Every year, Jalopnik’s most Chosen members – well, just me this year – have brought you the very best of Group C and GT1 racing from the 1980s and 1990s. We even did a Group B rally theme once. But for some reason we’ve never covered arguable the most successful racing formula of all. It’s the awkwardly-titled Group A-smas, worthy of celebration.
Jalopnik, as an institution, worships the great and powerful Robot God that we built in our vast underground bunker in preparation for the nuclear apocalypse. We dare not defy it, but every year we do still waste as much of our time during Christmas looking at old race cars. As noted, we’ve done a bunch of this stuff before.
I’ll give a rundown of some of our greatest hits, so you can sort of see what you’re in for. Well, this year it’s just me running Group A-smas, so I won’t have a ton of super in-depth features. Before I get into why Group A stands out, here’s some coverage of Group C, Group B, and GT1 from years past.
The thread that binds these three great series is that they were all flamed out. Group C kicked off as a fuel-economy formula but ended up with ballooning costs as high as Formula One enterprises. Giant auto manufacturers had swept in looking for glory, dumped cash like they were allergic to it, and then all bailed out the moment the economy faltered. They left the entire sports racing car world to basically implode.
Group B began as a homologation series but it, too, quickly saw its open regulations turn into open pocketbooks. The problem with Group B is that these ever-faster cars did not receive ever-stricter safety measures. Drivers were still running the same kind of grueling endurance-like events they did when cars were half as powerful, and it wasn’t long before fatal crashes started and racing organizers pulled the plug.
GT1 followed Group C with a more whimsical attitude. The whole system stemmed out of three extraordinarily rich buddies needing a place to race each other. They probably should have seen it coming that GT1's supercar series would quickly get overrun with the same out-of-control spending as Group C, only even faster. GT1's era of spawning road-going racecars only had a few seasons at the top before major manufacturers first started cheating and then jumping ship entirely to prototype-style cars.
The enduring formula through almost all of this time was Group A. It was a homologation special series like Group B, differing principally in that manufacturers needed to produce more cars to certify for Group A racing than B. This meant more homologation specials in showrooms, at more affordable prices, from more ordinary manufacturers. It meant bigger, healthier, more enduring racing series. Everyone loves an Audi Quattro, but people own Subaru WRXs and Mitsubishi Evos. People you probably know. There’s a real distinction there, and pretty much just one major regulatory distinction behind it.
To enter into Group B, a manufacturer would only have to build 200 identical cars within 12 months to be homologated for entry, as noted in the 1982 FIA rulebook, which is handily still online. This meant that car companies could build fairly extreme cars for Group B. The Porsche 959, for instance, was intended for Group B competition.
To enter Group A, a manufacturer had to build 5,000 identical cars over the course of 12 months, meaning much more basic machines in the running. The FIA actually went from 5,000 down to 2,500 in the switch from the 1992 to 1993 rulebooks. What set Group A apart from the even more standard Group N formula below it was that manufacturers were allowed evolution models if they could make another 500 of them. This 10 percent evolution dispensation was the same for Group B, which had 20-unit Evolution models.
Compared to Group B, Group A saw more mass-market, low-cost, lower-speed cars competing. When Group B rally came to an abrupt close, Group A became the top tier of rallying. Even before then, Group A had been the formula for touring car racing. This is to say, Group A was a relatively healthy form of racing, spanning two decades with legendary cars and competition. Subaru and Mitsubishi’s modern rally dominance? Both came out of Group A. The BMW M3 and the glory years of DTM? Group A. The king-making R32 Skyline GT-R? Take a guess. There were tons of cars that raced Group A. I won’t be able to run through all of them today, but I’ll get to some, and hopefully give you a sense of why it was so great, and why it’s gone.