Quattro, the writing was on the wall for
anything with less than four driveshafts. It
took the rest of the world so long to catch
up with the Germans, seats aboard the
WRC’s AWD express trains were severely
limited in 1982 and ’ 83. And Toivonen
hadn’t done enough to warrant one.
That’s not to say his early career wasn’t
impressive. Eased into Simcas and Avengers,
courtesy of his father’s position at Chrysler
Finland, Toivonen made full use of that early
leg up; every other break came on merit.
Fifth overall on the 1977 1,000 Lakes,
in only his second full season in the sport,
was astonishing. His speed and bravery
were beyond question; his ability to finish
less so. That ’ 77 success was the last time
he would reach the finish of his home round
of the WRC for seven years. A 131 Abarth,
Sunbeam Lotus, Opel Ascona and Manta
400 were all comprehensively remodeled
in Toivonen’s efforts to make it through the
Jyvaskyla woods quicker than anybody.
He was, however, impossible to ignore.
Des O’Dell, competition director at Talbot,
was a fan and did what he could to help the
young Finn when he brought his privateer
Sunbeam to the UK’s RAC Rally in 1978. A
ninth-place on his debut was impressive,
even more so given that he had a fellow
Finn, and not a Brit, on the maps.
On reaching the finish, Toivonen went
some way to explain the hard-charging
style for which he quickly became known.
“At home in Finland, you must win,” he
told Autosport magazine. “Either you win
or you are nothing. I think that was the
problem for me in 1977. Almost always
on the second stage, I would go off.”
And almost always on the first stage,
he was fastest...
A couple of years on from his impressive
maiden outing in Britain, his rival’s worst
fears were confirmed. By the 1980 RAC,
Toivonen had learned the art of being
fastest at the finish, too. He became the
WRC’s youngest ever winner, aged 24.
While his 1,000 Lakes record might not
have delivered many finishes, it did offer
annual confirmation of his ever-increasing
speed. Having switched to a factory Opel
Ascona 400, Toivonen rubbed his hands in
glee as damp weather moved in to central
Finland in ’ 82. He was ready to take the
fight to Audi. More fastest times, more
speed. But still, he was pushing water uphill.
His exasperation was never more
apparent than at the end of the RAC a
few months later. Four minutes down on
Mikkola’s Quattro, there was nothing he
or his Ascona could do about that one,
but losing out to the Audi of Michele
“In Finland you must win.
Either you win or you are
nothing. I think that was the
problem for me in 1977”
Group 2 Sunbeam
wasn’t meant to take
the fight to the more
powerful Group 4
machinery at the start
of the 1980s, but
Henri Toivonen didn’t
read the memo...
(LEFT) His overall win
on the 1980 RAC Rally
marked him out as an