The Top 25 Homologation Specials of All Time
Purpose-built racing cars – be they single seat open wheelers, sports prototypes, dragsters or any other automobile whose sole reason for being is to compete – have always inspired awe and been capable of extraordinary performance. But when it comes to truly connecting with the fans in the stands, these thoroughbreds are no match for production-based (even if it’s just the shape of the body) machinery. The idea of watching a particular car win a race and then walking out to the parking lot and driving home in or driving to the local dealer to check out an identical (save for some safety and performance equipment and a whole heap-o-decals) car holds widespread (if not universal) appeal.
Of course, to stand a better chance at winning on Sunday so they can sell on Monday, manufacturers load their showroom-bred competition models with go-fast bits. However, many sanctioning bodies used to require (though, sadly, very few still do) that those same upgrades to be fitted to a certain number of the street-legal models Joe Bloe can buy, meaning the factories have to sell what are known as homologation specials in order to race that model. The annals of automotive history are brimming with such four-wheeled entry forms, yet we’ve managed to pare that manifest down to the 25 fastest, coolest and most outrageous ones ever to wear a license plate.
Dodge Charger Daytona
The second generation Dodge Charger (which debuted in 1968) was and is a styling tour de force, but the recessed grille and rear window were major aerodynamic liabilities on NASCAR’s higher-speed tracks. The 1969 Charger 500 – with a flush grille and back window – helped somewhat, but the fastback Fords and Mercurys still had an edge. So later that year, Dodge rolled out the street and race versions of the Charger Daytona.
Both featured a wedge-shaped nosecone and monolithic rear wing, as well as rear-facing scoops atop the front fenders that yielded additional tire clearance for the lower-riding race cars. Road versions were propelled by either the 440 cubic-inch (7.2L) Magnum V8 or the 426 cubic-inch (7.0L) Street Hemi V8, while the competition models relied on the 426 Race Hemi for power. The conceptually-similar Plymouth Road Runner Superbird followed in 1970, and together, Chrysler’s “Winged Warriors” marked the zenith of the stock car racing “Aero Wars.”
Lancia Delta HF Integrale
After its WRC team’s rising star Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto perished in a crash during the 1986 Tour de Corse (and the resultant FIA ban on Group B and Group S cars rendered the Delta S4 and ESV, respectively, obsolete), Lancia could have been easily forgiven for quitting rallying altogether. Instead, the House Vincenzo Built poured its efforts into building a variant of the Delta that would satisfy the much-tamer new top class in WRC, Group A. The Resulting Delta HF Integrale, as we’ve told you previously, cleaned the competition’s clocks with its 2.0L turbo inline-four, tenacious AWD grip and willing chassis. By the time the company did leave the sport at the end of 1993 (though the factory team had been disbanded at the end of 1991), the Integrale (and its predecessor, the HF 4WD) had racked up 46 WRC wins, four driver’s championships and six straight manufacturer’s championships. Dominatore!
Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth
Many of you are probably aware that the sporting model of Ford’s ill-fated “bring the European models to America” experiment, Merkur, imported the rear-drive Ford Sierra as the XR4ti. And it was a high performer for the time, with the turbocharged 2.3L SOHC inline-four (shared with the Ford Mustang SVO and Thunderbird Turbo Coupe) producing 175hp. Unfortunately, the baddest derivative of the platform – the Sierra RS Cosworth – never made it to these shores. And in case the regular Sierra RS Cosworth (with its 2.0L DOHC turbocharged Cosworth YB-series inline-four, improved aerodynamics and upgraded suspension and brakes) wasn’t hardcore enough, U.K. buyers could step up to the Tickford-built RS500 Cosworth. As the name implies, only 500 of these monsters were built, and featured a bigger turbocharger, four additional fuel injectors (though these were unused on the street version), and a total of 224hp.
