10 of the Most Iconic Homologation Specials of All Time

When homologation specials became a thing, enthusiasts instantly knew that few cars come close to the sheer excitement offered by this automotive genre. Not only are these vehicles as close as we mortals can get to driving racing cars with license plates, but homologation specials hark back to a time when automakers were more experimental.
Homologation specials collage 61 photos
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In the old days, sanctioning bodies used to require manufacturers to outfit much of the same upgrades of the race-prepped car to a handful of road-going models. Regrettably for peeps like you and me, showroom-bred racing cars entitled to wear a license plate aren’t as plentiful now as they were in the Excessive Eighties and 1990s.

Be that as it may, if we scour the annals of history, it’s easy to find plenty of homologation specials that stood the test of time. Before starting the countdown, yours truly needs to point out that the top 10 list doesn’t include a number of classics. Honorable omissions include the wedge-shaped Lancia Stratos, ultra-expensive Ferrari 250 GTO, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Renault 5 Turbo, and 993-generation GT2.

With these being said, here are autoevolution’s 10 most sizzling hot homologation specials that ever saw the light of day in extremely limited numbers, beginning with a rallying icon:

Audi Quattro (and technically similar Audi Sport Quattro)

Audi Quattro
Not to be confused with lowercase quattro, uppercase Quattro refers to the four-wheel-drive coupe that Audi developed with the sole intent of winning rallies. Introduced in 1982, the Group B was the perfect excuse for the Ingolstadt-based automaker to morph from a rear-wheel-drive racecar to a four-wheel-drive monster.

A certain type of rallying fan will tell you that rallying is divided into two eras by hardcore enthusiasts of this motorized sport: B.Q. and A.Q., which stand for Before Quattro and After Quattro. Even after the Audi Quattro arrived on the WRC scene, two-wheel-drive cars such as the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, Nissan 240RS, and Lancia 037 still proved competitive. The 037 in particular troubled the Quattro, winning the 1983 constructors’ title with 118 points compared to 116.

In 1984, the Volkswagen-owned marque upped the ante with the Sport Quattro. Compared to the supremely collectible Ur-Quattro, the Sport Quattro prides itself on a more powerful turbocharged inline-five mill, a light carbon-kevlar body shell, wider wheels, and a smaller wheelbase to boot. Offered through the summer of ‘95, the Sport Quattro ended production after only 220 examples of the breed were finished. 10 were imported into the United States. If you want one, prepare to pony up top dollar for a good one. A works rally car goes for more than a million freedom eagles in this day and age.

BMW M1 (E26)

Previewed by the safety-obsessed BMW Turbo concept built for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the M1 holds the title of the first-ever midship BMW to enter mass production. Believe it or not, 450-odd units are enough to be considered mass production even though there was nothing mass production about the production process.

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and inspired by the E25 of Paul Bracq, the E26 was co-developed with Lamborghini. After the Raging Bull of Sant’Agata Bolognese failed to deliver its part of the bargain, the Munich-based automaker resumed control of the project. It brought the M1 to market as a homologation special for sports car racing, starting with the F1 support series BMW M1 Procar Championship.

It also saw plenty of action at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. More curious still, an example was converted to Group B rally specifications by BMW France. Also worthy of note, the fourth Art Car was painted by the one and only Andy Warhol in under 24 minutes. It was raced only once in 1979, the year The Clash released their superb double album London Calling. Last but certainly not least, the M1 served as inspiration for the plug-in hybrid i8 that ran from 2014 to 2020.

BMW M3 Sport Evolution (E30)

BMW M3 Sport Evolution \(E30\)
In the 1980s, the Bavarian outfit was gunning for as many podium finishes as possible in touring car racing. Once the German automaker realized that the M635CSi outstayed its welcome in Group A, the Motorsport division began work on the BMW M3. That’s how the lighter and nimbler M3 was born, with the progenitor based on the E30 3er.

The stiffer and lighter chassis of the E30-gen M3 is complemented by flared fenders, a different rear window, reshaped decklid, and a purposeful cabin. Under the skin, the DOHC 2.3-liter S14 engine is connected to a 5-speed manual with a dog-leg layout. As was often the case in the Decade of Excess, enough was never enough for BMW M.

