By on May 10, 2012

I wasn’t five minutes before my friend and I had gone to inspect TTAC’s Project G-Body Grand National that we began discussing the next foray into fiduciary stupidity. My friend Joey, not content with his cream puff 1986 Grand National (with a verified 38,750 miles on the odometer) wanted to know how we could “get in to rallying”.

The Maple Leaf Rally Club organizes Rallycross events a couple hours north of Toronto throughout the year. I’ve done a Tim O’Neill rally school course before, but never competed in any type of event. Joey has zero experience but is eager to learn. Based on what limited knowledge I have, a front-drive beater seems to be the best way to start.

Even though conventional wisdom suggests that a Subaru or something AWD would be the quickest path to victory, O’Neill himself seems to start his neophyte rally candidates out on front-drive cars like the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Fiesta. Having used the Fiestas during my own stint, I can attest that left-foot braking quickly washes away the cries of “fail wheel drive” from those whose competition license are issued by Forza 3.

So far the plan is to buy some kind of beater that won’t pass inspection or emissions testing for cheap (myself, Joey and another friend want to each throw in $1500). We’ll trailer the car using Joey’s work F-150 to save us from registering it, and see how our first foray into rallying goes. The only question is, what should our weapon of choice be? A clapped-out Golf or Civic seems to be the best choice, but is there anything more “interesting” (i.e difficult to repair, unreliable and from a dead marque)? Or explain to us why we’re idiots and something that sends power to the back wheels is the only choice. We probably won’t listen, but you can tell us anyways.

N.B the Grand National is nearly ready. There will be a full update. The car runs fine but we’re waiting on some interior pieces to be delivered before the car goes on the road. Joey wants it to be perfect and showroom shiny before it goes on the road – and before the inevitable upgrades happen.

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66 Comments on “QOTD: Help Pick TTAC’s Rallycross Project...”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Echo the wondeful combination of wrong wheel drive and dirt… Get sideways and simply boot the throttle to straighten out on exit… Nothing can be simpler or more satisfying.

    If it fits the budget, why not an SRT4? Lots of turbo torque, big, under stressed engine, beefy front axles and a very simple rear end (a bonus when banging around off-road)

    Failing that, any sort of Neon with a big motor, or, similarly, a Sentra. The SE-Rs on the B15 came with an LSD already, and it likewise has a cruddy rugged beam axle out back. Only worry is e longevity of that QR if you’re revving the nuts off of it. Even better and within your budget… Any B14 Sentra with an (indestructible) SR20 under the hood.

    I’d suggest a P5, but that dreaded “clunk” at the rear end will likely raise it’s ugly head if you take that beautiful rear suspension off-road…

  • avatar

    Mkay folks. Is there any rules regarding displacement? NA/SC limitations?
    BMW E30, straight 6 RWD, or FWD I4 turbo glory in some SAAB shaped container would be my bets.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    “but is there anything more “interesting” (i.e difficult to repair, unreliable and from a dead marque)?”

    Of course. A Saab 900 Turbo or 9000 Turbo!

  • avatar

    Definitely a Civic…although I did see a Fox 5.0 Mustang absolutely clobber all its FWD competition on a longer rally with more straights. Which got me thinking:

    94-up V6 Mustangs are cheap, easy to modify and do have a lot of power.

  • avatar

    Honestly. If you want to be remotely smart about it

    go here

    and buy one of the many fwd cars that shows up already with a cage and logbook for less than 5k. I even saw a fully prepped with rally suspension mazda 323GTX on there for like 3 grand

    1987 Golf on there for 6k with cage, rally suspension and spares etc

    If you do go RWD I think you can participate in the “maxattack” challenge as well

    • 0 avatar

      That’s GOOD advice. Amateur Rally or Rally cross might be expensive, the base car i usually not. Building cages, changing suspension and repairs tends to eat cash.

    • 0 avatar


      Thank for you the link but Rallycross is just street cars doing a form of auto-x in the dirt. Perhaps down the road if we ever do “real” rally this will be appropriate, but for now a properly sorted car with log books etc is overkill.

