Meet the Toyota 222D: Toyota’s forgotten rally supercar

Toyota 222D

The Toyota 222D is Toyota’s forgotten rally supercar, built to dominate Group S and make Group B rally cars look like pussycats.

Everyone’s heard of Group B rally, which boasted monster rally cars that spat flames, and could get to 100km/h faster on dirt that a Formula One car could on the track. It was the mid-1980s series that took WRC from mental to absolutely bonkers.

But I’ll bet few of you have ever heard of Group S. It was what would have taken over from Group B in 1986 and would have turned Group B rally cars right up to 11, making them dirt road supercars. Unfortunately, Group B had been a step too far at the time, and drivers were being killed in just about every other race, one even crashed and died on live television.

So, before it even began, Group S was scrapped and Group A introduced instead, ensuring that WRC cars were closer to their production siblings than Killer Bees had been. Toyota’s Group B Celica was going to be retired in place of the thing you see here, codenamed 222D this was going to be Toyota’s Group S rally supercar.

Approval for the 222D arrived back in 1984, two years before it was expected to begin racing, and the engineers were told it needed to be able to win the World Rally Championship in its first year and “strengthen Toyota’s public perception”.

While the Group B car had been a rear-drive Celica, Group S regs prompted Toyota to switch to a mid-engine layout and all-wheel drive. Fortunately, Toyota had the newly launched MR2 (Midship Runabout 2-seater) just laying around. Instead of seeking out seasoned engineering partners, Toyota kept the development of the 222D totally inhouse to ensure it’s team knew everything it needed to know.

Toyota 222D

The original idea had been to use the MR2’s 1.6L four-pot but Toyota was also secretly developing the ST165 Celica GT-Four which was going to run a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder and get all-wheel drive. It was expected to be launched in 1986. So, that engine and all-wheel drive layout was wedged into the MR2 body along with double wishbone front suspension, five-link independent rear suspension and manual transmission.

The first prototype was finished in February 1985, with field testing taking place in both Japan and Europe. Initial testing results prompted a raft of changes to engine placement, suspension stroke, tyre size, and a torque split mechanism that would allow the car to switch between two- and four-wheel drive. Clever.

The car was expected to be ready to rock by December 1985, but with 1985 proving to be a truly tragic year for Group B with a number of drivers dying during the season, Group S was scrapped. Things had got out of hand, the FIA suggested, and rules were rushed through to limit performance and ensure rally cars were closer to production vehicles.

So the 222D was abandoned. Sigh. Toyota was forced to continue racing its old Celica and Supra and turn its attention to the ST165 Celica GT-Four, the spiritual grandfather of the new GR Yaris. It entered Group A racing in 1988 in the fifth round of that year’s WRC, Tour de Corse. It’s first victory didn’t come until the following year at Rally Australia.

So, what happened to the 222D? Well, only two prototypes exist, a white one and a black one, one’s in Germany at Toyota Motorsport GmbH in Cologne, and the other’s in Japan.

Toyota 222D

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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.