Cue the BMW M3 Sport Evolution, sometimes referred to as EVO3 because it came to market after the catted Evolution and non-catted Evolution. 600 examples were ever assembled, and all of them are motivated by a 235-horsepower version of the S14 engine (make that 238 metric ponies). A good E30 M3 Sport Evolution costs around $150,000 these days. That’s if you can even find one for sale.

1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

1967 Camaro Z/28
The COPO 427 was more brutal and the ZL1 big-block V8 was a beast in its own right, but the Camaro Z/28 is nothing to scoff at. Introduced for the 1967 model year, the Z/28 option code wasn’t listed in any brochure or sales literature, so it was pretty much unknown to the public.

That’s why Chevrolet sold just 602 examples of the breed in the first year of production. 1968 sales escalated to 7,199 copies, then Chevrolet produced a whopping 20,302 units for 1969. For a car developed as a homologation special, the Z/28 did very well by all accounts.

302 cubic inches, or 4.9 liters, of small-block V8 muscle hides under the hood. It combines the crankshaft of the 283-ci engine with the block of the 327. Better still, the driving experience wasn’t too shabby thanks to better suspension, power brakes with discs at the front, a close-ratio manual, and so forth. In the Trans-Am realm, Mark “Captain Nice” Donohue won a hardly believable 10 out of 13 races in the 1968 season. Motorsport pedigree? The Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 has it, and then some!

Dodge Charger Daytona (and Plymouth Superbird)

Dodge Charger Daytona
Nothing says badass more about a road-going car than 23 inches of stabilizer wing mounted on the rear deck of the Dodge Charger Daytona. The ridiculously large aerodynamic element is far from being a gimmick, though, because it generates loads of downforce at high speed. The same applies to the Road Runner-based Plymouth Superbird.

Be it the 426-cube (7.0-liter) HEMI or the 440-cube (7.2-liter) Magnum, the road-going Daytona and Superbird are stupendously quick and insanely fast for their particular era. After all, the first racecar to crack the 200-mph (320-kph) mark in NASCAR was a Dodge Charger Daytona. Better still, the Charger Daytona won its first race out.

Other than the badge, the other big difference between the Daytona and the Superbird is represented by the rear-facing fender scoops. In the case of the Daytona, better airflow management is the name of the game. By comparison, the Superbird’s scoops served no function.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Lancia Delta HF Integrale
Cool though it may be, the Quattro isn’t on the same level of cool as the 1980s rallying unicorn. Before the HF Integrale was presented with much pomp and circumstance at the Turin Motor Show in 1987, the HF 4WD was the best Lancia Delta money could buy. The thing is, the HF Integrale is better than the HF 4WD in every imaginable way.

Between 1987 and 1992, the Delta won the manufacturers’ title no fewer than six times. In total, the four iterations of the Delta won 46 world championship events. The most hardcore of the road-going cars is the Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione II. Thanks to go-faster bits and bobs such as a bigger Garrett turbo and timed sequential multipoint injection, the force-fed engine was good for 212 horsepower (215 ps) at 5,750 rpm and 232 pound-feet (314 Nm) of torque at 2,500 rpm.

If you’re in the market for such a rally-bred hot hatch like the Evoluzione II, prepare to pay an absurd amount of money. Think over 100,000 euros or dollars absurd. The most frustrating part about owning a classic Lancia nowadays, however, is that Lancia is a shadow of its former self, a one-market brand that sells a decade-plus-old supermini.

Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II (W201)

Mercedes\-Benz 190E 2\.5\-16V Evolution II \(W201\)
The first compact executive production car in the history of Mercedes-Benz spawned one of the most celebrated homologation specials of all time. Make no mistake about it, the 190E 2.3-16V was pretty darn rad by 1983 performance sedan standards.

In 1988, Mercedes-Benz updated its DTM warrior to 2.5 liters, upping the output for good measure. Another difference between the 2.3-liter and 2.5-liter versions is the differential. More to the point, the change from a limited-slip design to an electronically-controlled and hydraulically-locking diff brought better handling. However, Evolution models are the ones we’re most interested in.

