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Homologation Specials – Part One: Japan

CarAdvice's Emma Notarfranceso's recent opinion piece on the homologation specials we'd like to see, got us thinking.

Homologation specials have a certain allure about them. To understand why, let's first explain their reason for being.

If a car brand wishes to enter a form of showroom motorsport, be it certain classes of touring cars or rally, it must prepare a race car in line with its road car.

Many quickly cottoned on to the idea of building a road car that's sympathetic to becoming a race car. Given rules stipulated small production numbers to achieve homologation, it became somewhat viable. As an example, Group A rally regs initially stated that 2500 road cars must be built, in one year, to earn eligibility. That number later rose to 5000 in a single year.

Even though the race cars differ significantly in terms of construction from the road cars, commonality still remained. As you can see here, the official Group A homologation paperwork for a 1998 Mitsubishi Lancer 'CP9A' Evolution V is thorough. Each part has been analysed, measured and documented.

For example, the race car could only deviate its suspension points within a 20mm radius from the road car. Its engine block must be identical. If you dig deeper, you'll notice parts like an exhaust manifold air injection system, designed to assist the turbocharger anti-lag capabilities, was installed on the road car for use in competition.

Homologation specials contain the spirit of race cars. Their design ethos is to promote victory in motorsport, not road car prowess. Couple this notion with the fact production numbers were limited, and it makes them highly desirable automotive artefacts.

In this series, we'll be bringing you homologation specials from all over the world. In this instalment, we start with Japan.


Sard MC8-R

We kick off with something slightly more obscure.

SARD, or Singa Advanced Racing Development, is a Japanese racing team and component manufacturer that was founded in 1972. The brand has close ties with Toyota, having managed plenty of factory-backed race cars since the late 1980s. It also produces aftermarket tuning parts, once again specialising in Japan's biggest marque.

At the turn of the 1990s, SARD had its eyes on Le Mans, GT1. Homologation rules for that class stipulated that only one road car needed to be built to enter the field. SARD did exactly that using a then current Toyota 'W20' MR2 as its donor car.

Given its mid-engine layout, the second-generation Toyota sportscar made the ideal candidate to go under the knife. The vehicle's chassis was significantly modified and thrown in the back was Toyota's '1UZ-FE' quad-cam V8. For good measure, SARD decided to add two turbochargers. Its power figure was rumoured to be 450kW, which was huge for the day.

The MC8-R made its race debut at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans and retired 14 laps in. In the same year, it entered a 1000km endurance race at Suzuki Circuit and finished in 26th position.

A year later in 1996, SARD had another crack at Le Mans. The car qualified in 37th, and finished second to last, in 24th spot, given 13 cars had retired.

Other, more dedicated entrants, like the Porsche GT1, were far superior to the humble MR2-based MC8-R. Toyota returned two years later with its GT-One car winning its class and finishing overall second by one lap.

Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

The triple diamond's Evolution moniker is associated with off-road menaces. Its Lancer product wearing the badge spanned 10 generations, and was made famous by Finnish rally-car driver Tommi Mäkinen.

Mäkinen won four consecutive WRC drivers' championships behind the wheel of a Lancer Evolution. During his reign, Mitsubishi took a single manufacturer trophy home to Japan, too, in 1998.

However, the Evolution badge is also associated with another form of off-road motorsport – Dakar. Mitsubishi was keen to take out the gruelling event, especially after finishing third in 1996. For 1997, it built and homologated an Evolution version of its Pajero for the T2 Dakar class.

Everything underneath was all-new.

Engineers promptly binned the factory-fit live-axle set-up and installed an independent, double-wishbone arrangement at both ends. Limited-slip diffs were thrown in for good measure, too, with power transmitted via Mitsubishi's 'Super Select 4WD' system featuring a viscous centre differential and low-range.

After completing the chassis, the development team's seemingly bottomless piggy bank continued to be raided.

A twin-cam '6G74' engine was modified exclusively for the Pajero Evolution, with forged conrods and unique 'MIVEC'-equipped cylinder heads. MIVEC, or Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing Electronic Control system, is the brand's form of variable valve timing and lift system, similar to what Honda's VTEC system achieves.

As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. The Pajero Evolution won both the 1997 and 1998 Dakar events with ease. Mitsubishi built approximately 2693 examples, with only 634 featuring a manual transmission, as the competition car did.

Nissan 'R32' Skyline GT-R Nismo

The R32 Skyline GT-R is well known in Australia, and not just because our market was the sole other outside of Japan to receive it new. It's also known for destroying Group A racing in Australia.

Its potential became apparent on race debut, where Jim Richards placed first in the final round of the 1990 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC). The embarrassment began the following year in 1991, however, as the GT-R went on to win seven of the nine races. Even after motorsport authorities hobbled it with ballast and power restrictions in 1992, it still continued to win, with then up-and-comer Mark Skaife taking out the series.

