But point there was: the road cars were simply a means to an end. Unlike almost all touring cars up until that point, the RS500 was not an adapted street machine: it was a pure racing car from which road versions were derived and not the other way around.
To call the engine understressed in this form is to understate the obvious. Running race boost, more than 550bhp was possible with reliability, some claiming to have gone as far as 600bhp. No wonder cars like the BMW M3 couldn’t get near it and had to rely on a system that provided equal points for class victories to have a shot at the outright championship. But what were these beasts like to drive? Happily, I have a wide, open expanse of Donington Park and two racing RS500s to find out.
The first is Rupert Kent’s white Mobil-liveried car, a superstar even among RS500s. Driven by Andy Rouse in the 1988 BTCC (in a different livery), it entered 12 rounds, won nine and scored 10 poles and seven fastest laps. It then went to Australia to be raced all season by none other than Peter Brock, most notably taking pole position at the Bathurst 1000 via the neat trick of setting off the underbonnet fire extinguisher that was directed at the intercooler, dropping charge temperatures further and providing a welcome boost of power on the Mountain Straight.
It’s a rude, crude interior, a far cry from the immaculately presented workspaces of modern touring car cockpits. It has just been gutted and then re-equipped with race gauges, a roll cage and a hard, bucket seat. It starts as easily as the road car and, once someone has reminded you that it has a Getrag gearbox with a dogleg first and a race clutch, it’s easy enough to get off the line. Indeed, it pootles along rather nicely.
But it appears to have no performance at all. It just chunters, rattles and creaks. Foot hard down in second gear and finally the revs start to rise, accompanied by this massive whooshing sound, the one and only warning you’ll ever get for what happens next. When the power arrives, it’s like a torrent building up pressure behind an airtight door that’s just burst its locks. There’s so much power that the cold, old slicks just spin on the damp surface, and then do so again in third, and fourth.
In the turns, you have to lift even before the power arrives because it keeps coming for a fraction of a second after your foot has left the pedal. If you failed to anticipate this, it’d throw you off the track before you could say ‘opposite lock’. Even as it is, it goes sideways, everywhere.
The second car is the first RS500 to have contested the DTM, Germany’s touring car series, coming second in the 1987 championship with Manuel Reuter driving. Owned today by Paul Linfoot, it’s a very trick car even by these standards, with magnesium components to keep the weight down.