The Super Touring era is regarded as one of the great periods in touring car history. The MSVR Super Touring Power event at Brands Hatch has recently brought the category back to the forefront, so now seems a good time to pick out the finest machines.

For this list we have looked at the cars from the two-litre tin-top category that ostensibly ran from 1991 until 2001. We’ve taken into account each car’s level of success, the opposition it faced, its impact on the category and longevity. And we’ve talked to some of the key drivers.

This list is about Super Touring globally, not just in the UK. For the top 10 Super Touring car drivers in the British Touring Car Championship, take a look here.

10. Volvo S40

Rydell conquered the BTCC in 1998 with the Volvo S40, but missed out to the Laguna and Primera either side of that success

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Titles: 1

Volvo made a big impact in the BTCC with the 850 SE/GLT estate, won races with the 850 saloon and finally took a crown with the S40. The Swedish marque didn’t manage to win the teams’ or manufacturers’ contest, but Rickard Rydell did enough in 1998 to take a well-deserved drivers’ title.

The Tom Walkinshaw Racing-run S40 arrived in 1997. It showed some promise in the wake of Renault’s domination, Rydell scoring three seconds and two thirds before a breakthrough victory at Brands Hatch.

Consistency was the key in 1998, though the season began with a stunning qualifying performance by Rydell at Thruxton, where he took pole by more than a second. The Swede bagged points early on and 12 other podiums to go with his five wins was enough to defeat Anthony Reid, who came on strong for Nissan.

The Primera was too quick in 1999, particularly in Laurent Aiello’s hands, but Rydell finished as best of the rest with four wins before Volvo joined the BTCC exodus.

The S40 also starred during the brief period that the famous Bathurst 1000 was run for Super Tourers. Rydell teamed up with tin-top legend Jim Richards to win in 1998, beating the Primera of Matt Neal and Jim’s son Steven by 2s after nearly seven hours of racing.

Rydell says: “We didn’t have the quickest car all the time [in 1998] but we were strong throughout. The short circuits were our biggest problem, we were always good on circuits that had more quick corners than slow, so to go to Silverstone [for the finale on the slower International circuit] and be as quick as Nissan was good for the whole team.

“It was a big achievement for me and TWR, but I don’t think people in Britain understand how important the win was for Sweden and Volvo. About 10% of the Swedish population watched the BTCC.”

9. Honda Accord

Perhaps the best Super Tourer never to win a BTCC title, the Accord did most of its winning in Europe

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths / Motorsport Images

Titles: 3

The Accord appeared in various forms – run by MSD, Prodrive, West Surrey Racing and JAS Motorsport in the BTCC – and won titles in Japan and North America. But it gets onto this list as much for the pace the final version showed towards the end of Super Touring.

Prodrive’s Ford Mondeo was the car to have in the BTCC in 2000, the final year for the ruleset in the UK, but the Accord won the last three races of the season. At the same time, Peter Kox finished second in the European Super Touring Cup behind Fabrizio Giovanardi’s Alfa Romeo 156 before the cars got their last hurrah in the 2001 European Super Touring Championship.

Giovanardi became champion, leading Nicola Larini in an Alfa 1-2, but Gabriele Tarquini won more races than those two combined. The JAS Engineering driver’s nine victories and six poles underlined the pace of the Accord, which was almost certainly the best Super Tourer not to take a major European title.

Tarquini says: “From a driveability standpoint, the Honda Accord was a much better car than the Alfa Romeo 155 [he had raced before]. The Honda was a much better performing car, but the rules were also much different at this time; the engine was moved lower and the suspension was allowed to be completely different from the road car.

“With the Honda, it was like we always needed to find the last element. The first Honda we used came from Prodrive [in 1997], and the first car was a fantastic car but it was homologated very late without testing and the car wasn’t ready, but that meant it wasn’t possible to change the homologation.

“Then, later on, we’d have a very strong engine but the chassis and suspension was not OK, so even if the drivers were very good, as we had myself, James Thompson, and Tom Kristensen, even with this line-up and despite the effort that Honda made, we never had all the components right to win a championship.”

