PASSIONE ENGADINA

Lancia Delta Integrale, 1986-1994

by DAVIDE PIAZZA

We are going to talk here about the most renowned and awarded rally car of the automotive history: 10 titles, 6 manufacturers and 4 drivers, for a total of 46 victories in the World Rally Championship. A record that has been unbeaten for 26 years. An extraordinary result, which did not occur anymore, for a sport version deriving from a family sedan. The Lancia Delta was presented in the autumn of 1979, as a virtual replacement, I would say, of the Fulvia, which had been out of production since 1972. Actually, the Lancia range of the time included the Beta, in different versions such as the sedan, the coupé and the spider, plus the innovative Hpe. The Beta model’s sales were never promising, with the exception of the coupé, which was the last one to be produced in 1984. Dear Readers, you that follow me, and with pleasure I’m told, do me a favour, please: ask the Boss to let me tell the story of the unfortunate Lancia Beta. You know how much I like flops…

However, in 1977 the Fiat’s management approved the Y5 project for a medium-sized sedan based on the Ritmo model, but, as we will see later on, things turned out differently. The design was committed to Giorgetto Giugiaro, who created a masterpiece. The first prototypes adopted the Ritmo’s chassis, but, after continual tests, the test drivers realized that the Fiat Ritmo was an unsuitable model to develop the new car on, therefore a brand new chassis was built, thus contributing, among other things, to increase the Lancia Delta’s selling price. The mechanics relied on the classic 1301 cc and 1498 cc engines of the Fiat range of the time, however with an improved fuel supply system and a smaller 1108 cc, especially made for the Greek and Portuguese markets. The cabin was very elegant and well refined, just like the exquisite taste of the Lancia’s refined clientele. It started with a bang: the Lancia Delta won the «Car of the Year 1980» award, thanks to which Fiat took back at the Ritmo’s defeat of two years before in favour of the Simca Horizon, an occurrence whose reasons I can’t still grab…

The Lancia Delta Integrale, or «4WD» (a definition that fell immediately in the wayside), was presented in 1986 and was one of the first attempts to offer a four-wheel drive to a wider clientele after Audi, which had been on the market with a «Four-Wheel» version for some years already. But the real Delta Integrale, called «8 valvole» (8 valves), came along two years later: the extended wheel track, the bodywork with rounded fenders, the 1995 cc engine with 185 HP made it a legend: never again a car was so loved and desired like this version. It cost a fortune, more or less 80,000 euros in today’s currency, but the wealthiest customers were ready to wait months to have it. A group of Japanese clients had it even shipped over from Turin! The year 1989 witnessed the launch of the «16V», with the power increased to 200 HP, recognizable by the hood’s bulge that housed the new big end. Not satisfied, in Fiat it was decided to launch the «Evoluzione» model: it sported an even more excessive design, though the car had been improved with standard air conditioning, even if only the catalysed versions had it, as the catalytic converter, believe it or not, increased the heat in the cabin…

While the Delta succeeded in the most renowned rallies, special versions were launched, such as the «Martini» (400 units), the «Martini 5 /6” (600 units) and the «HF Dealer’s Collection». This last, manufactured in only 173 units, was characterized by Recaro leather interiors, an engine start button and other exclusive details, such as the dashboard edge in brushed aluminium; all this at the «modest» price of 100,000 euros in today’s currency, that the lucky purchasers would spend without blinking an eye. In the landscape of present time’s copycat cars, this would not be understood. In 1991, Fiat announced the end of the racing department after a disappointing season, and Lancia’s racing career developed only thanks to private racing teams, in particular the Jolly Club, that entrusted the ex-Lancia Martini Team cars to Carlos Sainz, who unfortunately did not adjust to Delta. Actually, in order to fulfil the last orders, the last Delta Integrale came out from the Fiat plant in Rivalta on June 30th 1995: it was yellow and was shipped to a German customer that had been waiting it for a year.

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