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Seven-mile 1985 MG Metro 6R4 may be the only unused Group B rally car left

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Silverstone Auctions.

In December of 1986, as the Olympus Rally wound its way through the Pacific Northwest and as the tightly wound Group B racers ran their last under World Rally Championship sanction, a rallying fan ordered up a full-kit Group B-spec 1985 MG Metro 6R4, a car destined to never run a race and to eventually head to auction billed as the only brand-new, out-of-the-box Group B car left.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s Group B, what some consider the absolute peak of rally history, essentially gave car manufacturers carte blanche to build the wildest, most technologically advanced “production-based” rally cars upon its creation in 1982. With the emergence of all-wheel-drive and turbocharging, European manufacturers saw an opportunity to not only showcase their technical prowess but also to snag some bragging rights and thus began converting some of their lightest economy cars into dirt monsters.

Audi jumped right to the lead of the Group B competition with its Quattros, but Lancia – already a rally heavyweight thanks to its Stratos – chased the Germans with its 037. Other carmakers from Ford to Peugeot to Toyota jumped in the fray, but Austin Rover, its Triumphs essentially retired, sat out the first couple seasons.

That changed in 1985 when the British company unveiled its 6R4. Just as Renault built its R5 Turbo from the Le Car (as it was sold in the United States), Austin Rover chose to base its rally weapon on its own city car, the front-wheel-drive hatchback MG Metro. However, John Davenport, Austin Rover’s chief of motorsport, decided to follow Audi’s all-wheel-drive lead.

Development on the 6R4 started in 1982 with Williams F1 personnel recruited to not only add a David Wood-designed 3-liter, 90-degree V-6 behind the front seats but also to get it to power all four wheels. The dual overhead-camshaft 24-valve engine featured some Cosworth DFV architecture and in race specification developed well north of 400 horsepower. The team also lightened the car by converting it to a semi-monocoque tube chassis hung with only a handful of stock steel exterior panels accompanied by fiberglass hood, fenders, hatch, and airbox. To meet the (minimal) homologation requirements, Austin Rover built about 200 detuned (250hp) Clubman versions for sale to the public and another 20 to rally specification.

The end result of nearly three years’ worth of work debuted in November 1985 on the RAC Rally, the last event of the 1985 season, with driver Tony Pond taking third. The team fared far worse in 1986, with the cars retiring from races more than they finished them due to engine problems. The dozen points the team accumulated proved good enough for ninth (out of 12 teams) in the manufacturer’s championship.

Of those accumulated points, all of them came in the latter third of the season and the majority came in the next-to-last race of the season, the RAC on Austin Rover’s home turf in November. Of the seven different 6R4s that entered, five finished, with four of them sweeping sixth through ninth places. That sixth-place finish, again with Pond at the wheel, proved the team’s best finish of the season.

By that time, though, pretty much all of the wind had been taken out of Group B’s sails. Fatal crashes at Rallye de Portugal and Tour de Corse early in the season led the FIA to axe Group B for the 1987 season. Without much incentive to return, a number of teams had pulled out before the end of the season.

After 1986, Austin Rover sold off its 6R4s and sent its parts inventory – along with the rights to the V-6 engine – to Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Walkinshaw, in turn, sold the engine a few years later to Jaguar, which redeveloped it into the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that powered the XJ220.

One of those 6R4s, the one that an enthusiast bought in December 1986 (serial number SAXXRWNP7AD570189), retired from Abingdon to Oxfordshire as a kit “with a full set of assembly instructions,” according to the Silverstone auction description of the car. For the next decade, it sat on stands in a garage, untouched, until the owner died and his widow sent the car to the Donington Museum. The museum, in turn, sold the 6R4, still untouched, in 2002 to the current consigner.

Silverstone’s pre-auction estimate for the 6R4 ranges from £200,000 to £240,000 (about USD$250,000 to $300,000). It will cross the block as part of the Silverstone Classic Sale 2019 July 28 at the Silverstone Circuit. For more information, visit SilverstoneAuctions.com.