The inspiration for many great road cars often lies in racing, and at the same time, the greatest racing cars ever can be based upon rather mundane road cars. For decades, rules in racing have sometimes stipulated that a minimum number of road-legal variants had to be built in order to be eligible to compete in a racing category, the so-called Homologation Specials. And as it turns out, this can lead to some rather unusual but astonishing cars!
Not only does a motorsports governing body have the option to stipulate the exact type of car and its specifications, but it can also mandate any given number of a production version to be built by the constructor. While investigating another story for The Petrolhead Corner, I came across a specific section of the Petrolicious website; the Member Series; Homologation Specials. Spread over two seasons of eight episodes each, several iconic cars that constructors built to comply with regulations are put to the test. The result is some rather incredible footage of the most unusual, rarest cars ever built. Iconic cars like the Lancia Stratos, Mercedes 2.5-16 190E EVO II, the Audi Sport Quattro S1 or the stunning Maserati MC12 and Ferrari 288 GTO.
In honour of that very fine array of cars, we take a closer look at a few of them and supplement them with a couple of other very interesting homologation specials. It is an eclectic mix of vehicles for sure!
1997-1999 Mitsubishi Pajero EVO
This is perhaps the most unexpected car to feature in Petrolicious’ Member Series on homologation specials. It is, however, a road-legal car to comply with regulations for the gruelling international Dakar rally. The Mitsubishi Pajero is the most successful entry to ever compete at the Dakar rally, with 12 victories between 1985 and 2007 with various renditions of the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution.
The homologation special of the Pajero was built between 1997 and 1999 to enter it into the production car-based T2 category. Despite the fact of not running in the fastest category on paper, it managed to not only dominate its own class but also win the Dakar Rally outright. In 1997 it came in first, second, third and fourth. A year later it would take up the first four positions again.
The road-going version of the Pajero Evolution features a meaty 3.5 V6 in the front, producing 276bhp. Underneath the changes included heavier suspension, a different gearbox and new differentials. The car also has a much beefier look thanks to the wider bodykit, Recaro bucket seats, additional air intakes, skid-plates on the underside, and quintessential 1990’s style mud flaps. A total of 2500 Pajero Evolutions were built over the three-year span, all right-hand drive, and it remains a bit of a bargain compared to other cars that are considered homologation specials.
The entire history of the 1997-1999 generation of Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions was penned by Jalopnik, including some very cool period images from the Dakar Rally and advertisement details of the production version.
1998 Toyota GT-One road car
By the end of the 1990s, Mazda was still the only Japanese manufacturer to win outright during the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans but that wasn’t due to a lack of trying by Japanese manufacturers. Their iconic Mazda 787B with that screaming rotary engine is just one of the remarkable and iconic cars to blast down the French countryside. After the cancellation of Group C, which brought forth cars like the Porsche 956 and 962, the Jaguar XJR-9, the Mazda 787B or the Sauber C9, the new top-tier category for the Le Mans 24 Hour race was the GT1 class. The GT1 era is a sort of in-between class, as endurance racing was in the process of reinventing itself. It was sandwiched between the bonkers Group C era and the purpose-built prototype era known as LMP class racing.
Up to 1998 GT1 regulations stipulated that at least 25 road cars had to be built and as a result, we have the Porsche 911 GT1 Straβenversion and the Mercedes CLK-GTR as the most famous examples. The 1998 Toyota GT One road car is a real oddity and a direct result of dropping the limit of 25 to a single functioning, road-legal car to be offered for sale to the public. This allowed Toyota back into the challenge of winning Le Mans without too much hassle. Toyota built just two working versions or their GT1 contender, complete with a passenger’s seat, indicators, a horn, a windshield wiper and of course, a licence plate.
The final result was a rules compliant pair of cars, but not really practical to use on the road. The cockpit was an ergonomic nightmare and the very limited ride height would get the car stuck on a bump in no time. The 3.6 litre V8 behind the driver (and possible passenger) is the same 600bhp unit as the race car had. In theory, this meant the car should be able to reach a top speed of 380kph but neither of the cars ever ran on public roads as far as I know. Toyota built no more than two of these incredible machines, one of which resides in Toyota Motorsport GmbH’s museum in Cologne, Germany while the other is on display in a museum in Japan.
