This Ugly Hatchback Is One Of The Best-Sounding Cars Ever

I’ve been hearing a lot of griping about how the new Ford GT doesn’t have a V8, and that V6s are never cool, can never be cool, have never been cool. Well, listen to the unholy roar of this ugly little British hatchback and think again.

This is the MG Metro 6R4. It was Austin-Rover’s entry into the hotly contested Group B field, and it was very representative of Austin-Rover’s state of affairs.

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The base car was the MG Metro, a car that seems like it was designed by someone who actively sought to quash interest in cars as a whole. Friend of Jalopnik Jamie Kitman imported one, in a kind of hospital lunch tray beige, and it looks more like a fake car than a real one.

The Metro 6R4 didn’t exactly make the car more beautiful, adding jutting wings front and rear, along with oddly-moulded box flares and side intakes. Those side intakes are why this car is one of the coolest made in the modern era.

Like the contemporary Peugeot 205 T16 and the Renault R5 Turbo before it, the Metro 6R4 stuck its engine behind the driver for better handling. Everyone learned a quick lesson from the Audi Quattro that sticking a big engine in the front of your car makes it drive like an upside down baseball bat.

“I know it’s an ugly beast,” driver Tony Pond once said about it, “but the 6R4 is easily the best rally car I’ve ever driven.”

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What set the Metro 6R4 apart from its rivals was, well, first, that it was British, so the English-language press endlessly fawned over it, and second, that it wasn’t turbocharged.

This was the 1980s, remember. It was the turbo era. F1 cars were putting down four-figure power numbers. Your new blender had a “turbo” button on it. Everything was turbo, and anything that wasn’t wanted to be.

So what was so good about the 6R4's engine that it wasn’t turbocharged? It was basically a Cosworth DFV minus two cylinders. The Cosworth DFV was probably the greatest Formula 1 engine ever made, astoundingly successful, durable, and popular.

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The V64V, as the new engine was called, weighed 314 pounds, had a 90-degree vee, four valves per cylinder, 3.0-liters of displacement, and made up to 410 horsepower, per 6R4.net. Redline was apparently 9,000 RPM, as Rally Group B Shrine recalls. Six cylinders breathing through six individual throttle bodies.

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What I care about, though, is how it sounds.

Good god. It’s so good.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear these things in person. The tone is so complex. Waves of sound rolling over each other. Buzzing. Roaring. Howling. To crib from the great description of the Matra V12, it sounds like power.

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It actually made good power (and still sounded wonderful) after Group B was cancelled and it got a second life in rallycross. Supposedly turbo versions were making in the neighborhood of 700 HP.

So the next time someone gripes that V6s aren’t ever cool, or can’t ever sound good, send them a clip of the Metro 6R4. It’s ugly, it never won a WRC title, but it was incredible.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

rexrod
AuthiCooper1300

Mr Orlove, you somewhat forgot to mention that the 6R4 was developed by Williams, the F1 outfit. Patrick Head was in charge of the chassis. And it was probably the first ever rally car with proper aero work done to it.

The engine was designed for BL by a certain David Wood, and yes, it was somehow inspired on the DFV, but it was not “a DFV minus two cylinders” (there was, however, a development mule which used a Rover V8 unit with two cylinders loped off). I have seen conflicting statements on whether Mr Wood was working for Cosworth at the time or he went to Cosworth later, on the other hand.

The standard FWD Metro is a quirky car, a sort of more-grown up Mini. Less charming, yes, but with a very interesting and efective (if oddball) suspension. Maybe Kitman should have let you drive his... what a pity. Even if it sounds like a 998cc one, not one of the faster 1275cc variants.

For an idea of how good the basic suspension was you should probably have a look at what the later Metro/Rover 100s are capable of. Particularly when fitted with 1.8 VVC, Elise-spec K engines.