Tarquini was speaking to Neil Hudson

8. Vauxhall Cavalier

Cleland gave the Cavalier its only BTCC title in 1995, although the car proved a hit in South Africa too

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Titles: 2

It didn’t score huge success around the globe, but the Cavalier was a mainstay in the BTCC for the first half of the era. The front-wheel-drive machine also took John Cleland to the drivers’ crown as the championship arguably peaked in the mid-1990s.

The first Dave Cook Racing version appeared in 1990 as the two-litre contest played second fiddle to the Ford RS500s. Cleland missed out on class honours to BMW’s Frank Sytner and it remained a similar story after they took centre stage.

Cleland was again the top non-BMW driver in 1991, finishing second to Will Hoy, and only missed out on the 1992 crown in the dramatic and controversial Silverstone finale. Team-mate Jeff Allam was also a race winner.

PLUS: The full story of the 1992 showdown

BMW and Ford proved faster in 1993, though Cleland still scored a victory, before RML took over the Vauxhall programme. Like everything else, the Cavalier was outgunned by the Alfa 155 in 1994 but Cleland won two races and was fourth overall.

It all came together in 1995. The now bewinged Cavalier worked from the moment it arrived and Cleland took six victories to defeat Renault’s Alain Menu and Volvo star Rydell to the title. Vauxhall also took the Teams’ prize to add to its 1992 Manufacturers’ spoils before the Vectra replaced the Cavalier for 1996.

Elsewhere, the ‘Opel Vectra’ Mike Briggs used to win the 1995 South African title was actually what Brits would call a Cavalier, while Reid took wins in the competitive All-Japan Touring Car Championship.

Pictured splashing to victory at Knockhill in 1992, Cleland and the Cavalier were a potent combination across several seasons

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Cleland says: “Dave Cook built a really strong car – you knew it was going to last. Ray Mallock only put on the cars what was really needed. Dave did a great job making the car competitive and reliable. He knew what he was doing, but Ray came along with sportscar experience and knowledge of aero. And he was really good on suspension.

“It was crucial we got the front-end right. On a FWD it was all about the front. We did a test at Silverstone where we tried loads of splitters for 1995. There was one the team was convinced would be better because it had shown great numbers on the data. I’m no engineer but the one I said was best was the best on the stopwatch as well – and it wasn’t the one they thought so there was a lot of head-scratching!

“The high-speed corners, such as at Thruxton and Donington Park, were never a problem, but with the wing and the splitters you knew you had more grip. You could also chuck it into a tight corner, always make the apex, and the tyres would last longer because you weren’t sliding.

“We had Williams and TWR, with two of the best drivers in Alain and Rickard, and we beat them with this fleet car. The Cavalier kept us up at the sharp end.”

7. Renault Laguna

The Renault Laguna bowed out at the end of 1998 after Menu had finally delivered the title in 1997, finishing runner-up in the previous two campaigns

Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images

Titles: 1

Like several other cars on this list, the Laguna didn’t win bags of titles but it did set the BTCC benchmark at a time when the UK-based series was arguably an unofficial Super Touring Car world championship. Eight manufacturer-backed teams were on the grid for the 1997 season and the Williams-built Laguna was the dominant car.

Menu won 12 of the 24 races, clinched the title with six races to go and ended up finishing 110 points clear, which remains a BTCC record. Menu’s rookie team-mate Jason Plato also won twice and only missed out on runner-up spot in the standings by one point to Audi’s reigning champion Frank Biela.

The Laguna had first arrived in 1994, built by MCT. It was a winner in the hands of Menu, who was runner-up to Alfa Romeo’s Tarquini, and Tim Harvey. Williams took over for 1995 and the Laguna became an increasingly potent weapon, albeit sometimes an unreliable one. Menu was second in the drivers’ standings twice more before his 1997 domination and the Laguna took its final BTCC win in the hands of Plato in 1999.

