In the old days, sanctioning bodies used to require manufacturers to outfit much of the same upgrades of the race-ready car to a handful of road-going models. Regrettably for petrolheads, showroom-bred racing cars entitled to wear a license plate aren’t as plentiful now as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But if we scour the annals of history, it’s easy to find plenty of homologation specials that stood the test of time.
Before we go any further with this story, it needs to be pointed out that the top ten list that follows doesn’t include a number of classic models such as the Lancia Stratos, Ferrari 250 GTO, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Renault R5 Turbo, and Porsche 911 GT2 (993). As with every other top ten list, this one is limited by nature, time, and by the individual’s subjectiveness.
With these being said, here are ten of the most sizzling hot homologation specials there have ever been:Audi Quattro (and Audi Sport Quattro)
Introduced in 1982, the Group B set of regulations changed rallying forever. Group B was also the perfect excuse to morph from the rear-wheel-drive Group 2 and Group 4 to four-wheel-drive madness. The thing is, Audi introduced four-wheel-drive to the wonderful world of the World Rally Championship one year before the advent of Group B.
For this reason alone, rallying is divided into two eras by hardcore enthusiasts: Before Quattro and After Quattro. Even after the Audi Quattro arrived on the WRC scene, two-wheel-drive cars such as the Fiat 131 Abarth, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, and Lancia Rally 037 took the constructors’ championship in the 1981, 1981, and 1983 seasons.
In 1984, the Ingolstadt-based automaker upped the ante with the Audi Sport Quattro. Compared to the road-going Audi Ur-Quattro, the Sport Quattro prides itself on a more powerful turbocharged inline-five, a light carbon-kevlar body shell, wider wheels, and a smaller wheelbase for more interesting handling. Only 220 units of this homologation special were ever made, of which 10 were imported into the U.S. If you want one today, prepare to pay up to $400,000 at auction for a Sport Quattro.BMW M1 (E26)
Prefigured by the awe-inspiring BMW Turbo concept built for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the BMW M1 holds the title of first-ever mid-engined BMW to enter mass production. Believe it or not, 453 units are enough for the BMW M1 to be considered a mass production car.
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and inspired by the BMW Turbo of Paul Bracq, the BMW M1 was co-developed with Lamborghini. After the bull of Sant’Agata went bust in 1978, BMW resumed control of the project and brought the M1 to market as a homologation special for sports car racing. And so, BMW devised the Procar BMW M1 Championship.
As stated in our story about the ten most outstanding BMW M cars of all time, the most famous (and valuable) BMW M1 ever made is the Art Car painted by the one and only Andy Warhol in under 24 minutes. The fourth Art Car in a series of 17 was raced only once. More specifically, at Le Mans in 1979, the same year The Clash released London Calling.BMW M3 Sport Evolution (E30)
In the 1980s, the Bavarian outfit gunned for as many podium finishes as possible in Group A touring car racing. Once the automaker realized that the M635CSi outstayed its welcome in Group A, BMW Motorsport GmbH began work on the BMW M3. Thus, the magnificent E30 M3 was born.
The stiff and agile chassis of the E30 M3 is complemented by flared fenders, a different rear window, reshaped decklid, and a purposeful cabin. Under the skin, the twin-cam 2.3-liter S12 engine is connected to a 5-speed manual with a dog-leg layout. As was often the case in the manic ‘80s, enough was never enough, not even for the BMW M crowd.
Cue the BMW M3 Sport Evolution, arguably the most desirable E30 of the lot. 600 coupes and one convertible were ever built, and all of them are motivated by a 235 HP (238 PS) version of the S14 engine. A good EVO III starts at $150,000 these days, that’s if you can find one for sale.1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
I’ll let you into a little secret: I have a soft spot for the original Camaro, not to mention the Camaro Z/28. Sure, the COPO 427s were more brutal and the ZL1 big-block V8 was a beast, but the Camaro Z/28 is… it’s great, alright?
Introduced for the 1967 model year, the Z/28 option code wasn’t featured in any brochure or sales literature, so it was unknown to the public. That’s why Chevrolet sold just 602 examples of the breed. The next model years saw sales escalate to 7,199 and 20,302 units, respectively. For a car developed as a homologation special, Chevy did a great job with the Z/28.
The 304 cu.in. (4.9-liter) V8 is the name of the game here, combining the crankshaft of the 283 cu. in. (4.6-liter) with the block of the 327 cu. in. (5.4-liter). Better still, the driving experience wasn’t too shabby thanks to a close-ratio 4-speed manual, better suspension, power brakes with discs at the front, and so forth. In the Trans-Am realm, Mark Donohue finished first in 10 of 13 races in the 1968 season. Ronnie Bucknum took the checkered flag in 8 of 12 races in 1969 season. Motorsport pedigree? The Z/28 has it.Dodge Charger Daytona (and Plymouth Road Runner Superbird)
Nothing says badass more about a road-going car than the 23-inch tall stabilizer wing mounted on the rear deck of the Dodge Charger Daytona. The ginormous rear wing is far from being a gimmick, though, considering that the vertical struts put the wing into less disturbed air to increase downforce. The same applies for the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird.
