Some corners of motorsport are designed to pit the fastest road cars on earth against one another to see which manufacturer can take home performance plaudits.
Inevitably, such stakes prompt the world’s top brands to find ways to beat the rulebook, often by producing some seriously impressive machinery on licence plates.
The history of these road cars built to appease racing rulebooks is lengthy and diverse – here are some prime picks from the history of homologation specials.
The ‘90s were a renaissance period for GT racing, with manufacturers throwing millions at the then-new FIA GT Championship and the legendary Le Mans 24 Hour race.
The CLK-GTR is powered by a 6.9-litre V12 engine, and later a 7.3-litre version, the ultra-low slung, mid-engined sportscar only shared the grille and headlamp design with the standard CLK. In every possible sense of the cliché, this supercar with a limited run of 35 production cars was a racer for the road.
When it comes to homologation specials, there are very few badges that have made as much of an impact as the M3.
The M3 arrived as BMW’s answer to the Group A touring car regulations, which were starting to come into their own by the mid-‘80s.
While the likes of Ford’s Sierra RS500 were contemporaries for the M3, nothing took on a road car life quite like the BMW — which would go on to become the most famous sports saloon of all-time, and truly cement the marque’s straight-six engine as an icon for enthusiasts.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
With Mitsubishi’s Galant starting to lose out to others in the World Rally Championship, the Japanese marque debuted the first Lancer Evolution, which heralded a golden era of the sport with Subaru, Ford and Toyota serving as the primary challengers.
Much like its fellow Japanese hyper-saloons, the Impreza and the Skyline GT-R, the value of the ‘Evo’ lineage extended beyond its homologation purpose, and the model would soldier on for several years after the marque pulled out of the sport. It would ultimately bow out after the tenth variant.
The Lancia 037 is the ‘80s follow-up to the Stratos, and, if the Stratos is considered extreme, then the Group B-homologated 037 is almost lethal.
With an ultra-light Kevlar body and a mid-mounted 2.0-litre supercharged inline-four engine the 037 was a brutal machine. Just 207 lucky owners got to experience this rear-wheel drive beast, whose 0-60mph time of 5.4 seconds is highly impressive given it only had 205bhp on tap.
Ferrari 250 GTO
When a car can sell for $70m, you know it’s special.
The Ferrari 250 GTO, of which only 36 were ever built, consistently makes headlines today as the star of many high-profile auctions.
In 1962, the GTO – ‘Gran Turismo Omologata’ – was making headlines as a highly successful racer, with the glorious styling aiding its reputation too. Ultimately, the 250 GTO would become a defining image of how a grand tourer should look.
In May, a 250 GTO sold for $70,000,000 (£53,770,500), becoming the world’s most expensive car sold at auction.
Another mid-engined Group B special, the RS200 is one of the most spectacular cars of the mid-80s halcyon era of rallying.
With 237bhp on tap from a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, the power figures – once again – pale compared to the car’s reputation, however, 0-60mph in five seconds will certainly silence any doubters it may have.
The genesis of the M badge – does anything else really need to be said?
The M1 was built as a homologation special for the Group 4 sportscar regulations, which, in an unfortunate twist, were heading towards the end of its lifespan by the time the car was produced.
The 3.5-litre, 273bhp straight-six in the M1 became the cornerstone for the M models for years to come. The M1 stands out as quite possibly the most refined road-going supercar of the 1970s.
Porsche 911 GT1 ‘Strassenversion’
In 1996, the GT racing scene was coming into its own, with cars of all shapes and sizes hitting the track, and the McLaren F1 heading the way. However, when Porsche arrived with the 911 GT1, everything changed.
The 911 GT1 was, in essence, a parts bin project, with heavy borrowing from the Porsche 962 Group C car, and a smattering of 993, and later 996-esque parts to convince the governing bodies that the car was in fact based on a 911.
A limited run of 22 street versions, complete with the race car’s twin-turbo 3.2-litre flat-six, rolled off the production line between 1996 and 1997.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Nissan phased out the GT-R badge in 1973 after the demand for ‘hot’ Skylines slowed due to an oil crisis. It came back 16 years later in spectacular fashion with the R32. The all-wheel drive super saloon was built for Group A racing, but like so many great homologation cars, took on a life of its own.
Well beyond fighting the likes of the M3, the RS500 and Mercedes’ 190E on-track, the GT-R quickly became a supercar killer in road and race form, and cemented itself as one of the most iconic performance cars of all-time.
Dodge Charger Daytona
As far as muscle cars go, it doesn’t get much more outlandish than this.
As aerodynamic devices became the hot new thing in motor racing, some outlandish designs came to the fore – NASCAR was no exception.
This low-drag, high-winged Charger was sold in a very limited run to make it eligible for stock car competition – just 503 examples of the 375bhp brute were built, and auction listings have gone as high as $900,000 (£691,560) thus far.
Lancia Delta HF Integrale
After Group B was banned from rallying after 1986, there was something of a scramble to find its replacement.
The Group A regulations would ultimately be adopted for rallying, and Lancia became dominant with its Delta 4×4 models.
The rallying prowess would translate to the road with the later HF Integrale variants, which are among the most sought-after hot hatches on the market today. With 212bhp at the end of its life, a well-sorted chassis and a brilliantly boxy exterior, it’s no surprise that the Integrale continues to be lusted after nearly 30 years on.