It’s not every day that a competition car emerges with the power to unite a sport behind it, but that’s what Andy Burton managed with his Peugeot 306 Cosworth. Not since the glory days of Group B had rallying had a car this evocative, scintillating and downright cool, and it was made all the better for essentially being the product of one, seriously talented farmer-cum-engineer.
Not that Burton was an unknown before the emergence of the 306 back in 1997. He’d spent a good portion of the preceding decade charging round the British forests in another, almost as beloved creation, his Ferrari 308-powered Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Come the mid ‘90s though, and even a car as well built and well driven as the ‘Alferrari’ couldn’t stem the rising tide of Group A machinery flooding the lower echelons of British rallying, and it was this that eventually convinced Burton to commence work on what would become the 306 Cosworth.
Rallying is no stranger to well-engineered, big power engines with high-pitched notes, warbles and wails of course, and the upshot is that it really does take something rather special to raise the eyebrows (and eardrums?) of your average speccy. The 306 was that, and from the outset it made a glorious cacophony thanks to the addition of a modified Metro 6R4 lump, which as any long-term rally fan will tell you, ranks among the most evocative motors ever to grace a special stage.
While there was no doubting that the 6R4 lump sounded glorious while at full chat doing so would all too often result in a costly failure, which is what first caused Burton to cast about for something altogether more modern. This in turn lead him to fit the engine that’s since become more closely associated with the car than any other, the Cosworth KF V6. A Retropower Hero in its own right, the KF was actually designed for Opel’s all assault on the FIA DTM/ITCC and as such benefited from having untold millions invested in its development.
The 54-degree angle of the KF’s banks gifted it compact dimensions, perfect for fitment to an Opel Calibra DTM racer, or, as it turned out, a home-brew 306 rally car. It made a good 455bhp in race trim, and while this was pegged back to ‘just’ 400bhp for special stage duties it nevertheless looked and sounded the part. Indeed, very few engines have sounded as good, the KF’s unhinged note bouncing off the pine trees as it sung its way to a piercing 11,000rpm.
It stands to reason that there huge differences in environment between circuit and stage should cause some issues, and it didn’t take too long for these to make their presence felt. Cosworth had banked on its engine living a charmed, short life, with a life of just 200 miles – and that was with rebuilds between each and every race meeting.
Now, Burton’s KF had shed its pneumatic valves in the transition from race to rally work and could therefore be counted upon to be slightly less highly strung, but not much. The man himself admitted in an interview a decade ago that running the 306 with the KF had been a challenging experience:
“We had to build it after each and every rally as a matter of course purely because it’s such a highly-strung engine,” explained Burton in an interview ten years ago. “It would rev to 11,000rpm, so sounded lovely and was very popular, but the work that went into maintaining that engine…we went through loads of pistons and cylinder heads each and every season.”
The need to retain some semblance of sanity forced Burton’s hand, and come the early noughties the 306 could be found with a different V6, this time the Cosworth BOA from a Granada Scorpio. This was later replaced with a similarly configured Nissan engine, though both belied their production origins by having a large degree of Burton-brand custom work. The BOA evolved into an especially potent bit of kit, with a steel bottom end and the ability to rev to 9000rpm.
A Hewland six-speed sequential was a pretty trick bit of kit when the 306 was first laid down, and it only became more so with the passage of time and Burton’s attentions. A paddle-shift setup could be seen on the car from 2002 onwards, this twinned with pneumatically governed actuators for the clutch and ‘gearstick.’ It’s hard to overstate just how exotic a system this was the best part of twenty years ago, especially for what was in effect a homebuilt car competing at a national level.
All-wheel drive was naturally a prerequisite for success when ranged against a raft of Imprezas, Evos and Cosworths, and as such it was only natural that 306 waded into battle with a trio of differentials – one per axle, plus another, slightly offset, centrally mounted torque-apportioning unit to dole out drive fore and aft.
The visual link between Burton’s creation and the 306s being flogged up and down the UK by Peugeot was always a flimsy one, and it only became less obvious with the passing of the years. The car was based upon a tubular space-framed chassis, linked to a Custom Cages roll-cage which managed to strike the optimum balance between outright strength and low weight. As for anything PSA might have recognized as being from a 306, there was precious little! Only the bulkhead, inner front wings and door apertures carried over ‘as stock.’ Everything else was reconfigured in either a composite material, or, in the case of the floor-pans, plastic.
Burton experimented with aerodynamic aids as the car evolved and the years ticked by. It was never what you’d call a demure or restrained looking beast, but the addition of first a 306 Maxi rear wing and, once the Works cars had been released onto the WRC stage, a 206 WRC one, gave the barn-built monster an even more aggressive appearance .
There was ample evidence of Burton’s clear headed, methodical approach to rallying in particular and engineering in general, not least the ease with which his creation could be serviced and repaired. Said Hewland gearbox was a case in point, with its casing mounted to the bell-housing by means of a pair of easily unclipped lynchpins, meaning access to the gearbox could be had within seconds as opposed to minutes. And this is before we even touch upon Burton’s equally brilliant, improbably capacious custom Land Discovery support vehicle!
The result of Burton’s engineering brilliance and ability to peddle his creation were dramatic. Not only did the Cosworth Pug attain the kind of cult forest following that it’s hard to imagine ever being repeated, it proved incredibly competitive. Countless outright rally wins soon fell to the affable farmer and his bonkers creation, and by the late ‘90s it was a fully paid up BTRDA legend, able to take its owner to a brace of titles in 2003 and 2011.
All legends must come to an end though, and in the case of the Cosworth Pug the end was acrimonious in the extreme. The MSA, under pressure from a raft of drivers and teams with a vested interest in promoting traditional, off-the-peg four-wheel drive rally cars, decreed that non-production rally cars would be illegal from 2012 onwards. The passing of the K37 review meant that Burton’s creation and those like it were living on borrowed time.
Burton ended the 2011 season as Gold Star Champion, proving that his creation was just as competitive a decade-and-a-half on from when it was first laid down. It was then wheeled into the barn in which it was first devised where it has remained ever since.
There’s no happy end or positive postscript to this tale, save from the fact that the car itself still exists in its mothballed state. We can but hope that at some, far off point in the future the powers that be see sense, and that we’ll get to see (and hear) one of British rallying’s finest creations attacking stages once again. Until then, the videos in this article will have to suffice.