TAKE AIM & FIRE

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By Stuart Grant and photography from Mike Schmucker

Carving up your favourite mountain pass, revelling in the sound of your high-end sportscar’s exhaust echoing off a craggy rock face, you feel on top of the world. But then what looks like a hotted hatchback appears in your mirror. You up the level a notch, but to no avail as the reflection gets bigger, then darts out, passes the driver’s window and disappears off into the distance. Numb, you realise you’ve just been served by a glorified grocery-getter. Don’t feel bad,you’ve just encountered a Lancia Delta Integrale, a car homologated to go rallying and one that was so successful at it that it scored six world titles on the trot.

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Yes, that’s correct: starting in 1987 the Lancia hatch scooped six World Rally Championships. But as with so many homologation specials the model’s roots go back to humbler beginnings – a small front-wheel drive family hatch designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (who also penned the VW Golf) in 1979. Power initially came from either a 1300 or 1500 4-cylinder and it went on to win European Car of the Year in 1980 before undergoing some minor cosmetic surgery and seeing a 1600cc motor thrown into the mix in 1982.

Performance intention was shown in 1983 when the Delta HF was introduced. Lancia borrowed the HF acronym from its motorsport department, who’d first used it on the successful Fulvia Rally cars, which in turn borrowed it from the Lancia Hi.Fi. Club founded in 1960. Hi.Fi. stood for ‘High Fidelity’, and membership was an exclusive affair with only the most loyal of Lancia owners eligible by invitation. When members took to the track in the early ʼ60s they often displayed an HF in a show of pride and it gradually morphed into the official tag for Lancia’s most sporting machines.

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The Delta HF delivered decent performance thanks the fitment of a turbo-charger, but kept an understated typical hatchback appearance – only deviating from this theme in 1984 with a limited number of Martini-striped limited-edition cars that celebrated the ’83 World Championship title success of the Martini-Lancia Rally 037 in Group B rallying. Group B rally was the no-holds barred rally silhouette formula that introduced the masses to the benefits of turbo-charging and four-wheel drive.

Despite securing the 1983 title with the 037, Lancia realised the competitive days for this rear-driven car were numbered and developed the Delta S4 for the 1985 season. For homologation purposes 200 road units left the manufacturing plant. As the name suggests, the S4 body shape was borrowed from the Delta range but that’s where the similarity stopped, with the S4 featuring a tubular chassis, mid-mounted 1759cc turbocharged engine setup, vastly altered suspension and four-wheel drive. With an estimated 500bhp on tap it worked too, with Henri Toivonen winning the ’85 RAC Rally on debut and Marku Alén securing second in the 1986 Driver’s Championship – he was actually ranked first for two weeks after the season closure, but when results of the Sanremo round were scrapped due to scrutineering irregularities, he dropped to second. It was a brutal formula, tough on cars and support crews, and with insane speeds proved fatal to both drivers and spectators. For these reasons it was dumped for 1987 as the FIA reinstated the production-based Group A as the top rally class.

To qualify for Group A, a minimum of 2 500 road units had to be manufactured, which left many firms with no real rally car. For Lancia there was a glimmer of hope though, in the form of the Delta HF 4WD announced in April 1986. The HF 4WD differed from the Delta HF with a slightly more aggressive appearance, 2-litre turbo engine and, more importantly, power was put to the road via all four wheels. It was a near-perfect starting point for Group A rallying, substantially better than the 2-wheel-powered BMW M3, Opel Kadett, Ford Sierra Cosworth and Renault 11 Turbo offerings.

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Massimo Biasion, Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén went on to dominate the rally scene with Lancia winning seven of the 11 rounds to take the manufacturer title and Kankkunen wearing the driver’s crown. To kick the ’88 season off, Lancia continued with the Delta HF 4WD as the basis but by round three a new car had been homologated. Named the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, improvements included bigger wheels (made possible by flaring the wheel arches), larger brakes, better suspension and more power. The name Integrale was borrowed from the Italian for integral/indispensable and alluded to the must-have nature of all-wheel drive in rallying.

Power generated by the Integrale’s twin-cam 2-litre 8-valve engine went to four corners via a 5-speed gearbox and under normal condition the power split was 56% upfront and 44% at the rear, however a viscous coupling balanced that number, depending amount of grip available, and the right to left power balance was kept optimal by a Torsen differential. With 165bhp on tap and 285Nm of torque, a road version was good for a zero to 100 of 6.6 seconds and top speed of 206km/h. In rally trim it was only beaten once in ’88, so obviously took the manufacturer honours and Biasion won the driver title.