It was the RS500 that dominated Group A touring car racing around the world, including wins in the Bathurst 1000, Macau Grand Prix, and the German and British touring car championships. It also saw some success in rallying, particularly on tarmac events where the AWD cars had less of an advantage. The RS500’s crowning rally achievement came at the 1988 Tour de Corse, where future World Rally Champion Didier Auriol handed the factory Lancias their only defeat of the ‘88 WRC season.
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in late 1966 as a 1967 model, it was pretty much a given that there would be a version for the Sports Car Club of America’s recently established Trans-American Sedan Series (Trans-Am for short). That version – marketed by the name of its Regular Production Order (RPO) option code, Z28 (with the addition of a slash) – featured an exclusive 302 cubic-inch (4.9L) solid lifter version of Chevy’s beloved Small Block V8 that was created by combining the 283’s (4.6L) crankshaft with a 327’s (5.4L) block. Officially, it made 290hp, but that measurement was taken at just 5,300 rpm; wound up all the way to the rpm at which the actual power peak occurred (The 283 crank’s 3” stroke allowed the 302 to top 7,000 rpm with ease.), the dyno was probably reading about 350hp with the single Holley four-barrel carburetor, and nearly 400hp with the optional dealer-installed cross ram dual quad setup. Other key equipment included a close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission, sturdier suspension components, and power brakes with front discs (A four-wheel disc option, codenamed JL8, was offered in 1969 for a coronary-inducing-at-the-time $500.30.).
With all the aforementioned equipment in its arsenal, it’s no wonder the first-gen Z/28 decimated to competition in Trans-Am. Team owner Roger Penske and his ace driver/engineer Mark Donohue grabbed the win in 10 of the series’ 13 races in 1968, while Donohue and teammate Ronnie Bucknum took a combined 8 of 12 victories the following year, easily earning Chevrolet the manufacturer’s championship both seasons (Trans-Am wouldn’t crown its first driver’s champ until ’72.). That, boys and girls, is what you call dominance.
BMW M3 (E30)
As competition in the Group A touring car ranks intensified in the mid-‘80s, BMW realized the M635CSi (predecessor to the M6) wouldn’t be at the sharp end of the grid much longer. Consequently, Motorsport GmbH engineers readied a new challenger based on the second generation (E30) 3 Series coupe. The resultant M3 was loaded to the roof with athleticism-enhancing tweaks: Flared fenders with bigger wheels and tires. A full body kit plus a relocated and reshaped back window and decklid. Thoroughly reworked suspension and braking systems. And, to cap it all off, a manic twin-cam 2.3L inline-four teamed with a “dogleg” (i.e. 1st gear is left and down, rather than left and up) 5-speed manual transmissionon non-U.S. models. Small wonder, then, that this little Bavarian buzzbomb decimated touring car (and tarmac rally) series all over the globe.
MG Metro 6R4
When Britain’s Austin Rover Group decided to build a Group B car for the WRC, it chose to base it on the humble Metro subcompact, which was above only the Mini in the model lineup hierarchy. But by the time the company (and its development partner, Williams Grand Prix Engineering of Formula 1 fame) were done, there wasn’t much Metro left. Sure, it retained the two-box silhouette and most of the styling cues, but most of the bodywork was fiberglass, and the chassis was tubular steel.
As was the fashion of the time (late 1985), the engine was mounted behind the seats and sent power to all four wheels. However, instead of some boosted-to-the-moon turbo four-banger, the MG Metro 6R4 (as this frankenhatch was called) featured a normally-aspirated 3.0L V6. In street legal Clubman trim (of which 200 were made, per Group B regulations), it made 250hp, but in competition trim, output topped 410hp. That was enough to get the 6R4 a third place finish on its debut, but teething troubles with the engine put the kibosh on further success, though it did pick up many victories in rallycross after the WRC dumped Group B. And that 3.0L V6 was later punched out to 3.5L, fitted with two turbochargers and installed in the production version of the Jaguar XJ220.
