New Toyota GR Yaris – and the greatest homologation heroes

Motoring Research team
·13-min read

The rules of motorsport often dictate that manufacturers base their racing cars on regular showroom models. However, as drivers and teams look to steal an advantage, liberal interpretation of these regulations is often the way forward.

The result is the homologation special: a modified road car designed to help win races or rallies. Over the years, their number has included some of the greatest driving machines ever conceived. We reveal our favourites, including the new Toyota GR Yaris.

Toyota GR Yaris

Toyota did things the opposite way around: starting with a car that could win World Rally Championship trophies, then creating a road-going version. It may wear a Yaris badge, but the GR (short for ‘Gazoo Racing’) shares little with its conventional cousin.

It’s the only Yaris with three doors, for a start, while its carbon fibre roof is 95mm lower to make the rear spoiler more effective.

Toyota GR Yaris

The Toyota’s GR-Four 4WD system varies drive front-to-rear depending on the drive mode selected. Choose the Circuit Pack and two Torsen mechanical differentials divide torque across each axle, too. A turbocharged 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine produces 261hp – good for 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and 143mph.

Toyota GR Yaris

Perhaps we’ve jumped the gun slightly, given it’s only November, but we’ve just named the GR Yaris our hot hatchback of the year. MR’s Tim Pitt said: ‘Its steering feels alert, its gearshift knuckly and mechanical, its damping tightly wound. There’s a sense of carefully calibrated control weights that Porsche, for example, does so well. You just know that serious men in Gazoo Racing fleeces spent hours on this stuff’.

Toyota GR Yaris

Tim concluded his review by saying: ‘It feels exotic in a way a VW Golf R never will. Still, most people will spend their £33k or so on the Volkswagen – and that’s fine. It’s more powerful, more practical and just as quick on a B-road. But arrive at a Cars and Coffee event in a Golf R and nobody will give you a second look. Turn up in a GR Yaris and you’ll be hailed a hero’.

Ferrari 250 GTO

Homologation Specials
Homologation Specials

Now for a feast of other homologation specials, starting with perhaps the greatest of them all The ‘O’ in GTO stands for Omologato, Italian for homologation. Just 39 examples of the Ferrari 250 GTO were built between 1962 and 1964 for use in the FIA’s Grand Touring Category. It proved successful, taking four class titles in the International Championship for GT Manufacturers. In 2013, this particular car sold for $38 million (£30 million).

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

NASCAR racing experienced a revolution in the late 1960s as teams pushed the boundaries of what the rules would allow. While still needing to retain a stock car as the base for their racers, manufacturers were determined to achieve higher speeds on the superspeedway circuits. The Dodge Charger Daytona and closely related Plymouth Superbird are perhaps the most famous of the ‘Aero Warriors’ with their 23-inch tall rear wing and extended nosecone. Homologation rules required a minimum of 500 to be built. They command big prices at auction today.

1973 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale

If the USA was fixated on using homologation rules to push sports car boundaries, in Europe the focus was on winning the World Rally Championship. With a mid-mounted Ferrari V6 engine and lightweight fibreglass body, the Stratos was as rapid as it was wedge-shaped. The Stradale road car only had 190hp, down from the 320hp of the full competition cars, but a short wheelbase still made it feel lively. Although 492 examples of the Stratos were homologated, countless more replicas have been made since production ended.

1973 Porsche 911 2.7 RS

For many, this is the greatest Porsche 911 ever made. To enable the company to use its rear-engined sports car in various championships, 500 examples needed to be built. Porsche actually ended up making 1,580 due to strong demand. Key features were a 210hp engine enlarged to 2.7 litres, wider rear wheels and the distinctive ‘ducktail’ rear spoiler. Values have risen by a staggering 700 percent in the past decade, with the best cars nudging £1 million.

1978 Vauxhall Chevette HS

Vauxhall also wanted in on the rallying action, and picked the humble Chevette supermini as its base for a snorting competition car. The 2.3-litre slant-four engine made 135hp and fed power to the rear wheels. All 400 cars came finished in silver with red stripes, and featured a rather bold tartan interior. The Chevette HS was good enough to challenge the omnipotent Ford Escort on the rally scene, winning the British Open Rally Championship in 1979 and 1981.