The story on the 1998 Toyota GT-One car with all its quirks and details can be found on The Drive.
Dauer 962 Le Mans
One of the most baffling, and perhaps simultaneously most confusing stories on a homologation special is the story of the Dauer 962 Le Mans. During the 1980s Porsche had pretty much dominated endurance racing through its factory team or through factory-supported teams. The Porsche 956 and 962 race cars were virtually bulletproof and a sure-fire way to be able to fight for the win. If a capable pilot was at the controls, of course…
In the early 1990s, Jochen Dauer bought five 962 chassis brand new from Porsche and decided to convert two of these for road use. Now, we’ve covered a road-legal Porsche 956/962 in Japan, but this is an interesting story on a whole other level. The cars were stripped down and rebuilt with updated suspension and chassis parts. Also, a full interior was fitted and you could opt to have a DVD player built in, and select automatic opening doors and engine cover for that added wow-factor.
The heart of the Porsche 962 was a three-litre flat-6 producing about 780bhp. The Dauer was fitted with the same engine but with minor changes, and as such it was slightly less powerful at 730bhp. The insane car would even out-perform the legendary McLaren F1 as in 1998 it achieved a top speed of just over 400 kilometres an hour during a test run.
Thanks to a change in regulations the Porsche 962 was no longer competitive in the field of endurance racing. Seeking a way to still continue its sports car racing programme, it conveniently exploited a rule change that was introduced in 1993 for the GT category. This stated that a GT-class endurance racer was to be based, albeit loosely, on road-legal car. As the Dauer was a road-legal Porsche 962, it needed only minor changes to comply with regulations.
This weird loophole allowed Porsche to score its 13th overall victory with a second car coming in third. As far as homologation specials are concerned, this is a most unusual but nonetheless very interesting story. A racecar turned road legal, which served as a homologation special for a race car a few years down the line.
DriveTribe has the story on the conversion from Porsche 962 to the Dauer 962 Le Mans.
1985 MG Metro 6R4 ‘Clubman’
If we’re talking about rally cars and homologation specials some other cars would pop into your mind instantaneously. The Lancia Delta Integrale for instance, or the Ford Escort Cosworth with its iconic spoiler. The obvious choices are just that; obvious choices. It is much more interesting, to me at least, to learn more about one of the hairiest road cars based on a Group B spec rally car, the 1985 MG Metro 6R4.
A bit late to the game and thus never able to make a true impact, it did offer an interesting take on the Group B regulations. The recipe was simple; chuff the biggest engine possible in the smallest car available. The Austin Mini Metro was quite a bland, run-of-the-mill compact built by Austin-Rover but fit it with a big powerful engine, throw in four-wheel drive, dress it up with scaffolding and you end up with the insane MG Metro 6R4.
The chassis was specially developed by Williams Grand Prix and in the back, they planted a normally aspirated 2.5 litre V6, much like the Renault 5 Turbo had. This engine produced around 400 horsepower and had no trouble to propel the car to insane speeds. Zero to a hundred kilometres an hour took just over three seconds, on just about any surface. Sadly reliability issues plagued the car to really take the fight to Audi and Lancia, and the cancellation of Group B rallying midway during the 1986 season didn’t exactly help either.
To comply with regulations Austin-Rover built 200 road-going versions of the car, as a turn-key rally car without a license plate. This means you had to do some minor installations on the car and have it approved in order to obtain a license. The homologation model of the MG Metro 6R4, known as the Clubman, had been down-tuned to about 250bhp but there are examples that have been brought back up to produce 400 to 450 horsepower. After the cancellation of Group B, prices dropped from GBP 40,000 to GBP 16,000 so it was a relative bargain of a road-legal rally car. Every so often one comes up for auction, fetching prices around the GBP 200,000 mark.