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Elephants in the Room - How the Lancia Delta Integrale Conquered the WRC

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Alex Dunlop recalls the circumstances of the Lancia Delta Integrale's triumph in the WRC, becoming one of the most dominant cars in the history of the sport, a talent that also made for an iconic performance car. With photography by Ben Midlane.

I bet that within 10 seconds of seeing these 2 cars, you can already hear the Sega Rally theme tune in your head. After all, what is rallying without the Lancia Delta Integrale?

It might surprise you to hear that the Delta was never meant to be a purebred rally car. Instead, it was supposed to target the premium end of the small car sector, sitting below the Beta in Lancia’s model hierarchy. Lancia based the car on the front wheel drive Fiat Ritmo platform but took the car upmarket by having the car styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro and adding features like all-round independent suspension, a stiffened chassis and an interior choc full of premium materials. This hard work paid off with the Delta receiving critical acclaim at its launch in 1979 and even going on to win the 1980 car of the year in Europe.

Rallying came to the Delta after Audi’s formidable Quattro and Peugeot’s lightning-fast 205 T16 gave Lancia’s 037 a bloody nose throughout the Group B era of the early 1980s. Although the 037 was a fantastic car it simply couldn’t keep up with the competition and their four-wheel drive setups. To be more competitive for the 1985 season Lancia comprehensively re-engineered the 037 and launched their championship contender the Delta S4.

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

The S4 shared but a handful of parts with the Delta HF and instead became its own model. Although they shared roughly the same from end styling the S4 was a ferocious competition car through and through. Mid-engined, four-wheel drive, an engine which was both turbo and supercharged, it is said to have been able to hit 60mph from a standstill in less than 3 seconds, on gravel… It cost five times more than the highest specced Delta and was produced in very small numbers.

As a rally car it secured 5 wins but never had the chance to become the successful machine it deserved to be, instead its ferocity was to be its undoing. The 1986 Tour de Corse saw a horrific crash involving Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto killed after their car left the road and burst into flames, sitting above the fuel tanks they stood no chance and both perished. This was one of many incidents that lead to the downfall of Group B and ultimately the S4, the cars had become too fast for the sport and something had to change.

For the 1987 season the FIA introduced Group A to the world rally championship, this set out a much more stringent ruleset where cars were less powerful and more importantly needed to be based on production models that had reached over 5000 units in 12 months. This immediately discounted the one-offs and highly developed cars that teams had ran under Group B and instead meant manufacturers had to look at their regular cars. The competition were caught fully off guard but Lancia had a car ready and waiting, the HF 4WD.

By some stroke of luck Lancia had unveiled the HF 4WD in 1986 as the flagship of the Delta range. This signalled a major change in the Delta’s history as for the first time the regular Delta had been given 4WD in combination with the turbocharged 2.0 Lampredi engine. Outputting 162 hp and 260 nm of torque the HF 4WD had real performance credentials and with that new four wheel drive system it was a perfect shoe in for the new regulations. Although it didn’t have the exotic layout or complex mechanicals of the S4, the HF 4WD set about annihilating its competition on the world rally stage.

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Annihilating might seem like some journalistic hyperbole but in this case it’s perhaps an understatement. The Delta HF 4WD not only won its debut season in 1987 but it went on to take the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 & 1992 world rally championships. Not bad for a car that was never meant to go near a rally stage.

The reasons for the Delta’s success are numerous, from getting the jump on the competition in the late 80s, to continually evolving the car and of course having a rostrum of some of the greatest rally drivers the world had ever seen (Juha Kankkunen, Didier Auriol and Miki Biasion to name but three). This success in the world rally championship bled into the Delta road cars and they began to gather an iconic status which had never left them.

The most iconic cars are those that bare the Integrale name. Integrale first appeared in the 1987 update to the Delta, but it became more established in the 1989 update which bought more power thanks to a 16v option alongside the normal 8v cars, better braking, revised dampers and a more aggressive style to the car’s look. Arches began to bulge, louvres sprouted on the bonnet, and air intakes appeared in the front bumper. This is where the signature Integrale look began and from there in typical Lancia fashion it was tweaked and improved with each new generation.

A revision in 1991 marked the first “Evoluzione” treatment Lancia applied to the Delta. Power was now over 200 bhp and the running gear was comprehensively upgraded to focus on reliability and performance which in turn would give the Delta the edge over its competition. A subsequent Evo II followed in 1993 which continued the development of the Evo I and added new engine management along with further styling tweaks. Unfortunately the Evo II didn’t do enough to keep the competition at bay and as a result Lancia’s winning streak came to an end in the 1993 championship. Toyota, Ford and Subaru all finished ahead of Lancia with only Mitsubishi being bested.

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

But did it really matter that it had finally been beaten? Well not really, Lancia continued to produce the Integrale through 1994 and also built a number of special edition cars culminating in the Japanese only market Edizione Finale model. By the end of production, some 47,000 Integrales had been produced with the Evo II variants being the most rare with around 5,600 total units. Sadly the tooling was wearing out and the Delta was starting to show its age, a new 2nd generation Delta was waiting in the wings and although a performance variant was made on this platform it never acquired the same status the Gen 1 cars did.

Back to the two cars pictured (1991 Evoluzione models if you were wondering) its clear to see why they conjure up such fond memories. They are a car that’s iconically Giugiaro, with the square box styling draping beautifully over boxed arches. It’s very 80s, and somehow quite 90s, but it will forever be a shape that is timeless. For the millennial the Integrale represents everything that their era of car culture was all about. Yes you can say than a Lancer Evolution or a Subaru Impreza is more relevant but without the Integrale those cars would never have made production.

But is this all just rose tinted spectacles and yearning for your youth? Not at all, check the prices of some recent sales and tell me if you still think the Integrale is over hyped, if you’re still a none believer just go and look at one, after that well there’s only one thing for it. Head to your nearest seaside arcade and find and old neglected Sega Rally machine, just don’t you dare pick that Celica.

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione

Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione


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