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Top 10 best BTCC cars ranked: Ford Capri, RS500, Mini and more

With the British Touring Car Championship returning to action at the start of August, take a look over the top 10 best cars from its illustrious history

John Cleland, Vauxhall Sport, Vauxhall Cavalier 16v.

The 63rd British Touring Car Championship will finally kick off at Donington Park at the start of August.

The series has had many different formats and regulations over the years, but each era has produced some outstanding cars.

For this list we looked at a number of factors, including how successful the candidates were, how important they were for the BTCC, and the drama and spectacle the machines provided. We also tried to spread the joy across the category's six decades.


10. Vauxhall Astra Coupe

BTCC wins: 62

The cut-price BTC-Touring era tends not to attract the attention and kudos of the exotic Super Tourers that preceded it. The cars were slower and many of the star names had gone, but it's hard to argue with the Astra Coupe's record during the period.

The Triple Eight Vauxhall was the class of the field for four seasons, taking 62 wins from 96 races - and that was despite not running at full throttle to help spice things up. It was punishingly effective.

Jason Plato (2001), James Thompson (2002 and 2004) and Yvan Muller (2003) took the drivers' titles in the car and put on some fine battles, but four other drivers also scored wins in the Astra Coupe. It even helped launch the tin-top career of future World Touring Car star Andy Priaulx, thanks to a cameo at Oulton Park in 2001.

PLUS: The tin-top champion who doesn't know the meaning of retirement

It wasn't the most spectacular car, but the Astra Coupe got the BTCC through a tough time and helped the championship move onto a better footing in the second half of the decade.

9. Rover SD1

BTCC wins: 39 (12 for 3.5 V8, 27 for Vitesse)

The big Rover ended the Group 1 Ford Capri's reign at the front of the BTCC (or British Saloon Car Championship as it was previously known) and was only made obsolete in Group A by the arrival of the Ford RS500 in 1987.

The 3.5-litre V8 won every round in 1983 and rising star Steve Soper was crowned champion until being disqualified for his Tom Walkinshaw Racing machine running adjustable rockers.

The Rover then won nine of the 11 rounds the following year, when Andy Rouse took his third BTCC title with a Vitesse.

The Vitesse's final victory - and class title - came with then BTCC rookie Tim Harvey in 1987.

"I couldn't have had a better first car in touring cars because it was a big, friendly lovely beast," said Harvey in 2018. "It was the perfect combination of grip, power and noise, and on-the-limit handling. It was a good car in the wet.

"It was a well-balanced car, very progressive on the limit, not stiff and snappy, but it still reacted very well to driver input. It was a very easy car to get in."

8. Vauxhall Cavalier

BTCC wins: 19

Exotic gamechanger v homegrown stalwart. This spot could have gone to the Alfa Romeo 155 that brought front splitters and rear wings to the BTCC in 1994, but the Italian car was surpassed by the opposition almost as quickly as it had moved the goalposts.

The Vauxhall Cavalier arrived before the RS500s had left the BTCC and was still a championship contender after the Alfa had faded into the background.

The early Dave Cook Engineering versions took on the BMW M3 - another strong candidate for this list - in the-two litre category in 1990, John Cleland finishing second in Class B to Frank Sytner. Cleland was then in the overall title fight for the next two years, with Vauxhall pipping BMW to manufacturer honours in 1992.

The Cavalier was overshadowed by foreign invaders in 1993 (BMW) and 1994 (Alfa), the year RML took over the project. But Cleland knew the bewinged 1995 version was right from the moment he tested it and six victories helped him finish comfortably clear of Renault driver Alain Menu in the drivers' championship. There were eight other factory-supported teams in the BTCC that season.

The Cavalier was replaced by the Vectra in 1996, but the newer car never got near the record of its predecessor and is not remembered as fondly.

7. Mini

BTCC wins: 10

Alec Issigonis's iconic design probably launched more tin-top careers than any other. Its accessibility and giant-killing reputation also helped make it a fan favourite, a following it maintains to this day.

The Mini never actually won a BTCC race against the bigger-engined opposition (its outright wins were limited to days when the various classes were split into separate races), but it invariably punched above its weight. And the championship's scoring system, which gave as many points for a class win as outright victories, helped the Mini to a string of drivers' titles.