It all ended with the famous quote, "You're a pack of a***holes". The Skyline GT-R's dominance was so significant that motorsport authorities changed the rulebook to exclude it. Born was the V8 Supercars era, shortly after.

Globally, Nissan homologated the R32 for various forms of motorsport. Special 'N1' versions were produced, but the car we're interested in today is the slightly more unknown R32 GT-R Nismo.

Named after Nissan Motorsport, this version only featured a handful of exterior tweaks. In the front bumper, square vents were added, and a mesh guard removed, to increase flow to the radiator and intercooler behind. Side skirts were redesigned to aid aerodynamic proficiency, and its rear wiper deleted, also for the same purpose.

Out back, a small gurney flap was introduced underneath the original spoiler, and a small badge was placed just above the right-hand tail-light to signify the changes. Inside, a new gauge cluster saw its maximum speed increase from a speed-limited 180km/h to a more open 260km/h, and the dashboard's audio controls were deleted, as the radio became an optional part.

The biggest changes were found attached to the engine and driveline. Brakes were better ventilated, and its wheels uprated to a multi-piece motorsport design. A pair of new, larger Garrett turbochargers were tasked with pressurising the engine's cylinders, which expelled through a much larger 7.6cm diameter exhaust.

All were finished in the quintessential R32 GT-R colour – 'KH2' – better known as 'Gun Grey Metallic'. Nissan produced 560 examples of the R32 GT-R Nismo.

Mazda RX-7 SP

Nissan's R32 Skyline GT-R story dovetails nicely into our next home-grown homologation special. With the demise of Group A racing came an Australian production car 12-hour race.

Run initially at Bathurst in its first four years, later moving to its final year at the course formally known as Eastern Creek, the event drew a whole raft of Aussie household names. Where the talent went, so followed the car brands. To give you an idea of the eclecticism happening at this time, one year saw Peter Brock driving a Peugeot 405 Mi16.

After the first event in 1991, the grid more than doubled in size. In 1992, Mazda entered with a mildly modified RX-7 and finished first. It did so again in 1993 and in 1994. Outraged were some marques, who vowed to fight back.

It was on, and artilleries were improved.

BMW developed and locally homologated a special version of its E36-generation M3 dubbed the 'R'. Porsche had the 911 RSCS, which naturally became eligible due to its sales figures.

Mazda, on the other hand, got to work in Australia under the watchful eye of team chief Allan Horsley, and technical wizard Daniel Deckers. All cars arrived to a workshop located in Kingsgrove, Sydney, as standard 'Series 6' RX-7s. It's understood the first car was ready in under three months.

Numerous upgrades were added, such as an exotic carbon-fibre front bumper, high-rise rear spoiler, 110-litre carbon-fibre fuel tank, Recaro seats, shorter differential ratio, and 17-inch wheels complete with Kangaroo centre caps.

The whole list of changes is too long to list, but you get the idea – Mazda wanted a fifth first-place ribbon.

And so it did, winning the last event in 1995 with an SP. To earn a spot on the grid, Mazda homologated and sold 25 versions of the car to the public. After the victory, it made another 10 more in celebration.

Daihatsu Storia X4

We conclude with something slightly more obscure.

Not all homologation specials are fire-breathing Group A-inspired monsters. Some come from budget Japanese brands and are built on the most modest of platforms.

In Australia, we received the Daihatsu Sirion new in showrooms. It was a small, four-door hatchback, complete with oddly cute Japanese styling and a price tag of $11,490 before on-roads with a manual transmission. Afterward came the warmed-up Sirion GTVi, which in retrospect is quite a fun car. With 75kW pushing 843kg, deftness and hilarity were both concepts it explored well.

However, in Japan things went overboard. The Sirion, named Storia in its home market (Italian for 'story'), was offered in all-wheel drive, with locking differentials and a turbocharged engine. Built in small numbers to homologate a sub-one-litre rally car, the Storia X4 proved to be fruitful for many budding Japanese drivers in the first chapter of their careers.

The car was renowned for rock-solid reliability, which saw it dominate its class. The secret sauce was an engine filled with exotic forged-alloy components and a short-geared transmission, which made light work of tight, technical Japanese rally courses. Power was rated to 88kW officially, but often produced much more, as many privateers later found out.

Daihatsu never marketed the car, and rumour has it that less than 1000 were ever produced for both road and competition use. Information is scarce on the Storia X4, with most being lost to history. The odd car does pop up for sale, with prices as high as AUD$23,000. A relatively cheap ticket into homologation motoring, then.


Thank you to ShakotanTODAY for providing photos of the SARD MC8-R.

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