Giocattolo Group B

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What would you build if you could? What creation would you design, cut, weld, and will into existence? 

For me, it'd be an ultra low-drag Colani 2CV-esque body, Citroën 2CV chassis, and a Sparrow Automotive 1200cc BMW R Series flat-twin motorcycle engine conversion kit. It'd be a great commuter car—the Colani low-drag body achieved 1.7L/100km (138 US MPG). It'd be a fun track car—the engine will push an otherwise mostly normal 2CV to, well, hang with E36 BMW M3s at track days.

For many, a dream car must move quickly. But a stable quick, like the Nissan GT-R? A ferocious quick, like a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 or Shelby GT500? Or a nimble quick, like an Ariel Atom?

In 1986, in the era of red-coloured wiper blades and zig-zag antenna, Australian millionaire and daredevil Paul Halstead decided that his idea of quick meant a bit of all three. 

The Alfa Romeo Sprint was, in a classic sense, a car in the same class as the modern Scion FR-S. Light weight, good handling, and small four-cylinder engines meant it was prized by those who sought a car that gave simple, relatively inexpensive fun.

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Problem: the Sprint wasn't very quick. 

For the power hungry, the very best engines available anywhere in 1988—if you'd already deemed an Alfa Romeo V6 to be too expensive and still too slow—would probably boil down to a few exotic European V12s or a tuned American V8.

Australia knows V8s. And in 1988, Holden's 5.0-litre Group A V8 was a special engine. It was even more special after the legendary Tom Walkinshaw race team seriously modified them.

The trick piece was a twin throttle body inlet manifold, with a smaller and larger throttle body featuring restrictor plates. Remove the plates, and you've got 50 free horsepower, for a total of more than 300. (Hey, this is 1988 after all.)

My favourite feature of the Giocattolo? Its tool kit included a small bottle of rum. Yes. A bottle of rum. Why? If you needed to call a tow truck, you might as well have a snort or two.

The Giocattolo—or "toy" in Italian—was beginning to take shape. Keep the weight low, power high, and size it like a short-wheelbase Audi Quattro. 

Even with rear-wheel-drive, the mid-engined design still allowed for great handling. It weighed only 1085 kg—less than 2400 lbs. It could match the performance of its supercar contemporaries, the Lamborghini Countach LP500S and Porsche 911 Turbo.

Mechanically, the engine cradle, suspension, brakes, and bodywork were heavily modified to match the engine. Kevlar and carbon fibre featured as well—the hood, bulkhead, and other parts were made in this then-exotic material.

Much like its late 1980s tuning company contemporaries like Ruf, Alpine, and AMG, the interior was trimmed in fine leather, the gauges were updated, and electronic gizmos were fitted.

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You probably haven't heard of this beast for very good reason: 15 were made. Twelve survive to this day—one of the V8-powered cars was recently destroyed in a fatal crash at Eastern Creek Raceway in 2001.

All of this said, the Group B wasn't the only failed performance car inspired by Group B, and it wasn't even the only mid-engined car based on the Alfa Romeo Sprint.

But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading