Featured: Proof There’s Still Fight In Rally Legends Of The ’90s

Proof There’s Still Fight In Rally Legends Of The ’90s

Petrolicious Productions By Petrolicious Productions
August 5, 2015
8 comments

Story and Photography by: Davide Cironi

Here I am in front of three legends, almost afraid.

They look each other askance, like they still were fighting for the Group A Championship. The Lancia Delta Integrale has muscle, is the meanest, most bossy, and stands superior in the middle of the scene. “I’ve won everything on earth, girls” it seems to growl. The Ford Escort RS Cosworth knows it can beat the road-going Delta—this is the road, not the Group A—the Ford is younger and stronger but, secretly, the Italian still knows its business.

And then I see the Japanese one, silent and composed on the left. Different, not showy— especially in black. If you don’t know it, you don’t turn your head when it pops up in the city. It seems like a normal coupé. At a better view, you’re able to see air intakes on the hood, rear spoiler, big brakes…and then realize that is a serious thing.

My job here is to sit in all of them, drive fast, and try to figure out which is the best. History speaks clear through racing. In this case, Lancia wins. But these are road-going cars, not racers. So what will be the best real-world rally car from the golden age?

I never driven the Celica GT-Four. I had the sensation this coupé would have been my favorite, so I start with it. First thing: its centre of mass and roof are lower, so on wider corners, it is on another level. At the same time, it has the worst understeer and the easier oversteer, the two phases switch in a second, where the other two are on rails.

The Japanese car is the most powerful here, with 242 horsepower, but also the most heavy at 3,207 lbs (1,455 kg). The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine pushes it over 149 mph, highest speed of the group but slower than the Delta from zero-to-60. It’s not noisy inside, I hear the other two coming behind me and not much Toyota engine. Steering is harder than in its opponents, which I already know, but it doesn’t make it more precise or fun.

This car is really serious, and provides little space for showing off. It does exactly the same of Lancia and Ford, but without that rally emphasis I love.

I need that competition thrill on a sports car, so I jump in the Escort; immediately I realize it will be a special ride. The racing halo is all around me. Recaro seats, the Miki Biasion signature steering wheel, tall shifter tight to the driver. What a rough, focused cockpit. I know the noise from its masterpiece of an engine from Cosworth; it hums in front of me, ready to do battle to see who’s the fastest. The power doesn’t lack at all.

First impressive thing? The steering precision going into a corner, it’s so flat and incisive, you almost find yourself turning in late against its quickness. No understeer, and infinite traction on the way out. Front is perfect, nothing more to say. So best steering, but worst gearbox of the group.

This racing stick doesn’t help, very good to see and touch, but not the same when you have to run with the wolves. The more I push, the more I fall in love, there will be a lot of jealousy by the Italian lady. This Ford is a real opponent, it was built for this purpose and that’s easy to see. In those years past, the three cars hated each other, and still today I feel very bad vibes.

The Cosworth engine spits out 220 horsepower at 6,250 rpm, with an identical zero-to-60 to the Toyota; both are slower on acceleration than the Delta, both faster on top speed. This one is the lighter with only 2,976 lbs (1,350 kg) but how is that possible the Italian weighs 143 lbs (65 kg) more, has 5 hp less, and accelerates more quickly? Ok, I can’t wait anymore.

This is the attack to the crown. Decades of frustration by eternal seconds, years of hate and envy. The “Queen”, the Delta, is the most detested car for those who own any other rally car from the ’90s.

In Italy, you can avoid knowing the face of who you are voting for, you can avoid paying taxes, but there’s no escape: you must love the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. The Evoluzione is probably the most male car on the planet; its face is not pretty or sensual as an Alfa Romeo, not graceful as a Jaguar or classy like a Porsche. This is brutal.