1984 Audi Sport Quattro

Audi would dominate the WRC during the mid-1980s, and the Quattro was the icon that made it happen. Under pressure from Lancia and Peugeot, for 1984 Audi introduced the Sport Quattro with a shorter wheelbase, carbon-kevlar bodywork and a 2.1-litre five-cylinder turbo engine making 302hp in road-going specification. Contemporary road tests recorded a 0-60mph sprint in 4.8 seconds, aided by the 4WD system. Only 164 examples were built, making them highly desirable for collectors.

1984 Peugeot 205 T16

Demonstrating just how wild the Group B regulations allowed car manufacturers to be is the 205 T16. Peugeot took a front-wheel-drive hot hatch, moved the engine to the middle, and made it four-wheel drive. It also worked hard to make the T16 look as close to the regular 205 as possible. The plan worked, and Peugeot Sport took the 1985 and 1986 WRC titles. An output of 197hp for the 200 road cars is barely hot hatch power today, but the full-fat rally cars delivered up to 550hp.

1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

Group B was not all about 4WD rally machinery. Ferrari began development of the 288 to go racing in the FIA GT Championship, and took the GTO name from the 250 GTO of 1962. But before the 288 could compete, the FIA abandoned Group B due to several fatal accidents. This left Ferrari with a car but no championship to race in. However, the market in the 1980s was sufficient for Ferrari to sell 272 examples of this 2.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 supercar, rather than just the 200 required for homologation. Prices today fetch over £2.2 million – a decent return on the original £70,000 asking price.

1986 Porsche 959

The 959 was an evolution of the 911 sports car designed for rallying and off-road use. It was also the world’s fastest production car when offered for sale in 1986, with a top speed of 195mph. The 2.8-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six made 444hp as standard, and was combined with 4WD and active aerodynamics. A total of 337 examples of the 959 were built, with Porsche reported to have made a loss on every car sold. Microsoft founder Bill Gates had his 959 held in storage by US customs for 13 years before a law change allowed him to officially import it.

1986 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

After Group B came Group A, covering both rally and touring cars. The FIA hoped manufacturers would concentrate on milder production-based machinery, with a higher homologation requirement of 5,000 road cars. Ford took the three-door hatchback Sierra and turned it into an unstoppable force in touring car racing, with 15 major championship wins. More than the necessary 5,000 road cars were produced, with a 2.0-litre turbocharged Cosworth engine making 204hp. A later RS500 evolution model offered even more power to keep the Sierra competitive.

1987 BMW E30 M3

Built for Group A touring car racing, the E30 M3 would also find itself competing in tarmac rallying. Victories in 18 championships across the globe demonstrated its capability on track, but it also had a lasting legacy as a road car. Initial E30 M3s featured a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine sending 192hp to the rear wheels. Later Evolution cars would feature up to 235hp, with even wilder bodywork. A total of 16,000 examples were produced in total, with demand remaining strong today.

1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

This definitely isn’t your grandfather’s Mercedes. Initially developed for rallying, the 190E 2.5-16 developed into a purebred touring car racer. The Evolution II was the ultimate version, featuring a Cosworth-developed 2.5-litre engine with 235hp, combined with a five-speed dog-leg gearbox. Lowered suspension, which was self-levelling at the rear, along with a limited-slip differential, were also standard. Most striking, though, was the adjustable rear wing fitted to the 502 homologation cars.

1992 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione I

After the demise of Group B, Lancia was best placed to capitalise on Group A regulations. The Delta HF hatchback already had 4WD and a turbocharged engine, meaning it could be homologated and developed with ease. WRC glory came with six consecutive constructors’ titles between 1987 and 1992. The later Evo I road cars had 210hp, and were capable of 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a 137mph top speed.

1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth

We’ve seen this one before, but wearing different clothes. While the Escort RS looked like Ford’s humble hatchback, underneath it was actually the chassis and mechanical bits from the Sierra RS Cosworth. Built for the WRC, the first 2,500 cars were earmarked for homologation, but total production would reach more than 7,000. Road cars featured the giant ‘whale-tail’ rear wing, a 227hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, permanent 4WD and a set of Recaro front seats. As part of the Ford RS legacy, the ‘Cossie’ still demands respect today.