PLUS: How Renault's arrival saved Menu's Super Touring career

Unlike some of the cars on this list, the Laguna didn’t appear much elsewhere. It probably should have won the Bathurst 1000 in 1997 and did twice win the Tourist Trophy. But its 36 wins make it comfortably the most successful car of the BTCC’s Super Touring era and few modern tin-tops have achieved such iconic status.

Menu says: “It was a massive effort from Renault UK, from Michel Gigou, he was pushing. He increased the budget, he gave [engine tuners] Sodemo more money, so there was loads of hard work behind the scenes in the winter of 1996-97.

“And Williams, the team did an amazing job as well. I will never forget it – the very first time we tested the car was in Jarama. We were there for five days – in those days big budgets – and really, after two laps I knew we had the car to win the championship because the front end was so much better, to the point that in the fast corners the car was very tricky.

“The Laguna was really good the first third of the season maybe, but then some of the others caught up and at times we were not the fastest. We were just more consistent. In the second half we went through quite a few races without winning.”

6. Peugeot 406

The 406 was never a winner in Britain, but on the continent it was a different story

Photo by: Sutton Images

Titles: 3

BTCC fans might be surprised to see a car that failed to win a race in the UK on this list, but we’re not simply relying on the fact that the 406 was one of the best-looking cars of the era. The sleek Peugeot makes it in thanks to its success in the competitive German Super Tourenwagen Cup, though it also won titles in France and South America.

Aiello had been a race winner in the 1996 STW but Audi tended to set the pace, chased by BMW. Peugeot and BMW both jumped ahead the following year and Aiello battled Joachim Winkelhock for the title. BMW took the manufacturers’ laurels but Aiello scored 11 wins from 20 races and only failed to make the podium three times to secure the drivers’ championship.

Aiello fell just three points shy of retaining his crown in 1998, defeated by BMW’s Johnny Cecotto, but the Frenchman and team-mate Jorg van Ommen racked up seven victories before Aiello and Peugeot looked elsewhere.

In the UK, the 406 was hamstrung with an aero package better suited to German circuits and a weak engine. The closest it ever came to winning in the BTCC was Harvey’s wet-tyre gamble at Thruxton in 1997, when he finished just 0.7s behind winner Tarquini’s slick-shod Honda on a wet track.

The 406 was a race winner in Australia, courtesy of Patrick Watts, perhaps helping to explain why he bought one…

Aiello says: “In 1996 we suffered with understeer and were hard on the tyres so we had to go towards an oversteering car. I’m not saying I wanted an oversteering car, but it was the only way to save the tyres.

“I was supposed to come to England to race one, but it didn’t happen. I would have loved to have raced my 406 in England.

“I had a special race against ‘Winki’ at Salzburg in 1997. We had a big fight but so fair. He was driving incredibly, just in front of me. There was a fast corner and he was able to look in the mirror and see where I was to position the car. I learned a lot from that race – he was perfect.

“We overtook each other several times without touching and eventually I won, so that is a good memory.”

5. Ford Mondeo

The Mondeo only won a title in 2000, but had been a winning force as early as 1993 in the hands of Radisich

Photo by: LAT Photographic

Titles: 1

Early in its life the Mondeo scored two FIA World Touring Car Cup wins and at the end it was probably the most sophisticated Super Tourer, arguably the ultimate expression of the breed. In between, the Mondeo had some difficult times and Ford’s works programme moved around different teams.

Rouse Engineering’s Mondeo appeared halfway through the 1993 BTCC season and Paul Radisich immediately became a frontrunner, winning three of the last five rounds and finishing a remarkable third in the standings. He closed the campaign by winning the World Cup at Monza ahead of an international field.

Radisich was often fast in 1994, but not quite as fast as Tarquini’s Alfa and some unreliability hindered his challenge. He still took two wins, third in the points – and finished the season by again winning the World Cup, this time at Donington, as well as the TOCA Shootout.