With 215 horsepower in a 3,119 lb (1,415 kg) car sounds kind of tender for that bad face, but if you drive it, magically, it is engaging as a supercar. If you want to change your opinion about sport cars forever, drive a tuned Delta with more than 400 hp (easy to find in my country) and then you will never want another car again: just a trusted and very patient mechanic.

Here I am, now, forgetting this is a comparison. I don’t hear other sounds, don’t see other cars, just the road and the Momo wheel. I know this car very well, I’m lucky enough to drive it often, but every time is like the first. Its steering is so direct and light to use, there’s no need to squeeze the wheel, which is the opposite of how it seems, looking at it from the outside. Traction is superb, the most mechanical here. You can understand the drivetrain’s organs, scattered around the chassis, in a unique sensation of control and power.

Sound is Italian; rough and violent as it should be, from a bossy, mean, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Gearbox, suspension, and brakes are all calibrated to be an extension of your body.

That said, the road going Delta is not the five times Group A World Champion. It is fragile and whimsical, it loves to stay in a workshop and spend your money, all the time.

So which is my favorite? Which one I’ll pick if I want to do a lap time? Probably, the Cosworth is fastest. But every time my brain says Ford, my heart says Lancia. I think it wouldn’t be bad to own the complete trio. If I had to buy only one, it couldn’t be the composed and silent Celica, even if it does the same job of Escort and Delta.

So I guess I have to choose between philosophy and mathematics…I’m Italian, so which do you think I prefer? Too easy.

Tags Ford/ Lancia/ Toyota
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Greg EmmersonAndy EfimovichMorten EdsethFingersVincent Laurent Recent comment authors
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Andy Efimovich
Andy Efimovich

Amazing article! Bravo Davide!!!! I do not know a word in Italian, but I follow your youtube channel – great stuff!

Morten Edseth
Morten Edseth

I drive an Integrale Evo II, not as a daily driver, but not far off either 🙂 Approx 5 000km a year. Never winter off course. The salt will ruin it! But i does not see the mechanic too often. Mostly oil-changes and timing belt. Runs all fine, and i have had cars with way more faults then this one. I really love it!

Fingers
Fingers

It has to be the integrale all the way, I miss mine, used it as a daily river for four years and loved every minute. It felt special from the time I walked in the garage, just perfect.

Vincent Laurent
Vincent Laurent

Great article and wonderful pictures of 3 rallye legends.
This guy, Davide, has a “couple” of great car reviews on YouTube. Mostly Italian cars. It seems like he has a weakness for them. But is he to blame 🙂

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

OK .. so here’s the opinion of one who drove all three back when they were new off the shelf as well as may or may not of driven at least one of them in full Group A spec in anger ; 1) Toyota Celica GT4 ; In its full on WRC spec the car is an absolute beast of a car and I loved it . But in its road going version its a bit of a pig in a silk party dress in comparison to the other two . As a fun mid priced baby grand tourer its… Read more »

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

… the last should of read ; ” …….. WRX/STi …. ” … not STV … aaaaaarrrgh ! …. my country for an Edit function

Greg Emmerson
Greg Emmerson

I was with I’ll the end… I also drove all three, stock, modified and competiton versions of the Alan is and Ford. The Toyota is indeed outclassed, the Integrale a peach but fragile and temperamental. The Ford was a capable daily driver that could terrify any car, particular after some well chosen mods. It’s gearbox was on the engineering limit but not as bad as you recall. But it’s ability to oversteer out of turns and remain stable into them was world class. I’d also agree that the later Lancer Evos gave it a run for its money, but I… Read more »

Luca
Luca

I’d like the Delta too, please. When I was in Italy I always saw it as a Delta LX with a Thema 2.0 16v Turbo engine and four wheel drive: in other words, not very appealing because at the time there were still plenty of Delta and Prisma around, in the most basic flavours. But years have passed, and now I feel the Delta recall. I wouldn’t go for an Evoluzione, though. A 200Hp from 1989 would be fine for me. It’s also the one that won most of all Deltas, I believe. On a side note, Davide is right:… Read more »