Fire Breathing Monsters: When Group5 ruled the racetracks

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In the mid 1970s, big banger sportscar racing (and hence Le Mans) was in the doldrums. In the heady days of the 1960s, Ferrari, Porsche and Ford battled it out for supremacy, creating legends out of cars like the Porsche 917, Ford GT40 and Ferrari 512. However the rules were changed in the early 70s to favour more faceless prototypes and as a result the public lost interest. The FIA’s solution was Group5, and the idea was that you’d have production car based racecars which the buying public would recognise. But underneath the rules would be sufficiently free so that the stupendous speeds of the old prototypes would be retained.

Well that was the plan, anyway. Somewhere along the line, Group5 racecars began to hardly resemble their underlying production cars at all. And for that, you can blame Porsche :)

Or more specifically, Norbert Singer, Porsche’s racing director who masterminded the almost total dominance of European long distance racing by Porsche in the latter half of the 70s.

But first, let’s start at the beginning. Group5 racing began in 1976 in Europe and the rules were quite free but with a few stipulations. The stock floorpan, engine block, transmission and diff casings had to be retained. Body mods were allowed but the race car had to still resemble the stock car when viewed from head-on. So the intentions of the rulemakers was that you’d end up with something like this:

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Something that outwardly, would look just like a pumped up production car, but underneath, would be a properly pedigreed endurance racer, with a lightweight tube framed front end, bespoke racing suspension and the massive brakes and tyres to cope with the huge speeds of Le Mans….but what Group5 ended up with was somewhat different.

Enter Porsche. Run by wily veteran Norbert Singer, Porsche saw that Group5 was a terrific way of publicising its recently released 911 Turbo supercar, and so the might of the Porsche race department swung behind a project to build Porsche’s Group5 car, which would be called 935. Now when the 935 debuted in 1976 it looked like this (isn’t it gorgeous?):

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In other words, a pumped looking version of the stock 911, but with bigger flares and massive tyres, a deep spoiler and a huge wing out the back. Basically what the rulemakers had in mind. However, before long it looked like this:

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How did Porsche do it? Well the rulebook was a little loose in its language when it came to the fenders of the race cars. The rules essentially said that you could do whatever you want with the fenders, the intention being to give creative room to make for some sexy looking flares. But due to the shape of the 911, the fender incorporates the headlight, which could be moved to the bumper, allowing a flat nose that not only reduced drag, but significantly increased downforce. Now, a normal front engined car isn’t able to change its profile quite so dramatically due to its structure, but with a 911 you can because you are just “modifying the fender”. And yes it still sort of looks like a 911 when viewed from head-on.

Other teams raised a fuss but Porsche got its way in the end. So what Porsche started, was the gradual widening between the Group5 race cars, and the roadcars they were supposed to resemble.

For Japan, the first year of Group5 was 1979. I’m indebted to this blog for these details, but it’s clear that in Japan (where it was called Super Silhouette) the series eventually went the same way that European Group5 did, and before long the racecars were so outlandish that they hardly resembled the base car at all!

First up, this is the S11 Silvia Group5 car. It’s powered by a turbocharged version of the twin cam LZ20 motor, which is based on the normal L-series production engine, but is a racing-use-only DOHC, 4valve version. In the first season, it developed 400hp.

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Although *quite* pumped up in appearance, the Group5 car still did resemble its production based cousin, the S110 Silvia. When the S11 was replaced by the S12 Silvia, the race car became even more outlandish.

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Which was eventually developed into an even more outlandish creation, with a body that was actually much longer than stock:

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Underneath those muscular curves the LZ20 motor was putting out 550+hp. Depending on capacity, Group 5 race cars were between 800~1000kg in weight and so these things were fast. In terms of other Nissan Group5 cars, another notable one is the Bluebird (which normally is quite a staid looking family sedan!):

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Moving right along Toyota was well represented too, with the Celica. This is the Schnitzer Celica, which was powered by a turbocharged, 2.1L version of the 18RG twin cammer, and boosted to a healthy 560hp:

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It’s worth remembering that the RA28 Celica is meant to look like this on the left, so Toyota certainly learned a thing or two from Porsche about fender mods because the front end doesn’t resemble an RA28 at all! Ok, here’s a test. Have a good look at this black Group5 race car below and see if you can figure out what production model car it’s based on (scroll down to the bottom for the answer).

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And of course, last but not least, the DR30 Skyline RS. What more can you say.

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Other cars to be given the Group5 JDM treatment were the RX3 Savanna GT and the RX7, but you can clearly see where some elements of the bosozouku scene get their inspirations from, especially those deep, long chin spoilers!  And although Group5 didn’t end up achieving its goals, at least it did bring us some fantastic looking racecars…

Lastly, check out these cool vids of Group5 cars in action. The first pair feature the DR30 Skyline RS. The first vid shows you just how much of an uncompromised race car it is under ths skin, and the second vid is some footage of it in action around Tsukuba.

And this one is on the S12 Silvia, but you can see plenty of footage of its rivals in action, including the Celica and the RX7.

By the way, that black car is an RA40 Celica!

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3 Responses to Fire Breathing Monsters: When Group5 ruled the racetracks

  1. Van said:

    Hah, I guessed right!

    Great article Kev, this time in racing history has always been a curious one for me. Cheers :D

  2. p00cardriver said:

    the RA40 in japan came with the 18R-C single overhead cam engine, if we were to get “JDM technical yo”, you’d say that the black car was based on the RA45 GT celica which was the JDM model that came out with the 18R-G or 18R-GEU and larger F series rear differential :P

  3. Pingback: Japanese Nostalgic Car – Blog » Blog Archive » Fuji Speedway Frozen in Time, 1977-80

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