Thursday, December 1, 2022
Freshly Squeezed Lemons – we take a look at the gallant failures of the motorsport world

The world of motorsport has given us some of the best looking, fastest and most desirable cars of all time, with some examples being the Ferrari 288 GTO (even though it never got to turn a wheel in anger), the Lancia Stratos, Ford Escort RS1800 and Lotus 72. There’s no denying that these machines are stitched into the very fabric of automotive history, but what about their contemporaries which didn’t quite make the cut? For every rampantly successful Lotus F1 car there was an Andrea Moda, and for every Stratos there was a Citroen BX4TC. These automotive lemons might have failed to scale the motorsport heights in the manner their makers envisioned, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of our attention.

The Citroen BX 4TC wasn’t just ugly, it was completely off the pace and chronically unreliable

1) Citroen BX4TC

Group B produced as many duds as it did world beaters, but the worst of them all (and quite possibly the worst WRC car of all time) was the Citroen BX4TC. It didn’t help that Citroen was late to the party, that its pockets were nowhere near as deep as its rivals, or that Peugeot, its PSA stablemate, was busy cleaning up with its 205 T16, but there was no denying that the BX4TC was ill conceived. Power came from a 2141cc OHC engine mounted longitudinally ahead of the wheels. Not only did this motor make a mere 380bhp (the car debuted in 1986, a year when Lancia, Audi and Peugeot could count on at least 450bhp), its position ensured that the BX could and would understeer for France, a trait not helped by a fairly basic four-wheel drive system with ‘off the peg’ differentials.

It exhibited many of the drawbacks of the early A2 Audi Quattro but with none of the advantages, while Citroen’s decision to retain the standard car’s hydropneumatic suspension was just bizarre! It was heavier than the competition as well, all of which meant that its best result was a distant 6th on the Swedish Rally, one of only 3 WRC appearances. The cancellation of Group B allowed Citroen to pull the plug, but not before they’d attempted to buy back as many of the cars to crush them and hide their shame.

Perry McCarthy stands next to the comically bad Andrea Moda S921

2) Andrea Moda S921

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that F1 history is littered with teams that, for whatever reason, didn’t quite make the grade, yet few can hold a candle to the farce that was the Andrea Moda operation from 1991-1992. Bourne from the ashes of the almost as hopeless Coloni F1 (we’ll get to them in due course) and financed by Italian shoe magnate Andrea Sassetti, Andrea Moda had a limited budget from the off, which is why the team opted to base its 1992 challenger, the S921, on a car originally drawn up by Nick Wirth of Simtek.

Undoubtedly a decent if not exactly brilliant design in its original form, the S921 was corrupted by Andrea Moda’s various modifications and revisions (all undertaken in a mere 3 weeks), and the Judd V10 powered machine which emerged was a long way removed from Wirth’s original sketch. Factor in Sasseti’s ongoing war with the FIA, lack of funds, the near constant changing of drivers (including the original Top Gear Stig, Perry McCarthy), complete lack of pace and the terrifying build quality of the two chassis, and it’s clear to see why the S921 has gone down as an utter dog. The car’s best result was in Monaco where Roberto Moreno actually managed to start the race, only to retire from 19th place after 11 laps. The whole operation collapsed after the Belgian GP when police arrested Sassetti on suspicion of fraud, whereupon the FIA booted the team out of the championship for bringing F1 into disrepute. Farcical doesn’t even begin to cover it.

An interesting engine choice doesn’t always make for superb results, as Life proved

3) Life L190

The only other team truly capable of challenging Andrea Moda in the hopeless F1 team stakes, Life emerged with its L190 in time for the 1990 season. The car was distinct in that it was powered by a W12 engine, an arrangement which should have provided decent power and excellent packaging possibilities. Of course it didn’t turn out quite as Life’s founder, Ernesto Vita, planned. Vita had bought the motor off its designer Franco Rocci the previous year before setting about trying to sell the idea to a top team, but there were was little interest and even fewer takers, hence why he opted to stick the engine in a car of his own creation the following seasons.