Honda NSX-R GT
With its lightweight aluminum construction and mid-engine layout, the Acura (or as it was known to most of the rest of the world, Honda) NSX was very much a racecar-in-waiting. But even in double-throwdown Type R form, there was room for improvement. The All-Japan GT Championship (JGTC, renamed Super GT in 2005) GT500 class NSXs needed aerodynamic help, so Honda built just five (the minimum number required for homologation) NSX-R GTs for the street to allow the race versions to be fitted with downforce-adding longer front and rear bumpers and bigger side scoops, plus a sizable engine air snorkel that was actually non-functional on the road car. Naturally, all the weight saving tricks from the “regular” Type R were also present.
Ford XY Falcon GTHO Phase III
Ford may have let the Falcon wither on the vine in this country once it became clear the Mustang that the Falcon sired was a license to print money, but Dearborn was a much better steward of it in the Australian market. In fact, you can still walk into a Ford store Down Under in 2013 and buy a brand new Falcon. But even though that new Falcon (codenamed FG) will be nice and shiny and chock full of technology, it won’t be the baddest Falcon ever unleashed on Oz.
No, that title probably belongs to the XY generation GTHO Phase III of 1971. Based on the “regular” XY Falcon GT, the GTHO Phase III bundled a 351 cubic-inch (5.8L) Cleveland V8 rated at 300hp (It was really more like 370hp.), Ford Top-Loader 4-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, extra large fuel tank and heavy duty brakes and suspension. The on-track success of this car – particularly in the hands of Canadian expat Allan Moffat – not only made the GTHO the most legendary and most valuable Aussie muscle car, but also drew Holden and Chrysler into the fight.
The Enzo Ferrari was one of the most fearsome supercars of the first decade of the 21st century, but many people forget it had a sister: The Maserati MC12. Sure, it was much the same underneath, with a screaming 6.0 V12 and F1-style paddle-shift 6-speed transmission. Unlike the Ferrari, though, the MC12 featured lengthy front and rear overhangs and a removable roof panel. But the biggest difference of all was that the MC12 spawned a GT1 racing version, though objections from sanctioning bodies and competitors about its size, construction and aerodynamics often delayed (if not completely precluded) its eligibility.
Audi Sport Quattro
The history of rallying is arguably divided into two eras: B.Q. (Before Quattro) and A.Q. (After Quattro). For all the scores of thousands of makes and models of automobiles that have been created throughout history, just a tiny handful of cars can be legitimately be labeled game-changers, and Audi‘sur-Quattro is definitely one. But by 1984, this pioneering machine was struggling to hold onto its advantage. Enter the Sport Quattro. Not only was there more power from the turbocharged inline-five, lightweight carbon-Kevlar bodywork, and wider wheels and tires, but also more than a foot hacked out of the wheelbase. That last change made the new Quattro considerably more agile than its predecessor, allowing it to stave off much of the challenge offered by Ford and Lancia and helping Stig Blomqvist to the 1984 WRC drivers’ title.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
At the dawn of the 1990s, Mitsubishi was doing fairly well in the world of rallying with its Galant VR-4, a turbocharged, AWD version of its midsize sedan. But as the competition in both the WRC and various regional and national championships intensified, the need to come up with a smaller, more agile car became painfully clear. To remedy this Mitsubishi engineers crammed the VR-4’s drivetrain into the C-segment Lancer sedan (which was offered in the U.S. as the Dodge Colt and Eagle Summit) to create the Lancer Evolution.
