The Ford RS200 was produced by Ford of Europe for Group B rally racing in the 1980s. It’s a rare car with an interesting history that’s not widely known in the US. Very few of the cars are known to reside in North America, but one recently made an appearance on Jay Leno’s Garage.
Owned by comedian Tim Allen, the 1986 Ford RS200 is a little different from the hot rods and old-school muscle cars he’s known to collect. However, Allen is a big fan of rally racing, partly because the cars go fast over any kind of terrain. He also likes the design of the car, which he thinks still looks contemporary.
Driving the RS200 is a different story. The 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Cosworth engine has a very narrow powerband, producing most of its 240 horsepower in a very narrow range. In addition to the lack of low-end power, Allen says it doesn’t work well on the road. But get it off the pavement, and it really starts to shine. The all-wheel-drive system is adjustable, allowing the driver to dial power to the front or rear wheels.
Even so, Leno finds it a blast to drive on the street. Like many small-displacement engines with big turbos, it really comes alive above 5,000 rpm. Thanks to decent ground clearance and the rally suspension, it handles potholes and bumpy roads with ease.
For Group B rallying, the RS200 used a 2.1-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, making upwards of 600 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. It competed against cars like the Audi Quattro, Lancia 037, and Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. Rules for the class were simple – each car had to seat two people side by side in an enclosed cabin, and each manufacturer had to produce 200 cars for homologation.
Unfortunately, Group B rallying only lasted from 1982 to 1986. A tragic accident at the Rally Portugal injured 31 spectators, killing three, which led to the top teams pulling out of the event. At the Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen and his co-driver, Sergio Cresto died when their car plunged down a ravine. For these reasons, the FIA decided to suspend Group B rallying after the 1986 season.
Even after the demise of Group B, the RS200 retains a cult following in Europe. With its presence on Jay Leno’s Garage, it’s sure to gain more followers in the US.