Homologation Specials Were a Unique Breed of Car Models

FIA used to demand companies to produce a batch of their race cars for road use. We owe many of our eternal favorites to them

  • Homologation specials are racing cars produced for regular sales and street use
  • They were part of a requirement FIA used to impose to automakers in racing
  • Many performance cars we idolize in nowadays were first released in that way

People love competitions. Some of us train ourselves for years to participate in matches and in tournaments, ideally each one more important than the previous. The majority of us settle for watching competitions, but one cannot consider that relaxing at all. After all, both sides are equally intense and consuming, albeit in different ways.

When we talk about cars, performance-oriented ones are the overall favorites. The main reason is that they are the closest we can get to competition models. The industry helps us by giving them flashy colors, special seats, better powertrain, and an upgraded dynamic behavior. More recently, they also make that dream more affordable by offering that in levels of tuning in order to match every budget.

Now, what if I said that some race cars have actually been sold to the public? No, I am not saying you can run to the nearest Mercedes-Benz dealer and get a copy of Lewis Hamilton’s F1 cars. In that case, mostly because he will keep driving them for some time. I am talking about the other way around. Let’s take a look at what are homologation specials.

Renault wanted to fight the Stratos and resorted to completely reworking the 5: the 1980 model received a turbocharged mid-engine and several visual changes

What are homologation specials?

Entities such as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) designed some racing categories for urban cars. The intention was to race with modified versions of urban cars. To ensure companies would not use entirely upgraded cars, FIA created specific homologation rules. Those teams could only compete if a number of units went to the streets. Those were the homologation specials.

FIA used to demand automakers sold a minimum of 5,000 units, but eventually dropped that figure to 2,500 in 1991. In practice, automakers would develop a new car or improve an existing one with as many capabilities as those strict requirements allowed. That decision ended bringing impressive performance standards to cars which used to be quite mundane.

Now, it is necessary to understand this label’s scope. The Dodge Charger, for example, had its famous Daytona version produced only for racing, so it does not properly qualify. On the other hand, the MG Metro 6R4 and the Renault 5 Turbo may have been heavily modified, but were made available for street use just the way they were.

Opel created competition versions of the Manta Coupé since its first generation. The second, however, had the 400 edition, which became famous mostly for its unique external appearance (source: WheelsAge)

What modifications did they have?

As you can imagine, performance-oriented ones above all. The Ford Sierra RS 500 Cosworth, for example, had a tuned 2.0-liter engine good for 224 hp. The Audi Sport Quattro S1 went further and included a carbon-kevlar body shell and the 80’s windshield because the steeper rake could reduce light reflection coming from the dashboard.

The most common type, however, was of heavily altered versions. Besides those two European hatchbacks, we can mention the Opel Manta 400 and its more aerodynamic body. The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution with a more robust suspension and flared wheel arches. And the Fiat 131 Abarth with many rally-oriented modifications.

Last, but not least, some cars went the opposite way. The automaker would design them to compete from the beginning, then adapt them to road use. You can notice that this is the case of Ford RS200 and Lancia 037 Stradale (rally cars), and of Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and Porsche 911 GT1 (24 Hours of Le Mans), by simply taking a look at them.

The very first M3 was created in 1986 to allow BMW to race in the Group A. Back then, it would compete with the Mercedes-Benz 190E (source: WheelsAge)

What implications were there?

First of all, the simple possibility of buying homologation specials was already thrilling. They were literally race cars you could drive in the city. Most of them came at huge price premiums compared to the regular ones, but they sold out quickly anyway especially because people just knew they would become high-valued collectibles soon.

Secondly, such integration between race and city cars allowed automakers to improve the latter. Those cars were great opportunities to research and to test new technologies in practice. Some solutions became part of the regular line, while others turned out to be too impractical and/or expensive for urban use and ended up scrapped.

Thirdly, some of those cars did reach mass production and became city icons themselves. The Renault 5 Turbo had two “editions” and spawned the Clio V6 successor; Nissan created the R390 GT1 supercar, Porsche went on with its GT tradition; and the very first BMW M3 and Subaru Impreza STI were born as typical homologation specials.

Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.