A total of 12 car manufacturers have already won the Rally of Portugal and 27 models form part of the glorious history of the event. We went in search of the 10 most special, a selection that will always be subjective...
With 55 years of history, the Rally of Portugal has seen several generations of cars which, as is natural, have evolved considerably over time.
Between the Renault 8 Gordini that gave José Carpinteiro Albino his first victory in the 1967 International TAP Rally and the Toyota Yaris WRC that Elfyn Evans used to be crowned on the top step of the podium at the 2021 Vodafone Rally of Portugal, there is much more than just 54 years between them. There is a world of mechanical and technological differences, which almost compels us to say that the only similarities between the two cars is that they both had four wheels, three pedals, and a steering wheel!
Within the range of the 27 models that have had the honour of stepping onto the podium at the event, some have become true legends.
The Lancia Delta (in 4WD, Integrale, Integrale 16V and HF Integrale ‘Deltona’ forms) holds the record for the greatest number of victories in the history of the Rally of Portugal. The Italian manufacturer secured five wins in 10 rallies in the third decade of the race and three full podiums in three editions (in one of them, in 1990, there were even seven Deltas in the top 10).
This helped to make the model an icon of the Portuguese race and the WRC. This was a dominance that extended far beyond the 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1992 editions of the Rally of Portugal, with six WRC Manufacturers' titles proving that the Delta was the model that best and fastest adapted to the new regulations after the abolition of Group B.
With one less victory in the event organised by the ACP, and despite representing different generations, the Fiat 131 Abarth and the Subaru Impreza also have a place, in their own right, among the most successful cars in the history of the event.
With about 230bhp, the Italian car was responsible for three of Markku Alén's five victories (in 1977, 1978, and 1981). Two of them were memorable: the one in 1978 (when the 131 won the epic Sintra night duel against Hannu Mikkola's Ford Escort RS1800) and, in 1981, when the Fiat tore off a wheel on the Sintra stage early in the rally and still triumphed. But, in 1980, the 131 Abarth also shone, only this time in the hands of Walter Röhrl, who historically beat Alén in the foggy dawn of Arganil.
The Subaru Impreza success story takes a different twist. It started by being linked to Group A's greatest exponent - when Carlos Sainz achieved his first victory in Portugal, in 1995, with Prodrive's Impreza 555.
It progressed through the first years of the World Rally Car, with triumphs for Colin McRae (1998) and Richard Burns (2000). After that, the Impreza only came back into the limelight in 2005, in ‘Group N’ mode, the year the race was first held in the Algarve (to start preparing the return to the WRC). Swedish driver Daniel Carlsson won at the wheel of one of four Grifone Imprezas that were used for guest drivers.
To talk about the most iconic cars at the Rally of Portugal without mentioning the Audi Quattro would be sacrilege. Three consecutive wins (in 1982 with Michèle Mouton - who in that rally became the first woman to win a WRC race - and in 1983 and 1984 with Hannu Mikkola) serve to justify the unique technical qualities, at the time, of the Ingolstadt model. It benefited from the combination of a powerful turbo engine and all-wheel drive that together produce a trump card that was hard to beat. Add to that the magical sound of the ‘five cylinder’ engine, which stirred emotions and made the ground tremble...
From the same generation, the Lancia Rally 037 made many rally fans fall in love with it and it still does today. This was despite the car never taking a victory in the Rally of Portugal - the best it managed was five podiums (1983 with Walter Röhrl; 1984 with Markku Alén and Attilio Bettega; 1985 with the contagious sound of Massimo Biasion and 1986 with Carlos Bica). Nicknamed ‘the road F1’ at the time, further success was cut short because it was two-wheel drive.
Because many of the leading pages in the history of the Rally of Portugal were written with the name ‘Lancia’, the Stratos HF cannot be forgotten either. All it took was an enlightening victory with a margin of almost three minutes by Sandro Munari, in 1976, to make it live on to this day in the memory of spectators, many of whom were intoxicated by its 260bhp V6 engine.
Both the Citroën C4 WRC (2007, 2009 and 2010 with Sébastien Loeb) and the Volkswagen Polo WRC (2013, 2014 with Sébastien Ogier and in 2015 with Jari-Matti Latvala) climbed to the highest place on the podium three times.
Both were confirmed at the highest echelon of their respective generations of World Rally Cars and both had been developed from scratch by and for Loeb (in the case of the C4) and by and for Ogier (in the case of the Polo). The cars matched the individual’s driving style perfectly, which explains much of the success of the car/driver pairings.
To complete the list of the 10 cars that have, perhaps, stood out the most in the Rally of Portugal, there is also room for the Toyota Celica and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. Each model also secured three wins in Portugal and one of the three respective victories was achieved by a Portuguese driver.
The Celica GT-4 took centre stage in 1991 for Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen won in 1994 with the Celica Turbo 4WD and Rui Madeira secured the win in 1996 in a Celica GT-Four. The Lancer shone in 1997 and 2001 with Tommi Mäkinen (Lancer Evo IV and Evo VI) and in 2006 with Armindo Araújo (Lancer Evo VIII MR Group N).