Among the wide variety of motorsports, rally stands out as one of the most extreme tests of both man and machine. While racing around a paved circuit is a challenge in itself, taking that high-speed battle and moving it to unpaved country roads ups the ante to new levels of extreme.
Rally racing in itself had been popular for decades following the invention of motorsports, but the FIA only formalized it in the '70s. Founded in 1973, the World Rally Championship (WRC) became the ultimate battleground for both manufacturers and drivers to prove the skill and capabilities of themselves and the cars that were created to compete, honoring the victors through the Driver's and Constructor's title.
Along the way, legends were born left and right, with fantastic machines dominating the long twisting dirt roads that made up the WRC rally stages. Among those legendary cars, some stood out as champions, dominating the WRC podium for years, and providing spectators with an epic show. Read on, to see the 10 best rally cars that competed in WRC:
10 Fiat Abarth 131
Fiat's basic little family cars like the 131 proved themselves well on the back-roads of Italy, tackling rough terrain with rugged reliability. Naturally, this made the 131 a prime contender for WRC competition, and with tuning from Abarth, the 131 dominated. Winning the WRC titles in '77, '78, and '80, the Abarth 131 remains a legend of the early days of WRC.
9 Audi Quattro
When talking about off-road performance, most enthusiasts today think of 4 wheel drive as a necessity. Yet, the early years of WRC saw RWD cars competing against each other in the dirt. It would be Audi who changed that with their Quattro, immediately proving the dominance of their 4WD car by winning the '82 and '84 WRC titles, as well as coming in second place for '83 and '85.
8 Peugeot 205 Turbo 16
One of Europe's best selling hatchbacks, 5,000,000 Peugeot 205s have been sold through its production life. While that's impressive, it would be the specially modified Turbo 16 that seriously impressed the world. Built for Group B, the 205 Turbo 16 was introduced in 1984 and won more Group B events than any other car, as well as taking home the WRC titles in '85 and '86.
7 Lancia Delta Integrale
Starting off life as an unspectacular hatchback, the Delta was transformed by Lancia into a rally dominating monster in the form of the Integrale. Scoring 46 event wins, the Delta Integrale is the most successful rally car ever and took home the WRC titles every year from 1987 until 1992. The Delta also spawned a true monster in the form of the Delta S4, but unfortunately was so dangerous, it ended the class it competed in: Group B.
6 Toyota Celica GT-Four ST185
Toyota's Celica had been a long-running affordable sports car by the '90s, but not one associated with rally. While Celicas had competed in WRC previously, it would be the GT-four ST185 that would prove its capabilities, dethroning the Delta Integrale and winning WRC titles in '92, '93, and '94. Unfortunately for Toyota, their follow up, the ST205 was banned from competition for a year due to some creative rule-breaking.
5 Subaru Impreza 555
One of the modern rally's legends that is still going strong today, the Subaru Impreza can't be talked about without mentioning its rally pedigree. Replacing Subaru's unsuccessful Legacy rally car, the Impreza 555 was a proper off-road beast and set the pace for all future performance bred Subarus. Piloted by Scottish legend Colin McRae, the Impreza 555 dominated WRC, taking home titles for '95, '96, and '97
4 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
A rivalry that has defined Japanese performance cars, the Lancer Evo was Mitsubishi's answer to the rally built Subaru Imprezas. Starting with the Evo III in 1996, Tommi Makinen piloted the Mitsubishi straight to the WRC title podium, winning the Driver's title from '96 until '99, as well as earning Mitsubishi a Constructor's title for '98.
3 Citroen C4
In the early 2000s, Citroen began dominating WRC with their Xsara rally car and showed no signs of slowing down. Naturally, the development of a replacement began as the car aged, and that replacement would be a specially modified C4. Piloted by the legendary Sebastien Loeb, the C4 took home the WRC titles from 2006 until 2010.
2 Lancia Stratos
Typically, light Italian supercars are built for epic performance on a paved track, but the Ferrari-powered Lancia Stratos bucked that trend, being purposely built to dominate the newly founded WRC. With insane speed and agility, the Stratos did just that, winning the WRC titles in 1974, '75, and '76. While the Stratos retired in 1978, nothing like it has ever been made since, and the brutal Italian wedge is still a legend to this day.
1 Volkswagen Polo R
The latest rally car to take home back to back WRC titles, the Volkswagen Polo R is fast but is by no means a crazy car... until VW modified it into a rally car. Now the most successful WRC rally car of all time, the Polo R scored 43 WRC event wins, as well as scoring both the Constructor and Driver's titles immediately following its debut in 2013, and continuing that title streak until 2016.