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Single-Model Series do not Count Towards Motorsports History

Let’s just try to agree when one can say that a given car model has a motorsport history. Real motorsport history.

This article arose from a tough reader comment on our Danish site a while ago. I had written that the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting “does not have much real motorsport history”. 

To which a reader replied: ” That’s a lot of clutter – especially in the south of Europe, but even in Denmark it did indeed have its own single-model rally class – the Trofeo Fiat Cinquecento.”

This is a Trofeo-kit for the Cinquecento.

And it is true that there was a running series for the model. In fact, it was not only in Denmark but also in its home country (Poland was technically the home country, but here I mean Italy …), France, Germany, Spain, Greece and more. Trofeo Fiat Cinquecento was thus quite a success in the nineties, in fact.

The thing is that all the cars were identical and only competed against other Fiat Cinquecentos.

The VW Polo Cup has run for over forty years. But has the Polo become known for its fierce motorsports history?

In that light, a VW Polo also has a motorsport story. A very rich one, even – VW has been doing Cup racing with the Polo for over forty years. But that does not make the Polo a nice car brimming with motorsport history. Who in the world thinks “motorsport” when they see a Polo? Or a Cinquecento, as was the matter here.

Now in my book, motorsport history is something that’s earned (preferably won) in straight battle against other competitors – not with others. To illustrate my point we can stay within FIAT’s own rows and look at the Fiat 131, which is a good example of what I mean:

The Fiat 131 was launched in 1974 and stayed in production for more than ten years.

The 131 was a completely ordinary (for its time) family car with classic three-box design, rear wheel drive and 1300 or 1600 cubic engines. It was basically no more spectacular than a Fiat Cinquecento many years later. But it became quite spectacular with the 131 Abarth Rallye, which debuted in 1976.

This is the road car version of the 131 Abarth Rallye. Obviously!

400 were built in a collaboration between FIAT, Abarth and Bertone, and the intention was to run in the rally world championship for Group 4 cars. Where the model then proceeded to win the championschip square and fair in both 1977, 1978 and 1980. These victories were won in direct competione against Ford Escort, Porsche 911, Opel Kadett and Ascona, Lancia Stratos and many others. And along the way, the cars themselves were driven by Walter Rörhl, Markku Alén, Sandro Munari, Timo Salonen. Just to name a few.

Those are victories won in open competition, and that’s the motorsport history that counts.

Cup cars, single-make series? That’s just a game and something you can resign to if your cars are not any good in real motorsport.

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6 Responses

  1. Dave Leadbetter
    Controversial stuff. Single make championships are great breeding grounds for top drivers as they have no real place to hide behind excuses that their car is outclassed. And for the manufacturers, well, their car always wins. But would you argue the Renault 5 GT Turbo has no real motorsport heritage? It was only a world beater once (Ivory Coast rally of all places) but the racing series did a lot to raise it’s profile over here at least. If you’re going to invent a rule, you need to give us the exceptions that prove it!
    :)
    Reply
  2. Claus Ebberfeld
    The Renault 5 GT Turbo is a great exception, Dave, I absolutely agree on that.

    Not so much for your mentioned reasons, but mostly because I am the proud owner of one vintage 1986, making that model approximately the second center of the Universe or maybe even something like the second coming of Jesus!

    Seriously, though: Yes, based on the Coupé Renault 5 as I believe it was called I would stand by my point since the cars were all identical and almost totally standard. The series was very entertaining from a racing point of view(or a spectator point of view), but a Renault 5 GTT always won, and there’s not much in that. I’d rather judge it by its merits in open competition, where it did not set such a large footprint. In that respect there’s not much difference between that and the Polo Cup.

    But then take a look at its big brother, the mid-engined 5 Turbo: That model was actually also used in a cup format series, but this is largely forgotten – because it is totally overshadowed by the fact that the 5 Turbo was also used in the open formats of Group 4 and even Group B and created some REAL results there. Which makes it possible to judge whether it was any good or not – and it was.

    THAT’s real motorsports history, I’d say.

