After Three Decades Of Hibernation, This Group B Lancia 037 Is Ready To Get Back To Work
Photography by Matteo Cerreia Vioglio
The world of rally sport has produced no shortage of compelling stories over the last century and counting. Incredible driver performances, challenging locales, creative designs, and downright purposeful machinery have all contributed to the lore. Every era is a unique chapter in the larger history, but a brief period in the mid 1980s will forever stand out as rallying’s competitive zenith.
The 1982 through 1986 seasons of the World Rally Championship—the Group B years—were primarily defined by rapid technological evolution. Compared to the outgoing Group 4 regulations that the top class of rally cars previously adhered to, the significantly relaxed Group B rulebook allowed manufacturers to develop new platforms that resembled prototypes to an extent not seen before or since.
Over the course of that five-season period, horsepower levels climbed by the hundreds while the newly developed all-wheel drive systems and increasingly zealous aerodynamics packages did their best to effectively translate the prodigious output into usable traction on gravel, dirt, tarmac, snow, and every surface in between. The rate of progress has never been steeper than it was during this era, and the demonically fast cars born during it have been rightfully deified—to be revered and feared in equal measure.
Audi’s paradigm-shifting Quattro is arguably the most influential rally car ever built, but Stuttgart’s pioneering efforts were eventually bested by those of Peugeot and Lancia by the infamous end of Group B partway through the 1986 season. This brief but well-funded engineering arms race resulted in dangerous, alluring, barely tamed beasts like the Sport Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16, Ford RS200, Lancia Delta S4, and of course the last-ever rear-wheel drive WRC winner, the mighty Lancia 037. The stories of these models are retold often because the collective group of rally enthusiasts doesn’t seem to mind rereading about its favorites, but it’s less often that we hear about the paths taken by individual cars.
The career of a rally car is rarely glamorous. The rigors of the sport leave most of its mechanical participants twisted and beaten, and often without much to show for all of the hard work. This particular Lancia 037 is not one of these cars. Chassis 133 lived a full life in the 1980s, earning podiums and outright wins in the European, Italian, and Swiss Rally Championships—and unlike many of its compatriots, it survived until its retirement and lived a fruitful life during rallying’s headiest years.
When it ended its competitive career in 1986 after three seasons, the car was put into storage where it remained for the better part of three decades. Recently restored to its original 1983 Tour Auto specification, chassis 133 is bound for special stages once again, and Petrolicious is looking forward to documenting this Lancia’s second life. But until then, let’s take a look at where it’s been.
Together with Abarth (project lead), Pininfarina (tasked with design), and Dallara (for chassis expertise), Lancia developed the 037 to pick up where the dominant Stratos left off in the previous decade. After running a partial season in 1982 with great promise but few good results, the 037 was honed into its fuel-injected Evolution specification for 1983, which was enough to bring the constructors’ championship title to Lancia—the 037 had done battle with and defeated the incumbent Audi team using half the drive wheels. While the factory team was pursuing the WRC title, semi-works teams were also campaigning the 037 in other championships to great success. Chassis 133 was delivered to frequent and longtime Abarth collaborator Giuseppe Volta on February 9th, 1983, and less than ten days later it was competing in its first event, the Rally Costa Brava of the European Rally Championship. The car’s initial sponsor was the Eminence Racing Team, funded by the French men’s underwear company Eminence (surely the joke about making custom garments to accommodate the massive cajones of the 037’s drivers did not go unmade back then), and in this livery the car achieved its first podium finish (third-place) at the Tour de France Automobile at the hands of the Darniche Bernard and his navigator, Mahé Alain.
Despite the strong placement at the Tour Auto, Eminence decided not to renew its sponsorship for the 1984 season, and chassis 133 thus spent a year out of competition. During this time, Volta completely dismantled the car in order to evaluate the potential of incorporating an all-wheel drive system to take the 037 into the grueling stadium sport of rally cross. Volta and his engineers were reportedly planning to fit a Fiat 131 rally car’s rear end to the front of the 037, but the undertaking was ultimately dissuaded by the fact that Abarth was already well into the development cycle of what would become the 037’s successor, the all-wheel drive Delta S4.
With the all-wheel drive development left to Lancia and Abarth, Volta upgraded chassis 133 to the factory’s Evolution 2 specification for its 1985 season in the Italian Rally Championship (IRC). The first Evolution model was characterized by the car using fuel injection rather than carburetion for the supercharged two-liter inline-four motor (itself an evolution of the Abarth twin-cam used in the earlier Fiat 131 rally cars), while the second and final development of the platform saw the displacement increase to 2.1 liters while adding a revised Volumex supercharger, a new air box design, improved gearbox cooling, a replacement of the prone-to-sticking slide throttle mechanism, a stiffer chassis, and the removal of the rear bumper in favor of a massive pair of mud flaps.
Outfitted with its new Evolution 2 parts, Volta entered the chassis 133 in two events in the 1985 IRC, with respectable results of a third place at the Rally della Lana at the hands of Gianluigi Serena, and fourth place at the Coppa Liburna with Andrea Aghini driving. For the car’s final season of competition in 1986, it continued to be cared for and prepared by Volta, but would contest the Swiss Rally Championship as the official car of Lancia Switzerland to be driven by the Swiss Roger Krattiger and his navigator Meier Reto.
Krattiger raced chassis 133 in four rallies in the Swiss Championship: the Criterium Jurassien to a second-place finish, the Rallye Genève-La Salève to a third-place, the Rallye Baden Württemberg to a first-place, and finally the Rallye de Court, where the Krattiger finished in fourth. Krattiger and chassis 133 also participated in a single rally of the European Championship in 1986, the Rally de Lana, but electrical problems prevented a finish in Spain. All told, chassis 133 was a strong competitor that was always in the running for a podium finish. It had done its job well over the years, but after the abolishment of Group B regulations in 1986, this Lancia went into an extended hibernation. It deserved a break, but cars this special are bound not to be forgotten.
The 037 sat in the same place collecting dust and age until last year, when it found a new owner who brought it to the Lancia rally car specialist Andrea Chiavenuto for a rejuvenation. Under his care, the car was carefully restored back to the specification it used to earn its first podium: the Eminence-sponsored, Evolution 1 guise that brought the car to its third-place finish at the prestigious mixed-surface Tour de France Automobile in 1983. Along with removing the layers of paint (each new livery worn by chassis 133 in the 1980s was simply painted on top of the previous one), Chiavenuto also returned the car to its Evolution 1 mechanical specification using only original Abarth parts. The only remnant of the Evolution 2 program is the improved throttle body design that does away with the more finicky slide throttle system. To cap off the return to its original form, the car has also retained its first Torino road registration number given to it in the early 1980s.
The restoration process was continually mindful not to necessarily erase the car’s competition past, and though it presents a beautiful clean Eminence livery, the chassis underneath still has its share of battle scars. Given the new owner’s plans for this 037 in the future, the paintwork will receive its share of rock chips soon enough. Its competitive heyday may be over, but its second life is just beginning.