Once pretty much confined to auctions in Europe, Group B rally cars, known familiarly (if pejoratively) as the Killer Bees, are now showing up more often in North America.
Recognition of their performance is helped in no small measure by copious YouTube videos of them jumping, sliding, weaving, and making handbrake turns in the hands of brave drivers with superhuman car control skills while navigating snow, ice, gravel, tarmac and desert sand. Spectators crowd onto the unprotected tracks, parting like waves as the cars come through on the ragged edge of control.
It is furthered by collectors like John and Suzanne Campion, whose display at the 2018 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance featured several among the seven cars honoring Martini Racing.
Fortunately for collectors of more modest means and aspirations, the rule-setting body—the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA)—required that manufacturers construct at least 200 cars for homologation. Less technically intense and more comfortable, the homologation versions also are less expensive.
The Amelia Island, Paris, and Scottsdale auctions all showcased examples of Killer Bees. Others of that ilk took a little more sleuthing in auction records, but here are examples of six of the best known and most successful, all crossing auction blocks in the last 12 months. For a fun day on asphalt or gravel, especially on a hill climb, any of them would be highly rewarding.
Details: White/gray leather with black cloth inserts, coachwork by Baur, unrestored original, 2133-cc DOHC 20-valve turbocharged five-cylinder engine, fuel injection, 302 hp at 5700 rpm, five-speed manual transmission, AWD, four-speed independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, Potenza tires, rear window wiper, factory cassette stereo, power windows. Signed by Walter Röhrl on the steering wheel.
Notes/analysis: One owner from new. Showing 18,388 km (11,425 miles). Sound but slightly tired original paint. A little dirty, but not bad underneath. Very good original interior. Lightly used and not perfect, but more than good enough to drive and enjoy.
One of 200 road cars built for Group B homologation of the Quattro that proved so revolutionary for the WRC. These and other Group B homologation specials have proven very popular among collectors in recent years. The breakout sale for a Sport Quattro was at RM Arizona two years ago when one sold for $401,500. This one, with higher mileage, sold for more than 80 grand more, which shows just how hot these cars still are.
Details: White/red cloth, body by Ghia-Tickford, 2137-cc DOHC 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder engine, fuel injection, 550–650 hp at 8,500 rpm, five-speed manual transaxle, AWD, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes.
Notes/analysis: RS200s are more frequently seen than many of the Group B rally cars, but this Evolution, one of the last 24 built, has upgraded performance with 550–650 horsepower on tap from its turbocharged Cosworth BDA engine and all-wheel drive. It is original and unrestored and has been on display for nearly three decades. Its value is at least double that of a more sedate pre-Evo RS200.
Details: Red/black cloth piped in red, body by Pininfarina, 1995-cc DOHC supercharged Abarth four-cylinder engine, 205 hp at 7,000 rpm, five-speed ZF manual transaxle, four-wheel double wishbone independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, Potenza tires, Abarth steering wheel, power windows.
Notes/analysis: Very good fresh paint, but the door handles and window frames have some light scratching. Newer seats and carpets, but the rest of the interior is original and lightly aged. Like-new engine bay. Recently restored in Italy and shown at The Quail last year, it’s an inherently cool Group B car for the road with a reassuringly recent sorting.
The 037 was the last of the great rear-wheel drive rally cars, and Lancia only built 207 road-going “Stradale” versions in order to homologate it for Group B. These cars and their peers from Audi, Peugeot, and Ford have seen a growth in interest over the last couple of years, and other 037s have come up for sale. Bonhams sold one for $264,000 at Quail Lodge last year, but that car was in significantly worse condition. This result is obviously much higher and well above other similar cars like Peugeot 205 Turbo 16s, but with the rarity of the 037 and this example's top-notch restored condition, it's not an outrageous number.
1986 Lancia Delta S4 Groupe B Rallye
Bonhams, Grand Palais, Paris, February 2018
Lot #410 (scroll to the bottom of the page for English text)
Sold for: No Sale
Details: White Martini/Blue cloth, competition car, original as-raced, 3+ condition, 1759-cc/400-hp supercharged/turbocharged engine with double intercoolers, AWD, full roll cage, quad headlights with four auxiliary lights, registered new to FIAT and according to Abarth probably a reconnaissance car with no actual Group B rally history, Abarth Classiche certified, original and unrestored with only replaced (for safety) fuel tanks. Still has the seats marked for Marku Alen and Ilkka Kivimaki.
Notes/analysis: A rare, unmolested survivor from the last year of the infamous Killer Bees. It has subsequent historic event history and is in rally-ready condition. There are enough lumens on the front of this Delta S4 to melt the paint off cars in front. Even with the absence of competitive World Rally Championship history, its origin on the factory team and use by front-line Lancia drivers for stage reconnaissance is enough to confer “works rally” stature without the stress (and accidents) of actual competition. The Killer Bees still inspire respect, and even awe, and the seller's decision to turn down even a half-million dollar offer is understandable.
Details: Grey/grey leather and cloth, unrestored original, 3 condition, detuned version of the 1775-cc turbocharged engine, approximately 197 hp,cassette stereo, power windows, boost gauge.
Notes/analysis: Some paint cracks on the back of the roof. Lots of chips and a few cracks on the nose and hood. Significant wear on the driver's seat and slightly faded gauges. Driven quite a bit and showing 47,990 km. One of 200 built for homologation purposes.
More than a few of these homologation specials were treated as collectible from new, so its condition is a little disappointing. This car sold for $198,000 at RM Sotheby's Quail Lodge auction in 2016, so the seller was surely hoping for more, but this is far from the best T16 out there, and this price shouldn't be too regrettable.
Notes/analysis: Very good paint and body, although the roof trim has some cracking and paint chips and the chin spoiler has debris in the paint. Underneath, the chassis is clean but aged with minor oxidation. The interior is very good with some wrinkling to the driver's seat. Showing 67,984 km (42,243 miles). A well-kept Turbo 2, original other than a repaint and mechanical work as needed.
These cars are less rare (almost 5000 built in both versions) and less sophisticated than the Peugeot 205 T16, but they follow a similar rally-bred mid-engine hot hatch Formula and aren't worth all that much less. This one sold at Bonhams Quail Lodge in 2016 (and 774 km ago) for $132,000, which was a strong result at the time. This result may be less, but it's still fair for an R5 Turbo 2 in this condition.