Lancia may be gone but the all-conquering Delta Integrale will never be forgotten. Why? Because in rallying form it won five WRC manufacturer titles and in showroom trim it remains considered by many enthusiast to be one of the best hot hatch road cars ever made.
As you may recall, there was a bit of a four-wheel drive thing going on in the 1980s. It was single-handedly started by Audi and copied by Porsche (959), Ford (Sierra XR4x4), VW (Rally Golf), even Citroën (BX GTi 4×4), all in the name of high-speed handling. Without them, and the rallying success story they ultimately spawned, there’d be no Subaru Impreza Turbo or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo today.
Lancia had a go, first with the Delta HF Turbo 4WD in 1986. But when the Integrale version arrived two years later, a legend was created. No four-wheel drive saloon is as much fun to drive, full stop. And that includes the Audi Coupé Quattro.
Engine, body and chassis
For this rally homologation special, a 2.0-litre version of the Fiat twin-cam 4-cyl engine had a full pressure turbo to deliver 185bhp. Combine this with permanent four-wheel drive and wide tyres and the ensuing super hot hatch was fast, agile and grippy, with none of the torque steer than afflicted lesser rivals. It could hit the mark of 0-100 km/h (0-60mph) in 6.6 sec and could reach a top speed of 205km/h (128mph).
In 1989, the Integrale received the 16-valve version of its twin-cam. With improved breathing, power – in the road version – was upped to 200bhp, making the Integrale a genuinely quick car. It was able to reach 0-100km/h (0-60mph) in 5.5sec and a top speed of 220km/h (137mph). Peakier power delivery makes the 16V more challenging to drive, but additional performance was welcome in an era of increasingly rapid GTis. 16V engines are notably weaker than their 8V predecessors (which were bulletproof), but are more tuneable.
In 1991, Lancia issued an updated version of the Integrale 16V called the Evoluzione. Primary motivation for the Evoluzione came from Rally, where Abarth run Integrales needed modifications that had to be homologated.
What really sets the Evoluzione apart from earlier cars was its body. Both the front and rear track were increased, as were the wheel arches, to comply with Rally Regulations stating that the tires could not extend beyond the body. A rear spoiler was also added to the top of the tailgate to improve airflow.
Under the skin, many changes were introduced to the brakes and suspension to increase endurance and stress tolerance. Specifically, the brake calipers were fixed and featured twin pistons instead of the single piston, floating calipers used on the earlier models. Other less significant changes included, smaller more powerful elliptical headlights, colored instrumentation, a front aluminum strut brace, a larger steering box and a remapped engine that produced 210hp.
The most prepared company for the transition from Group B to Group A racing was Lancia. Their determination to stay on top of field can be seen not only in the evolution of the Delta race car, but the road car as well. From 1987 to 1992, Lancia consecutively won the Group A manufacturers championship, a record which holds to this day. With these results, Lancia have made the Integrale one of the most successful rally cars ever – a legendary car of our time. There’s clearly still a lot of love for Lancia, even if the new Delta doesn’t exactly live up to its forebear. Yet.