Lancia is pinning its comeback hopes on a series of models that includes the third generation Delta, a stretched hatch that sadly is galaxies apart from its namesake, the fast and focused Delta Integrale that lit the fires of legend from 1987 to 1991.
Sad because for many enthusiasts the four-wheel drive Delta was the first real ‘hot hatch’, the car that started the craze for wickedly fast five-door compacts – even displacing the original Cooper S and VW GTi for that honour. The rally-ready Delta evolved through five distinct generations, eventually totalling some 45 000 units. Each version was more powerful and focussed than the last, so that the competition machines they formed the basis of would remain competitive. In its brief lifespan, the Delta spawned a bewildering array of specials, the most desirable of which is arguably the white Martini VI: a car which celebrates six consecutive – and still unmatched – WRC Manufacturers’ crowns. That car marked the beginning of the end for the Lancia Delta as many had come to know and love it, and the process of replacing it as a production car was well underway by mid-1992. The Delta MkII would be based on the Fiat Tipo and with no Integrale version planned, it was a case of going from hero to zero in one fell swoop. The Italian rally Tifosi (and many around the world) suddenly had very little to cheer about.
The second Delta went out of production in 1999, not that anyone seemed to notice, and it looks like Delta #3 is going to be just as forgettable, despite reviving the most famous name in rallying. The Fiat Bravo-based third generation car was unveiled at Geneva earlier this year (see page xx) and indications are that a four-wheel-drive version is unlikely.
So nostalgia seems to be all that fans have really, but thankfully there’s no shortage of that. The Delta was instrumental in making the Lancia brand the most successful manufacturer in world rallying, and today, 15 years since the three-sided logo was last seen on a WRC car throwing dirt off all four wheels as it blasted down narrow tree-lined tracks, no one has matched the brand’s 11 titles. The demise of the scary-fast Group B rally cars led to Group A – a production-based formula of which at least 5000 (rather than the 200 for Group B) road versions had to be built. As it turned out Lancia was well placed for this sudden change and already had the front-drive HF Turbo. All they needed to do was run drive to the back axle and grow the engine to 2.0 litres. Much of the 4×4 hardware used came from the Prisma sedan and the HF4WD born of this marriage retained the transverse engine layout, with the five-speed box sending drive to a centre differential/viscous coupling with 56 percent of the torque deployed to the front wheels. A Torsen (torque sensing) rear differential was fitted, while the front diff was conventional.
Competition and commercial success was immediate and in Juha Kankkunen was the 1987 Drivers’ champ, with Lancia winning the Manufacturers’ title. The homologation requirement was comfortably met, with almost 5 300 cars built and rapidly sold. The 8V Integrale campaigned from 1988 heralded the start of growth in various dimensions which would continue largely unabated for the rest of the car’s life. The wheelarches were bulged outward to widen the track and make provision for 15 inch wheels, which also allowed for bigger brakes. And more power came from a reworked cylinder head and larger turbo.
The 16-valve head of the next version required a rethink of under bonnet packaging and the car revealed at Geneva in 1989 sported a significant bulge in the engine cover, but what couldn’t be seen was revised 4×4 hardware which now sent 53 percent of the torque rearward. Wheels were an inch wider and the rubber both broader and lower in profile.
But Lancia clearly felt the need to go radical in the face of tougher competition and the Evo version of the 16V had broader fenders still; inside which lurked 15×7.5J rims, now with a five-bolt pattern. There were four-pot front callipers and enlarged discs at the back, while a strut brace made the front end more rigid. Telling this car apart from its predecessors was relatively easy, thanks to the tri-position tailgate spoiler and revised frontal treatment with the headlights all of the same size.
Finally the Evo II arrived, the only Delta which was never a rally car. Launched in 1993, it was also the first ‘clean’ Integrale. But despite being equipped with a catalytic converter it showed increases in power and torque thanks to a much more powerful engine management system and a turbocharger update. Wheels grew to 16 inches and front track increased to 1 516mm – a full 90mm up on that of the original HF 4WD. Gains in the engine bay were offset by increased weight and the Evo II weighed in at 1 340kg (ABS, aircon and a catalytic converter were standard fitment). Claimed performance figures were unchanged from its predecessor – and indeed from the first 16-valve version.
In retrospect the Integrale model development was a remarkable process, made more so by the fact that the cars kept winning. It has created a cult largely without equal. Today it means that any Integrale is truly desirable and while they’re not cheap to buy or run, they’re modern classics thanks to the limited volumes built and the story behind each version.