The combination of an unproven engine and an inexperienced team run on a shoestring was always going to be a toxic mix, yet no one have predicted how off the pace the L190 was. How slow? Well its power output was 480hp at best, significantly less than all of its rivals, many of whom had at least 700bhp. The woefully slow, shoddily put together machine was so bad that Rocci supposedly threatened legal action to get his name removed from the project, and the car never managed more than 8 laps without some kind of issue.

It wasn’t an actively bad rally car, true, yet the Celica ST205 with always be known as the machine which got Toyota booted out of the WRC for cheating

4) Toyota Celica WRC ST205

Ok so this car wasn’t an especially bad car, it just happened to be the model which convinced Toyota Team Europe to cheat, a move which eventually got them booted out of the 1996 WRC season in the most acrimonious of circumstances. Whereas the previous Celica had been a world beater (it took Juha Kankkunen, Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol to WRC titles), the ST205 was overly complex and somewhat ill-suited to competition, and TTE knew it. The Celica was able to win the 1995 Tour de Corse midway through the year, but by this point the beautifully engineered and fiendishly complex turbo restrictor modification which the team had devised was already in place. This looked to all the world like a regulation sized part when not in use yet could expand and open when at higher boost, thus giving increased performance. The FIA only noticed when the Celicas were noticeably faster off the line than the competition in Rally Australia, and commenced a complete strip-down of its engine. They eventually found the beautifully made components, all damningly date stamped and signed off in typically thorough Japanese-German fashion. 

Forced to compete before it was anywhere near ready, the Lola T97/30 was doomed from the start

5) MasterCard Lola T97/30

MasterCard-Lola’s attempt to break F1 has gone down as one of the most inept the sport’s history, yet it could all have been so, so different. Lola was a proven race car chassis builder with a huge amount of knowledge, more than enough to make a good fist of an F1 assault. The problem lay with the other part of the partnership, the MasterCard one. The Lola penned chassis looked good and the Cosworth-Ford engine in its rump was a solid if not spectacular, so many felt hopeful about the project’s future, especially as it was all wrapped up with lashings of MasterCard money. The only problem was that the MasterCard millions came with a rather substantial caveat, namely that the team would only get a share of the funds raised from an associated card holders scheme.

MasterCard’s association brought further problems, the main one being that the bankers holding the purse strings demanded the team enter the sport a full year earlier than originally intended, which is why Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset found themselves trying to qualify for the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. Both failed, badly. The former was fastest and set a time a mere 11 seconds off pole and 5 seconds shy of the 107% rule required to make the grid on Sunday, while Rosset was a full 2 seconds slower than that! The cars never turned a wheel in anger again and the project was quietly canned soon after.

The Dome Zero looked like nothing else on the Le Mans grid

6) Dome Zero RL80

Leave it to the Japanese to really double down on the automotive motorsport weirdness, and they don’t come much weirder than the Dome Zero RL-80, a Le Mans racer designed to hammer down the infamous Mulsanne Straight at an ungodly rate of knots. The need to crack the double ton at Le Mans influenced many of the more successful endurance racers (most notably the long-wheelbase Porsches), but the Dome really did things to the next level. Its bluff, squared off styling and extreme length were intended to enable it to scythe through the air while maintaining stability, while its Cosworth DFV engine, the one which powered most of the F1 grid in the ‘60s, provided decent if not exactly class leading performance. The result was 25th place at the 1980 Le Mans, a result which flattered the RL80 to an extent, albeit one which ultimately paved the way for more successful Dome endurance racing campaigns.

Nissan’s impatience ultimately cost the Sunny any chance of a long or successful WRC career

7) Nissan Sunny GTI-R

Nissan had competed in the WRC for decades prior to the introduction of the Sunny GTI-R in 1991, yet this small Group A hatchback represented the first time that the marque had really committed to the sport, certainly away from its traditional African heartland. On paper the GTI-R looked like a winner; it was compact, four-wheel drive and had been developed in Europe, yet it never quite cut the mustard on the world stage. There were a number of reasons for this, a lack of adequate engine cooling being the main one. Nissan opted to position the car’s intercooler on top of the engine, a location which ensured it soaked up a great deal of heat, so much so that it was swiftly nicknamed ‘the interwarmer!’

Nissan itself didn’t exactly help the situation by demanding victories from the very beginning, something that simply wasn’t going to happen when the GTI-R was facing off against the likes of the Delta Integrale and Celica ST165. It scored a 5th place on its debut on the legendarily grueling Safari, a result which should’ve been greeted with applause from all corners, but all Nissan could muster was a half-hearted shrug. It took just a few short months for Nissan to totally lose patience and throw their rally toys out of the pram, and by the end of 1992 the Sunny’s works career was all but over, its best outright result having been Stig Blomqvist’s 3rd on the Swedish Rally.

The Eifelland was dominated by its weird periscope mirror

8) Eifelland March E21

Rarely has an F1 car looked as ungainly as the Eifelland March E21 of 1972, and rarely has the car in question been as unreliable! Named after its German owner’s caravan company (itself not exactly the most promising of origin stories), Eifelland entered F1 just as it was beginning to modernize and when the full impact of sponsorship was beginning to be felt. Yes, there was still room for plucky privateers in largely home built cars and lots of ‘off the peg’ components, but the glory days of the ‘gargista’ were most definitely in the past.

It might well have been a different story if the car itself had been more successful, a tad more conventional and (dare we say it) less odd looking, but it wasn’t to be. Instead the Rolf Stommelen was forced to compete in a car with a front-mounted air intake and a single, incredibly ugly rear view mirror mounted directly in front of his face! It was shown to have poor downforce traits and even worse reliability, meaning the E21 only competed in 8 F1 races before the plug was pulled.


The 406 wasn’t a winner in the BTCC’s Super Touring era yet it still looked and sounded the part

9) Peugeot 406 BTCC

While nowhere near as bad as some of the entries on this list (we’re looking at you, Life L190), the Peugeot 406 car campaigned in the BTCC between 1996 and 1998 was never able to claim a victory. The BTCC in the 1990s was the world’s foremost touring car championship; it was ultra-competitive and forced OEMs to spend many millions of pounds if they were ever to be successful, but that in itself needn’t have been an issue for Peugeot. No, the 406 failed thanks to an aero/suspension setup poorly suited to the UK’s tight, twisting circuits (it had been designed for the faster courses found in continental Europe), and a large dose of internal politicking. The latter came about through the different outfits running the 406 in Europe and the UK, with Peugeot Sport handling the former and MSD the latter. The factory outfit flat out refused to share key technical data with UK based MSD, the reason being that Peugeot was also running the 306 Maxi in various WRC rounds at the time, while MSD was in the early stages of Hyundai’s WRC programme. The bad feeling played a part in the 406’s lack of outright performance compared to its rivals.


It was never a successful F1 car or ever looked like being one, yet the Coloni-Subaru sounded like nothing else on the grid

10) Coloni-Subaru C3B

Subaru’s motorsport endeavors are almost entirely associated with the muddy world of the WRC, yet the firm (or Fuji Heavy Industries as it’s officially known) has actually tried its hand at a number of other forms of motorised competition, including F1 back in 1990…with pretty disastrous results! Subaru opted to jump into bed with the Coloni, an outfit not exactly known for showering itself in glory, and promptly set about developing its own flat-twelve boxer engine in partnership with Motori Moderni, a layout which would (in theory) have provided excellent weight distribution. This is it managed, yet the 1235 flat-twelve could only be coaxed to make 559bhp, way less than the opposition. The Coloni chassis was also overweight and aerodynamically challenged, which all added up to a less than ideal package, and the results reflected this. The Coloni-Subaru partnership lasted for just 8 result-less races, whereupon the latter upped and left the sport, and Coloni went back to conventional Cosworth power.

1 Comment

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