This week’s Retropower Hero is something of an odd ball in that it never actually turned a wheel in anger. The car, the Toyota MR2 222D, was a victim of the wide spread alarm that swept the world in the wake of the tragic Group B accidents of 1986, and as a result was never given the chance to prove its worth. However, the fact remains that the 222D was among the most technically advanced cars of its ilk, built to contest the cancelled Group S rally series, and with a hefty budget to back it up. It could well have been a world beater, we’ll never know, but that doesn’t stop it qualifying as a bonafide Retropower Hero.
Group S could well be motorsport’s ultimate ‘what if,’ if only because it had the potential to blend the best bits of Group B, the category it was slated to replace from 1988, with a greater focus on safety and control, both on the development of the cars themselves and the manufactures building them. There were to be far tighter controls on the use and size of aerodynamic devices, and, in the wake of the Group B incidents a minimum weight of 1000kg and restrictions on both the kind of materials used and a greater emphasis on fire prevention (though a space-frame, mid-engined layout was still considered de rigour).
Group S has since attained a kind of mythical status amongst rally folk, not least because a huge amount of confusion surrounds the category, its rules and the cars which would have competed within it. Much of this is down to the category’s convoluted development path, the rules underpinning it morphing in line with the ever expanding performance of the Group B cars. The result was that performance was steadily pegged back by a succession of revisions, and a nominal power output limit of 300bhp was eventually agreed upon in the wake of 1986, not to mention carefully written regulations concerning restrictor plates for forced induction cars and the aforementioned minimum weight.
What is known is that a mere 10 evolution cars would have had to have been built for homologation to have been granted, a tiny number and music to the ears of mass market car makers. This was intended to enable relatively small firms like Lada, Skoda and Mazda (all of whom had begun work on potential Group S programmes) to fight the likes of Peugeot, Audi and Toyota on something resembling an even footing. In essence Group S bore more than a passing resemblance to the World Rally Car rules introduced in 1997, the very same regulations the WRC has been run under ever since .
Toyota got closer to producing a viable Group S championship contender than most, and its 222D is arguably the best known of them all – which isn’t saying a great deal, as Group S has been almost totally forgotten by all but the most ardent of rally fans. It remains a tantalising remnant, a fragment from a bygone motorsport age and a fully paid up ‘what might’ve been.’
Initially conceived under Group B regs, the 222D was developed with 3 different engines (in both transverse and longitudinal locations), in both four and rear-wheel drive layouts, and with most of the completed prototypes having genuine 700bhp power potential, though this would of course had have to have been pegged at ‘just’ 300bhp. It says much about Toyota’s commitment to World Rallying and desire to enhance its public image at the time that it was willing to green light a multitude of different versions of the same car, all in an attempt to ensure it was competitive from the off.
The trio of engines being considered by TTE’s top brass in Cologne are worth looking at in greater detail, if only as they give a fascinating insight into the mindset of Toyota as a company and their wider interest in world motorsport at the time.
A mystery V6 engine was reportedly mooted early on in the project but was ultimately abandoned, probably once TTE fully grasped the potential benefits of forced induction on smaller CC engines. This left a pair of engines, both of which had been fitted to competition cars in the recent past, the 1.8 4T-GTE and 2.2 503E. The former was a known quantity having served TTE so well in the Celica Twin-Cam Turbo, while the latter, a real animal of an engine capable of at least 800bhp, had seen active service in the ill-fated (though undoubtedly pokey) Toyota 88C Group C racer.
There remains some confusion as to which engine was most likely to get ‘the nod,’ with some sources suggesting that the latter Group C motor was never truly in the frame, and that it may only have been installed at a later date as means of getting the car mobile for show appearances. Whatever the truth of the matter, a trio of 222Ds have survived to this day, two black and one white. They showcase both the longitudinally mounted 4T-GTE and the transverse mounted 503E, with the latter car the example most commonly seen at shows and events.
In line with all Group S projects, the 222D had very little in common with the Mk1 MR2 being flogged throughout the Toyota dealer network, and made full use of advanced composites in its construction, giving it a kerb weight of just 750kg – meaning it would have to have had ballast added to comply with the 1000kg minimum required by the Group S regulations.
It had become abundantly clear that all-wheel drive was very much the way to go for any car maker planning on WRC success by this point in time, but that didn’t prevent Toyota from experimenting with both rear and four-wheel drive 222D variants. The inclusion of the former in such a forward looking programme might at first seem a tad perplexing, but then it’s worth remembering that the 222D programme was commenced in the mid ‘80s. This meant that while differential technology had undoubtedly come a long way in a remarkably short span of time it was still a far cry from the seamless, technological tour-de-forces the WRC world would adopt a decade later. The two-wheel drive 222D would almost certainly have been a dedicated tarmac car.
An extended development period, at least for a Group S prototype, meant that the spec of the 222D altered in line with how the World Rally Championship (and the potential regulations governing Group S itself) were evolving. This explains the other, all-wheel drive variant, complete with one of Mike Endean’s Xtrac all-wheel drive systems. These had proved so adept in Rallycross earlier in the ‘80s, and which would go onto form a key component in TTE’s all conquering Celica ST185 Group A rally programme.
Again, it’s hard to know what how well the 222D would’ve done given the chance, as there’s just so much we don’t know, both about its ultimate spec and the class it would have competed in. That being said, given how competitive TTE became as the ‘90s progressed you’d have been very brave to bet against the MR2 being a contender at the very least.