With 244hp on tap and AWD with either a mechanical (on the “stripper” RS model) or viscous (on the fancier GSR model) limited-slip rear differential, the “Evo” (as it soon came to be known) was a formidable weapon on the street. And just as Mitsubishi had hoped, it (and its subsequent Roman-numeral-suffixed revisions) became the scourge of its rally rivals.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe
Though NASCAR’s first Aero War petered out after 1970, a new one began in 1983, the year Ford debuted its curvaceous new Thunderbird. That same year, Chevrolet fitted the Monte Carlo SS with a slanted nose that featured an integral bumper. It was an improvement, but couldn’t quite match the T-birds. The Bowtie Brigade fired back big time in 1986 with the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, which featured an elongated bubble back window and a drastically shortened trunklid. The street version was offered in 1986 and ‘87 (with an asthmatic 305 cubic-inch carbureted Small Block V8; did no one at Chevy feel this limited edition model was worthy of the Tuned Port EFI-equipped 305 or – better yet – 350?), though it was used in NASCAR’s top-level Winston Cup Series through early 1989, since production of the Monte Carlo’s replacement, the Lumina, was delayed, in turn delaying approval from NASCAR.
Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV
As more and more Group A cars like the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and BMW M3 migrated to the Australian Touring Car Championship, GM’s Holden division needed to make the VL series Commodore SS more competitive. So for 1988, Holden and Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) developed a radical (if not cheesy) looking body kit that reduced drag by a claimed 25% over the regular Group A VL. Power was provided by Holden’s 4.9L pushrod V8, and made 241hp in street trim. Strong results were slow to arrive, and even when the SV did start notching up wins, it only picked up a few. At least they were high profile ones, including the 1990 Bathurst 1000 with Allan Grice and Englishman Win Percy.
Volvo 242 Turbo Group A
When most people think of the Volvo 240 Series, they think of curve-deficient sedans and wagons driven by people who shop exclusively at Whole Foods and wear Che Guevara t-shirts *gasp* un-ironically. But these beloved-by-Bolsheviks bricks had a black sheep in the family. A black sheep that won the European Touring Car Championship, thanks in large part to a turbocharged 2.1L four-banger, beefed up suspension, and jaunty rear wing. Just 500 (the minimum requirement) were built in 1983, and all came to the U.S., though about 30 were subsequently returned to the Continent to become race cars.
Ford Mustang Boss 429
The year 1969 saw Ford introduce the Mustang Boss 302, a special model for Trans-Am racing. That same year, Ford introduced the Mustang Boss 429, which was not an entire car to be homologated for racing, but just an engine. The 429 cubic-inch (7.0L) “semi-hemi” V8 was rated at a laughably conservative 375hp, and final assembly was handled by the outside firm Kar Kraft, which made the extensive body and suspension modifications needed to accommodate the elephantine engine. Funny how Ford went to all the trouble of cramming a NASCAR motor into a Mustang when it probably would have fit right under the hood of the model it was fielding in NASCAR at the time, the Torino…
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)
Most car geeks (and a good many non-car geeks) are familiar with the current Nissan GT-R, but how did Nissan settle on the AWD, twin-turbo six-cylinder formula? Well, it actually started in 1989 with the R32-chassis Skyline GT-R, the first Skyline GT-R since the fastback “Kenmeri” GT-R of the early 1970s. Thanks to a gentlemen’s agreement among Japanese automakers, the 2.6L twin-turbo straight-six was officially rated at 276hp, but the real number was more like 320hp. Couple that with AWD, all-wheel-steering and a beefed-up 5-speed manual transmission and it’s no surprise the first modern GT-R dominated the national touring car championships in both Japan and Australia.
In fact, it was Australia that gave it the nickname Godzilla (which has been applied to all GT-Rs since), but it wasn’t necessarily a term of endearment: After the GT-R of Aussie Mark Skaife and Kiwi Jim Richards romped to the win in the 1992 Bathurst 1000, they were greeted by a chorus of boos from the legions of Holden and Ford partisans. And rather than ignoring the crowd’s dissatisfaction or attempting to make peace with it, Richards (in)famously retaliated by calling the spectator mob “a pack of arseholes” (though in his defense he had just been told that his friend and countryman Denny Hulme had died of a heart attack while driving a BMW M3 in the race).
Renault 5 Turbo
In the late 1970s, as the mid-engine Lancia Stratos was cleaning up in rallying, Renault got the idea that it wanted a piece of that pie. But rather than creating a brand new car, it got together with its longtime motorsports partner Alpine to create a pumped up Group 4 version of the 5 (which was sold in the U.S. as the LeCar). The front-mounted inline-four and front-drive setup was yanked out, and a turbocharged 1.4L four and a rear-drive transaxle was plunked in where the back seat normally was substituted. The front and rear fenders were flared (The design for these new fenders came courtesy of the legendary Marcello Gandini who, ironically, designed the Stratos.) and filled with bigger wheels and tires. The end result was a car that was hard to beat on the world’s rally stages, more than holding its own on tarmac events even as AWD Group B hardware started outgunning it on loose-surface rallies.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo II
When Mercedes-Benz pulled out of racing at the end of the tragic 1955 season, it stayed away (at least on a factory-supported basis) for almost 30 years. The company’s first foray back into circuit racing came with the W201 chassis 190E 2.3-16, a special version of the company’s compact sedan fitted with tauter suspension, a body kit, and a variant of the company’s venerable 2.3L inline-four that was fitted with a twin-cam, 16-valve cylinder head designed and built in England by Cosworth. Cossie Benz development culminated with the 190E 2.5-16 Evo II of 1991. The flared fenders, towering (and adjustable) rear wing and super low bumpers and side skirts ensured that the DTM racers based on it generated impressive aero numbers, while the larger 2.5L engine (rated at 232hp in showroom trim) provided some extra boom. The E30 M3 could not have asked for a more fearsome rival.
Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41
When Oldsmobile discontinued the 442 nameplate along with the last rear-drive Cutlass Supreme in 1987, enthusiasts of the Rocket-badged muscle cars were understandably upset. But most of them were apoplectic when, three years later, Olds revived the designation on the quasi-compact, front-drive Cutlass Calais’ N-body platform. But the 1990 Quad 442 W40 was a hot little number, and the Quad 442 W41 (which debuted a year later for a one-and-done appearance) was downright scorching. The standard W40’s twin-cam, 16-valve 2.3L Quad4 inline-four gained 10 horsepower for a total of 190hp, a figure that even most sixes of the day struggled to meet. There was also a lower restriction exhaust system, anti-lock brakes, and shorter gearing for the 5-speed manual tranny, plus the W40’s sport suspension, rear wing, alloy wheels and subtle Quad 442 graphics (though the W41’s were silver rather than gold). Just over 200 of these sacrilegiously delicious Oldsmobubbles were produced, but that was more than enough to curbstomp its rivals on the SCCA and IMSA showroom stock racing circuits.
Considering how successful the Stratos was on the late ‘70s WRC scene, is it any wonder Lancia decided to make its Group-B-eligible successor mid-engine as well? And although the name was hardly awe-inspiring (No one could come up with something sexier than 037? Really?), the new car’s stats certainly were. The Abarth-built supercharged 2.0L inline-four might have lacked the orgasmic exhaust note of the Stratos’ Dino V6, but it did make 205hp in Stradale (Italian for “street”) trim, and as much as 325hp in the final 2.1L Evolution 2 competition model. But by the time the 037 won the WRC manufacturer’s title in 1983, it was clear that Lancia would need an AWD car to stay competitive with the mighty Quattro. In fact, the 037 was the last 2WD car to win the world championship.
Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Ford’s first foray into the Group A rally ranks was the Sierra RS Cosworth, first with the three-door hatchback that was so dominant in touring car racing, then with a four-door notchback version dubbed the Sapphire. But even after the Sapphire was fitted with AWD 1990, it was just too big and clumsy to keep up with the competition in the WRC. But soon the boffins at Ford of Europe and Cosworth had a brainstorm: What if they crammed the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4×4’s engine and drivetrain into the one-size-smaller Escort?