After BMW unleashed the M3 Sport Evolution, Mercedes-Benz replied with the 190E 2.5-16V Evolution I, of which 502 units were produced. Then came the big-daddy 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II, which also ended production with 502 examples to its name. All were already spoken for before the Evolution II made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1990. That’s quite an achievement considering that the 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II retailed at around $80,000. Don’t ask about inflation adjustment. Oh, fine! Let’s just say that - adjusted for inflation - the Evolution II would cost over $180,000 today.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
A series that ran between 1992 and 2016, the Lancer Evolution is a trip down memory lane for many people, including those who are into video games. The origins of the Lancer-based Evolution homologation special came about with the Galant VR-4 in Group A. The Japanese automaker knew that something had to change in order to level up its competitiveness in the World Rally Championship, and that’s how the Galant VR-4’s oily bits were shoehorned into a lighter chassis.

To whom it may concern, VR stands for viscous real-time and 4 means four-wheel drive. In addition to the viscous coupling unit, the Lancer Evolution’s predecessor also incorporated four-wheel steering. The first-gen Lancer Evolution could be had in a lightweight specification dubbed RS, which lacked anti-lock brakes, a rear wiper, power windows, and power seats. It even dropped the GSR’s alloys in favor of steelies, all in the same of saving 70 kilograms (154 pounds).

Back in 2016, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution story came to a bitter end after the last unit of the EVO X rolled off the assembly line at the Mizushima Plant in Japan. Instead of developing the EVO XI every enthusiast was looking forward to, the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation had to be saved by Nissan in the wake of a fuel efficiency scandal uncovered by… wait for it… Nissan. It currently focuses on boring crossovers that are more Nissan (and Renault) than Mitsubishi.

Porsche 959

Porsche 959
The 959 is a car of many firsts for the Zuffenhausen-based marque. Albeit not as sensual as the rear-drive Ferrari F40, the all-wheel-drive Porsche is bedroom poster material as well. The 959-based 961 won its class at Le Mans in 1986, and the Paris-Dakar specification finished the grueling rally in first and second places that year as well.

A little under 350 road-going units were assembled from 1986 to 1993, all of them packing a twin-turbocharged sixer that made the 3.3-liter Porsche 930 blush in awe. For a short while, as in until the Ferrari F40 made its debut, the Porsche 959 was the fastest street-legal production car. Hey, just under 350 still counts as a production car!

Bill Gates had a beautifully-spec’d 959, albeit the Microsoft founder bought it before the techno-crazy super sports car before he could legally drive it in the United States of America. Alas, the 959 stood idly in storage for the better part of 13 long years at the Port of San Francisco until the Show or Display act went official in 1999.

Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Forget the vape bros who flex with their WRXs and STIs in this day and age. The arch nemesis of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution made its rally debut in 1992, replacing the Legacy RS. Come 1995, the 555-liveried Impreza rally car won the constructors’ crown in grand fashion. It would do it again in 1996 and 1997. The bite-the-back-of-your-hand pretty Impreza 22B STi wide-bodied coupe was built to celebrate three consecutive manufacturer’s titles in the World Rally Championship, as well as Subaru’s 40th anniversary.

The more thrilling WRX STI was introduced shortly after the WRX. Come 2014 for the 2015 model year, the Japanese automaker stopped using the Impreza nameplate in conjunction with WRX and WRX STI. The first generation of the non-Impreza WRX and WRX STI is codenamed VA as opposed to GJ for the Impreza four-door sedan and GP for the more practical five-door hatchback.

Both variants outlived the Lancer Evolution, but on the flip side, Subaru doesn’t plan to revive the WRX STI moniker anytime soon. The VB is exclusively offered in WRX attire because the Japanese automaker intends to use the STI suffix for something a little more... boring. Subaru is actively exploring an electrified powertrain for the WRX STI, and Subaru has also confirmed that the next-generation internal combustion WRX STI won’t be based on the VB WRX platform.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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