford had to build 200 road cars to homologate the RS200 for Group B competition. When we drove a race-spec RS200 back in 1986, Ford told us it intended on building more than 200 roadgoing RS200s, though that never happened.
Being a tiny mid-engined car designed for rally, the RS200 feels somewhat like a spiritual successor to the Lancia Stratos. It was was designed by Filippo Sano at Ghia and its fiberglass bodywork was built by Reliant. Yes, that Reliant.
Mechanically, though, it's wildly different than the Stratos. Tony Southgate–an F1 designer who later went on to devise the Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-9–designed the RS200's tubular space frame chassis, which used dual shocks at each corner.
The drivetrain was arguably the wildest element of the RS200. It used a 1.8-liter Cosworth BDT four-cylinder engine mounted in the middle, but bizarrely, the gearbox was mounted near the front axle. Power was then sent back to a central differential with three different rear-to-front torque split settings, 50/50, 67/33 and 100/0.
Journalist Chris Harris describes this setup as "like a Nissan GT-R going backwards," in a /DRIVE video. This unusual setup contributed to a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, a low polar moment of inertia. In handling terms, this means the RS200 is incredibly nimble.
"The car has quite a lot of turbo lag and if you aren't right on top of the powerband (above 6000 rpm), the car tends to understeer a lot, then suddenly, as the power comes on, it snaps into oversteer," said Steve Millen in our 1986 review of an RS200 development car. "It's quickest to drive the car into a turn very hard, pitch it in with oversteer and maintain that attitude through the corner with the throttle. "
The RS200 was frighteningly quick too. In road-spec, the turbocharged , but in Group B-spec, it made anywhere from 380-hp to 450-hp. In some wilder racing variants, the RS200 allegedly made around 650-hp to 800-hp and could sprint from 0-60 mph in 2.1 seconds.
For car geeks, the RS200 is the stuff of legends, but in many ways, it was ultimately a failure. In Group B competition, it was a victim of bad timing.
The RS200 made its competition debut in 1986, where it showed a lot of promise in the face of its intense competition. The things made Group B rallying exciting–wildly powerful cars and spectators that couldn't get enough of them–made it extraordinarily dangerous. Tragedy struck at the when Joaquim Santos, driving an RS200, lost control and spun his car into a crowd, killing three spectators.
Later that same race, a Lancia Delta S4 driven by Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto , killing the driver and co-driver. This effectively ended Group B, with the RS200 never reaching its potential. It did, however, in rallycross and hill climbs like Pikes Peak. Still, it wasn't the game changer Ford hoped it would be.
The road car didn't find much love either, only being appreciated years after production ended. By most accounts, it was way too rough to daily drive and the build quality was sub-par at best, though that was somewhat to be expected of cars built only to fill a homologation requirement.
The fact that an RS200 was a Ferrari 328 didn't help its case much either. To buy this car new, you had to have deep pockets and an understanding of what made it special. The last road car was bought in 1994, according to , meaning it sat for eight years after it was built.
That said, the RS200 is easily one of the most loved cars of the Group B era. Its combination of wild design and even wilder engineering tick all the right boxes for car enthusiast.
"It was late arriving, it only ever scored a third place on Rally Sweeden in '86 and it was actually a little too heavy to compete with the French and Italian teams," said Chris Harris.
"But to many people, me included, it still kind of defines Group B, a form of motorsport that captured the imagination so profoundly, that companies like Ford felt compelled to drop millions developing a car that didn't offer tangible marketing crossover into a production car."
While it would have been amazing to see what it did had Group B not ended in tragedy, it's still easy to love the RS200 as it is. It's one of the craziest cars to wear a Ford badge and it still captures the imagination of car enthusiasts 30 years after Group B ended.