The bewinged 1995 version was less competitive, though did take a win apiece in the hands of Radisich and Kelvin Burt, and a Schubel-built version run by West Surrey Racing arrived the following year. Ford slumped to the bottom of the BTCC table and the next two seasons weren’t much better, even with Reynard involved, aside from Hoy’s rain-affected victory at Silverstone in 1998 and Nigel Mansell’s famous Donington cameo.

Prodrive took over for 1999 and, after a learning year, produced the final Super Touring version of the V6 machine. Menu, Reid and Rydell won 11 of the 24 rounds and finished 1-2-3 in the drivers’ standings as the era came to an end in the BTCC.

Menu says: “The Ford was competitive, but it was not the quickest on every track. I remember the very first meeting at Brands Hatch, Yvan [Muller] was very quick in the race in the Vauxhall.

“I guess the car hit the ground running with all we’d learnt in 1999, and what we knew needed to be improved. The guys did a fantastic job – they gave us the tool and I think it’s fair to say that it was the best Super Touring car.

“It was not easy and we also had the weight – depending on your result you had 20, 30 or 40kg [of success ballast] added to your car for the next meeting. Once or twice I backed off just for the sake of having 10kg less for the next meeting.”

4. Nissan Primera

After Nissan came close to the 1998 BTCC title with Reid, series newcomer Aiello did the honours in 1999

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths / Motorsport Images

Titles: 2

The Primera was a winner in Britian and Germany in the first half of the decade but makes it this high up the list thanks to how it finished. RML took over the BTCC programme in 1997, produced arguably the fastest car of 1998 and then crushed the opposition the following year.

Reid and David Leslie scored nine wins in 1998 – giving Nissan the best tally of all the manufacturers – but early-season engine issues and Rickard Rydell’s consistent campaign for Volvo meant Reid missed the title by 15 points.

Reid joined Ford for 1999 and French star Aiello stepped in alongside Leslie. After a wobbly start, the newcomer proved the class of the field, taking 10 poles and 10 wins from 26 races. Leslie added three more wins to complete a Nissan 1-2 in the drivers’ standings in a season that featured six factory-backed squads.

Nissan withdrew for 2000, but the Primera was still good enough to win in the hands of privateer Neal, who had famously won at Donington the year before to scoop £250,000. Tommy Rustad also won the Swedish Touring Car Championship in his Primera.

Neal and Team Dynamics then took their latest-shape version to the category’s last hurrah in the 2001 European Super Touring Car Championship, managing a win and three other podiums against top-level opposition.

Aiello says: “The Nissan had been developed for two or three years before I got there and you could tell – and the team understood it. It was perfect right from the start, I just had to bring the car to me. It was a bit more understeery than the Peugeot and the first thing I did was put more power steering on the car.

“I remember we went to Thruxton to test and after five or six new-tyre runs I was 1-1.5s off David. I spoke to my engineer to try a race run but after three laps it was a nightmare, with sliding everywhere, so I had to stop – no way to race like that.

“Between the test and the race I spent so long trying to understand and looking at the data. In qualifying I was close to David [less than a tenth] and then I won both races. When it came to the races the pace was there and I don’t know why; we didn’t do much to the car!

“There were so many things to learn. I would have loved to defend my title in 2000 but it was also good to be in the DTM as it came back.”

3. Alfa Romeo 155 TS

Adding rear wings to its 155 TS yielded the 1994 BTCC title for Alfa Romeo with Tarquini and set a trend others rushed to follow

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Titles: 4

The pretty 156 took one more Super Touring title and was a strong candidate for this list but its predecessor had the bigger impact on the course of the category. It changed the game.

By homologating ‘add-on’ wings and splitters, Alfa Romeo was able to push the aero boundaries with the 155 ‘Silverstone’. Alfa cleaned up in Spain, winning three titles in four years, but made its biggest mark in the BTCC.

Tarquini and the works Alfa Corse team moved the goalposts when they arrived in 1994. Tarquini won the first five races on the trot, was eliminated from the sixth due to a multi-car shunt and then missed the seventh as controversy over the Alfa’s aero appendages really kicked off and the team was told it had to run with its front splitters pushed in.

