History Lesson #26 – Ford RS200

Published On January 14, 2016 | By Jared Robinson | Articles, History Lessons

For the first time, the high performance Focus and Fiesta you buy in the US are the same as the ones you could buy in the rest of the world. We’ve tasted from the European performance well in the US in the past as recently as the 2002 – 2004 Focus SVT, which though not the same as the European Focus ST170, it was very similar. This World Car attitude is very present in the current and upcoming Ford vehicle catalog; the Fiesta has been for sale here for some time now and the Ford Fusion is very much the same as the new Mondeo seen throughout the rest of the world. In this series, we’ll look into the history of compact performance offerings from Ford and how two parallel developments in the US and Europe have evolved into the new Ford Focus and Fiesta ST.

Where were we? Oh right, the Sierra RS Cosworth. Since we last spoke, we got teased with the new Focus RS and soon we’ll be seeing it on American shores complete with a 2.3 litre turbocharged 350hp motor, all-wheel drive and a drift mode. What better way to get back on topic than with our next History Lesson? We teased that the next feature would be some mid-engined Group B madness and here we are again. Let’s dive right in then, shall we?

The RS200 is what happened when a bunch of nutters at Ford Motorsport, Ghia, Reliant (yes, the people responsible for the 3 wheeled Robin) and Cosworth got together to create what was essentially a Formula 1 car for World Rally.

Whatever happened to cutaways?

Whatever happened to cutaways?

Let’s all travel back to 1982. The FIA wanted to replace the existing Group 4 and Group 5 modified touring cars and prototypes. They came up with Group B. Group A would remain as production oriented racing with cars based on a homologation of 5000 cars. Group B on the other hand opened up all the floodgates on technology and only required 200 cars for homologation. At the time, four wheel drive was a relatively new entry to rallying as was turbocharging. Other technology that was new at the time included carbon fibre, carbon Kevlar and even electronic engine management. With all this new technology available, the cars that came out of Group B were akin to Formula 1 cars for rallying. Weights were incredibly low, there were no restrictions on boost levels and the engines, chassis and drivetrains were super advanced for the time.

1986 Ford RS200 Evolution

Who else loves fat tires?

In the beginning, Group B did not have a Ford entry. Ford attempted to create a car to compete early on, the Escort RS1700T. Unfortunately the RWD RS1700T was abandoned once Ford got wind of how fast the Audi Quattros were going to be.

Not all was lost. The engine fitted to the RS1700T (The Cosworth BDT) was still a fantastic powerplant and if Ford could find a proper chassis and drivetrain to marry to it, they could have a chance to compete with the dominating four wheel drive Audis and Peugeots.

Ditching the production car base entirely, Ford went with a totally new design from Ghia rendered in plastic and fiberglass by the wonderful fiberglass experts at Reliant. The engine was placed longitudinally midship and attached to a four wheel drive system with a front mounted transmission. Power came out of the mid-mounted engine, went forwards through the cockpit to the transmission and was then sent back to the rear wheels by a center differential and transfer box via a second driveshaft. Here, we’ll draw you a picture:


Translated poorly from German by the author.

The suspension was extremely advanced as well with twin coilovers at all four corners moving double wishbones. Compared to its competitors, the RS200 was easily considered to be the most balanced and best handling Group B car created.

There were some production car bits though: the windshield and rear tail lights were from a Sierra and the side windows were cut down Sierra glass as well. So if you ever want a piece of an RS200, go for the tail lights. Heck, you can get them off a Merkur XR4ti if you want.

'Murrica! Wait, what? No, just 3 available colors

‘Murrica! Wait, what? No, just 3 available colors

The engine is where we get to go a bit crazy though. The 1803cc Cosworth BDT was the centerpiece of the whole car. In the homologated road cars, this engine produced 250hp. However, in original rally trim they produced between 350 and 450hp. This original 1.8L motor did put it at a disadvantage initially. Its power to weight ratio was not as good as the competitors and the little motor had trouble keeping the turbo on boil in lower RPMs. Ford contracted Brian Hart to get more power from the BDT with the BDT-E. This motor was punched up to 2137cc, built from aluminum and fitted with a larger intercooler. The claimed output of the motor was 550hp, but it was rumored to be as high at 815hp. In 1986, a BDT-E equipped RS200 was capable of blitzing to 60mph in 2.1 seconds. The RS200 Evolution was also equipped with upgraded suspension and brakes. Unfortunately the car debuted too late, for the Killer Bs had been killed off due to safety concerns after the deaths of drivers and spectators that came with these insane cars.


Gravel Stage

There was life after Group B for the RS200. After Group B was shuttered, many former Group B cars found their way into Rallycross events. From 1986-1992, these were the dominating force in Rallycross and to this day you can still find them going fender to fender in many national events in Europe.

Ever wanted to read the manual for one of these cars? Here you go: Ford_RS200_Owners_Manual

The RS200 placed highest in it's career in the Rally of Sweden

The RS200 placed highest in its career in the Rally of Sweden

Next time: An “American” car which shared its tail-lights with the RS200. Or possibly another RS200 article about a certain RS200 that’s about to become rather famous in 2016…

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