      • 0 avatar

        I am familiar with what rally cross is, but if you are already planning on getting something you’ll be trailering to events you might as well get a car that will let you move from rallycross to rally if you wanted to. Not like you are going to save money building a car on your own unless your plan is literally leave it stock junker. Besides Racecar :)

        • 0 avatar

          The main reason for trailering it is because we are all under 25 and insurance in Ontario for anyone under 25 is horribly expensive. The gas it would take to trailer it to the event is far cheaper than even a year’s worth of liability insurance and registration/inspection/emissions testing.

      • 0 avatar

        Or glorious AWD monsters, one driven by the american that’s good in the dirt and that doesn’t manufacture shoes or stinks up WRC coverage or if you like some pro-am or maybe som bad as CZ
        Anyways, a used racer is a much smarter use of your money, it probably even got some resale value and the parts that doesn’t hold up will already be changed.

      • 0 avatar

        @derek: Also cost prohibitive for 32y.o., married, living in the sticks. I’ve pared down to 2 road cars, and anything fun that I buy will be trailered to events.

  • avatar

    Neon, Saab, or Focus.

    My own vote is for the Neon, though the Saab and Focus have their own strengths and weaknesses.

    All of them are cheap, plentiful, and comparatively easy to fix and modify.

  • avatar

    Sounds like an item for Craigs list with the emphasis on runs a little bit and dirt cheap. For what you want, I would say that going to the track and marking off what you see there is the way to start.

    For being rugged and dirt cheap, how about a japanese pickup. Possibly with 4wd. If a mustang can navigate the track without getting stuck a pickup sure could. I’m thinking of the four common japanese brands or an S10/ranger with a v6 and a salvage turbo.

    Look hard at what runs at the 24 hours of Lemons and something totally preposterous will occur to you.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny you mention Japanese pickups. I was just thinking a 90’s era Nissan Hardbody or Frontier with a nicely tuned 2.4l KA24DE and manual tranny would be a hoot.

    • 0 avatar

      @mikey…Nope, I live just north of Atlanta Georgia. No rust monster to deal with down here. Plenty of 90′ and even 80’s cars on the road. It’s funny how different your outlook on cars can be when you don’t have to factor in rust.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t there a gentleman looking to get rid of a Saab 9-5 that wouldnt pass emissions earlier this morning? Perhaps you could use that: it would certainty be the ultimate Piston Slap success story…

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      To be fair, it’s virtually impossible to fail Ontario’s emissions testing – there’s probably a few tire fires out there that’d still pass.

      Plus, shockingly, we’ve got our own pretty respectable selection of used Saabs – wandering around my fiancee’s neighbourhood, you’d think they were a thriving brand.

  • avatar

    90-93 Mazda Protege with the DOHC 1.8 BP (GT Canada/LX U.S.) or 1999-2003 Mazda Protege with the 2.0

    I’m biased.

    They’re Mazdas so not a ton of them available, but larger percentage will be sticks, and cheaper than a Civic.

  • avatar

    Late ’80s Buick Park Avenue…indestructible GM 3.8L, simple drivetrain, gobs of torque and parts are still plentiful. Another option would be the granny racers, the supercharged Gen II 3.8L.

    Whatever you end up with, make sure parts are plentiful and inexpensive, as well as easy to work on (in).

  • avatar

    Obviously the Subaru would be the sane and rational approach.

    But if you were a real man or a person who doesn’t want to be confused with the other Subaru Imprezas that will most surely be at these events your only left with three options in my book

    1. 1986 Dodge Omni GLHS or GLH
    2. 1988 Mazda 323 GTX.
    3. Any Dodge Neon

  • avatar

    AMC Eagle coupe. 4×4 underpinnings are solid, and you can easily swap in a warmed-up small-block ford or chevy (engine, trans and transfer case,then bob the driveshafts). Plus, it’s a truly horrible car that people will be ashamed to be beaten by.

    I might also suggest a first gen Toyota RAV-4 2-door. I honestly don’t know what they’re like for power (I susupect not much), but something that compact with all-wheel drive has got to be a riot off-road. Trouble is, I hardly ever see them. Might be hard to come by.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      AMC Eagle coupe.

      ^Beat Me to it. Although station wagon FTW! You could always drop an I6 out of a Jeep Cherokee in there, one of the 4.2ltr High Output versions with fuel injection and everything. Figure out how to lower the ride height, have fun humiliating Subarus with a car that is their long lost adopted cousin.

