Friday, December 1, 2023
The Greatest Ever British Touring Cars

The British Touring Car Championship is one of the most competitive race series of its type anywhere in the world, with packed varied grids, rammed grandstands and a rabid following throughout the UK. Autoglym has long sponsored various BTCC teams and has lent its support to some of the best known outfits, hence why we’ve opted to put together a list of the greatest cars to have graced the BTCC grid since the late ‘80s. Let us know if we’ve missed your favourite out.

The Sierra Cosworth RS500 captured the imagination of a generation of BTCC fans

1) Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500, Andy Rouse Engineering

We’ll start with perhaps the most beloved touring car of all, certainly one of the most spectacular, the Sierra Cosworth RS500. Ford’s decision to turn the hum-drum Sierra into a race car was motivated by marketing as much as anything (the ‘jellymould’ hadn’t been well received by all at launch), though the decision to entrust its development to Cosworth ensured that it was always going to be a potent machine.

As it was, the Sierra RS500 pretty much made the BTCC its own from 1988 onwards, proving so dominant that its class, Group A, was eventually replaced by the Super Touring regulations which proved so popular in the 1990s. That’s right, it was so good the powers that be banned it!

Volvo’s decision to race its 850 estate in 1994 must rank as one of the greatest PR coups in BTCC history

2) Volvo 850 Estate, TWR

It was never the fastest BTCC car and certainly not the nimblest, but the Volvo 850 Estate of 1994 has gone down in touring car history as one of the most beloved racers to ever grace the grid. Much of this is down to the fact that Volvo, a firm almost exclusively known at the time for big, boxy estates, clearly had a good sense of humour and were willing to take a chance on what was an unproven design. Drivers Jan Lammers and Rickard Rydell could have been forgiven for being somewhat sceptical, but the TWR run 850 proved to be fast if not exactly class leading.

Still, the sight of both 850 estates trying to negotiate Druids (and taking up almost the whole of the corner in the process) remains one of the best remembered of the Super Touring era, and many were sad when Volvo swapped the estate for a saloon shell in 1995.

Few cars from the modern era could be called truly iconic, yet the Team Dynamics Integras more than fit the bill

3) BTC-T Honda Integra Type R, Team Dynamics 

The passing of the Super Touring regulations left a whole that the BTCC struggled to fill for many years, yet the BTC Touring regs which came into force in 2001 did give fans one of the best car and driver combinations of the decade, the Team Dynamics run Honda Integras of Matt Neal and Dan Eaves.

The Integras used some of the running gear from the Civic Type Rs which had been campaigned previously, and this enabled them to be on the pace from the moment they made their series debut in 2005, Matt Neal even going on to score points in every single race and winning the title (for first for a privateer in the modern era) with relative ease. Neal defended his title the following year and in the process underlined the cars speed and reliability.

It’s taken a little while but, in Ashley Sutton’s hands at least, the Team BMR Levorgs have finally started to come good

4) Subaru Levorg, Team BMR

Subaru joined Volvo and Honda in fielding an estate based touring car when it opted to enter the BTCC fray in 2016, and the Team BMR Levorgs have proved incredibly fast, if a tad inconsistent at the beginning of the season. Last year saw the car’s benefit from Subaru’s iconic flat-four ‘boxer’ engine, a layout which allowed for excellent weight distribution, and an advantage which was largely nullified over the winter break. 2017 has been a tough one for the Autoglym affiliated team, though new signing Ashley Sutton has certainly risen to the challenge – he’s currently 4th in the overall standings and a mere 11 points behind championship leader Gordon Shedden. Only a fool would count him out of the title hunt.