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Kankkunen had jumped ship to Toyota after his 1987 championship win, citing favouritism towards Biasion as the reason. He proved his skills, developing the Toyota Celica GT-Four ST165 into a serious contender for the 1989 season and giving Lancia a few scares. Unfortunately, reliability proved the thorn in the Celica’s side and the same could be said for the Mitsubishi Galant of Mikael Ericsson. Lancia maintained its winning ways, taking both driver and manufacturer spoils, but the competitors had caught up in the pace department and Lancia had to do something to keep its unbroken record on track.

The answer came in the form of the Integrale 16V, shown for the first time at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show. It was characterised by a lump in the bonnet that housed a new 220bhp 16-valve turbo engine and the road figures for 0-100km/h jumped to 5.7 seconds while the top speed increased to 220km/h. Kankkunen moved back to Lancia, joining Biasion and Didier Auriol, ensuring that Lancia took its fourth constructor’s title with six wins in the season. But with this trio sharing the wins, the 1990 Driver Championship went to Toyota’s Carlos Sainz.

1991 would be a cracking year in the World Rally Championship, with Toyota now right up alongside Lancia in both the pace and reliability stakes. Pre-season speculation even had some bookies putting the Japanese brand in as favourites. It became an all-out blank cheque book fight resulting in constant development and therefore the need for some new homologation models midway through the season. Enter Lancia’s Delta HF Integrale ‘Evoluzione’ road version. It featured a stiffer body, even larger wheel arch extensions to house a wider track, modified bumper grilles and additional bonnet slats to aid engine bay cooling, raised front strut mounts for more travel and an angle-adjustable rear spoiler and other aerodynamic refinements. On the rally scene these improvements equated to a 5% or so improvement over the Integrale 16V on test stage times. With Kankkunen winning in Kenya, Argentina, Finland and Australia, and Auriol nabbing the Sanremo spoils, the Delta finished ’91 with five world manufacturer titles in a row. Sainz performed brilliantly, taking the race for the Driver’s Championship down to the wire but falling just short when his Toyota blew a head gasket on the RAC rally and gave Kankkunen his third championship.

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The writing was, however, on the wall for the Integrale’s rally domination. It was no longer the technological leader and the basic Delta platform had been pushed as far possible. With no new model in the wings Lancia pulled its official rally programme in 1992, leaving only the semi-privateer Jolly Club team flying the flag – the team did manage to sign up Kankkunen and Auriol though. As luck would have it, the new Toyota suffered reliability gremlins early in the season and Auriol went on a record run of six consecutive wins. Kankkunen scored a win and finished consistently in the points while Sainz came charging back later in the season with the result that three points separated the trio in the driver’s stakes going into the final round. Auriol popped the Lancia engine, Kankkunen crashed and Sainz came through to be crowned champion. But the combination of the Jolly Club pairing’s earlier events saw Lancia notching up its sixth manufacturer honours.  

Under the Jolly Club banner the Delta Integrale soldiered on in world championship rallying for one more year, but it pulled the plug at the end of 1993.

It wasn’t all gloom and depression for Integrale fans though with Lancia releasing numerous limited edition Integrales as it wound down production and then midway through ’93 what many regard as the ultimate Delta Integrale – the Delta HF Evoluzione II. Although the only homologation Integrale never intended for rallying, it saw more power than before from the 2-litre 16-valve turbo with 215bhp and 314Nm of torque. Production of these continued until 1995.

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Despite being left-hand drive machines, South Africa got a number of Deltas in between 1988 and 1992 through the then importer TAK and a few more have been privately imported subsequently. The current local register indicates: two HF Turbo 4WD, 13 HF Integrale 8Vs, 17 HF Integrale 16Vs, 11 HF Evoluzione (two of which are limited-edition Martini 6s) and three HF Evoluzione II (one a Dealer Collection limited edition and another a Giallo Ginestra limited edition).

Once regarded as a bargain performance car, these ultimate hatchbacks have taken off in the investment race and now command some seriously high prices. Try this on for size: just last month an immaculate Evoluzione II Dealer Collection car sold for 140 000 Euro on an overseas auction. The Lancia Delta Integrale is back to its winning ways and breaking all the records.   

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* Thanks to www.sportsandgtclassics.com for supplying the pictured car.


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