  • avatar

    If you can find a suitably distressed Volvo 1, 2 or 740 that may work as well.

  • avatar

    ZOMG!!! MItsu GaLanT VR-4 fTw!!!!

    That’s the obvious choice, anyway.

    Or, go crazy and nab a 4WD Tempo, then stash a totally ridiculous engine in it. Perhaps a Cologne V6? With upgrades?

    Another insane option might be any number of Toyota snooze-mobiles from the early ’90s with JDM/ASEAN 4WD parts (a Paseo with a Red Top 4AGE and 4wd from one of the six thousand Sprinter models available in Japan?). Japanese manufacturers made just about everything in a 4WD version back in the day. Hell, you could still get 4WD Mazda6s elsewhere as late as ’07. Perhaps still.

  • avatar

    Honestly, a beater Dodge (Plymouth?) Neon , or Nissan Sentra is probably the best choice. But if you want to add needless complication to your life, you could always consider an old lovable Volvo.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wanted to rally. It combines two things that I love: speed and off-roading.
    If I were getting started I’d look into an old busted up YJ Wrangler. To counter the high center of gravity, perhaps lower it (gasp!) and add spacers to get the wheels sticking out a little further.

    Or maybe one of those old Suzuki 2-doors SUV’s… Samurai I think?

  • avatar

    I ran rallycross for a few years back when I lived in MD. They used to run an event sponsored by DC Rally at some farm near Culpepper, VA. I had a 1968 Volvo 122S that was my occassional DD. Volvo Amazons did very well in European rallies back in the 60’s so I decided, what the hey, might as well rally it.

    I lowered it a little, installed some better tires, an 1800E suspension with 4 wheel disc brakes, and a b20 redblock with a stock cam and fuel injected head, with a pair of SUs. Had maybe 3 grand into the car, did all the work myself. I even lucked into some fiberglass front fenders and clip, and removed the front bumper (you know, for weight distribution.)

    It wasn’t the fastest car there, but definitely not the slowest either, and it was the oldest (although one fellow had a 1970-ish Karmann Ghia that was wickedly fast). I used to get remarks about “bringing out the old museum piece again, eh?” and the like, but it was very fun to drive and never broke down. In fact, I drove it 3 hours to and from each event.

    Other than the Volvo 122, I’d recommend a Karmann Ghia, a Corvair, or a Mazda RX-7. All of those cars have done well in off-road adventures.

    • 0 avatar

      Well the Volvo 240 still holds its own, at least in proper Rallycross (possibly the best motor sport invented). anybody with a soul will find at least some love for this weber LOVE

  • avatar

    Suzuki X-90. Done.

    It’ll definitely be unique! I’ve also seen lowered sammis if you want to go even older, and there’s an active community out there modding them… If you can still find a stock one, that is.

    • 0 avatar

      Unique, but not stable in rallycross. Short wheelbase and tall profile vehicles like the Samurai and two-door RAV4 aren’t allowed by most groups due to the rollover potential, along with swing-axle cars and various tall-riding vehicles. Even some 2WD pickups like to bicycle.

  • avatar

    1. Any Lancia
    2. Classic Mini
    3. Volvo 240
    4. Classic Beetle
    5. New Beetle

  • avatar

    Late 90s Pontiac Sunfire. Cheap to buy and maintain with plentiful spare parts found in any junk yard. They’re also lightweight with predictable (though not stellar) handling.

  • avatar

    People who contend that AWD is necessary have no concept of amateur motorsport with a class system. Like SCCA RallyCross, these events appear to be divided by drivetrain type. FWD is numerically faster than RWD in almost all cases. There’s no need to go AWD if that breaks the budget. You want cash left over to get the car running well, with good dampers and tires. The bulk of expense is not the car itself, but the prep and consumables.

    Your main goal is something reliable, preferrably with limited slip. If it doesn’t come with good diff, make sure the aftermarket offers one. I’d favor something lighter and physically smaller than maxxing out your horsepower. Driver capability is a huge decider, so you have to be comfortable tossing the car around over rough terrain.

    Remember, if you do this more than once as a lark and the rules allow it, stage rally tires are mainly available in 15″ and 14″ diameters. Whether you buy new or get them secondhand from rally teams, don’t count on them coming in other sizes. In cooler weather, snow tires are also effective and come in more sizes.