    Reply
  3. Dave Leadbetter
    I knew about your Renault 5 so thought I’d bait you! I kind of agree with your basic premise but I’m not going to agree that single make series don’t count towards motorsport history because they’re vital in creating manufacturer interest and keeping the sport alive. The Escort Mexico Challenge in the early 1970s was responsible for making some hotter AVO components available to competitors and the public alike and that’s what really set the Escort on the road to dominance (the World Cup cars were a bit too bespoke for general consumption). Where I will agree with part of your drift is that racing only improves the breed if the competition forces it to. You could practice your tennis against one of those automated ball machines but you won’t get good enough to beat John McEnroe or whoever today’s top tennis men are. In the same way, real Escort development wasn’t gained by only chasing around after other Escorts.

    But hey, are you saying I don’t contribute to motorsports history if I go off and do an evening grass autotest? Actually, don’t answer that because it’s pretty obvious… But I’d be contributing to its future by keeping club level events viable. That’s really what the single make championships are really doing, they’re a pipeline to create talent and engineering both inside and outside the manufacturer to enable the top end glamour stuff. No Renault 5 TS racing championship in the 1970s may have meant no Group B programme for the Turbo ten years later. That’s my supposition anyway! :)

    BTW – Some fleeting R5 GT content coming in my next article if you look close enough at the photos.

    Reply
  4. Claus Ebberfeld
    Well, maybe I was a bit categoric there, Dave.

    In reality the matter is more like discussing whether a certain car is a classic car or not. Which I feel today (in a wisdom far beyond that of driving an early 5 GT Turbo would have anyone believe) is not a question that can be answered with a yes or no. It is a sliding scale from not-at-all to yes-absolutely-blue-chip.

    Motorsport history works the same way and I just got a bit annoyed when someone referred to a rich motorsport history of a car that was primarily used in a single-model series. The Cinquecento was actually also used in some open rallying, as was the 5 GT Turbo. And are today as well, of course.

    But THAT last aspect can under no circumstances earn a classic car the great credit of a rich motorsport history, as it would in reality then be contemporary (historic) racing, which is not the same. There is of course a huge difference whether a car ran in period at Goodwood or only at the revival, isn’t there?

    But I genuinely think that single-model-series and cup racing only add very little motorsport history kudos compared to open format racing. In fact I can think of a method of how to test this theory: We need one car from either camp – and then we must sell them to see what price they can reach. The difference in price would then be then pure value of motorsport history. Simple really.

    Except that I suppose the actual winner cars (and maybe also the back runners) from the cup racing in the Eighties have long since gone back to Mother Nature and therefore would be hard to compare to the Ivory Coast-winning car of Alain Oreille – it that’s still around, of course.

    But looking forward to read that R5 GTT content. It is, after all, one of the greatest cars of all time, regardless of the amount of motorsport history – right up there with the E-type, GTOs and erhm, several others.

    Reply
  5. Anders Bilidt
    Controversial indeed…

    Claus, if the whole purpose of this article was merely an excuse to post as many pictures of the luscious 131 Abarth Rallye as physically possible, then I’ve got your back 100%. Simply delicious…

    But if you’re actually serious about your claims of single-make racing being of no significance, then I’ll have to politely disagree. Dave has already made several worthy points which there’s not much point in me repeating. But let me throw another spanner in the works: BMW M1.
    So are you really going to claim that two years of the Procar Championship did nothing for establishing real motorsport history for the M1? These awesome racing cars competed at some of the worlds most amazing race tracks, no doubt driven by some of the worlds most legendary racing drivers of that era too. The racing was fierce, close and spectacular. The cars looked awesome, and sounded even better! I would say that the Procar Championship was indeed REAL motorsport…

    If nothing else, please feel free to let my reply here lead to another article this time full of M1 Procar pictures. ;-)

    Reply
  6. Claus Ebberfeld
    The Procar series must be the exception to the rule that Dave asked for. I agree that was very real racing, but then the format was very much designed to create exactly that: The idea of setting up the best Formula One drivers against each other in equal cars was simply brilliant.

    You could say there is also the matter of the difference between the 100-115 bhp in a Cinquecento or 5 GT Turbo, but that is not all. The Porsche cups over the years are no slouchy cars either, but in my opinion is no more real motorsport than the Trofeo Cinquecento or Coupé Renault.

    And don’t forget the Porsche 911 (well, virtually all of them) also had real careers in real racing – as did the M1, albeit not that succesfully.

    Reply

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