Local car fetishists Nesh Turanjanin and his pal Lynton Lomas polished up their collection of Delta Integrales for us, so that we can take you on a (quick) trip down memory lane …
I had walked past ‘Lord Blue’ on my way into Investment Cars to meet Nesh Turanjanin, effervescent Integrale nutter and the owner of a veritable fleet of the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Italian hatchbacks. And now after swapping notes and hearing about that love-at-first-sight moment in 1989 when he first clapped eyes on an Integrale parked outside House of Sports Cars in Rosebank, I’m getting in behind the wheel of his pride and joy: a rare Montecarlo-badged Evo II. The first impression is that it’s a bit like a Citi Golf. An old Citigolf in fact, with that original squared-off dashboard, despite being chronologically more of a Golf II rival. But that’s where the similarity ends. For many – and in about 15 minutes I would have little reason to argue – this is the ultimate hot hatch and a celebration of what half a decade of rally success can do for a five-door which started life as a pretty mundane shopping trolley. Of course, being Italian and being a Lancia, aficionados will tell you that it could never be ordinary (a claim undermined by the fact that the basic underpinnings also provided the platform for the Saab 600).
Like every other Integrale bar a few converted for the UK, the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car. So I’m slightly apprehensive about opening the driver’s door instead of changing gear as I swap cogs for the first time. There is apparently one right-hooker here in SA, and for a moment I wish I were driving it instead of this car, which also has a number of mechanical upgrades enabling it to deliver about 180kW to the wheels. Nesh claims it’s the fastest Integrale in South Africa.
I feel better when he assures me that while the conversions were expertly done, a right-hooker is compromised because it used steering gear from the Prisma – the sedan version of the Delta – and the rack has a different ratio, giving the car a completely different feel. While I contemplate all this from the heavily bolstered Alcantara seat, he hands me the keys and I locate the ignition switch through the spindly stalks which festoon the steering column.
I take some time to get a good look at the instruments, for there are a lot of them. Those dead ahead through the spokes of the Momo Corse steering wheel include the wide-set speedo and tacho, with fuel level, water temperature, and voltage readouts in-between. An additional boost pressure gauge is set right in the middle of the display. Engine speed is made easier to assimilate thanks to the gauge being rotated so the needle is at rest at the three o’clock position and redline is near nine o’clock.
To the right, in a hang-down centre section which looks spectacularly ordinary, are gauges for oil temperature and pressure, with the same yellow markings and needles as the rest. It all looks very ’70s and is a far cry from modern panels where even the high and lows of engine temperature are monitored by mere lights. A fond thought for the days when setting off on a journey in a fast car made you feel like a fighter pilot going through the pre-flights checks!
A grumble from the engine bay is just a longish twist of the key away. There’s nothing too lumpy or scary about the throb from rear of the car. I reach down for the tall, slightly spindly gearlever with my right hand and my fingers wrap around the knob, my thumb communicating with a deep indent on the left hand side. As a result, it fits the palm like a plug in a wall socket – a suitable analogy because it turns out that changing gear is like flicking a switch.
I lean my left foot against the clutch pedal, expecting it to require a determined push but the action is light and measured. So I select reverse and turn the car around, noticing that the steering requires little effort. Yet even at walking pace it has a weightiness which promises accuracy. An easy U-turn later it’s apparent that this is an especially nimble car: with a wheelbase of 2 480mm and a total length of 3.9 metres it isn’t much larger than a Citi. In Evo II guise the Integrale had become a more luxurious vehicle than the original, with feature like ABS and aircon pushing kerb mass to 1350kg, a far cry from the under-1200kg of the original 8-valve HF. Yet it still majors in agility. In fact the deftness of the controls is what leaves the overriding impression: even when hurrying along the steering feels precisely measured and accurate, the gearlever requires merely a light push or pull and the clutch bites progressively.
Yet there’s no shortage of acceleration of the ‘yee-ha’ variety here. Long stretches of tarmac are shrunk rapidly by the elastic, surging power delivery which thrusts the little car at the horizon accompanied by a delectably fizzy mix of engine, exhaust, induction and drivetrain noise totally in keeping with its turbocharged, four-wheel-drive nature. It’s furious, yet it feels remarkably well sorted – there’s little sensation of torque being delivered to the front wheels – and the chassis feels so obedient there’s seldom a white-knuckled moment. Still, it’s a very fast car. Standard versions were good for a 5.7 second 0-100km/h sprint and there’s the need for lots of concentration despite the fact that you can steer it with a finger and thumb of each hand.