  • avatar

    Alright, 3rd attempt, no linking this time:

    #1: Jeep cherokee. There’s a 4.0/5-speed one on kijiji right now for $600 obo.

    #2: Mazda MX-3. Only because I like them, but also because there is one on kijiji that is show doing rallycross: $1,000

    #3: First-GEn Mazda MPV: because you can rallycross in your original cross-over.

    • 0 avatar

      I like these choices

      I had a new MX3 in 92, the GS with the 1.8 V6 is SO MUCH FUN

      Also you can find the MPV in 4 wheel drive. It just sounds so cool to ralley a minivan.

    • 0 avatar

      As the proud owner of a ’98 MPV 4wd, and an ’89 4cyl rwd MPV in the family, I can honestly say that it’s just about the worst possible choice for any kind of sport-oriented motoring. 4000+lb curb weight in my ’98 with 155hp from the V6, plus one of the highest centers of gravity around (I sit as high as Tahoes and Expeditions).

      I’d suggest a common older fwd car with a durable mcpherson front end and same for the rear (or torsion beam). Throw a set of snow tires on an old Corolla and have a ball! A civic’s double wishbone is more fragile, and in my experience, more expensive to repair. The upper control arms need to be replaced as a whole unit when the balljoint gets loose, and they cost $75 a pop. Having said that, my stock EF wagon handled like a gokart, with a brutally stiff suspension and zero body roll compared to my friends’ 95 Corolla and 98 Sentra. Very easy to toss around, something my family’s Fit cannot quite replicate.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve got a ’93 RWD v-6. I’d worry about the durability of the auto trans, but other than that, you can pull an easy 500 lbs out of a race-only car (I’m pretty sure the middle seat weighs 350#), and once you stuff some decent tires on them, they handle pretty o.k.

      • 0 avatar

        I suppose one area where the MPV wuld shine in such a venue would be the damn near unkillable suspension. Our 89 has been particularly abused on fire roads (my brother is an avid mountain biker) and all of the balljoints are original units! The struts were replaced not due to leaks, but the spring perches finally started rusting out after over 20 years. The ’98 has had a single lower balljoint replaced in 145k miles and 14 years, and has also seen its fair share of unpaved roads.

        The 2wd is has a significantly lower center of gravity and is lighter, especially the pre-96 models. The 89 feels pretty stable in cornering actually, night and day with the 98.

      • 0 avatar

        “I’d suggest a common older fwd car with a durable mcpherson front end and same for the rear (or torsion beam)”

        I smell a Tercel, theres youtube videos of people doing incredible jumps with those many times before anything breaks.

      • 0 avatar

        seconding the above recommendation that you concentrate on a widely available, relatively durable, FWD with snows. With 3 drivers and a limited budget, cost to repair is critical. The more runs you get the faster you’ll end up. It will break.

  • avatar

    Buy something light, cheap, and FWD. I’d suggest something with a carb so it’d be easier to work on and modify for racing.

    Old Mini Coopers were fine rally cars, yet they’re a bit pricey in the US so you’ll have to make due with something else.

    Also, try to keep the over-hand low, it makes it easier to shift a cars weight around.

    As far as FWDs vs AWDs go, well I heard of a guy who took out a stock K-Car Wagon on a trail and did better than a Subaru WRX, skill plays a bigger role in rallies than the cars.

    Personally, I’d hunt down a Tercel with FWD, and when I get good at rallying I’d grab an MR2.

    If you want something “interesting” try out a Mercedes, or an 80’s FWD TornadoRiviera with a V8. You won’t do well but you’ll be unique.

    Do not use a Samurai, they’re going for far too high of prices and you will end up in a ditch o the roof.

    “I can attest that left-foot braking quickly washes away the cries of “fail wheel drive” from those whose competition license are issued by Forza 3.”

    I really liked that line, especially after I’ve had to deal with a number of Forza fans. Great game but clueless fans.

  • avatar
    dasko Derek, $4,500 gets you an SVT focus. Time to go to the west end!

  • avatar

    Volvo. Why re-invent the wheel ? “Volvo” from the latin ‘to roll’…

  • avatar
    dasko and apparently someone put a turbo on a 323 sedan!

  • avatar
    dasko three grand will even get u a mazdaspeed protege! I look forward to reading what you get.

