FIVE cars you’d never expect to be turned into rally racers

November 22, 2018

Earlier this week, Jaguar released images and video footage of a rally-spec F-TYPE. Turns out this is not the first time a Jaguar has been developed for the rally stages, as you’ll see below. If nothing else though, this gave us the opportunity to dig out some more bizarre rally machines.

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1. Rolls-Royce Corniche

Probably the most famous entry on this list, this Dakar-spec Rolls-Royce Corniche is what happens when you’re a debonair playboy with a questionably reliable Rolls-Royce and aspirations of competing on the toughest rally on the planet, and think…”meh, sod it.”

Sponsored, rather handily by Christian Dior, and christened ‘Jules’ after the luxury brand’s new aftershave range, more than 2,000 hours of work went into preparing the luxury barge – owned by co-driver Jean-Christophe Pelletier – into a dune basher for the 1981 Paris-Dakar. That included removing the 6.75-litre V12 altogether in favour of a 350-hp Chevrolet V8, replacing the chassis and gearbox with examples from an HJ45 Toyota Land Cruiser, gutting the interior, and refashioning the body panels from fibreglass. Basically, all but the Spirit of Ecstacy and front grille were binned. Incredibly, both Pelletier and Thierry de Montcorgé were running 13th overall when officials disqualified them following an illegal repair at half-distance.

That didn’t stop the mad French bastards from returning to the Dakar in 1984 with ‘Jules II’, a six-wheeler outfitted with a 3.5-litre Chevy V8 and the gearbox from a Porsche 935 beneath a privately commissioned body. Sadly a broken chassis meant Jules II would go no further than the third stage.

*Image courtesy of Frederic Veillard

2. Jaguar XJ6

Sticking with British premium limousines that attempted to conquer the Dakar, we have this 1978 Jaguar XJ6 that attempted the terrifying 8500km adventure across the dunes in 2003. Much like the Roller, the Jag, entered for the event by experienced Dutch mechanic Frans Van Engelen, was heavily modified.

The chassis was from a Range Rover, as was the five-speed R380 gearbox, LT 230 transfer case, and vented brake discs. The rear axle was rebuilt and set further back to match Range Rover’s 100in wheelbase, the stock suspension was ripped out in favour of performance dampers from HT, and the new “Wolf” Defender 130 steel wheels were fitted with heavy duty mud tyres. Particular attention was paid to the XJ’s 4.2-litre V8, the block of which was based on Range Rover’s more durable 3.5-litre example. Van Engelen even found room for a couple of turbo pistons from a BMW 745 to up the power to 250-hp. Astonishingly, the burly and bruised British brute was on course to take the chequered flag – albeit way down the order – before news broke just 590km from the finishing line that Van Engelen’s wife had gone into labour.

It’s interesting to note that Jaguar’s Formula 1 program would draw to a close just one year after the Big Cat made its unofficial Dakar debut. Coventry may have missed a trick there…

*Image courtesy of Drivers Insight

3. Ferrari 308 GTB Group B

One can only imagine the kind of guttural noises Il Commendatore would have made had he known one of his prancing horses was being prepared by English privateer Tony Worswick – a garagista, no less – for European Group B rally stages in the early 1980s. Ferrari would probably have been even more astonished to find that, not only had Italian race specialists Michelotto, been preparing Group 4-spec examples of the 308 GTB since the late 1970s, but, incredibly, the replacement for the Dino was actually pretty good on the loose stuff.

The principal was simple: Ferrari’s mid-mounted V8 and low weight, combined with new underpinnings and Group B’s hilariously loose regulations, equalled a surprisingly competitive package. Ferrari itself quickly threw its weight behind the project by supplying bare chassis, even homologating performance updates to hike the V8’s original 252-hp output.

Just one year after its debut, the 308 GTB had won its first event, fittingly, at the 1979 Monza Rally, followed that up with wins in both Spain and Italy, Ferraris’ sole World Rally Championship podium at the 1982 Tour de Corse, and even took Antonio Tognana to the 1982 Italian Rally Championship (admittedly the erstwhile champ did switch to a Lancia 037 midway through his campaign). Though he would not reach the same heady heights of the 11 Michelotto-produced examples, Tony Worswick was still competing with his right-hand drive, 450-hp example across Europe until the death of Group B ahead of the ’87 WRC season.

*Image courtesy of James Mann and RM Auctions

4. BMW M1 Group B

Up next in the ‘holy crap, Group B was bloody mental in the 1980s’ category is this rally-spec BMW M1, arguably the most baffling motorsport campaign to ever bear the Bavarian badge.

Power, clearly, wasn’t an issue, given that the M1’s mid-mounted six cylinder chucked out 273-hp for the road, a further 157-hp being added for the loose stuff. The weight of the first-ever BMW M car was an issue, sure, but the M1 had dropped a few belt notches to 1,150kg when it debuted at the 1981 Rallye du Var, complete with revised bodywork, a massive new rear wing to improve downforce, and flared wheel arches – also massive – housing the stickiest of rally-spec slicks. Problem was, not only was the car almost heroically unreliable, it was also fantastically big, measuring almost 20cm wider than the Lancia 037 that debuted in 1982 (you may have heard of that). On the tight and twisting Tour du Corse, even that monstrous 430-hp power output was shackled.

Kudos to BMW France though, which officially entered a Group B M1 for full European Rally Championship campaigns in 1982 and 1983 before handing the reigns over to privateers, and long-time sponsors, Motul for 1984. Ironically, this season would be the M1’s best, former ERC champion Bernard Béguin collecting two wins back-to-back at Rallye de La Baule and Rallye de Lorraine that season, and even claiming an outright ERC podium at Rally d’Antibes four months later. The writing was already on the wall by then though.

*Image courtesy of

5. Citroën Dyane 6

Take a moment and ponder if there is another car more ill-fitting of a rally pedigree than Citroen’s answer to the Renault 4…

…yep, we drew a blank too. For starters, the Dyane, launched in 1967, was based on the equally soft and spongy torsion-tubed platform used by the 2CV, the build and design of which had hardly changed since its 19 years earlier in 1948. It had the same bicycle-thick wheels and tyres. The same four-speed manual gearbox, and largely the same 425cc air-cooled flat-two from launch, which, when strained, delivered 21-hp from launch, a 105kph top speed, and 0-100kph in about a week and a half. Customers of the more ‘affluent’ Dyane though did at least get cloth seats and a fold back fabric roof. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear Thierry de Montcorgé was eying one for the ’86 Dakar…

Almost God-like credit then has to be given to Spanish rally enthusiast, Alberto Miera, who intermittently entered local events in Cantabria with a Dyane 6 between 2006 and 2009. An all-round sportier model, the 6 featured a 602cc version of the Citroen’s flat-two, meaning power rocketed up to 32-hp and at full chat, the 6 would hit a dizzying 75mph (120kph). Given how much the Dyane leans over on those terrifyingly flimsy wheels in this video, you couldn’t pay us to test that top speed.

Best results? You’re kidding, right?