John Whitmore took the 1000cc and overall crowns in 1961 with an Austin Mini Seven and he was followed by John Love (1962), Alec Poole (1969) and Richard Longman (1978-79, with the 1275 GT) as Mini-driving BTCC champions.

"We had trouble making the tyres last," said Longman in 2018. "We had to make the car very unstable at the start, with lots of oversteer, so it would be quick at the end.

"It was quite a frantic struggle but eventually we won."

Aside from its success, the Mini also helped set the template for many subsequent tin-tops, having proved the worth of front-wheel drive.

6. Honda Civic (FK2 NGTC)

BTCC wins: 66

The whole point of the Next Generation Touring Car regulations was to keep costs under control and the field close. Nearly a decade since they were introduced, you'd have to say that those rules have been hugely successful, but some cars have still shone brighter than others.

Despite so many spec parts, there have been dominant periods from the BMW 125i M Sport, Subaru Levorg GT and BMW 330i M Sport, and Honda's FK2 Civic has to be considered the NGTC machine.

Introduced in 2012, the Civic in hatchback, Touring (nee estate) and Type R forms - has won 66 races, as well as four drivers' titles with ex-works ace Gordon Shedden and Eurotech/Pirtek star Andrew Jordan.

Shedden, Jordan and Matt Neal have scored 56 of those 66 victories, but six other drivers have also crossed the line first in the FK2-model contender. It's almost certainly the best privateer BTCC machine of the 2010s.

An emphasis on aerodynamics and grip made the car almost unbeatable at some circuits, such as Thruxton, and the championship's boost adjustments sometimes had to be at their most draconian to keep the Team Dynamics-built cars in check.

The FK8 model has proved successful, but it has yet to reach the heights of its long-lasting predecessor, which could still add to its success in 2020 thanks to the MB Motorsport entries of Sam Osborne and Jake Hill.

5. Chevrolet Camaro

BTCC wins: 53

The mighty seven-litre Ford Galaxie deserves credit for starting the V8 invasion of the BTCC and ending Jaguar's domination. The legendary Mustang then took over, but it's Ford's big rival - Chevrolet - that created the most successful heavy metal of the era.

The first Camaro win came in 1969 and the successes didn't stop until the big bangers were outlawed at the end of 1975.

The idiosyncratic points system - which rewarded class winners as richly as overall success - meant titles were few and far between, but Frank Gardner took his Camaro to the outright crown in 1973.

"I loved the Camaros and they did well for us," said leading Camaro exponent Stuart Graham in 2018.

"It was a good-handling car. People thought it was just about having more power than anything else, but it's no good if you can't get it around the corners. We could corner just as quickly as the smaller cars."

Brakes tended to wilt under the strain of stopping the 450+bhp monster, but by then the rest of the field was usually too far behind.

"The Camaro was underestimated in period," added Graham. "By 1975 there was nothing that could touch it."

4. Ford Lotus Cortina

BTCC wins: 7

Jim Clark hurling a Ford Lotus Cortina around a British circuit, often on three wheels, is one of the championship's legendary images, nearly six decades after the car appeared.

The 1600cc machine, which Clark helped to develop with Colin Chapman and Harry Mundy, was one of the first super saloons and immediately dominated its class. More than that, it was capable of taking on the V8 hordes for overall honours, though the great Clark scored all seven of the Cortina's outright BTCC victories.

Its relatively light weight, enthusiastic engine and excellent chassis made it a potent weapon and the Cortina has become a pacesetting and popular mainstay in historic tin-top competition.

Historic ace Simon Hadfield, who has scored many wins in Cortinas, believes it is a car that improves the driver too: "It's like a Formula Ford with a bodyshell; you've got to keep momentum up. You can slide the car into the corner, but you can't really slide one out because you're losing time.

"With the Cortina you have to do it right - if you make a mistake it kills your momentum. You have to get better. Every lap, every corner, matters."

For Clark, who won Class B every time out in 1964 to take the overall drivers' title, it just made a nice change from F1. "I had a lot of fun on these occasions," he wrote in his autobiography Jim Clark - At The Wheel.

"It was a great relief to find that I could still enjoy light-hearted dicing after the tremendous strain of grand prix battles."