Randburg’s lunchtime traffic also means the opportunities to fully explore power or grip are few, and frequently curtailed, but that’s not the point. Even a short drive is enough to understand why the car was such a competition success: a combination of precise handling, the ability to put all its power to good use, and dimensions which make the narrowest roads feel wider than they are. These are still the qualities that make a car satisfyingly quick from point to point. More the pity that many manufacturers, Lancia included, seem to have forgotten this.
A bewildering array of special edition Integrales were made, celebrating everything from five successive Manufacturers’ World Rally Championships (the Martini V) to the, um, er, birthday of the Pope – well, not quite. Nesh’s Evo II is unusual and while it carries a Montecarlo badge on the tailgate, it isn’t a special in the true sense. The tagline confirms that it was part of a consignment of a couple of hundred late-model cars destined specifically for the UK. All were painted ‘Bleu Lord’ – a shade of blue a smidgen from black.
What appears to have happened at the end of 1993 however is a production line reopened at the factory in Chivasso north of Turin to meet demand which existed despite the sun having set on the car’s rally career. Much of this demand was from the British market – ironically the country still considered the hub of Integrale activity – and a 1000-odd additional cars were produced. These included the ‘Dealer Collection’ batch, and all were an unusual metallic red with beige leather interior. Apparently 177 were built, one finding its way to South Africa.
Some of the other interesting and rare specials were the self-explanatory Edizione Finale, the Blue Lagos, the La Perla, and the incredibly rare (just eight were made) Club Lancia. Many of these limited run cars had detail differences like special trim colours and badging, and even mechanical differences such as a starter button and special short-throw shift linkages. The common thread is that they are all highly sought-after by modern collectors.
An earlier special was the ‘Giallo Ferrari’ version of the Evo I and all were painted bright yellow and had yellow stitching on the black leather seats. The Giallo Ginestra wasn’t dissimilar but was based on the Evo II and apparently 220 were made, of which one reached our shores.
The Martini V and Martini VI models were both based on the Evo I and followed each other in rapid succession down the production line from the middle of 1992, Lancia long since having officially pulled out of the WRC. That year, Martini Racing (rather than Lancia Martini) and Jolly Club ran the rally show, something which they did well enough to win the manufacturer’s crown again and justify the existence of the Martini VI! They’re hard to tell apart, but the VI has more prominent graphics and the seats are turquoise Alcantara with red detailing. If you spot one going cheap in Auto Trader from a deceased estate, grab it: only 310 were built and you could pocket 50 000 Euro if it’s clean and not a fake …
Motorsport used to be an important part of Lancia’s marketing – something that’s hard to believe in 2008. What is generally well known is that the company dominated rallying in the 1980s with the Delta, following on from the successes of the 1970s with Sandro Munari in a Lancia Fulvia and later in the Stratos. Between 1972 and 1977 he won the Monte Carlo rally four times and was the sport’s first drivers’ champion that year. It was a fitting way for the Stratos to bow out, giving way to the Fiat 131 Abarth in the Group’s competition plans.
Lancia was back with the two-wheel drive 037 in the early 1980s, but the first Delta to take to the rally stages was the remarkable S4, considered by many to be the fastest of the Group B rally cars in terms of outright performance despite never winning a world championship. The writing was on the wall from 1985 though, as power outputs continued to climb with catastrophic consequences. Lancia, Audi and Ford were battling Peugeot for world domination and the 1986 season was marred by spectator deaths and then, on the island of Corsica, Henri Toivonen crashed his Delta S4, killing himself and his navigator Sergio Cresto.
Sanity prevailed and from 1987 Group B cars displacing more than 1.6 litres were banned – just as it seemed the S4 was about to become the dominant force. Of course this cloud had a silver lining for Lancia and the demise of these 375kW rally monsters led directly to the birth of the Group A four-wheel drive Delta and the most successful period for any manufacturer in the history of world rallying.
The brand’s halcyon days from 1987 to 1992 yielded 16 one-two finishes, 12 events where only Lancia crews stood on the podium and, in 1988, 10 wins from 11 events. It also produced a bunch of drivers’ titles: two apiece for Miki Biasion and Juha Kankunnen. In total, Lancia has won an unrivalled 73 WRC events, 47 of them in Integrales from just 79 WRC events. Second is Ford with 66, and if were not for that pesky Loeb fellow in a Citroën, they might get to overtake Lancia one of these years.