Be it the 426 cu. in. (7.0-liter) HEMI or the 440 cu. in. (7.2-liter) Magnum, the Daytona and Superbird are stupendously quick and fast. After all, the first car to brake the 200 mph (320 km/h) record in NASCAR was a Dodge Charger Daytona. Better still, the Charger Daytona won its first race out.
Other than the badge, the other big difference between the Daytona and the Superbird is represented by the rear-facing fender scoops. In the case of the Daytona, the scoops were there for channeling trapped air from the wheel wells. By comparison, the scoops of the Superbird are for looks only.Lancia Delta HF Integrale
The Audi Quattro is cool and all, but the unicorn of 1980s rallying is the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. Before the HF Integrale arrived on the scene in 1987, the HF 4WD was the best Lancia Delta money could buy. The thing is, the HF Integrale is better than the HF 4WD in every way imaginable.
Between 1987 and 1992, the Delta won the World Rally Championship for manufacturers six times. In total, 46 world championship events were won by the four evolutions of the Delta. The most hardcore of them all is the Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione II. Thanks to go-faster bits and bobs such as a bigger Garrett turbo and timed sequential multipoint injection, the force-fed engine was good for 212 horsepower (215 PS) and 231 lb-ft (314 Nm).
If you’re in the market for such a machine, prepare to pay an absurd amount of money on this compact-sized brawler. Earlier this year, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1992 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione 1 'Martini 6' for no less than €134,400. Converted at current exchange rates, that’s a whopping $152,260 or ten grand more than a Mercedes-AMG S63 sedan.Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II (W201)
The first compact executive in the history of Mercedes-Benz spawned one of the most celebrated homologation specials of all time. Make no mistake about it, the 190E 2.3-16 was rad by 1983 performance sedan standards.
In 1988, Mercedes-Benz updated its DTM warrior to 2.5 liters, upping the output by 17 ponies. Another difference between the 2.3-liter and 2.5-liter versions is the differential. More to the point, the change from limited-slip to electronically controlled, hydraulically locking diff brought better handling. Then again, the Evolution models are the ones we’re most interested in.
After BMW unleashed the M3 Sport Evolution, Mercedes-Benz replied to the challenge with the 190E 2.5-16V Evolution I (502 units produced) and 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II (502 units produced). The production lot of the Evolution II was sold out before it made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1990. That’s quite an achievement considering that the 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II retailed for $80,000 or $145,760 adjusted for inflation. To put that price into perspective, the C63 S is $73,250 sans destination.Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
The Galant VR-4 was reasonably competitive in rallying, winning two WRC events in 1989, one in 1990, two in 1991, and one in 1992. However, competition in the World Rally Championship was intensifying at an alarming rate. Hence, Mitsubishi came up with the Lancer Evolution.
Smaller, lighter, more agile, and prettier, the 1992 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was an instant hit. Compared to its successors, the EVO I was available with a viscous limited-slip differential in GSR form. No less than six years after the introduction of the Lancer Evolution, the now-troubled Mitsubishi brand won its first and only WRC manufacturers’ championship.
On March 2016, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution story came to an end after the last unit of the tenth generation rolled off the assembly line at the Nagoya Plant in Okazaki, Aichi. Instead of developing the eleventh-generation EVO, Mitsubishi will focus on crossovers and hybrids. Is it me or do I hear Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word in the background?Porsche 959
The 959 is a car of many firsts for the German carmaker. In five years since development started in 1981, the 959 took first and second in the Paris-Dakar Rally. The race-prepped 961 finished first in its class at Le Mans in the same year. And good golly, the motorsport success of the Porsche 959 coincides with the start of production of the road-going 959.
337 units were sold to the public and all of them feature all-wheel-drive and a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter flat-6. For a short while (as in until the Ferrari F40 made its debut in 1987), the Porsche 959 was the fastest street-legal production car thanks to a top speed of 195 mph (314 km/h).
Bill Gates had one, albeit the Microsoft founder bought it before the 959 was approved by the DOT and Environmental Protection Agency. Hence, the 959 stood idly in storage for the better part of 13 years at the Port of San Francisco until Show or Display imports went official in 1999.Subaru Impreza WRX STI
The arch nemesis of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution made its first public outing in 1992, then went to win the constructors’ title in the World Rally Championships three years on the trot (1995, 1996, 1997). Two years after the Impreza WRX was introduced, Subaru introduced the WRX STI.
Starting with the fourth-gen Impreza, the model was dropped from the WRX and WRX STI because… I don’t know why either, frankly. Still, the WRX and WRX STI outlived the Lancer Evolution, so that’s a plus point for Subaru.
Here’s something to chew on: the 1992 Subaru WRX Type RA produces 237 horsepower from its pancake-four. The Fox-body Ford Mustang in SVT Cobra flavor churns out 235 horsepower from a 302 cu. in. V8. The SN-95 generation wouldn’t wash away the shame of its predecessor because its 4.9-liter V8 wouldn’t produce more than 215 HP for the 1993 model year.