The rally car is the ultimate real-world sports car that is able to withstand high speeds while maintaining incredible handling capabilities on any road surface and in every weather condition. They must survive hundreds of miles and several days of abuse, and are driven on roads that are typically unpaved and unforgiving — roads typically covered in gravel, surrounded by forests, used for logging, or winding through mountains. With all of this taken into account, these top five vintage rally cars deserve recognition.
Mini Cooper S: In 1966, ’65 and ’67, the British Motor Corporation dominated the Monte Carlo Rally with the Mini Cooper S, and the only reason it didn’t make the list in 1966 was due to a questionable ruling that the car had used an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights— they were disqualified after the finish alongside six other British entrants. With ultra-rigid bodies, a wide stance and precise handling, the Mini has a knack for racing, and modern Mini Coopers are still roughing it up in rally today.
Ford Escort Mk I: This boxy little car left its mark on rally racing as one of the most successful rally cars of all time. The Ford Works team was relentlessly unbeatable through the late-1960s and early-1970s, and one of the Escort’s legendary victories was during the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. Ford released a special edition road-worthy car in honor of the win—the famous 1.6-liter Escort Mexico. Even better yet, the Mk I was a gateway for the advancement of technology for later years, and it led to other legendary rally cars such as the Ford Escort Mk II in 1975, the all-wheel-drive Ford RS200 in the mid-1980s, the Ford Sierra RS500 and the later Ford Escort RS Cosworth in 1992.
Lancia Stratos HF: This mid-engine, wedge-shaped rally sports car won the World Rally Championships in 1974, 1975 and 1976, and it was the first car designed from scratch specifically for the event. It started a new era in rally as manufacturers created thinly disguised race cars to sanctify as production cars. It was an advanced, radical design that turned the rally world upside-down, and it was arguably the most successful rally car of the 1970s.
Citroën DS: Although the Citroën seemed like an unlikely rally car candidate — too heavy, too big and too slow — in 1956, these vehicles were entered into endurance rally driving with the introduction of the DS, and they proved to dominate the rough terrain with their robust design, excelling past the more powerful competitors. The car posted vintage rally wins at the Monaco Monte Carlo Rally in 1959 and ’66, the France Tour de Corse in 1961 and ’63, Rally Finland in 1962, Rally de Portugal in 1969, and the Morocco Rallye de Maroc in 1969 and ’70.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint: Italian car maker Alfa Romeo ventured into motor racing in 1911, almost immediately after it was founded. From then on, Alfa Romeo was a jack of all trades and competed successfully in many categories of motorsport, including Grand Prix motor racing, Formula One, sportscar racing, touring and rallies. In 1958, the lightweight and aerodynamic Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint dominated Rally Finland. Great road-holding, fantastic steering and a light, unitary body structure teamed with its reliable and powerful engine concept became famous and used in several other Alfa Romeo models for decades to come.