My first time seeing the Metro 6R4 was at the Shell Donegal International Rally in 1985. We’d missed the Friday, but made it down for the Saturday morning. After watching the Atlantic Drive stage, we made it across to Kindrum just in time to see James McDaid having a huge crash in his Opel Ascona 400 at the famous yump at Massmount Chapel. We stayed for the second pass, and as the 00s made their way through the stage, I heard a car approach, sounding like nothing I’d ever heard before. In a flash of blue and white the noise stayed in the air as the car disappeared. The assembled spectators decided it must have been John Price in his Renault 5 Turbo, but no one was quite sure. As we made our way into service at the Mart in Milford, I could see a crowd gathered round a car. This needed to be investigated. What a sight! The spoilers and wings sprouting out of this rally car were like nothing I had seen before. Closer inspection revealed the engine was in the back!!!! As Tony and Rob jumped into the car to leave service, the engine roared into life, and I knew immediately this was what all rally cars should sound like! The following week whilst watching the RPM coverage of the rally, Plum Tyndall was interviewing Pond after his retirement. With a twitch of his moustache he explained he’d had to stop as the throttle had jammed open, and with the gearing the car had a maximum top speed of 147mph……..
The story behind the Metro is a story of what might have been. It started in late 1980 early 1981, when John Davenport in the then British Leyland team decided that four wheel drive was the future. He approached the Williams Formula one team to help with the design. The decision was to go with a large capacity normally aspirated engine, and the engineers settled on a 3.0litre V6 power plant. The initial prototype was tested in 1983 and this was mainly done behind closed doors. By 1984 the prototype was launched to the press and it already had the mid-engine layout. This was debuted on small UK events, and was instantly fast but prone to mechanical problems. In May 1985 the finished car, complete with a new aero package, was given the go ahead by the now renamed Austin Rover Team, with 200 of the cars needed to meet the homologation criteria. Donegal was included as part of the intensive test programme, and the plan was to have the car ready for homologation by November, in time for the Lombard RAC Rally, the British round of the world rally championship. Come November the car was ready and Tony & Rob were joined by Malcolm Wilson & Nigel Harris in the works cars. Pond & Arthur became national heroes that week with the National papers charting their progress; they eventually finished a fine 3rd overall, less than 2 minutes behind the winning Lancia Delta S4 of Henri Toivonen, and less than one minute behind Markku Alen in the sister S4. Wilson retired with mechanical problems. The master plan for 1986 was to compete in all the European rounds of the World Rally Championship, but it would be Finland in September before either car finished a world rally championship event, with Wilson taking 10th overall, but behind the private Metros driven by Per Eklund & Harri Toivonen who finished 7th and 8th respectively. Engine related problems were responsible for the bulk of the retirements, and the drivers were becoming frustrated with the unreliability. As the season come to an end at the Lombard RAC, Pond led the Metro charge, albeit back in 6th by the finish, with another 3 Metros filling the next 3 places on the leader board. The Metro simply hadn’t the power that the turbo charged cars were now putting out, with the works Peugeot, Lancia, Audi and Ford cars conservatively putting out 500bhp, compared to just over 400bhp of the Metro. Also they suffered numerous mechanical problems, and to make matters worse the same problems kept re-occurring!
Closer to home the Metro was proving successful, with David Llewellin and Phil Short giving the 6R4 its first international victory on the Circuit of Ireland, Pond and Arthur taking victory on the Manx Rally, and Billy Coleman & Ronan Morgan taking victories on the Donegal International and Cork 20 rallies in the 1986 season.
By the end of the 1986 season, GpB cars were banned as it was decided they had became too powerful and dangerous, with several drivers, co-drivers and spectators being killed. John Davenport pulled a masterstroke by persuading the British and Irish authorities to allow the Metro to still compete at a national level in a detuned state. This detuned car became known as the Metro Clubman 300 as it couldn’t produce more than 300bhp. This car could be purchased at a knock down price of £16,000 list price, and this could be reduced further with negotiation. This car was particularly popular in the British National Championship, and was the car to have for a couple of years. Ireland was more reluctant to embrace the detuned Metro but, thankfully, a few made it here. Consequently, we were entertained over the last 30 years by the likes of John Price and Peter Lloyd, who were regular visitors to our shores, along with locals such as Andrew Nesbitt, Peader Hurson, Ken Colbert, Dessie McCartney, George Robinson and Ray Breen, to name just a few of the guys we have had the pleasure of watching and listening to, as they wrestled with the 6R4.
We also had the pleasure of watching two Scottish men come over and entertain us in their 6R4s; David Bogie, who has been over a few times, and ex World Rally Champion Colin McRae, who put in a master class of pure driving skills in the 2006 Donegal International. With no fancy electronics to control diffs or power distribution, he set times that embarrassed a good few of the modern WRCs here that weekend.
Rallycross also became a home for many of the Metros over the years, and the tight nature of some tracks suited the normally aspirated engine characteristics and CC was increased from 3.0 to 3.8, upping the power to well over 500bhp. Will Gollop took the 6R4 to another level when he, along with the original engine designer, developed a twin turbo 2.3 litre version which was reputed to be putting out over 700bhp, helping him secure the 1992 European Rallycross Championship. Co. Down man Denis Biggerstaff, originally a Rallycross driver who campaigned Minis and Porsches, purchased his Metro in 1989, which carries the number 1 chassis that was developed as a prototype back in the mid 80’s. Denis still has this car, although it has been developed considerably since its arrival in Ireland.
A couple of years ago, I had the great pleasure sitting in with Donagh Kelly as he tested his recently acquired Metro on private roads, and later ‘co-drove’ for him in the Maze Festival of Speed, at the former Maze Prison site, in N.Ireland. This is a day I’ll never forget as every time he fired up the V6 the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I was transported back to Milford Mart as an eleven year old open mouthed kid!!