Modelled by Motorsport: Ford's iconic homologation specials
Controlling spending is a perennial problem in motorsport. On countless occasions, motor racing series have collapsed from gluttony. If manufacturers are given a free rein to spend as much as they please, the sport becomes an arms race. Then, in the not so distant future, manufacturers either get bored of winning or losing and take their ball to play somewhere else. At present, the cost effective Formula E paddock is welcoming all of these manufacturers with open arms.
Over the years, many methods have been used to try and control spending in motorsport. One such example, is when governing bodies determine that a manufacturer must build a certain number of road going examples of their race car. In theory, this prevents manufacturers from developing one off prototypes at huge cost. Also, this allows the sport to be more relatable to road cars sold by manufacturers.
However, like most rules, those willing to gain an edge can do so. Enter the ‘homologation special’. In short, a homologation special is a road car which is built for the sole purpose of adhering to racing regulations. Many of the most coveted, iconic road cars ever built, are homologation specials.
The Ford Motor Company, a firm with a rich motor racing heritage, created three incredibly desirable automobiles to satisfy its motor racing ambitions. As a result, two iconic names emerged, the RS200 and the GT.
Arguably the ultimate homologation special. Created from scratch with zero compromises towards road use. In the 1980’s, Group B rally regulations dictated that manufacturers must build 200 road going examples of their rally car. Hence the name, RS200. Powered by a 1.8 litre turbocharged ‘BDT’ engine, the road car produced around 250 horse power. However, the BDT engine was itching for more. In retirement from the world’s rally stages, the RS200 was widely campaigned as a rally cross car and even entered the infamous Pikes Peak hill climb. In Pikes Peak trim, the engine allegedly produced 800 horse power.
Like many homologation specials, rules were followed as loosely as possible. Group B regulations stated that 200 cars had to be built. Nowhere in the rulebook was there a stipulation to sell the cars.
In the era of endless forums and webpages, determining how many RS200s existed, is impossible. However, a letter from R B Howe of Ford Motor Company on 13th February 1995, confirmed that 146 cars had been sold. Not 200.
FISA played the role of homologation police in the Group B era and granted the RS200 homologation for competition. On a visit to the Reliant (yes, the 3 wheeler) factory where the cars were built, FISA officials were shown 200 ‘built’ RS200s. In truth, many of the cars were not finished vehicles and it is believed many of these cars were broken up for parts. I suspect FISA officials were quickly ushered to the nearest restaurant for a long lunch before suspicions had the chance to kick in.
In world rally competition, the RS200 was a total flop. One lone podium in Sweden and tragically involved in a fatal accident in Portugal in 1985, the RS200 lived a short life on the stages. Despite this, the four-wheel drive rally replica is renowned as one of the rarest and most revered cars in history.
At time of writing just 12 RS200s remain registered on the road in the UK, 24 more sit tucked away with statutory off road notification (SORN) notices.
RS200s very rarely come up for sale but a top example will now command half a million dollars.
Ford GT Past and Present
As one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, The Ford Motor Company don’t do things by halves in motorsport. From humble beginnings when Henry Ford raced his own self built racer ‘Sweepstakes’ to the multimillion dollar onslaught on the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race, Ford have been a regular competitor in motorsport.
In 1964, Ford brashly arrived with an elegant prototype, the Ford GT. After quietly minding their own business on home turf for generations, Henry Ford and the company’s senior management plotted their assault on the European motor racing establishment.
Ford had been set to acquire Enzo Ferrari’s beloved company and crucially control over his motor racing activity. Essentially, the Detroit powerhouse would acquire all the precious Ferrari motor racing expertise and therefore buy their way into the winner’s circle.
At the 11th hour, with purple ink pen in hand, Enzo realised he would relinquish control of his race team. Despite the impending financial doom for Ferrari having snubbed the multi-million-dollar sale, racing would never be compromised. Enzo sent the American executives home with the contract in tatters.
Ford management were livid. So livid, that they decided to flex their muscles and build a car to beat Ferrari at their happiest hunting ground, Le Mans. Ferrari had won The 24 hours of Le Mans on the previous six occasions. Therefore, a special car would be required.
Enter Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles and Phil Remington. Ford approached the enigmatic Texan and his team of engineers to build a machine that could humiliate Ferrari. Shelby knew precisely how to win the famous race. Despite chronic heart problems, Shelby triumphed in 1959 with Roy Salvadori in the gorgeous Aston Martin DBR1.
Briton Ken Miles was chosen by Shelby for his telepathic ability to identify issues in a race car and fix them quickly. Miles, although the wiser side of 40, was still a genius behind the wheel and crucially possessed mechanical sympathy. A key trait for success on the long straights and hard braking of Le Mans and the vicious bumps of Sebring.
Remington’s ability to fabricate updates for the GT in record time was majestic. During the 6-year factory programme, he produced many iterations of the GT. In various guises, Ford’s GT won Le Mans four times, in a row. Culminating with arguably the most iconic car ever made, the Gulf livery Ford GT40.
Despite the Ford GT existing as what we know today as a ‘Le Mans Prototype’, these extraordinary vehicles did make it onto the road. In the late 1970’s, Border Reivers legend, Doug Niven, came agonisingly close to acquiring one of these Le Mans bred monsters. “A local farmer was selling a GT40 for £5000, I enquired about it but it was a lot of money in those days and I was still racing. So I decided against it.” At the time of writing, according to hagerty.com, a 1965 Ford GT40 road car is valued at four and a half million dollars.
A firm very much in touch with its heritage and still under family guardianship, Ford threw the ultimate anniversary party in 2016. To mark 50 years since the 1966 triumph against Ferrari at Le Mans, Ford developed a car to go back to Le Circuit de la Sarthe and topple their Italian rivals once more.
Since their defeat at the hands of the Ford in 1966, Ferrari haven’t won Le Mans outright since. However, they have retreated to the GT class, with great success.
For auto manufacturers, GT racing provides an excellent opportunity to race cars that silhouette their road going models. At Le Mans, the GT classes are pure glamour. Ferrari 488s, Porsche 911s, Corvettes and Aston Martin Vantages. Ford decided they would join the party too. However, their approach was different to the others in the class.
Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin begin with a model from their range of road cars and then develop this into a race car. Ford, produced a road car, specifically to homologate for racing. Thus, reviving the homologation special.
Ford’s creation was so advanced that when the car came to the grid at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2016, it needed its wings clipped. With a top speed of 216 miles per hour, the road car would disappear into the sunset down the Mulsanne straight. Therefore, the race specification GT was strangled by Balance of Performance regulations to preserve parity in competition.
Ford’s new GT emulates the elegant curves of the 1960’s GT. A fitting tribute to Shelby, Miles and Remington’s masterpiece. Starting from scratch, engineers in a top secret bunker in Dearborn had crafted their perfect Le Mans racer, without compromise.
Ford had the luxury of hand picking who could purchase these £420,000 pieces of Le Mans history. Demand far outstripped supply, leading to some tense phone calls to those who missed out. Now that the two year “don’t you dare sell it” clause has expired, Ford GT owners are starting to offer the cars for sale. Want one? No change should be expected from one million dollars.
Much like the RS200, the aura around the GT will only grow over time. Performance cars come and go but homologation specials have such intriguing background, offering a look back into motorsport history, on the public highway.