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GP Week : Issue 114
Finally VW are emerging from the shadows into the full glare of world attention in rallying. For 50 years there have been VWs in the background of rally sport, often achieving success in the hands of private teams, as when VW Beetles won the Safari Rally three times in 10 years in the ‘50's and ‘60's. The first serious attempt at running VWs in international rallying came in the early ‘70s when the Porsche-Salzburg importer company ran a team of 1.6 litre Beetle 1302S cars with professional drivers such as Bjorn Waldegard and Tony Fall, who found their cars were capable of challenging, though not beating, the top teams of the day. They gained points in the new 1973 world championship on events such as the Acropolis and Austrian Alpine. Plans to progress in the sport however were thwarted by the energy crisis of late 1973 and as a result the Austrian company did not continue. It was a couple of years before the sport was able to regain its former momentum and meanwhile plans were being made in Germany for two companies in the VAG group to become more closely involved in rallying. One was Audi, with an eye on longer term four-wheel- drive opportunities and the other was VW, itself wanting to capitalise on the new range of cars. The new range included not only the Golf but the Jetta and Polo as well and in particular, the Golf GTI, the leader of the new ‘hot hatch’ style of car, which was launched in 1976. These were exciting days. The Golf in particular offered considerable opportunities in competition, increased further by the decision by the world championship to admit Diesel cars for one year, 1978. To handle all these opportunities a competition department was opened up at Wolfsburg. The arrival of the Golf GTI in rallying was part of an invasion of cars of similar layouts, like the Ford Fiesta, Renault 5 Alpine, Audi 80 and Fiat Ritmo. It took some while for the Golf GTI rally project to get off the ground, but in 1977 the Formula Super V team based in Hanover was given the job of running a Group 1 car in rallies. This started at the Arctic Rally in North Finland, where their car suffered exhaust fracture and then retired because of a suspension bolt failure. First success came on their second event, in February 1977 at the Sachs Winter Marktredwitz Rally, when Jochi Kleint won his class and finished fifth overall with fellow German Hans Hermann eighth, second in class. The Golf GTI was first homologated in January 1975 with a 1598cc single cam, 8- valve engine. In Group 1 form it gave 116bhp, some 15bhp or so less than its 2-litre rivals Opel Kadett GT/E but the GTI weighed 860kg compared with the 950 kg of the Opel. Rallying with modified Group 2 cars was first confined to rallycross events where it produced 168bhp. The1800cc car, its engine now giving 178bhp, first appeared on the Swedish Rally in 1983 when the VAG group achieved a remarkable result. Quattros of one sort or another took the top four places while fifth, and winning the new Group A category, was Kalle Grundel’s Golf. In the middle of 1984 the Golf gained a new body shape which brought with it a longer wheelbase. Much of the mechanicals of the old model were retained but the wider bodywork, and therefore wider track, meant that new longer drive-shafts were required. In 1986 a 16-valve version arrived, with twin overhead camshafts, still 1804cc but now producing 194bhp, and this was the model used by Kenneth Eriksson to win the once-only FIA World Cup for Group A Cars. When the world championship vehicle rules changed at the end of 1986 and Group A replaced Group B as the sport’s premier formula, it sounded like good news for VW. In reality it was bad, on account of the rush by other manufacturers to develop four- wheel-drive turbocharged cars. The FIA again offered a supporting encouragement, the Two-Wheel Drive Challenge, still for drivers, based on results in the full world championship of 1987. Kenneth again was the star, winning the series by 70 points to 51 for the Renault driver Jean Ragnotti, and most importantly, winning the Ivory Coast world championship qualifying round outright. To this day that remains VW’s only World rally victory. Competition ventures with the Golf GTI continued more spasmodically at the end of the ‘80s though Stig Blomqvist achieved a remarkable third place on the Safari Rally in 1989. The future of VW competition had to involve a radical rethink, both in relation to four-wheel drive and also power outputs. The VW solution for the power deficit was to avoid turbo-charging and use a compressor instead. 1979 was spent developing the four-wheel-drive 280bhp Rallye Golf G60. This car was a matter of too little, too late and was certainly not sophisticated enough to challenge for top honours. The only important WRC result for this model was third place in the hands of Erwin Weber on the 1990 New Zealand Rally and a series of victories in German rallies the next year. It was however time to concentrate on other objectives. What should be mentioned is a series of experiments that the factory team had considered could overcome both deficiencies, twin-engined cars! Experiments were made with a Jetta and then a Scirocco and finally they built a twin- engined Golf for an assault on the Pikes Peak hillclimb in the USA. Four-wheel-drive, 500bhp! These VW projects may have been impressive but there was no chance to productionise the concept and enable the cars to be homologated. The last major rally project for the