But despite his penchant for cigarettes he was one of the fastest men ever to grace the FIA World Rally Championship - and he was surprisingly adept on the dance floor once the rally was over.
In fact, before Sebastien Loeb came along, Salonen was the person to hold the record for the highest number of rallies won consecutively (four, in 1985: the year when he went on to win the championship by a record 52 points from Stig Blomqvist).
Yet it was his nicotine habit that really made him famous, with several iconic images of Salonen at the wheel of the Peugeot 205 T16 forming part of rally history.
In order to smoke and drive at the same time, Salonen cultivated the art of driving one-handed - as one of the Peugeot mechanics will always remember. During a test, Timo actually lost his cigarette, which led to an alarming scrabble for it on the floor in fifth gear. He eventually recovered it, but he still wasn’t happy. “You see what I mean?” he told his wide-eyed mechanic. “On the limit, this car is really imprecise...”
Salonen no longer smokes and while his title triumph of 1985 is sometimes overlooked, the motor trader from Hameenlinna has rightly established a firm footing in WRC history.