5 Best Homologation Specials Ever

BMW M3 E30 Homologation

Homologation rules for racing have seen car makers produce some of the wildest vehicles, and here are our 5 best homologation specials ever.

We’re all aware that those race series based on ‘production’ vehicles require manufacturers to produce and sell a set number of vehicles to ‘prove’ the vehicle hasn’t just been built for racing. Ahem, we all know it’s just clever reverse engineering of the scenario.

This approval process for racing vehicles has seen car makers build some of the most mental vehicles ever to run on the road. And has created legends of the drivers who piloted the race vehicles, as much as the vehicles themselves.

And there’ve been many more than just 5, but we’ve dug through the ‘specials’ and picked the 5 we think are the truest homologation specials that stand above all the others to be called true automotive legends.

Lancia Stratos

No homologation car list could be complete without the Lancia Stratos. Indeed, this thing is probably the world’s first, purpose-built homologation special. The backstory is an interesting one, which saw Lancia, wanting a replacement for its ageing Fulvia, seek out Bertone for a new racing car design. Bertone designer, Marcello Gandini came up with the design, he’d designed the Miura and was also working on the Countach for Lamborghini…

The Stratos ran a Dino Ferrari 2.4L V6, mid-mounted in a low-slung, wedge-shaped body. It was an instant design icon and racing monster. It dominated rally in the 1970s, crowned world champion in 1974, 1975 and 1976. It also won a bunch of road-racing events in the 1970s, and raced at Le Mans in 1976 finishing 20th.

No doubt about it, the Lancia Stratos is one of the most important and legendary homologation specials ever.

BMW M3 (E30)

Developed with Group A touring car racing in mind, homologation rules required BMW to build 5000 road-legal E30 M3s in a 12 month period for the vehicle to be eligible for motorsport. It boasted a naturally aspirated 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission, making 200hp and at just 1200kg it could get to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds. This was fast stuff indeed back in 1986. It featured four wheel disc brakes and ABS as well as aerodynamic tweaks compared with the garden-variety 3 Series, as well as plastic skirts and bumpers. It was also one of the first vehicles to be tuned on the Nurburgring in Germany and went on to prove its performance and reliability in a 150,000km high-speed test on Italy’s Nardo Ring.

This first-ever M3 stayed in production for five years, becoming more powerful and more sophisticated with each update. In its first year of racing, 1987, the track version of the M3 was crowned world touring car champion; it went on to dominate racing in Europe. Yep, the first M3 is a homologation legend.

Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

Okay, maybe this is one that not everyone will agree with but I’m a massive fan of something that’s a little left of centre and utterly bonkers. And the Pajero Evolution absolutely fits that bill. There were 2500 built so that Mitsubishi could take on the Dakar Rally in the T2 class for production vehicles.

And it’s got plenty of firepower. Under the bonnet is a 3.5L V6 making 202kW and 348Nm of torque and you could choose from either a manual or automatic transmission. The suspension is different from the regular three-door Pajero of the time, running a double wishbone with coils at the front and multi-link independent rear end at the back. It runs a wider track (up +125mm at the front and +110mm at the rear) and wider tyres than a regular Pajero of the time too. And the front and rear offered longer wheel travel than a garden-variety Pajero (240mm at the front and 270mm at the back).

It won Dakar outright in 1998. And while bugger all of the 2500 came to Australia we found one for sale here last year.

Celica GT-FOUR

Before the Lancer Evolution or WRX, it was the Toyota Celica that took the fight to the European brands, breaking their stranglehold on the World Rally Championship. The Celica marked the first time a Japanese car maker had gone to WRC armed with an all-paw turbo car, paving the way for Mitsubishi and Subaru.

The Celica GT-Four Homologation car (2500 units and only built in 1994) allowed Toyota to race in Group A which took over once the bonkers Group B was cancelled. Of the 2500 cars built, 77 came to Australia with the GT-Four Homologation being the most powerful Celica ever with up to 188kW.

It boasted all sorts of clever odds and ends, like an aluminium bonnet for weight saving, all-wheel drive, clever Super-Strut Suspension, ABS, anti-lag and much more. Sure, it’s not as popular as some other rally homologation cars, but we reckon it’s worth a Top 10 mention.

Audi Sport Quattro S1

The big boss man of Group B rally. Audi built the Sport Quattro S1 to race in Group B and it was mental. It boasted a 2.1-litre turbocharged five-pot making around 225kW and more in race trim, and could get to 100km/h in 3.1 seconds. It also boasted an early prototype of the DSG, the body was made from carbon-kevlar, it was shorter than a regular Quattro and its guards were pumped an inch wider too. And then there was the rake of windscreen which was more upright than other Quattros to reduce glare for drivers.

It lobbed into Group B towards the end of the season in 1985, a season dominated by the Peugeot 205 T16, also on our list, but the original Stig Blomquist managed to finish second on debut (16 fastest stages), before Walter Rohrl gave the world the full gun show at the San Remo rally where it dominated. It also won Pikes Peak with Michele Mouton behind the wheel.

It’s career was short-lived with Audi pulling out of rally in 1986. Group B was also cancelled. While the Sport Quattro S1 might not have been the fastest rally car of its day, it was clearly the most entertaining and its mechanicals had a huge influence on Audi cars that followed.

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.