The size of the rear wings had been reduced as early as the third meeting at Snetterton and following Oulton Alfa was allowed to run with the front splitters optimised until 1 July, after 11 of the 21 races.

At that point, the draconian weight penalty for the BMWs was reduced and other teams started introducing their own aero kits. Tarquini still added five podiums and an eighth victory to take the title by a whopping 76 points.

The 155, now run by Prodrive, was outclassed in 1995 as the Class 2 aero rules were freed up to avoid more homologation controversy and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Wings were here to stay and Super Touring would never be quite the same again. The impact of the 155 can be seen on every other car in this list.

Tarquini says: “The 155 was fun. It was built right at the beginning of the front-wheel traction era and we were starting from a blank sheet of paper, and the car was built at the last minute.

“At the beginning, we had a lot of trouble with braking and with locking the inside front wheels, while in the rear we had a system to unlock the inside rear wheel manually, so one button was on the steering, the other on the gear lever. We had this new front-wheel differential from the Lancia Delta – so it was a very fun time as you could invent something new every week, and if it paid off you could have a difference of one second.

“The rear wing impact on the Alfa Romeo was zero, it was just so you could put a plate on it to eat your lunch! Even with the extension to put the wings higher, the downforce we got from it was zero. The front wings made a small advantage for the front brakes, so when we lost it we could feel the difference.”

Tarquini was speaking to Neil Hudson

2. Audi A4 Quattro

Biela was dominant when Audi arrived into the BTCC in 1996

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Titles: 15

Four-wheel drive wasn’t new and had already scored success in the period thanks to the Audi 80. But the A4 was one of the cars that pushed things forward as the competitiveness of Super Touring ratcheted up in the mid-1990s.

The solid A4, with its excellent traction and balanced tyre wear, was a winner immediately, Emanuele Pirro easily taking the 1995 Italian crown. Biela led an Audi 1-2 in the FIA Touring Car World Cup at the end of the season and a remarkable 1996 followed in which the A4 took titles in Australia, Belgium, Britain, Spain, Italy, South Africa and Germany, as well as winning the Macau Guia race.

Audi’s UK attack was led by Biela in a new team under Richard Lloyd and John Wickham, and Biela won five of the first eight races. Perhaps predictably, the Audi was then hit with an extra 30kg, but Biela carried on racking up podiums and points. Three wins in the second half of the season and incredible consistency meant he still easily won the title at his (and the A4’s) first attempt.

Williams and Renault moved things on in 1997 but Audi remained a frontrunner, particularly in wet or damp conditions when traction was at a premium and when the 30kg was dropped after the early rounds. Biela and John Bintcliffe scored seven wins between them and the German finished second in the standings before Audi pressed on with the front-wheel-drive version of the A4.

That car, as driven by Yvan Muller in the 1998 BTCC, was never as effective, but the full-house 4WD A4 continued winning in Europe until the end of the era.

Pirro says: “There was a lot of technology behind that car. Of course it had the quattro technology, which gave it an advantage over a rear-wheel-drive car, which had an advantage over a front-drive car. There was the weight compensation to make things equal, but it was always difficult to know how much that should be.

The A4 was no longer the same force in 1998 in the BTCC, but remained competitive in Europe

Photo by: Gavin Lawrence

“It was difficult to understand the value of the car if you weren’t involved in the programme and saw all the development that went into it, all the testing we did. Ford and Nissan, I think, developed 4WD cars for the STW. I think they made us look good.

“Audi spent a lot of time reducing the friction in the differentials. That was key because the car was always a little slower on the straights.

“Don’t forget that the engine was always in front of the front wheels, which wasn’t ideal in terms in weight distribution.

“I remember the first test I did in the Audi at Barcelona at the end of the 1993. I was coming from BMW, but the Audi felt so solid and stiff in comparison. It was a user-friendly car. The 80 was a good car, but not really a car that was superior to everything else. There was definitely room for improvement on the aerodynamics.

