No, not that BLM nonsense;  I’m talking about cars that in my opinion were the last of the “hot” saloon cars that were the mainstay of, and dominated European racing of that ilk in the late 1980s — a time when car designers weren’t strapped over a desk and raped by environmental- and safety constraints, in that oh-so wonderful era before the horrible wind-tunnel became the main basis for cars’ shapes.  Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

1987 Audi Quattro Sport

I know:  by today’s standards the Audi (and indeed most of the cars that follow) seems horribly angular.  But regardless, they were absolute rockets despite power outputs that are dwarfed by today’s models.  The reason that these cars were so quick, and so much fun to drive is that they weren’t burdened with all the safety bullshit that bedevils today’s cars, and turns them into deadweight that needs all that horsepower just to get them moving.

1988 Lancia HF Stradale

With all the (justifiable) reservations about Lancia’s reliability, the Stradale was a monster:  a perennial race- and rally winner, even when pitted against competitors fielded by giant car companies like Audi or Ford.  And speaking of the latter:

1989 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Like the U.S.-designed Taurus, the Sierra was the first of Ford’s “gumdrop”-shaped cars, but the Cosworth-powered RS stuck more to the older, sharp-edged shape of the time.  So powerful was its engine that the redoubtable Borg-Warner company had to design and build a special new line of gearboxes to handle the demands of the engine (which generated a modest 204hp in the street car, but 300hp in the race version — at a time when Formula 1 cars generated 400hp).

And finally, there’s probably the best of the bunch:

1986 BMW E30 M3 EVO II

The little E30 pocket rocket had the longest production time (six years) of all these cars, with justification:  it would stand up pretty well against almost every similar car of today’s era.

While the Lancia is my romantic favorite (because Lancia), the Beemer would be my first choice if I was going to do some serious driving.

Discuss amongst yourselves, in Comments.

Afterthought:  Reader Uncle Kenny reminds me of the raven-haired and redoubtable Michèle Mouton of that era:


  1. Good choices. Although that Lancia does look like the gay younger brother of the mighty Quattro, I’m sure it has better leather. Agreed that the E30 M3 is the best of this group and of all the M3 versions, for that matter. With the next generation E36, they started seriously bulking up.

    1. Also, if you are looking for a babe angle to complement this, that Audi brings to mind the great Michèle Mouton, who rallied for Audi in the 80’s. She famously said of Pike’s Peak, where she won in ’85, “if you guys had any balls, you’d race down the mountain.” Perhaps that’s a paraphrase, but it gives the gist. What a woman.

  2. “I know: by today’s standards the Audi (and indeed most of the cars that follow) seems horribly angular.”

    Sadly true, I like boxy, angular cars like that more than the bubblecars we see so much these days.

  3. Kim,

    Do you recall when Hans Stuck finally figured out how to properly drive the Quattro under race conditions, and went on an absolute tear? At least I think it was Hans Stuck … I recall watching video of his footwork … basically stood on the accelerator pedal w/ his right foot (to maintain RPMs, and turbo boost), then used his left to bounce back-and-forth between brake and clutch, more or less.

    1. There’s a whole generation of rally drivers who had to figure out how to manage those turbo cars. For Audi it was John Buffum, Walter Röhrl, and Mouton, among others. In the GroupB era, Stuck was driving on tracks with Porsche and BMW, not in Rally. You might be right, but you might also be thinking of Röhrl. Left foot braking techniques, of course, existed before then, but keeping the 80’s era turbos spooled up certainly made it mandatory.

  4. Ironically, these are true “stock cars” – and not those androgynous NASCAR vehicles.

    I’ve been regularly attending all types of car races for 55 years, so I’ve seen them all over the years.

    There are still a lot of European stock cars running on American tracks.

    I was at the Skip Barber track in Birmingham (our Birmingham, Kim, not the other one) a few years ago and the 2 Cadillac 4-door entries blew the doors off of the competition, including Porsche 911’s, Bentleys, Mercedes and BMWs.

    I’ll be at Talladega (where they would sacrifice a virgin if they could find one) next weekend and at Charlotte of Memorial Day Weekend.

    When the green flag drops, virtual mayhem occurs.

    For me, there’s nothing quite like it.

    1. All those mentioned above are the more tame versions of the ” Stock ” versions of Groupe B Rally Cars The so-called ” Killer B’s” driven at impossible speeds between hordes of crazed Euro rally Fans standing on the edge … and sometimes the middle — of dirt and snow and ice covered mountain roads.

      Those were the best days of the WRC . before the Fun Police banned the Cars for going too fast. ( and only just barely in control )

  5. My brother-in-law, Tom H., was discovered in his house today. He had passed away sometime in the last two days. My sister, Jeanne, passed away in 2013.
    Both were lifetime volunteer workers for the SCCA in the Washington DC region mostly at Summit, WV, Pocono, Pa, and Lime Rock. They made many pilgrimages to the national runoffs. Tom was a Scrutineer as in “Bring me the head of that MG. I want to cc the combustion chambers.” Jeanne worked in timing and scoring and was instrumental in bringing electronic car identifiers to the SCCA. Before that it was manual timers in the T&S shed working multiple stopwatches and strips of paper. One year they won the prize of a lifetime at the Nationals when their ticket was selected in the workers’ drawing which entitled them to a round trip to France and tickets to Le Mans.

  6. Kim, if you want Latin Excitement, you should try for a Lancia Group B version of the whatever basic box they modified, and its supercharged/turbocharged motor – the “blower” worked when the turbo was below it’s boost range, and was automatically disconnected once the turbo came “on pressure”.

  7. Kim,
    the bulbous front ends of cars are directly attributable to the EU’s pedestrian safety rules for automobile design. With the makers ‘world sales design’ to use as much of a design in all markets, they all look alike, sigh…

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