  • avatar

    Have you consulted with Murillee on this? That seems to be the obvious thing to do here. His depth of knowledge on cheap race cars is probably unmatched. Years as a LeMons judge will do that I think.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe no one has suggested either generation of AWD Celicas. They were designed for rallying, and you might be able to rescue one.

    It’s great that you guys are doing this.

  • avatar

    Saab 96 with the two stroke. You’ll smoke ’em.

  • avatar

    Rallying is really a European game with tremendous heritage, so if you are just having fun, I’d keep this as a focus.

    If I were in your shoes, with the criteria of cheap, available in Canada, some potential in rally-x and cool/different/rally heritage, I’d consider…


    1. Lada Samara
    2. Renault Alliance/Encore or LeCar (5)
    3. Skoda 120/130 (my personal weapon of choice)
    4. AMC Eagle SX4 (good call above)
    5. Some obscure watercooled VW (Dasher, Quantum, Mk.I Jetta)

    More Realistic in terms of availability/parts supply

    1. Volvo 240
    2. Mercedes W123
    3. Golf Mk.II GTI (sorry – great cars)
    4. beater 911
    5. Toyota Celica Alltrac (completely agree above)

    Any SAAB newer than a 99 is too fat & obvious, and Neons are just so lame its not even funny. A 323GTX is an awesome car, but parts/fragility would force it to be cut…

    There are tons of classics available with motorsport heritage – someone mentions the Amazon or a 142 which are super cars for the price, and so on and so forth, as is the 96 is V4 or 2-stroke garb…

  • avatar

    Cannot stress enough… No Proteges! While it’s a terrific auto crosser, especially in Mazdaspeed trim, the rear anti-roll bar is fragile in stock form, unless you reinforce it. While the rest of the McPherson rear is relatively robust compared to a Civic, it would be no fun finishing a run with one end of the roll bar dragging in the dirt.

    Sentra, Neon, good aftermarket… Strong motors…. Beam rear. Rinse, repeat.

    Although there is one guy who pants’d the competition in the local rallycross (mostly Evos and Subies) in a K20 FD Civic…

  • avatar

    Hard to pass up this Neon:

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “difficult to repair, unreliable and from a dead marque” I’ll interpret this as either, or

    My humble list:

    Isuzu Impulse RS, you got RS + AWD, be gentle with the drivetrain
    Asuna Sunfire, same as above but FWD and NA. This thing is light and turns
    Isuzu Stylus, same as above but with 4 doors.

    J-body, be it a Cavalier or Sunfire

    Swift, Firefly, Metro or whatever is called. If you’re geeky enough you’ll find that Subaru sold an AWD version of this in Europe and those small things can fly with the 1.3 DOHC engine.

    Saab 900 / 9-3. The first GM versions. I would like to see if they can be raced.

    The Golf option seems ok, I’d go for the MKIII because I like the looks.

    The 323GTX mentioned above sounds nice too.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the Ranger. It’s cheap, durable, RWD, and well represented in the you-pull-its. I know a pickup seems wrong but I was once one of a pack of turbo Subaru’s (mostly STI’s but I wasn’t the only weirdo) who got our collective butts handed to us by a competently driven Comanche in stock AWD.

  • avatar

    A Ranger? That’s… good potential. Get a two-door two-wheel drive with a simple helical LSD… reverse the rear springs and lower the sucker onto the stops… add some beefier shocks and you’re all set.

    (you may have seen this vid on Jalopnik, if not, it’s worth a laugh.

    This is basically a global Ranger with Mazda badges and a 3.0 turbodiesel.

  • avatar

    I could sell you my 98 Legacy GT it’s the unexpected Subaru…

  • avatar

    Hmm my username bias is going to show through here but

    1st gen turbo Mazda MX6 or Ford Probe.

    Also if you want something hard to find and guaranteed to break you can’t go wrong with a celica alltrac. I swear the damn things are cursed. fwd Celicas fairly reliable. MR2 turbos fairly reliable. Alltrac? broken all of them all the time, but rarely the AWD system itself which is really the only difference between the aforementioned vehicles. ergo the cars must just be cursed.

  • avatar

    I say go with the Subaru…

    There you go. Subaru heritage, uniqueness, and not sure how many parts you can source for it nowadays ;)

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