Friday favourite: Peugeot’s Group B gold standard that began Kankkunen’s legend

Drivers always have a soft spot for machines that deliver a maiden world title and that’s exactly why World Rally Championship legend Juha Kankkunen lists the Peugeot 205 T16 as his favourite car.

Kankkunen’s pick, which carried him to the first of four world titles in 1986, is arguably one of the WRC’s most revered vehicles. The Peugeot 205 T16 embodied the pinnacle of the infamous, dangerous and downright bonkers Group B era that spanned 1983 to 1986.

Peugeot, then led by Jean Todt, debuted the 205 T16 midway through the 1984 season and made a strong impression by winning three of the year’s final four rallies. It began life producing 350 horsepower but by the time Kankkunen arrived on the scene in 1986 – having impressed Peugeot management with breakthrough wins in Kenya and the Ivory Coast for Toyota in 1985 – the fire-breathing E2 version was launched. Huge wings and noticeable front aero devices enhanced a chassis whose 1.8-litre turbo-charge engine now delivered 500 horsepower.

The car won back-to-back manufacturers titles in 1985-86, winning 13 of the 25 rallies across those two seasons between Ari Vatanen, Timo Salonen, Bruno Saby and Kankkunen.

“This was my first title and you always remember the first one. Those cars were made for serious drivers,” Kankkunen tells “It was nice to drive but at the time there was a lot of danger, it was physically very hard and you had to think about driving a lot because you could destroy the tyres in five kilometres if you went flat out.

“Back then you had 30km and 50km stages. There was much more tactical driving than nowadays.”

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Kankkunen enjoyed the challenge of driving the fearsome, unsophisticated Group B machine

Kankkunen would enjoy a solitary season behind the wheel when he was drafted into the team in 1986 as a replacement for Vatanen – injured in a Rally Argentina crash that effectively handed the 1985 crown to Salonen. It was a season of success for the Finn in extremely difficult circumstances following the tragic deaths of Lancia superstar Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto in Corsica that triggered a call to end Group B rules at the end of the year.

Kankkunen tamed the 205 T16 on his way to wins in Sweden, Greece (Acropolis) and New Zealand, although his maiden world title wasn’t without controversy after the Peugeots were disqualified from the Sanremo Rally. A dispute initially arose from a timekeeping error that, when corrected, put the Peugeots further ahead of the Italian Lancia squad. Its boss Cesare Fiorio then suggested to stewards that the 205s were running unauthorised aerodynamic underbody sills.

Lancia’s Alen won the final round – the Olympus Rally in the USA – and briefly was declared champion, only for governing body FISA (now FIA) to annul the Sanremo results 11 days later, handing Kankkunen the last world title of the Group B era.

“I’m very happy with what I achieved during my career. I wouldn’t like to change even a day” Juha Kankkunen

After joining Lancia, Kankkunen successfully defended his world crown as Group A dawned for 1987 before claiming two more titles in 1991 and 1993 with Lancia and Toyota respectively. The Finn retired from full-time competition at the end of 2002, three years after claiming the last of his 23 WRC rally wins for Subaru on the 1999 Rally Finland, and remains a regular attendee of WRC events working as a Toyota ambassador.

“I’m very happy with what I achieved during my career. I wouldn’t like to change even a day,” adds Kankkunen, who also drove for Ford and Hyundai in his lengthy career. “I mean, there were bad days, but they belong to rally and that is how it is. I managed to drive for the best teams and drive the best cars. I had a very good career.”

As for the outlawed 205 T16, it was adapted to take on the rigours of the Paris-Dakar Rally and did so with great success. A recovered Vatanen and Kankkunen led Peugeot to back-to-back successes in 1987 and 1988 respectively, while it won four straight European Rallycross Division 2 titles courtesy of Seppo Niittymaki and Matti Alamaki between 1987 and 1990.

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Kankkunen remembers his first world title fondly despite the controversy and tragedy that dogged 1986

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