1996 Nissan Skyline NISMO R33 GT-R LM

Homologation requirements for the GT1 class at Le Mans in the mid-1990s were low. So low that a single road car would be enough. This meant NISMO could go wild, with massively widened bodywork, unique front and rear bumpers, and ditching the standard 4WD system of the GT-R for the race car. Converted to rear-wheel drive, the back wheels were solely responsible for managing the 600hp from the 2.8-litre straight-six turbocharged engine. The road car was left with only 300hp. Although registered in the UK, the 1996 car was never offered for sale. It now resides in Nissan’s Zama Heritage Centre.

1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion

Long associated with Le Mans, Porsche took advantage of GT1 regulations to create a bespoke race car that borrowed its name from the 911 sports car, but little else. The 600hp twin-turbo flat-six engine was taken from the older 962 racer and, unlike the 911, was mounted in the middle of the car. One sole road car was made to be homologated in 1996, whilst a further 20 examples were built in 1997 featuring updated headlights from the newer 911. Although detuned to 537hp, the street version could still do 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and 191mph flat-out.

1998 Nissan R390 GT1 Road Car

With other manufacturers switching to homologating bespoke race cars for the road, Nissan created the R390 GT1 for use at Le Mans in 1997 and 1998. Styling and development of the R390 was undertaken by Tom Walkinshaw Racing. A twin-turbo 3.5-litre V8 was mounted in the middle, making 640hp in race trim and 550hp for the road. Just two road cars were built in 1998, the rules allowing homologation after the racer had already competed the year before. One car was sold to a UK buyer, the other remained with Nissan.

1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR

Create a custom mid-engined prototype racer. Insert a 600hp 6.0-litre V12 in the middle. Add on the lights and grille from a road car, and you have the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. It was good enough for Mercedes to take victory in both driver and manufacturer categories of the 1997 FIA GT Championship. A total of 26 road-going CLK GTRs were built, split between 20 coupes and 5 roadsters. At launch, the CLK GTR was the world’s most expensive road car, with a list price of $1 million in 1998. Today, prices can achieve up to $1.8 million (£1.5 million) at auction.

1999 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition

Group A regulations had been replaced in rallying by 1997, with new World Rally Car rules in place. However, Mitsubishi continued the lineage of the Lancer Evolution series under Group A homologation. It worked, with the Lancer Evo seeing championship success in both 1998 and 1999 in the hands of rally legend Tommi Makinen. The road car bearing his name featured a revised front bumper, new titanium turbocharger and 17-inch white alloy wheels.

2001 BMW E46 M3 GTR

BMW found itself outgunned in the American Le Mans Series, with the straight-six engine of the M3 not powerful enough. So it built a bespoke racing 4.0-litre V8 motor with 500hp, despite the fact BMW didn’t sell a V8 M3. After much success, and protest from Porsche, rules were changed to require BMW to offer 10 road cars for sale. For 2002, BMW would have needed to build 100 cars, and 1,000 engines, which led to the M3 GTR being withdrawn. The 10 road cars, sold for €250,000, lost the big rear wing of the race car, but kept the controversial V8.

2004 Maserati MC12

With a desire to return to GT racing after decades away, Maserati looked to Ferrari for a starting point. It took the chassis and engine from the Ferrari Enzo, created custom lengthened bodywork for greater downforce, and entered the MC12 into the FIA GT Championship. A total of 50 road cars were produced, with each pre-sold to loyal customers. The 6.0-litre V12 made the street version fast – with a 205mph top speed – but reviewers were divided as to whether it worked on the highway.

2016 Ford GT

Ford made no secret of the fact that the current Ford GT was a racing car first. At the advent of the project, the vision – which became a reality – was a class win at Le Mans in 2016. To be eligible, there had to be a road car, and so the GT was born. It was the closest thing to the Porsche and Mercedes GT1 racers in nearly 20 years. With more than 600hp, it’s much more powerful than the racer and has active suspension and active aerodynamics. Options included carbon fibre wheels and heritage liveries harking back to Ford’s inaugural Le Mans victories of the 1960s. Now, four years on, the GT is one of the most sought-after supercars of modern times, in spite of the furore around how you actually buy one – and the rules imposed once you do.

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