Well that’s exactly what they did, basically taking the mid-size saloon’s entrails and wrapping them in Escort Mk. 5 three-door bodywork, but when all was said and done, the only a couple pieces of sheetmetal were interchangeable with those on the regular transverse-engine, front-drive Escort. The Cosworth YBT 2.0L turbo four was rated at 227hp in street trim, and matched with a 5-speed manual transmission. And although it was only fractionally more successful in the WRC than the Sierra it replaced – racking up just eight wins from 1993 to ’98 – it was, is, and likely always will be a god among hot hatches.
Panoz Esperante GT
The Panoz Esperante marked a radical departure for the Georgia-based boutique sports car builder; its first car, the AIV Roadster, was a bare-bones, cycle-fendered thrill ride, whereas this new model was a civilized grand tourer. But when the time came to take it GT racing (which was inevitable, since company founder and president Dan Panoz is the son of American Le Mans Series founder and president Don Panoz), the car’s stubby nose delivered subpar aero numbers. So the company created the Esperante GT, which retained the base model’s 305hp 4.6L Ford Modular V8 but added a lengthened front bumper and lower side skirts to rectify those shortcomings and be able to use those pieces on its GT2 racer. They must have helped, since the racing version eventually scored class wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Porsche 911 GT2 (993)
From its debut half-a-century ago to the end of 993 production, the flat-six engines of the Porsche 911 (and most of its competition-bred offshoots) were air-cooled. Therefore, a strong case can be made that the 993 generation 911 GT2 was the ultimate evolution of the air-cooled Neun-elf. And although it was based on the 993 Turbo, there were some key differences: The GT2 was rear-wheel-drive, since AWD had by then been outlawed by pretty much every circuit racing sanctioning body on the planet (Thanks, Audi.), but it did have significantly fatter wheels and tires front and rear and bolt-on fender flares to accommodate them (as well as unique front and rear fascias and a towering fixed rear wing with integrated turbo intakes). And the twin-turbo 3.6L flat-six made 424hp, which was raised to 444hp on 1998 models.
The competition GT2s, meanwhile, made as much as 600hp in FIA/ACO GT1-spec Evo trim. However, in 1997, that car was phased out in favor of the 911 GT1, which featured the 962 Group C prototype’s mid-mounted water-cooled engine. Thus ended the era of radiator-free Porsches in top-level sports car racing.
Peugeot 205 T16
Compared to the likes of Audi and Lancia, Peugeot was kinda late to the Group B party. But the French lion more than made up for its tardiness with bravado and skill. The 205 T16 looked like its humble front-engine, front-drive sibling, but it was pretty much all change underneath. The 205 GTI’s 1.9L four-banger received a 16-valve head, a turbocharger and, oh yeah, it was installed in the trunk. And it was attached to an AWD system for good measure. If this sounds like the recipe for a serial winner, it is: The T16 propelled drivers Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen to the WRC driver’s title in 1985 and ’86, respectively, and Peugeot to the manufacturer’s crown in both of those years. Not too shabby, oui?
Ferrari 250 GTO
Quick! What’s the most valuable car on earth? Well, some one-offs like Porsche 356 Number 1 are literally priceless, but what’s the priciest car that comes up for sale? That would be the Ferrari 250 GTO; a mint green 1962 example once owned by Stirling Moss sold last May for $35 million. Yowza.
So why so expensive? Well, only 39 were built (Group 3 GT rules of the time required at least 100 be made, but Enzo Ferrari bamboozled the inspectors – as he so often did – by skipping chassis numbers in the sequence.), and most of them were powered by the legendary 250 Testa Rossa’s 3.0L V12 matched with a 5-speed manual transmission. And they were a dominant force in big-bore GT racing throughout the early 1960s. No, we don’t really think any of that justifies a market value equal to the GDP of Tuvalu, either. But damn if they aren’t nice to look at, and make a glorious racket.