Top 10 Greatest World Rally Championship Cars of All Time
In more than hundred years of rallying, hundreds of different rally cars ran through the special stages all around the world, causing the admiration of spectators and motorsport fans.
Some cars left their mark with historic wins (Saab 96 or Mini Cooper S at Rallye Monte-Carlo), some were the favorites of the masses (Subaru Impreza 555 or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo), some earned the respect with brutal power (Group B cars), while other were statistically the most successful (Lancia Delta, Ford Focus or Volkswagen Polo). Here’s the list which brings us the greatest rally cars of all time, with mixed criteria of emotional choices and precise numbers (of wins and titles).
Lancia Delta Integrale (1987-1993: 46 WRC wins, 6 manufacturers’ and 4 drivers’ titles)
Lancia Delta is the car not only with the biggest number of WRC victories but also, according to many motorsports fans and media, is the most iconic rally car ever. The ‘Queen of the Rally’ scored 46 WRC wins in seven competitive seasons (from 1987 to 1993), winning six consecutive manufacturers’ titles for Lancia and four drivers’ titles with Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion.
The Group A Lancia Delta was introduced after the Group B was banned. The first version was Delta HF 4WD, then Delta Integrale 8v and Integrale 16v followed. The final incarnation was the Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione in 1992. After 1994 WRC season, Delta went to a museum and never returned to the rally tracks.
Subaru Impreza (1992-2008: 46 WRC wins, three manufacturers’ and three driver’s titles)
Subaru Impreza is the name which is the synonym for rallying since 1992. The current Impreza is participating in world rally as the production class car, but the history of Impreza is the story of the greatest wins in the premium class of world rallying. The story began in 1992 with Impreza 555, the successor of Legacy, which was successful rally car but without major titles.
In 1995, Colin McRae and Subaru World Rally Team won the double world title. One more title for the team followed in 1996. After four seasons of Impreza 555, the WRC version came in 1997 and the team won the third consecutive title. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg won two more drivers’ titles with Subaru in 2001 and 2003. Subaru left the competition after the 2008 season, with 46 WRC wins and six titles on Impreza’s account.
Toyota Celica (1988-1996: 30 wins, 2 manufacturers’ titles, 4 drivers’ title)
Toyota Celica GT-Four, which debuted in the 1988 WRC season, was the main rival of the glorious Lancia Delta, with Carlos Sainz taking drivers’ title in 1990. After the Italian car left the competition. Celica took over the top spot on the world’s rally scene, winning three consecutive drivers’ titles from 1992 to 1994 (Sainz, Kankkunen and Didier Auriol) and two manufacturers’ titles (1993 and 1994).
Celica was a significant car in WRC’s history because it took the domination of European manufacturers and Toyota became the first Japanese brand which triumphed in the WRC. Three evolutions of Celica GT-Four and Celica Turbo 4WD were used (ST 165, ST 185 and ST 205) until Corolla WRC came in 1997 as a replacement.
Ford Focus RS WRC (1999-2010: 44 WRC wins, 2 manufacturers’ titles)
Ford Focus RS WRC, which debuted in 1999, was Ford’s second car in the era of WRC-spec cars after Escort WRC participated at the championship in 1997 and 1998. Focus RS WRC scored its maiden win in debut year, in the hands of rally legend Colin McRae. Scotsman competed with Focus until 2002, scoring nine wins, but Ford didn’t win any title.
The first title came in 2006 when Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen won eight rallies and took the title ahead of Citroen. Gronholm missed the drivers’ title for one point. In 1997, Gronholm and Hirvonen were the best pair again. They added eight more wins to Focus’ account. Until 2010, the total number of wins was raised to 44, which put Focus to the third place on the winners list.
Volkswagen Polo R WRC (2013-2016: 43 wins, 4 manufacturers’ titles, 4 drivers’ titles)
Volkswagen Polo R WRC is the car that needed the shortest time to reach the top of the list of the WRC cars with most wins. In four seasons Polo R WRC scored 43 victories, thanks to the unprecedented domination of the Sebastien Ogier and his Volkswagen Motorsport team.
They won four consecutive double titles, which isn’t the first achievement in the WRC’s history, but they did it in the absolutely dominant way, winning 10 of 13 events in 2013, 12 of 13 events in 2014 and 12 of 13 events in 2015. Nine wins were added in 2016, which turned to be the last year for Polo R WRC after Volkswagen Motorsport surprisingly announced a withdrawal from the championship.
