The Ascona 400 occupies an interesting place in the history of the World Rally Championship, it being the last rear-wheel drive car with a naturally aspirated engine to take a driver to the title, Walter Rohrl in 1982. The German’s season is well known amongst the bobble hat fraternity for being a classic ‘Rohrl performance,’ a victory that owed much to his guile and keen eye for a tactical advantage. To put it another way, very few of Rohrl’s contemporaries could’ve held of the combined might of the Audi Quattro, that year driven by Hannu Mikkola and Michelle Mouton, to have secured a title in such circumstances.
Yet the efforts, strengths and innate capability of the Ascona itself seem to be all too often overlooked when people discuss Rohrl’s second WRC drivers’ gong, and we at Retropower think that’s a massive shame. It perhaps has something to do with the Group 4 Opel’s conventional layout when compared to the technical tour-de-force that was its chief rival from Ingolstadt, but this is still a tad unfair; it might’ve lacked the engineering wizardry of the big Audi but you can’t deny the underdog Opel got results, and all while being about as reliable as the proverbial Swiss watch!
Anyway, we’ve attempted to re-address the balance somewhat (and in our own, limited way) by throwing the spotlight on two of our favourite projects, the Ascona Bs of Curt Pattinson and Jason Johns. Both are nominally 400 replicas and both are powered by the C20XE ‘Redtop,’ but that’s about where the similarities end – which is probably why these two cars are so frequently mentioned alongside one another.
Curt’s car is quite clearly the closest to being a traditional Ascona 400 replica, a legacy of its white paint, Revolution wheels and naturally aspirated engine. It’s the kind of car that, if you didn’t know any better we might add, you might well mistake for the real deal – which is no bad thing in our book. It’s also worth noting that Curt’s car was actually our very first ground-up project, the first we took from a bare shell to a complete, turn-key car, which is now standard practice for all Retropower undertakings.
As we’ve already touched upon, the engine in Curt’s car is far closer in spirt and character to the one used to such great effect by the likes of Rohrl and Kalle Grundell. Granted Curt’s engine retains its standard capacity of 2.0, significantly smaller than the 2.4 motor devised for the 400 by Opel Sport, but it remains naturally aspirated and therefore provides the same kind of raucous engine note, not to mention the need to be driven in a suitably aggressive manner.
As we’ve already touched upon, the addition of those Revolution wheels and the subtle paint mean that Curt’s car really is a retro livery and a roll-cage away from looking like the ‘real McCoy,’ something carried through to the 400-aping interior complete with Opel ‘blitz’ badging.
Jason John’s Ascona could hardly be any more different from that of his close friend and fellow Opel motorsport nut, and this despite the two cars both being tributes to Russelheim’s most successful rally car. The distinctions between the two are myriad, though perhaps the most obvious is Jason’s choice of paintwork and wheels – Signal Orange for the former, genuine BBS split rims for the latter. Neither is especially closely associated with the muddy world of stage rallying we might add, but there’s no denying that they suit the car a treat.
It’s under the bonnet where things really stray from the Ascona 400’s homologation paperwork however, with the C20XE in Jason’s car having been mated to an Eaton supercharger. The effect is nothing if not dramatic, with forced induction upping the Redtop’s power to a handy 300bhp at 1BAR of boost, so slightly more than the works boys would’ve had at their disposal in period. The Eaton M90, a ‘charger actually ‘borrowed’ from a Jaguar XJR, is a known quantity and perfectly suited to a fast road application of this nature, not least as it provides the archetypical ‘whine’ that’s central to any belt-force-fed-induction application!
So, which do you like best – the faithful (ish) recreation or the bright orange monster?