Sure-footed Quattro handling helped Audi to dominate the BTCC in 1996

5) Audi A4 Quattro, Audi Sport UK

Audi knew when it was onto a good thing with its all-wheel drive Quattro system, and once it had had its fill of glory in the World Rally Championship the Ingolstadt concern turned its attention to the track. Spurred on by the success of both Alfa Romeo and BMW, Audi jumped headlong into the BTCC with its new A4 Quattro in 1996, and the stunningly prepared cars were underpinned by, you guessed it, four-wheel drive. All that traction proved almost impossible for Audi’s rivals to overcome (especially with tin-top ace Frank Biela behind the wheel), and that was despite a weight penalty imposed on the A4s partway through the season. Both 1996 titles duly went to Audi.

The BMW E30 M3 was a Group A touring car legend which managed to win pretty much everywhere

6) BMW E30 M3, various 

You could make a good argument for the BMW E30 M3 being the greatest touring car of all time, it certainly scooped enough silverware in race series throughout the globe to make a solid case for itself. The BTCC wasn’t immune to the E30s poise and performance, and the amazing sounding cars swiftly became the cream of Class B. Not only were the naturally aspirated screamers popular, owing to the odd way the BTCC was structured in the late ‘80s they were able to beat all comers. This meant that Frank Sytner was able to claim overall victory for his Class B BMW in 1988.

BTCC budgets had well and truly exploded by the time Ford managed to win with the Mondeo

7) Ford Mondeo, Prodrive

The Mondeo was another of those Super Touring era machines which took a number of years to find its form, not to mention a selection of different teams doing the running. Ford played the long game very effectively though, debuting with the Mk1 Mondeo in 1993 with Andy Rouse handling both engineering and driving. Wins would follow but they weren’t enough to convince Ford not to hand the contract to West Surrey Racing for the 1996 season, though this arrangement was if anything even less fruitful! It wasn’t until 2000 that everything finally came together for Ford, with the Prodrive built Mondeos able to take Alain Menu to his second BTCC drivers title, in the process allowing Ford to claim the manufacturer’s gong.

The Renault Lagunas proved the class of the BTCC field in 1997

8) Renault Laguna, Williams GP Engineering

Renault had made slow but unspectacular progress in the BTCC throughout the early 1990s, with the Laguna proving to be a far more suitable tin-top than the Renault 19 it replaced. Outright wins for the car in 1994 showed the way ahead, and the team became even more competitive when Williams Grand Prix engineering took over the running and development of the Lagunas from 1995 onwards. They were expected to take the crown in 1996, and probably would have had Audi not shown up with its four-wheel drive A4 and swept all comers, but it all came good a year later in 1997, the season when Alain Menu cruised to a dominating Renault victory.

A more aggressive aero package helped Alfa Romeo to both titles in 1994

9) Alfa Romeo 155, Alfa Corse

1994 was one of the greatest years in the BTCC’s long and storied history because it had it all: close competition, top class drivers, stunning cars and, best of all, a little bit of skulduggery! The latter was down to the Alfa Romeo 155s which were making their debut that season, or more correctly their aerodynamic kits. Alfa Romeo claimed that the various wings and splitters adorning the cars of Tarquini and Simone were fully homologated and legal thanks to the 155 Silverstone road cars. The other teams claimed this was simply not the case as the Silverstone’s wings were supplied un-fitted and in the boot and were therefore not part of the standard car.

The fallout from this disagreement smouldered throughout 1994 and even saw Alfa skip Oulton Park in protest, but they were still forced to run the wing in its lowered position for the remainder of the season. It didn’t really matter though, as Tarquni was both fast and consistent and took the title with relative ease. The rest of the field had sprouted similar wings in time for the 1995 season though, and Alfa’s charge faltered as a result.

Cleland and the Cavalier won out in 1995 – weeks after the latter had been withdrawn from sale and replaced by the Vectra B!

