The Group B period of FIA Rally from 1982 through 1986 produced some truly surreal vehicles. Since manufacturers had to comply with homologation rules requiring 200 road legal versions of the cars be built, the public benefited by receiving some very eclectic street legal cars during the mid-80s.
To comply with those requirements, some companies like Audi utilized cars like the Quattro that were higher production, relatively speaking. But other manufacturers created very small batches to meet the minimum requirements, like Lancia with the 037 as was covered here. Ford's approach was akin to the latter with the RS200.
Early in the days of Group B, Ford attempted Group B utilizing what was fundamentally the same escort Cosworth they introduced in 1980, but with a new turbocharged drive train. The evolution approach to development of the rear wheel drive Escort and it's engine meant for lesser duty became too challenging. Ford abandoned the project in 1983, but did not want to write off Group B. Instead they doubled down. The initiative required a new vehicle design, with Ford insisting that the new car should be four-wheel-drive in order to effectively compete with the top-tier offerings from Audi and Peugeot. The RS200 program was born.
It was decided early that power for the new car would come from a rear/mid-mounted 1.8 liter single turbocharged Ford Cosworth engine producing between 350 and 450 hp in race trim. The road going version produced a more manageable 250 hp.
Ford enlisted the help of former Formula One designer Tony Southgate to design the RS200s chassis. He specified a double wishbone suspension with twin dampers on all four corners. Many that have driven various makes of Group B cars describe the RS200 as the most well-balanced car in the class.
The purpose-built body was designed by the Italian design house Ghia. It's final construction was largely a combination of plastic and composites, but the design also largely utilized items from the Ford parts bin to accelerate the development timeline. The windshield and rear lights were taken directly from an earlier model of Ford Sierra. Even the side windows were just cut down versions from the Sierra as well. It created an aesthetic that is very purposeful, with functionally short overhangs, and several air and cooling intakes and vents. The fit and finish of a purpose-biult homologation car was as you'd expect versu a more largely produced road-going car.
In order to create an ideal weight distribution for the car, the designers mounted the transmission near the front of the car. Unfortunately this required the power first go to the front wheels and then be run back again to the rear wheels, creating a complex and heavy drivetrain relative to other cars in the class. Weighing approximately 2350 pounds isn't much by today's standards, but it was fatally heavy for the foundation of a Group B car. So, despite the well-sorted chassis, the RS200 did not have a competitive power to weight ratio. Furthermore,it also suffered a notorious low RPM boost lag, making it difficult to drive off-boost in low-speed situations.
The best Group B finish ever obtained by the RS 200 was third place at the 1986 Rally of Sweden. Sadly, at the next event, the Rally of Portugal, an RS 200 was involved in one of the most significant accidents in WRC history, killing three spectators and injuring several others. In a separate incident at a rally in Germany that same year, Swiss Formula One driver Mark Surer, driving an RS200, hit a tree killing himself and his co-driver instantly.
The incident in Portugal compelled the FIA to abolish Group B racing at the conclusion of the 1986 season. Prior to the announcement, Ford had already begun developing an 'Evolution' variant of the RS200 featuring a 2.1 liter engine claimed to produce a minimum of 550 hp, and up to 815. Allegedly only about 24 of them were produced before the program was stopped. The final iteration of the RS200 Evolution was a brutally quick car. It's claimed to be capable of hitting 60 mph in just over two seconds.With Grouip B collapsed, it had few places it was eligible to run, but when it could, it was highly effective. It has competed for many years at Pike's Peak in the unlimited category driven by Swede Stig Blomqvist , and even as recently as 2013. The RS200 also managed to win the 1991 European Rallycross title, five years after it's creation.