The most important and historically significant MG Metro 6R4 rally car of all time has been taken from scrapyard to showroom condition in an epic salvage mission – and you can watch the full rebuild process of the Group B legend for yourself next month.
That’s because the full restoration of the iconic 1980s British championship winning racer has been documented in the opening episode of the new TV series of Car SOS, which is due to debut on our tellies on 11 March.
Hosts of National Geographic’s top-rated car restoration show, Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townsend, have given This is Money exclusive access to the monumental effort to save the supreme rally machine – a vehicle the pair describe as the ‘Holy Grail’ and the ‘pinnacle of every car in terms of rarity, performance and iconic motoring royalty’.
From scrapyard to showroom condition: It might not look it, but this MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally car is the same one that won the 1987 British National Championship. The new series of Car SOS documents its return to glory in the hands of hosts Tim Shaw (left) and Fuzz Townsend (right)
For those who haven’t seen the show – now in its ninth season – it follows the trials of the two motoring enthusiasts on undercover missions to restore classic cars for deserving owners who have no idea their four-wheeled pride and joy is being fixed-up behind their backs.
Most cars at the heart of the episodes are street-legal machines that have fallen into such a state of disrepair that they are beyond the realms of being returned to the road by their keepers.
However, the opener to the latest series features a car with more provenance than arguably any that’s appeared before.
The MG Metro 6R4 is considered by many as the ultimate 1980s Group B rally car.
Incredibly powerful, unfathomably light, lacking of safety features or structural rigidity, and looking like a Rover Metro that’s spent a lockdown period pumping iron in a gym, it epitomises one of the greatest eras in motorsport history.
And the car in question here is the most successful of its kind – the British National Championship winning machine from 1987 driven Scotsman, David Gillanders.
The MG Metro 6R4 was co-developed with the Williams F1 team in 1985 to compete in Group B rallying. However, the championship was scrapped a year later over safety concerns. The 20 6R4 ‘works’ competition cars went on to race in other series, including winning the 1987 British National Championship, driven by Scotsman David Gillanders (pictured)
Owner of the MG Metro 6R4, Brian McKay from County Down in Northern Ireland, has had the car since 2007. His son, Gerard, had found the stricken vehicle in a local scrapyard, despite its historical provenance
When Car SOS collected the car, the low-production, ultra-rare, racer was nothing more than a rolling chassis that was missing most of its components
Two decades after being crowned champ, it was found by owner, Brian McKay, a former truck driver, and his son Gerard from County Down, Northern Ireland.
But it wasn’t located in a museum – not even a garage of barn for storage purposes. They instead stumbled across the car in a dilapidated and sorry state at a local scrapyard back in 2007.
A recent illness has caused a physical road-block that’s prevented Brian from completing the rebuild of the rare rally weapon himself. Step forward his two daughters, Dawn and Caroline – and family friend Barry – who called on the assistance of Car SOS to get the Metro running again.
Barely able to contain their excitement about getting their hands on the piece of rally history, Tim and Fuzz are knocked for six when presented with a stripped chassis missing most of its components.
The engine, gearbox, driveshaft and drivetrain were all present and accounted for – but in boxes separate from the MG. Some of the other parts, including the bell housing (part of the transmission that covers the flywheel and clutch), were also seemingly damaged beyond repair.
Pictured: Tim and Fuzz collected the car from Brian’s family in January last year. With Covid lockdowns hitting in March, the project wasn’t completed until July, meaning the secret had to be kept from the owner for longer than first thought
Fuzz Townsend said the team’s usual workshop simply didn’t have the expertise or technology to rebuild the MG Metro 6R4 themselves. They took the dilapidated motor – and its bits – to race-car builder Ric Wood (right) who manufactured missing parts for the iconic modern classic machine
Tim shows the damage to the bell housing, which is part of the transmission that covers the flywheel and clutch. It was seemingly damaged beyond repair but the episode shows how it was rebuilt by Wood’s team of skilled technicians
Tim and Fuzz welcomed Brian’s daughter Dawn and family friend Barry, to see the car half-way through the build process – a matter of days before lockdown first hit and the project went on hold
With a limited source of available components and exceptionally high asking prices for them, most of the missing or damaged items were reproduced or rebuilt at Ric Wood Motorsport in Stockport, which has specialised in building race cars for 30 years.
‘The 6R4 is the most difficult project we’ve ever taken on,’ Fuzz told us in an exclusive interview.
