No motorsport has undergone a more rapid or radical transformation than has international rally competition. Between the late 1960s and the late 1990s, the sport was upended numerous times, with profound technical and organizational changes taking place every few years, creating an exciting, often volatile, sometimes downright dangerous competition environment. Through it all, some of the most memorable, exotic, and capable racing cars of the last half-century were battle-tested across asphalt, dirt, and snow—and their legends established. Let’s take a look at how far the sport has come, and check out some of the fascinating machines that grew out of it and a few of the exciting diecast collectibles inspired by them.
CLASSIC ERA: PRE-1970
Rallying was among the earliest forms of racing; marquee events like the world-famous Monte Carlo Rally trace back more than a century. Such races were almost always independently organized, but when the FIA— motorsport’s foremost sanctioning body—successfully unified Grand Prix racing into Formula One in 1950 using a common set of rules and a points system for awarding a driver’s championship there was a sense that something similar might benefit rally racing as well. And so, in 1953, the FIA established the European Rally Championship (ERC), which comprised a series of 10 of the most prestigious national events from across the continent. The championship elevated the sport of rallying, helping draw manufacturer involvement, top-tier drivers, and spectator interest throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Terrain ranging from snowy mountains to arid deserts to smooth tarmac presented unique challenges for driver and machine alike. At the time most rally cars were production models with relatively few modifications because reliability was more important than outright speed, and those who could preserve the car and control it in treacherous conditions had the advantage.
1964-67 MINI COOPER S
The classic David-versus-Goliath scenario played out at the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally in 1964. The rugged suspension and superior front-wheel-drive traction in the snowy Alps helped the diminutive Mini Cooper S outrun a pair of factory-sponsored Ford Falcons powered by Shelbytuned V8s making 285hp—more than triple the tiny Mini’s 70hp! Mini would return in 1965 to best the ultralight exotic Porsche 904 GTS and again in 1967 against a powerful Lancia. It would have been four in a row if not for a controversial post-win disqualification of Pauli Toivonen for unapproved headlights in 1966! Paddy Hopkirk’s 1964 winner has been crafted in diecast in several scales, ranging from Corgi’s 1:64 version to 1:43s by Spark and Vitesse, to Kyosho’s gorgeous 1:18 and this beautiful 1:12 edition by Sun Star.
1968-74 ESCORT MK I
Recognizing that rallying’s growing success would depend upon manufacturer support, the FIA created a European Championship of Makes in 1968 using the Group 2 Rally regulations. Manufacturers took the bait and began creating specially-engineered variants of production models that met the Group 2 rules. Among them was the brand-new 1968 Ford Escort Mk I with a special 1.6L engine built by Lotus; it won the first two manufacturer’s titles in 1968-69 and numerous races in the following years, including Britain’s RAC Rally in 1972 (pictured). Minichamps, Triple9, and IXO (shown) among others have produced Mk I Escorts in RS 1600 and later RS 2000 guise.
GROUP 4: 1970-81
The European Makes Championship rebranded in 1970 as the International Championship for Manufacturers (IMC), allowing the series to branch out beyond Europe and add Kenya’s prestigious—and grueling—Safari Rally. It also adopted the FIA’s Group 4 rules, allowing more extensive modifications and lower production requirements to attract even more factory involvement. In 1973 the series rebranded yet again, adopting the name it has held since: the World Rally Championship (WRC).
1970-76 ALPINERENAULT A110
Renault turned to tuning partner Alpine to rework its little A110 sports car into a rallying powerhouse. Alpine ran away with the IMC title in 1971, and claimed the first WRC championship in 1973 by an equally commanding margin, despite the A110 platform being more than a decade old. Constant evolution kept it ahead of more modern designs, and the 1800cc Group 4 car (shown here by Kyosho in 1:18) started a six-win season for Alpine at the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally.
1974-81 LANCIA STRATOS HF
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The past few years have been like a sadistic version of Groundhog Day. While the future has felt on hold, it's about to make up for lost time. Judging by the new-car offerings for 2023, we predict we'll be leaving our houses, going on- and off-road, in vehicles that are sleek, rugged, high-tech, bewinged, bedazzled, and dazzling. While some aging favorites retire, nascent companies offerings will rev and whir onto our streets. New-car temptation will come in many forms with electricity, old-fashioned gas grunt, or a combo of both to your covetous heart and, manufacturers hope, your garage. We present the cars, trucks, and SUVs for 2023.
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