In 1986, the Group B rallying was at its peak. Rally tracks around the world were dominated by the fire-breathing monsters like Audi Sport quattro or Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. With increasing number of accidents and worries about safety of both crews and spectators, the party was coming to a close, but the legends still lived on.
Not all of the Group B cars were the all-wheel-drive, turbocharged beasts that became stuff of legends. In their shadows lived, smaller, lighter and much less powerful cars of the lesser Group B classes, like B/9. ŠKODA 130 LR was one of them. And on one occasion, it managed to slay the giants and come out on top, miraculously.
That occasion was Marlboro Günaydin Turkish Rally of 1986. At the end of the June, crews from all around Europe came to Turkey to compete in an event that was a big unknown to many of them (like this year’s Rally Turkey in Marmaris). As a non-WRC event, long before there were Google Maps and easily accessible information, it was a hard one to prepare for.
The map provided by organizers was a black and white affair in 1:245,000 scale, not really enough to get a proper idea of how the stages will look. There were 39 of them, at least on paper – in reality, the first and third leg, which made up the gravel part of the rally (leg 2 was tarmac), consisted on 6 stages run four times each. In the end, one of them was cancelled and the rally ended up with just 35 stages.
With everything within an hour’s drive from Istanbul, the rally was quite compact – like this year’s new Rally Turkey in Marmaris – and promised to be easy to practice. In the end, it was maybe too easy. Why? During the practice runs, the weather was hot and dry, making for a quite different driving conditions than when the rally started, and the rain came.
Rain was something almost no one expected in Turkey, and also something that many drivers were not familiar with. That was the case of Muhammed Bin Sulayem from Dubai, who came with his Toyota Celica Turbo and a determination to win.
Other drivers, like Kalevi Aho from Finland on Audi Quattro or local driver Ali Keracan on MG Metro 6R4, fought with technical problems. Only Bulgarian rally legend Ilya Tchoubrikov on a Peugeot 205 T16 drove a fairly trouble-free run, which brought him to the second place.
The first place, though, went somewhere unexpected. Among the top-level Group B monsters, there were two tiny, light, rear-engined cars. The ŠKODA Motorsport works team sent two of their 130 LR rally cars, one driven by Gerhard Kalnay and Günter Tazreiter from Austria, the other by Ladislav Křeček and Bořivoj Motl.
Standing side-by-side with the turbocharged monsters with engines of over 2 litres, the 130 LR, with its naturally aspirated engine of under 1,300 cc, old-fashioned saloon style and modest aerodynamics, looked almost puny. And that was even before you looked at the numbers. What could a 130 horsepower do when standing head-to-head with more than 400 hp monsters in Audi or Peugeot?
As it turned out, a lot. With feather weight of around 700 kg, a rear-engine, rear-drive layout that brought great traction even without heavy and cumbersome 4×4 system, and, last but not least, admirable reliability, the 130 LR was surprisingly competitive. Even on big European rallies, it often came in top 10. And here, with muddy tracks and technical malfunctions troubling the competition, it was its unique chance to shine.
Not that it was an easy rally for ŠKODA Motorsport team. In the second leg, the cooling fan on Kalnay’s 130 LR failed, causing the engine to overheat. Thankfully for him, the engine was able to withstand high temperatures without the head gasket blowing and he managed to move up to the first position. His teammate, Ladislav Křeček, was less lucky and he had to retire due to engine problems.
From now on, the ŠKODA’s success lied squarely on Kalnay’s shoulders. His light, nimble car danced on the wet tarmac roads of the second leg and kept up its pace in the third leg, which saw the crews return to the dirt stages of the first one – once again drenched by rain, making them really tricky for the massive, overpowered turbocharged beasts.
Even though the ŠKODA mechanics had to replace the whole inlet manifold, complete with twin Weber carbs as a result of dust intake, he managed to stay in the lead. In the end, his 130 LR was the fastest of the 19 cars (out of 61 that entered the rally) to reach the finish line in Istanbul.
For ŠKODA, it was a singular moment – a David beating the Goliath. With a tiny, 1.3-litre engine lacking turbocharger, and a chassis with roots stretching back to the 1960s, it managed to beat some of the biggest legends in the world of rallying.
Could it happen again? Could 130 LR beat the monsters ever again? We will never know. Two months before the events of 1986 Marlboro Günaydin Turkish Rally, Henri Toivonen’s fiery crash at Tour de Corse led to a public outcry, which eventually resulted in the ban of Group B cars for 1987. The rear-engined ŠKODAs didn’t get more chances to prove their worth.
What we know is that 130 LR was a surprisingly fast car, as proven by results like Ladislav Křeček’s 6th place in 1986 Rally Sanremo, close behind the “big” Group B cars. But that is another story for another day…