The next time you’re hanging out with your American car friends and feeling a little impish, ask them: “Which automaker has produced the largest number of great cars?” It’s a question that will inevitably start a heated discussion. The question was considered by the erstwhile presenters at Top Gear awhile back and their answer may surprise you – they passed over Ferrari, BMW, and Jaguar, and chose Lancia. Lancia never had a big presence in America and was last officially sold in the U.S. in 1982, depriving Americans of the most successful rally car ever, the 1987-1992 Lancia Delta Integrale.
Lancia Delta Integrale – the most successful rally car ever
The Delta Integrale 8v was Lancia’s chosen weapon to contest the World Rally Championship (WRC) beginning in 1987. Following the FIA’s 1986 abolition of the snarling, fire-breathing, crowd-pleasing cars homologated in Group B competing in the top echelon for the World Rally Championship, many manufacturers were in a quandary about which car to use in 1987. The new Group A rules required at least 5,000 examples of the car to be produced in order to be homologated for competition, forcing the manufacturers to rely on production cars rather than building bespoke race cars as in the past. Fortunately for Lancia, they had a car in their stable that, with suitable modifications, would qualify for 1987 competition.
The new rally car was the Delta Integrale, which replaced the HF 4WD in Lancia’s lineup for 1987. The Delta Integrale won the first rally of the year, the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally, and proceeded to win eight of 11 rallies in 1987 and the World Rally Championship. Lancia’s domination of the 1987 season was no fluke – the Delta Integrale won 10 of 11 rallies in 1988; seven of 10 in 1989; six of 11 in 1990; and had six wins and four second-place finishes in 1991, after which Lancia officially withdrew from rallying. Still, the following year in 1992, the Lancia Delta won eight of 10 events under the auspices of Martini Racing. With a record of 46 overall WRC victories and six consecutive WRC Championships, the Lancia Delta Integrale is the most successful rally car ever.
Delta Integrale rally cars
Lancia transformed the sedate HF 4WD into the rally-winning Delta Integrale 8v by increasing the engine size and giving it a full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) system, with a Ferguson center coupling and a Torsen rear differential similar to the AWD system of their Group B Delta S4. The two liter, four-cylinder, fuel-injected engine, with the help of a Garratt T3 turbocharger, produced 185 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The transversely mounted front engine coupled to a five-speed transmission gave the Delta Integrale 8v a top speed of 134 mph, with acceleration from 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) of 6.6 seconds. The chassis was upgraded with 11.2-inch ventilated disc brakes up front; a larger brake master cylinder and servo; along with revised front springs, dampers, and struts.
The body modifications of the 8v, including bulged wheel arches to accommodate wider tires, a new bonnet with air louvers, and restyled bumpers, were carried over into 1989 when the engine was given a new cylinder head with four valves per cylinder. The engine now produced 200 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, boosting the top speed to 137 mph and lowering the 0 to 100 kph time to 5.7 seconds. Larger fuel injectors and a more responsive Garrett turbo were additional improvements. Engine tuning continued for the Delta Integrale “Evo 1” version in 1991, increasing the horsepower to 210 at 5,750 rpm, but the top speed and acceleration remained the same. External changes included new grilles in the front bumper, a redesigned bonnet, and an adjustable roof spoiler.
The Delta’s humble beginnings
The Lancia Delta began as a small, upmarket, five-door hatchback family car with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The five-door hatchback was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign and first exhibited at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1979. It offered features not usually found in a small family car, such as fully independent suspension and rack and pinion steering, with air conditioning and an adjustable steering wheel available at extra cost. The Delta was well-received and was chosen as the European Car of the Year for 1980. It was equally popular with the buying public and by the end of 1981, production exceeded 100,000 cars. An optional automatic transmission was added for 1982 and the body was given a modest facelift.
September of 1983 saw the introduction of the Delta HF, the first performance version of the Delta. It had front-wheel drive and was powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a ZF five-speed gearbox. A retuned suspension and wider tires improved the handling of the Delta HF. A limited special edition HF Martini was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1984 to celebrate rally victories of the Lancia-Martini Rally 037. The special edition was white with the famous Martini blue and red stripes on the sides. Only 150 were made in 1984 and 1985. Another performance model, the Delta HF 4WD, was introduced in 1986 and was powered by a two-liter, 8v turbocharged engine with an intercooler and an oil cooler. It was the Delta HF 4WD model that was replaced by the Delta Integrale in 1987.
Lancia – a company fueled by innovation
Lancia & C. Fabbrica Automobili was founded by Fiat test drivers Vincenzo Lancia and Claudio Fogolin in November of 1906. Vincenzo Lancia was then only 25 years old, but he had a unique propensity for everything mechanical, a nearly unsurpassed skill for engine diagnosis and repair, and was an experienced Fiat test driver. Vincenzo set high standards for the company until his death in 1937, when his wife Adele and his son Gianni took over the company. Famous Alfa Romeo designer Vittorio Jano also joined the firm at that time.
From the very start, the Company was innovative and became known as the ‘Company of Firsts.’ Lancia’s first car, the 1907 Alpha, had an unusually reliable engine in a lightweight chassis. The Theta, introduced in 1913, was the first European car to include an electrical system as standard equipment. The 1922 Lambda was the first to have monocoque construction and an independent front suspension, and was powered by the world’s first narrow angle V4 engine. The firsts continued, almost on a yearly basis – the 1931 Astura had flexible engine mounts similar to Chrysler’s famous ‘floating power’ system; the 1933 Augusta had hydraulic brakes; and the 1950 Aurelia had the first full production V6 engine.
Lancia Delta Integrale values
There is not a large amount of data on Lancia values in the U.S., due to their market scarcity. However, RM Sotheby’s recently offered a 1992 Lancia Delta Integrale Evo I for sale at their Sotheby’s NY auction, Icons 2017. The one-owner car was an original, unmodified Delta Integrale with only 4,030 miles on the odometer and 1-of-400 “Giallo Ferrari” (Ferrari Yellow) special edition paint with ABS, air conditioning and black Recaro perforated leather seats. The hammer price was $190,400 including the buyer’s fee. We can see now why our friends at Hagerty selected the Delta Integrale as one of the “Top Cool Cars” that you can import into the U.S. now that it is at least twenty-five years old.
Britain’s Car magazine also loved the Delta Integrale. In 2009, they said, “No four-wheel drive saloon is as much fun to drive. And that includes the Audi Quattro. Few cars will get you quicker from point to point, or make you smile so much.”
To us, that sounds like what driving old cars is all about!
We’d like to thank the good folks at Auto Trader UK for their permission to use their video of Mr. Rupert Matheiu, owner of a Lancia Delta Integrale, who takes us for a ride and gives us a disarmingly honest evaluation of his beautiful car.
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancia
Autoevolution – https://www.autoevolution.com/lancia/