Citroën C4 WRC (2007-2010: 36 wins, 3 manufacturers’ titles, 4 drivers’ titles)
Citroen C4 WRC was the car that has similar results as Volkswagen Polo, scoring 36 wins in just four seasons. C4 was second and most successful of three cars (Xsara, C4 and DS3) in the Citroen’s ten-season domination in the WRC, from 2003 to 2012. Xsara scored 32 wins, C4 was victorious 36 times, while DS3 reached 26 wins so far.
Of 36 wins that Citroen C4 WRC has, 34 were scored by Sebastien Loeb and his navigator Daniel Elena. C4 had a victorious debut, with Loeb’s win at 2007 Rallye Monte-Carlo. The last win was at 2010 Wales Rally GB, which was the last event for C4 before DS3 came.
Mitsubishi Lancer (1993-2003: 27 wins, 1 manufacturers’ title, 4 drivers’ titles)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was the Group A rally car that brought Tommi Makinen to the historic success with four consecutive WRC titles from 1996 to 1999. The first generation of the Lancer Evo rally car debuted in the 1993 WRC season, as a successor of Galant VR-4. The first title came in 1996 when Makinen was driving the Evo III.
In 1997, Ford and Subaru switched to newly formed WRC class cars while Mitsubishi remained in the competition with the Group A Lancer. Makinen won three more titles, also taking 1998 manufacturers’ title for Mitsubishi together with Richard Burns. Mitsubishi switched to the WRC version of the Lancer in 2001, adding for more wins to the account, but left the championship after 2003 season.
Audi Quattro (1981-1987: 23 wins, 2 manufacturers’ titles, 2 drivers’ titles)
The group B rally cars couldn’t be on the top of the winners list because the period of Group B monsters was short, but some of those cars didn’t need thirty or more wins to be remembered among the greatest ever rally cars. The revolutionary Audi Quattro, the most iconic rally car of all time, is among them.
The first ever four-wheel-drive rally car earned the first title for the German manufacturer in 1982. In 1983, Hannu Mikkola was the best driver and then in 1984, Audi took both trophies, with Stig Blomqvist on the drivers’ throne. Audi Quattro has evolved through the years (A1, A2, Sport Quattro S1, Sport Quattro S1 E2) and each of those cars had a significant part in making the Quattro the legend.
Peugeot 205 T16 (1984-1986: 16 wins, 2 manufacturers’ title, 2 drivers’ titles)
Another manufacturer that took 2+2 titles in the period of Group B Cars was Peugeot, in just two full seasons of participation. The Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 joined the Group B party in the mid-season of 1984 and until the end of the debut season, it scored three wins in the hands of Ari Vatanen.
In the next two seasons, Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen won the drivers’ titles, also securing two consecutive manufacturers’ titles for Peugeot. When Group B was banned, 205 T16 ended its WRC career with 16 wins.
Ford Escort (1968-1998: 36 wins, 1 manufacturers’ title, 2 drivers’ titles)
Ford Escort and its four different reincarnations deserve the place on the list because that name existed in the world of rally for more than 30 years. The story began when Ford Escort MkI was manufactured in 1968. The first racing versions were Escort Twin Cam and RS1600. Escort recorded first major wins in the 1972 International Championship for Manufacturers. The successful story continued in 1973 when the World Rally Championship was formed.
The Escort RS1800 was introduced in 1975 and it scored 20 WRC victories in the next couple of years, including the 1979 season with two titles (both for the team and Bjorn Waldegard). Two years after, Ari Vatanen won the title with Escort RS1800. After 26 wins of the rear-wheel-drive Escorts, Ford had no proper car in the Group B period. The completely new and different Escort came in 1993. It was the Escort RS Cosworth, Group A rally car which competed successfully until 1998. In 1997 and 1998, the Escort had also WRC-spec version. Between 1993 and 1998, Escorts scored ten more WRC wins, before Escort’s name was ready for the museum.
Few more unforgettable legendary rally cars: Lancia, Fiat, Renault, Mini…
When making lists like this one, it’s always impossible to be 100 percent accurate, because some names could have been replaced or added. There are certainly more cars that deserve to be listed among the greatest.
Some of the unforgettable legendary rally cars are definitely Fiat 131 Abarth, rear-wheel-drive Lancias (Stratos HF and Rally 037), unfortunate Lancia Delta S4, little Group B beast Renault 5 Turbo, French-made champions Citroen Xsara WRC and Peugeot 206 WRC or never forgotten three-time Monte Carlo winner Mini Cooper S.