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.