‘It’s a British Rally Championship winning car, so we had to get it as close as possible to its original setup and status, including using as many of the original parts as we could.
‘With a Group B rally car and one that was as compromised as it was, we needed somewhere with lots of technology and machining capabilities. We had to borrow decent parts from other people, scan them and transfer the data into the critically damaged bits we had, such as the transfer box casing, to build everything in house.’
Tim told us he had attempted to source some of the missing components but was asked to pay ‘ridiculous sums for the smallest parts’.
He explains: ‘We found a guy in Denmark who had parts for a 6R4. When I began negotiating he said for me to bring a blank cheque. He said he wanted £20,000 just for a front differential.
‘He told me there aren’t any more parts and nobody is making them, so he can charge what he wanted. I have never had a call like that in nine years of seeking parts for 90 cars around the world. Nobody has told me I would need £50,000 minimum and be going back with bits in a shoe box.’
Why the MG Metro 6R4 is a Group B rally favourite
The MG Metro 6R4 was designed in 1985 in partnership with the then-dominant Williams F1 team, with just 20 works competition cars built along with 200 detuned road versions – which were required as part of regulations in order for the 6R4 to qualify to take part in Group B.
It was ferociously fast, with the run of competition cars using a 410bhp V6 engine behind the driver’s seat and in a featherweight chassis cloaked in flimsy bodywork.
Describing the lacking of structural rigidity, Fuzz Townsend told us: ‘The 6R4 was so flimsily built in the first place that not many survived in decent shape. If any have survived, they’ve been lucky, given they’re so unsubstantial.
‘Under the skin on the car, it’s all engine and there’s as little as possible holding it together. It’s incredible to think that they expected a couple of people to sit in them and risk their lives racing it. I’d be surprised if many of the original 20 competition cars exist at all.’
While they might have been frightening to race flat out from a safety perspective, they were certainly quick.
An MG Metro 6R4 works car could accelerate from 0-to-60mph in less than three seconds and had all the ingredients to take the battle to Group B rivals including the Audi Sport Quattro, Lancia Delta S4 and 037, Peugeot 205 T16, Renault Maxi Turbo and Ford’s RS200.
However, the termination of Group B rally in 1986 over safety concerns following the deaths of drivers and spectators meant the 6R4 never had the opportunity to challenge for titles.
It did continue to be used in national championships, winning both the British and French series’ – the car featured by Car SOS being the title winner for the former in 1987.
One of the most poignant moments in the extended special episode documents Tim meeting the car’s title-winning pilot, David Gillanders, who reveals he had kept the steering wheel from his crowning machine – and strikes a deal to reunite it with the car, on the premise he can be there to see it handed over.
Finished in its championship winning colour scheme, the Metro is eventually returned to Brian some seven months after it was taken from his garage without his knowing.
However, much of the delay to the completion of the project was caused by the coronavirus striking last year, a matter of days before the car was due to be finished.
In fact, the 6R4 was originally planned for the previous season of Car SOS, but when lockdown hit the team couldn’t have it ready in time to air.
‘One of the biggest problems was keeping it quiet from the owner,’ the boys told us.
After the first lockdown was eased in the summer, the team returned to put the final touches to the rebuilt ’80s legend
Finished in all its glory: The car fully completed, including being returned to the racing livery it had when it won the British title in 1987 – some two decades before the history-filled motor was found in a scrapyard
Fuzz and Tim returned the car to owner Brian (right) and his son Gerard (left) in an elaborate rouse where the petrol heads had been told they were simply visiting a hotel for lunch
Commenting on the importance of the project, Fuzz said: ‘We’re not going to be able to get our hands on a genuine competition winning car full stop, let alone the one and most important 6R4 to grace the surface of the planet.
‘It felt like a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang story. A famous car from the past that ends up in a scrapyard and we get to bring it back to life. It’s a magical little story that only comes along once in a lifetime.’
Tim adds: ‘That 6R4 is the reason why I’m into cars. Seeing it made me feel 12 again. Getting to work on it is the highlight of my life in the automotive world. And becoming friends with David Gillanders and reuniting the car with its steering wheel has been the best achievement in my time on Car SOS.’
While the guys say none of the cars they work on are ever valued once completed, another of the 20 1985 works MG Metro 6R4 cars, which had won the French Rally Championship, sold at Artcurial’s Paris auction this month for a staggering €244,360 – around £214,700.
Given the higher provenance of the Gillanders car, it is likely to be valued in excess of that figure.
