It’s quite unfortunate to think of the current state of Lancia, given its visceral racing pedigree in the world of rally racing.
Lancia began its emergence in the automotive industry in the early 1900s when Vincenzo Lancia and Claudio Fogolan left their roots at Fiat to fulfil their own passions of delivering cars to the people who chose racing as their sport of choice.
With performance being their main interest at heart, the two began developing their own sports-oriented vehicles, and Lancia eventually became known as one of the most iconic names in not only the world of rally racing, but in the automotive industry at large.
Fast forward 70 years and we’re greeted with rally champions such as the rear-wheel drive Group B 037, the front-wheel drive Fulvia, and even the Ferrari Dino-powered Stratos – cars that became known for their timeless designs and significant rally racing history and street-going homologations.
But with competition in Group B and the World Rally Championship becoming more and more fierce, primarily from the gruesome Audi quattro, Lancia knew they had to come up with a car that would shame its rivals once and for all.
Cue The Delta
Initially, the Lancia Delta was nothing more than a rather ordinary family hatchback. It made no technological breakthroughs, it was not considered fast even by the standards within the era, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t the best looking car either. But after suffering defeat from the Audi quattro in both 1984, and further losing to the Peugeot 205 T16 in 1985, Lancia realized that in order to remain competitive, they needed to drop the 037 and start from scratch with a car that would serve its drivers well. Without a question, it needed to be all-wheel drive.
Thus, the Delta S4 was born. It shared a similar shape to the standard Delta, but the rest of the car was absolutely specific to itself. It became known for its immense mid-mounted, twin-charged power output, but was short lived. Following the crash and death of Lancia’s Group B racing driver Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto in their S4, the FIA decided it would no longer support Group B, resulting in termination of the category as a whole.
With Group B’s practically overnight disintegration, Lancia shifted its focus to world rallying’s Group A, where its true stripes would be earned. Group A’s homologation rules required 5,000 production units of the race cars to be produced in order to compete in the series. Coincidentally, the first variant of the Delta HF 4WD arrived on showroom floors that same year, so it made sense for Lancia to use this platform for their homologation requirements as well.
The days of purpose-built rally cars were long gone, but that didn’t necessarily prove to be a bad thing for the company. While their rivals struggled to comply with homologation regulations, the Delta HF 4WD would win nine out of the 13 rounds in 1987, taking the World Rally Championship titles for both manufacturer and driver/co-driver.
For the following years, the Delta HF 4WD would go through numerous changes and variations. Lancia constantly tweaked and refined its chassis, body, and engine to better the performance capabilities of the car whilst retaining its homologation requirements.
The most significant in racing terms would be the Integrale 16V, which is the premise behind the car shown in this feature.
The Integrale 16V’s main differentiator was the newly revised 16-valve cylinder head, which brought turbocharged power output up to a full 200bhp. Other noticeable characteristics included a distinctive bulge on the bonnet of the car, paired with widened wheel arches to accommodate larger wheels, tires, and brakes.
This specific variant of the Delta was designed to create the most race-oriented version of the rally car possible. With that said, hidden changes included tweaks to the suspension geometry, a revised four-wheel drive ratio to reduce understeer, and ABS was added to the car for the first time ever.
Despite technological advancements, the car’s behavior ended up requiring even more concentration and input from the driver. Some even described its driving characteristics as “always on edge”.
The Martini 5 Evoluzione
By 1991, the Delta HF Integrale held five WRC titles under its belt, and Lancia finally decided to retire from the world of rallying. In 1992, a privateer racing company, Jolly Club, sponsored by Martini Racing continued to compete and won Lancia’s sixth consecutive constructor championship under its wing in 1992.
To celebrate the record shattering achievement (which still hasn’t been broken today), Lancia developed the final homologated road going versions of their rally cars, dubbed the Evoluzione. In addition to this, they created 400 ‘Martini 5′ special Evos, and the one pictured in this feature happens to be number 360.
The Pagani Guy
The car belongs to Francesco Zappacosta, former managing director of Pagani Automobili, and avid Italian man. Francesco has been in love with machines for as long as he can remember, just as many of us can relate to. As a young boy in Italy, someone gave Francesco a Martini Racing calendar, in which he – like many of us – ripped the pictures out of and hung them up on his bedroom walls. He recollects, “I remember clearly an image of a Delta sliding around a corner, and a 037 flying over jumps…”
A few years later he came across some Duke videos and catalogs on rally racing, touring car racing, and DTM. After sorting through all of the videos and articles, Francesco found himself in love with the spirit of the wild racing cars. Cars like the Integrale, 037, E30 M3, Impreza 22B, Alfa 155, and so forth, which in turn resulted in a distinct taste for European cars with serious racing backgrounds and timeless styling behind them.
When the time came where he could finally afford to purchase some of the cars he lusted after as a boy, he acquired a red Delta Evo, which he still owns 19 years later. At the time however, the man selling the red Delta Evo also had a Martini 6 car available for sale, but regretfully, Francesco purchased the red car instead. It’s the sort of regret I know some of us have also experienced first hand, since no one knew that values on certain cars would soar the way they have in the last decade.
With that in mind, Francesco knew he couldn’t let the opportunity to own an actual Martini car slip again, so he purchased this one as well when fate showed up to his doorsteps, finally relieving his previous regret with closure.
It’s interesting to say though, that someone who spent numerous hours behind the wheels of Paganis chose a car from the complete opposite side of the spectrum as his vehicle of choice. A rather noble gesture in my books.
Lancia Isn’t Great Again
With such charismatic history backing the brand, I genuinely find it hard to comprehend where Lancia has gone in the last 20 or so years. How can a brand that still holds the record for consecutive WRC wins transition from that sort of pedestal to one which caters to what seems like cheap fashion designers based in France?
The only car in their line up is a rebadged Chrysler, and one of their slogans is literally “fashion city cars.”
Luckily for us though, there have been attempts to bring the name back to its roots by heavy hitters amongst the industry. Italian coach builder Manifattura Automobili Torino revealed efforts on making 25 reimagined versions of the Stratos rocking F430 Ferrari power plants early in 2018.
Although it’s a solid and fair attempt at revival, the odds of attainability here are slim to none. Other coach builders such as Automobili Amos are also making attempts at bringing resto-mod reimaginations to the Delta Integrale, but as we know, with Singer-like restorations come Singer-like pricing, which defeats the initial mission of Lancia: affordable road-going performance cars.
Typically, I like to end the articles on some sort of positive note, like a form of inspiration or gesture that shows a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dim it may be.
But I won’t sugar coat it this time: Lancia is lost, and the #MakeLanciaGreatAgain hashtag is probably the only thing that’ll be trending for the brand anytime soon.