“With the 4WD you could exploit the limit of the tyre grip. You could brake later by exploiting the engine braking and get on power a little bit earlier. The real advantage was on braking and turn-in – you could exploit the grip of the four tyres on the entry phase of the corner.”

Pirro was speaking to Gary Watkins

1. BMW E36 3 Series

Harvey famously won the 1992 crown in the controversial Silverstone decider

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Titles: 30

Title successes from Europe to Japan, via South America and Australia, plus outright victories in the Spa and Nurburgring 24-hour classics, make the only rear-wheel-drive car on this list an easy winner. Oh yes, and the 3 Series also won at Macau and Bathurst.

The E36 had a hard act to follow given the legendary E30 M3 was its predecessor, but was more rigid and adjustable, and made its own mark. Across two-door, four-door, 318i and 320i versions (all with two-litre powerplants), it was a frontrunner in touring car championships around the globe for most of the 1990s.

PLUS: The game-changer that dominated the tin-top world

In the BTCC, the highlights came early. The UK programme, run by Vic Lee Motorsport, was the first to get the new model in 1992, such was the importance of the championship. After a shaky start, Harvey came on strong and won six races in the ABS-equipped machine before clinching the title in that finale.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BTCC title deciders

Schnitzer took over the programme for 1993 and swept to a 1-2 in the table with Winkelhock and Steve Soper.

Not for the last time, BMW was punished for having the driven wheels in the right place with extra weight. “It didn’t slow us down, it killed us,” is Soper’s assessment of the situation at the start of 1994, which coincided with Alfa’s arrival. Halfway through the year, the RWD BMWs were allowed to run lighter and the FWD rivals heavier, essentially halving the previous 100kg difference. Winkelhock and Soper duly reeled off five wins in the second half of the campaign.

Schnitzer was replaced by Gunther Warthofer’s Nurburgring-based team in 1995 and there were no wins as increased downforce appeared to solve some of the woes of FWD rivals, but Schnitzer’s return the following brought five more wins before BMW left the BTCC.

After supporting Harvey's 1992 title bid, Soper missed out on the 1993 crown to team-mate Winkelhock

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Elsewhere, highlights included Soper’s 1995 Japanese title against tough home opposition, Winkelhock completing a Britain (1993)/Asia-Pacific(1994)/German (1995) title hat-trick that same year and Cecotto pipping Aiello to the 1998 STW Cup crown. There were also three Macau Guia victories, one more than Audi’s A4.

Unlike some of the cars on this list, the 3 Series was also robust enough for an extensive career in endurance competition. To four consecutive Spa 24 Hours victories were added overall successes in the 1995 Nurburgring 24 Hours and the 1997 Bathurst 1000.

The E36 even went on competing (and winning) in Australia into the 21st century, after Super Touring had ended in Europe. No other car gets close for longevity or weight of success during touring car’s golden age.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BMW Motorsport racers

Soper says: “Traction was its biggest strength, though the later FWD cars evened that up, and the car had a nice balance.

“It was very progressive with the developments. Every year whatever you’re racing they do more work on it, so it’s always better than the year before. But the 1992 car was fun to drive. It had the ABS advantage that none of the others had and anything that gives you an advantage the drivers like!”

“Japan was my highlight. They were desperate to have BMW in there but didn’t want us to win. In the scrutineering bay, the Toyotas, Mazdas and Hondas would go in one end and out the other, virtually without stopping. The BMW was in for an hour…

PLUS: The touring car great who isn’t a BTCC champion

“It was very strong and lots of manufacturers were involved – and there were a lot of good drivers. That was satisfying. Schnitzer had no premises in Japan; they flew over the week before and prepared the cars out of the truck. What they achieved in those circumstances was phenomenal.”

For more content like this, sign up for unlimited access with Autosport Plus here.

Winkelhock was successful around the world in BMWs, including at Macau in 1998

Photo by: Motorsport Images

2024-07-10T10:39:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd