Budget conscious rally options
2wd with cheap and plentiful shells and parts are critical to getting on stage in a cost effective manner
So you've decided that you want to get into the world of rally. Whether you're starting with rallycross, rallysprint or full blown stage rally, you're going to chew up some parts and depending on your level of involvement, and commitments to both speed and reliability, you're also going to find cars expendable. As you gain experience you'll have learning experiences, this lessons often come with moments where poo may come out, some will have offs, others proper stuffs. Going with a 2wd platform allows for these moments to occur at lower speeds with lower coefficients of grip, increasing the ability of potentially executing a corrective countermeasure and decreasing the potential for a catastrophic shunt.
So let's take a moment to look are some possible cost effective 2WD options to serve as possible starting points for you rally build. We'll start with FWD options as they are more plentiful than RWD options, which we'll get to addressing. One thing to consider in selecting a rally chassis is the availability of a limited slip differential, whether it be OEM, available from the OE parts bin and a simple swap, or within the aftermarket. Next consider suspension travel, the strength of suspension arms, mounting points, hubs, wheel bearings and the availability of replacement parts. Next is interior space, I subscribe to Chapman's idea of simplifying via lightness, but you'll need chassis strength in rally, and space for you and a co-driver, a mounted spare tire, a small toolbox, a spill-kit, triangles and possibly even a small assortment of secured spare parts. With that in mind sub compact hatchbacks fit the bill quite nicely with starting points available from below $1,000 for rough examples in need of attention stemming from years of neglect and deferred maintenance and going up to over $20k USD for the latest and greatest in direct injected turbo hot hatch goodness.
Focusing on the bottom end of the cost spectrum does little in restricting a wide range of potential options. MK2 VW Golfs and GTIs have been popular and proven their merit on stage for decades. 1st generation 16v Neons provide a cheap and plentiful starting point with a surprisingly good suspension. BG chassis Mazdas (90-94 proteges, 323s and MX3s), Ford escorts and ZX2 of the same vintage and 1st generation Kia Sephias provide parts sharing, a well supported 1.8L dohc engine option that shares internals with the MX-5 making for a rich aftermarket and a homebrew limited slip option is available to those patient and creative enough to source a mishmash of components across platforms (BJ MSP limited slip into the sephia gearbox utilizing the KIA axles will swap into a BG chassis; similar tricks are available amongst many of the platforms mentioned in this piece). Early Civics (EP3 and earlier), Preludes, Integras and RSXs from Honda make reliable power, have a healthy aftermarket, handle well make for easy engine swaps have lots of OE limited slip differentials to source, but suffer from a lack of suspension travel when compared to other options. Hyundai Accents and Elantras shouldn't be overlooked. Some of the early 2.0L options share components with Mitsubishi's 4G63 and their 1.5L Alpha motor is boostfriendly, however the aftermarket is lacking. B13 chassis Nissan Sentras are an excellent starting point, if you can source one that isn't plagued by terminal rust. The transmission from one in SE-R guise provides and excellent limited slip differential option and SR20DETcan be swapped in and provides power potential for beyond what can effectively delivered through the front wheels on dirt. Saabs provide options for those who love silly levels of boost, mountains of suspension travel and quirkiness. Ford Focuses, particularly in ZX3 Duratec guise, make for an excellent plentiful option with 200+HP available while remaining naturally aspirated if sourcing a Cosworth developed intake manifold and aftermarket camshafts. Limited slip differentials are available as are full sequential gearboxes for the platform. Such gearboxes are also available for the before mentioned BG chassis cars and Honda options. Even though some parties will think of these platforms as starter cars, they can be developed to proper levels of professional level performance and reliability as it pertains to suspension, engine, transmission, safety and engine management. When developed to that level their performance potential will be able to exceed the driving capabilities for those of us not named Blomqvist or Mackinen.
For RWD options, without compromising suspension design or geometry, on a budget there's really one. The 240. No, not the energy drink swilling drift kid 240, the Swedish Brick variation. Perceived as cheap, slow, heavy, safe and plentiful the Volvo 240 has plenty of tricks up it's sleeve stemming from parts sharing and 19 years of development. First of which is that by modern standards, it's not that heavy. The 244 sedan weighs roughly 2800lb, stout in 1982, but a mere 80lb more than current Ford featherweight fighter, the Fiesta ST. Secondly, the rear end is Dana 30. This means that gear ratios, lockers, limited slips and spools are cheap and plentiful as the Dana 30 is also utilized in a number of Jeep applications. In fact you can go with gearing as bonkers short as a 5.38 in the back of your 240 if you choose to. In fact 3.70, 3.93, 4.11, 4.27, 4.56, 4.88 and 5.38s are all available for about $200 USD new. Next there is the cross parts sharing of Volvo B series, redblock, engines. From 16v head swaps to OE turbo bits, the ability to create your own boost monster is limited by your ability and patience to source parts and imagination. 16V motors from 700 and 900 series cars are an easy swap and B23T motors provide for OE turbo manifolds. The bonus of boosting your 240 is that it provides the opportunity to rewire the car, a weakpoint of theirs, when upgrading to a modern standalone engine management. Utilizing engine mounting components from the 960 one can even swap modern volvo whiteblock motors into their 240s. Fancy a modern T5 or T6 motor into a vintage 240? It can be done. Finally, the suspension on the 240 is magical, it's as if it was developed for rally. With nearly a foot of suspension travel stock and aftermarket suppliers such as Kaplhenke and IPD having developed solutions relating to increasing and quickening steering angle, correcting roll control issues, adjustable trailing arms, race spec control arms. These aspects of the 240 make it so not only can you select the power output that you desire for your rally endeavors, but you can tailor your 240s gearing to best match the delivery of your chosen powerplant and forced induction system and build a suspension for it that will soak up the bumps and jumps allowing you to keep the hammer down while sliding sideways through the woods. If you want to enjoy the visceral experience and challenge of rallying a rear-wheel drive platform, the Volvo 240 is truly unmatched.