10) Vauxhall Cavalier, RML

Ah the Vauxhall Cavalier, the BTCC car which spent much of its career being the bridesmaid but never the bride. Indeed, by the time John Cleland took both titles in 1995 (in some style and in one of the finest seasons of the Super Touring era), the Cavalier road car had been withdrawn from sale and replaced by the Vectra! It was always one of the fastest cars on the grid from the moment it debuted in 1990 though, and Cleland and Vauxhall might well have taken the 1992 title had it not been for a controversial coming together with the BMW of Steve Soper at Silverstone. Read on for more information on that infamous incident…

The latest iteration of the mighty Honda Civic Type R hasn’t just proved effective for the factory outfit, the likes of Eurotech have also used it to devastating effect

11) Honda Civic Type R, Eurotech Racing

Few teams have dominated the world of touring cars in the modern era to quite the same degree as Honda, and the Japanese firm has been a stalwart supporter of the BTCC for decades now. Recent years have seen the team’s highly prized Civic Type Rs sold to privateer teams up and down the grid, the most prominent being the Eurotech outfit. Another Autoglym affiliated team, Eurotech have endured a trying 2017 so far, not least because team owner and lead driver Jeff Smith suffered a horrendous crash at Croft which has put him out of the season. Everyone at Autoglym would like to wish Jeff Smith and the rest of the team moving forward.

It took a number of years and even a sabbatical from the BTCC, but Nissan eventually cracked the Primera

12) Nissan Primera, RML

Nissan had been campaigning the Primera in the BTCC since the very start of the Super Touring era without much success, and it took the launch of the facelift, P11 car and a move to Ray Mallock Limited (RML) for the team to be truly competitive. RML had proven their prowess developing the Vauxhall Cavalier and were therefore ideally suited to the Nissan project, and set about building an all new Primera Super Tourer, one with revised suspension geometry, improved aero and the small matter of a 320bhp SR20DE engine mated to a trick Xtrac 6-speed ‘box. David Leslie and Anthony Reid did very well in the car but it fell to Frenchman Laurent Aiello to really extract the most from it, taking 10 wins and the 1998 title. Privateer Matt Neal also used his Primera to win outright at Donington in 1999, becoming the first independent to do so and winning a cool £250,000 in the process.

The 888 Astra Coupes were the dominant force in the BTCC at the turn of the millennium

13) Vauxhall Astra Coupe, 888 Engineering

The bare stats mark the Vauxhall Astra Coupe out as the most dominant single car in BTCC history, yet the figures don’t tell the whole story. Yes, the 888 run Astras which debuted in 2000 were immaculately prepared and beautifully engineered, and yes the driver line up Jason Plato and Yvan Muller was the best on the grid, but the 888 cars were head and shoulders above everything else on the grid. Indeed, the team had been developing the cars for months longer than its opposition, making its crushing dominance (4 manufacturers titles on the bounce between 2001 and 2004) something of a forgone conclusion. It’s a record breaker though, so it more than deserves a spot on this list.

The Ford Focus remains a stalwart of the BTCC grid

14) Ford Focus, Motorbase Performance

The Ford Focus has been a mainstay of the BTCC under its Next Generation Touring Car formula and has therefore played a hugely important role in the careers of dozens of drivers that now call the series home. It might not have been able to take a driver to overall honors at the time of writing, but there are a number of teams still more than convinced of its proven merits, the most competitive being Motorbase, another team Autoglym is proud to work with. 2017 has seen Motorbase fight its way into the lead of the Independents’ standings thanks to a run of good results, including a duo of top 4 finishes last time out at5 Snetterton.

The BMWs raced in 1992 weren’t merely fast, they also sported one of the single most ’90s liveries of all time!

15)  BMW E36 318i, various 

BMW really didn’t rest on its (considerable) laurels when it came to developing a successor to the all conquering E30 M3, and the E36 was the result. It would eventually allow both Tim Harvey and Joachim Winkelhock to take the BTCC title in 1992 and 1993 respectively, but it is the former, or rather the somewhat contentious way it came about, that it will forever be remembered for. Harvey’s success came at the expense of Vauxhall’s John Cleland, the Scot coming together with the other BMW of Steve Soper in the dying laps of the final round at Silverstone, and the resulting damage put both cars out on the spot. Harvey cruised to the title while Cleland was left to mull the incident over,  going on to describe Soper as ‘an animal.’