PLUS: The best drives of a lost F1 great

3. Nissan Primera

BTCC wins: 25

What was the greatest car of the Super Touring era? The Ford Mondeo could make a pretty strong claim, Prodrive's reputed £10-12million budget netting a 1-2-3 result in the final BTCC season run to those regulations. The cars were absolute engineering gems too.

The Renault Laguna was arguably the Super Tourer with the longest period of sustained success, first winning in 1994 and taking its 36th and last victory at Silverstone in 1999. But the car that gets the nod is the one that dominated that final season before the manufacturer exodus.

Ford, Honda, Renault, Vauxhall and Volvo were all still involved in 1999 when the RML-run Nissan Primeras of BTCC debutant Laurent Aiello and David Leslie swept to 13 wins from 26 races, and finished first and second in the drivers' championship.

The first Primera win had come courtesy of Janspeed and Kieth O'dor in 1993, but it was the RML version of 1998 that made Nissan a major BTCC player. Anthony Reid won seven times - more than anyone else - and could have been champion had it not been for some early-season engine issues.

"The Primera was the best Super Tourer I've ever driven," Reid told Autosport in 2012. "I developed the car from the outset in 1996 when we were racing for Nissan Motorsport Europe in the German championship.

"In hindsight one of my regrets was not staying in 1999, but I knew there was only one more year on the contract and Ford offered me two years on very good terms."

Reid drove the Mondeo for two years, but prefers the Nissan: "I never had quite the confidence in the Mondeo that I had in the Primera."

The Primera was so good that privateers could compete with the best of the factory opposition. Matt Neal famously won at Donington Park in 1999, scooping £250,000, and added to his tally at Brands Hatch the following year.

2. Ford Capri

BTCC wins: 61 wins

Once the big-capacity American V8s had been banned at the end of 1975, the three-litre Ford Capri (in Mk2 and then Mk3 forms) was the pacesetter until the 3.5-litre Rover SD1 got into its stride in 1982.

Gordon Spice was the Capri king and took six class titles, but the opposition from drivers such as Andy Rouse, Tom Walkinshaw and Vince Woodman meant he always missed out on the overall crown to dominators in the smaller-engined classes.

"Each year they got a bit better because Ford was quite good at homologating the bits we needed," Spice told Autosport in 2018. "It was a very, very easy car to drive - that was the secret of it. It was almost idiot-proof.

"You could drive it any style you wanted. You could drive it completely sideways. That was slow, the quick way was not to hang the tail out."

The Capri was accessible, sounded good and looked cool. Few BTCC cars have been more popular with the wider public.

1. Ford RS500

BTCC wins: 40

The Super Touring era remains the high-water mark of the BTCC, but no single car stands out. That's the point - the 1990s were highly competitive and the advantage swung back and forth between the leading players.

But there's no doubt about the BTCC car of Group A. The Ford RS500 took its first win in the series at Donington Park in September 1987 and no other car would win a BTCC round until the arrival of the single-class two-litre era at the beginning of 1991.

PLUS: The greatest touring car of all time

All other Class A cars became obsolete and almost every runner made the switch. That could have resulted in things becoming a bit boring - and the battling was not as dramatic as it would be in the 1990s - but the cars themselves made up for that.

The RS500, which had twin injectors and a bigger intercooler than the RS Cosworth that preceded it, produced more than 500bhp. It also had relatively skinny tyres and a centre of gravity higher than was ideal. It always had more power than grip, making the sideways, flame-spitting Ford turbocar one of the most spectacular tin-tops of all time.

"As a racing car, probably the Rover SD1 was better, but in terms of fun the RS500 was unparalleled," said Harvey, who won two races in the RS500's heyday before going on to win the title in 1992. "560bhp and 175mph was pretty exciting."

There were some legendary liveries too - Andy Rouse's Kaliber machine, Harvey's Labatt's car, Steve Soper's Texaco-liveried, Eggenberger-run example - and the fight between Rouse and Soper at Brands Hatch in 1988 remains one of the BTCC's best-remembered moments.

PLUS: The touring car great who never won the BTCC

The RS500 was defeated elsewhere by the awesome R32 Nissan Skyline, but that car never made it to the BTCC.

There have been better British Touring Cars than Ford's RS500, but none greater.

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