Missing Homologation Specials

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I was born in 1975 and started reading car magazines in the early 1980s. The specs and details of the original Audi Quattro, Ferrari 288 GTO, and Porsche 959 are forever etched into my brain. Later, I dreamed of owning a Lancia Delta Integrale, a BMW M3, and a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16. All of these automobiles have one thing in common; they only exist due to motorsports and homologation.

In the rallying’s Group B era (1983-1986), a manufacturer was only required to homologate 200 roadgoing examples of its competition car to be eligible for the series. This made for some pretty crazy street-legal automobiles. Crazy fantastic. Who doesn’t want an MG Metro developed by Williams Grand Prix Engineering? The F1 specialists stuffed a 3.0-liter V-6 in the back of the economy car and fitted all-wheel drive. The Metro 6R4 only weighed about 2300 pounds, and the rally cars developed more than 400 hp.

The German Touring Car Championship (DTM) also gave enthusiasts some seriously special automobiles. The series featured homologated production cars from Ford, BMW, Mercedes, and others. Audi joined the party in 1990 with its larger, all-wheel-drive V-8 sedan. It was brilliant racing, and fans could easily identify with the cars that were jumping curbs and oversteering inches apart.

Today, DTM is a bit like NASCAR. It’s not that modern DTM lacks action on the track—it’s actually pretty good racing. It’s that you can’t buy a special, motorsports-derived road version of a DTM car. All the new DTM cars use nearly identical V-8 engines, restricted to 470 hp, and they aren’t production based — they’re silhouette cars. In the glory days of DTM, you could watch a 190E 2.3-16 win a race on Sunday and walk into your Benz dealer on Monday to buy a similar road car. You rarely find automobiles like that in dealership showrooms anymore. A shame.

Still, once in a while we — well, some markets — get a splash of hope. In 1999, BMW came very close. It had planned to build ten E46 M3 GTR examples for public (but not U.S.) roads. BMW needed a race car to compete against the Porsche 911, whose 3.6-liter flat six trumped the M3’s 3.2-liter inline-six on the track. The M3 GTR was to cost a quarter of a million euros (about $350,000, with today’s exchange rate) and featured a motorsports-developed 4.0-liter V-8 — nearly eight years before the V-8-powered E92 M3 was revealed. In the end, only three road cars were actually built and none were sold to the public because of changes in regulations.

More recently, BMW pleased enthusiasts with an affordable homologation special, the E90 320si sedan. BMW produced 2600 of them to meet FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) rules. None were available to U.S. buyers. The 400 offered in the United Kingdom quickly sold out, thanks in part to a base price that made it £400 (about $650) cheaper than the garden variety 320i M Sport. The 320si featured a 2.0-liter inline-four that revved to 7300 rpm. The engines were hand-built in the UK alongside BMW-Sauber Formula 1 engines. BMW also swapped out the variable Valvetronic components for traditional valve gear, fitted a carbon-fiber valve cover, upgraded the brakes, and fitted a shorter final drive ratio. It wasn’t wicked quick or fast. It could do 0 to 60 mph in just under eight seconds, and it topped out at 140 mph. But the four-door sedan handled great, had a characterful engine, and looked special on its unique 18-inch wheels. I’ve been searching eBay UK for used examples.

Rewinding back to the days when I studied the horsepower of the 2.8-liter, twin-turbo flat six in the 959 (444 hp, in case you wondered) or the setup of the center and rear locking differentials on the original Audi Quattro, I think about the cars I wish had homologation specials today. How about the Cadillac ATS sedan? I’m thinking Sport Quattro-like fender flares and a 500-hp version of the twin-turbo V-6 from the CTS, complete with blow-off valves that pop like a Run DMC song. Maybe Hyundai could stuff its 5.0-liter Tau V-8 in the back of an Elantra GT? That would be a bit more exciting than its European i20 hatchback that’s presently running in the FIA World Rally Championship. It would also be the perfect modern Metro 6R4. I’d like to see 200 examples of the Ferrari 458 Speciale built with crank windows, a dogleg five-speed gated shifter (complete with a crunchy second-gear syncro when cold), and Veglia analog gauges. Maranello wouldn’t sell a single one due to Ferrari’s paddle-shift-loving client base, but my son would memorize the specs and dream of driving one some day. And that’s exactly the point.

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