This 1985 MG Metro 6R4, which went on to win the French Rally Championship, sold at auction earlier this month for a staggering £214,700, including sale premiums. The Car SOS 6R4, given its British title success, is likely worth even more
The Metro 6R4 featured earlier in February alongside other Group B rally icons including two Lancias: A 1986 Delta S4 (middle) sold for €810,560 (£712,100) and a 1985 037 (left) was bought for €548,320 (£481,700)
The same classic car sale in the French capital in February also saw the final Audi Sport Quattro S1 Group B machine produced in 1988 bought for a staggering €2million – almost £1.8million – making it the most expensive rally car to sell at auction of all time.
Car SOS returns to screens for its ninth season on Thursday 11 March with 11 unmissable new episodes airing exclusively on National Geographic, including the extended 50-minute special show dedicated to the MG Metro 6R4 to kick off the new series.
As for the rest of the series, six other projects being documented have been confirmed, with four yet to be announced.
Also to feature in the new series are a Jensen Interceptor (1966-1976), Fiat X1/9 (1972-1989), VW Beetle Wizard Roadster, Jaguar XJ-S (1975-1996) and Rolls Royce 20/25 Doctors Coupe (1929-1936). Tim also lets slip in the Q&A below that another of the models will be an Alpine A110 (1961-1977)…
Car SOS Q&A: Who chooses the vehicles to rebuild?
This is Money sat down – remotely – with hosts of Car SOS, Fuzz Townsend (left) and Tim Shaw (right) to chat all things four-wheeled
This is Money: After fixing up 90 classic cars that were ultimately valueless on collection, do you ever think of how much value you’ve added to cars over the last decade?
Tim: ‘That Metro 6R4 we gave back in Ireland is worth more than Fuzz’s house and my house. It’s a unique position to be in but it’s not about the money. It’s about the journey.
‘There’s a price to life and the experience of working on such a car, which for me is priceless. I know there are people who buy and sell cars and sit on them to make money, but they’re not petrol heads.
‘The thing about Car SOS and the people who watch the show – and whose cars we do up – is that they have all fallen in love with vehicles. When I do up a car, 80 per cent of the appeal is the project and 20 per cent is driving it. I would have paid to have had the experience to have worked on the Metro. The value is the size of the grin.’
This is Money: Who gets to pick the projects and are you starting to run a little thin on cars after nine years?
Fuzz: ‘We have thousands of people asking for our help, from all around the world. The show is aired in over 100 countries and we’re receiving requests from different continents.
‘The team in the office, including the series producer, collate all of the applications. They’ll pick cars we haven’t done previously and whittle it down to around 50 projects after checking the back stories attached to them. We then try to choose a selection of types that will flow nicely – some of them vintage cars, one or two from the ’50s and ’60s, a Japanese model, a German motor, etc.’
Tim: ‘They also ring Fuzz and me to run a car past us. They can gauge immediately from our reactions if they are going to get a great performance from us guys.’
This is Money: What else can fans of the show expect to see from the new series?
Fuzz: ‘This series, I really enjoyed the 1929 Rolls Royce because I really love pre-war cars. I love to see the engineering of really high-end cars back then – and you can see how Rolls Royce made their reputation. The lineage from their vehicles to what they are now, via producing engines for Second World War planes, is astonishing. I’m fascinated to see how cars were so beautifully intricate so long ago.’
Tim: ‘We have a new addition to the team this series called Welsh Q [a spoof of the inventor behind James Bond’s gadgetry]. He is a technical genius, a problem solver and inventor. And in two of the new episodes he manages to genuinely change the lives of car owners.
‘In one example we gave an Alpine A110 to the owner, Guido, who has Parkinson’s disease. He is a petrol head through and through. We know he won’t be able to drive again because of his condition, but he had this dream of getting in the car on his driveway and imagine driving it. We got Welsh Q to invent a system so Guido can walk up to the car with a transponder in his pocket, and if he touches any metal part on it the transponder will recognise it and open the door. For him, any time day and night, he can sit in his car and reminisce and love his car.
‘Anther guy, Andreas, who was the innocent victim of an acid attack, has no vision in his left eye. Welsh Q took what you’d see in the left wing mirror and put it in the peripheral vision of his right eye – just to the left of the steering wheel of his Beetle Wizard. He was blown away by that. He said he struggled to drive due the issue, and this modification changed his life. To have the addition of a technical genius to the team to help people with conditions is the big highlight for season nine of Car SOS for me.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.