Rallying On The Road: This Collection Of Lancia Deltas Stretches Back Decades
Story by Laura Ferriccioli
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Story by Laura Ferriccioli Photography by Marco Annunziata
A round trip from Central Italy to Northern Germany isn’t exactly a short drive, but it becomes an even longer one when the journey is made in the type of car that turns every winding out-of-the-way road into an opportunity for a detour. Especially if your trip is taking place in the 1990s, and you’re sitting in the road-going version of a World Rally Championship (WRC) winner—like a high-performance Lancia—and the derestricted sections of German Autobahn are in abundance. Not that you’d be looking for straight lines to stretch the legs of this boxy but agile machine.
You may decide to stop and visit historic towns, monuments, and scenic viewpoints between turning every curve into a section of a special stage. You are making great time, but time is not of the essence. All you need to worry about is fueling up every few hundred kilometers, such is the freedom offered by cars that resist being parked or puttered around town.
The epic saga of the humble Lancia Delta (designed by the nearly infallible Giorgetto Giugiaro) began the competitive chapter in the WRC in 1986, following the demise of Group B rallying, and gave rise to four generations of four-wheel drive HFs that helped define not just rallying, but the hot hatch segment into the early 1990s. Design and performance potential aside, Lancia’s success in rallying gave the model worldwide fame from motorsports fans. Though the company hasn’t gone rallying in quite some time, thanks to cars like the Delta Integrale, Lancia remains the winningest marque in the WRC.
Indeed the list of victories attributed to the Integrale alone is quite a long one, which includes six constructors’ titles in the WRC (1987-1991), four for the WRC drivers’ title (1987-1989, and 1991); one in the Group N category in 1987; six in the top category of the European Rally Championship (ERC) (1987-1991, and 1993), and two in the Group N category of the ERC. European Rally Championship (1988 and 1989). And those are season titles; the overall victories in rallies valid for the various editions of the world championship stands at an impressive 46 wins.
In other words, the race cars did their jobs. Their road-going counterparts were no slackers, either. The 1987 Delta HF 4WD debuted with permanent four-wheel drive with a ZF self-locking differential at the front, a limited-slip Ferguson epicyclic center differential with viscous coupling, and a Torsena-type differential at the rear providing rallying credentials. The production cars were equipped with a two-liter, four-cylinder, 165-horsepower engine, which, while fun, would pale in comparison to what followed by the end of the Delta’s sporting run.
In 1988 the first Integrale model arrived, boasting more aggressive bodywork (including wider arches and larger air intakes), and more power from the turbocharged inline-four thanks to revised turning and upgrades to the cooling system and valvetrain. The following year saw the top-of-the-line road version of the Delta—now called the Delta HF integrale 16V—upgrading the cylinder head from eight to 16 valves. The 16-valve Deltas also received wider tires, a hump in the hood to house the more complex cylinder head, and another round of electronic tuning that saw its total output climb to just under 200hp.
The last homologated model, aptly referred to as the Integrale Evoluzione, arrived in 1991, and upped the peak power to around 210hp, while also upgrading the car’s platform by way of revised suspension and larger brakes. The bodywork was made more aggressive once again, with the “Evo” models featuring their own specific bumper covers, rear wing, fenders, and hood. A second Evoluzione model was released in 1992, but this car was not used as the basis for any Lancia factory rallying activities.
Although its competitive reign in the WRC and beyond ended three decades ago, it’s still very easy to find fans of the sporting Deltas, especially in its native Italy. That being said, even here it is quite rare to find a family that has all four road versions of the famed racing car. “Having all four, one has the opportunity to experience the evolutionary process of the model firsthand. While the power increases each time you get into the next year’s car, the changes and upgrades mostly concern the chassis,” says the co-owner of the collection pictured here. They’ve had the lot for some time now, and rather than buying all of them recently, some of these cars have been with the family since new.
“After the white one that my uncle bought, the search began for a Delta HF Integrale 16V, which he acquired in red—this car was once destined for the plant director in our family business, today it resides with us. Then, when my turn to own a Delta arrived near the turn of the decade, the Delta HF Integrale 16V Evoluzione model had recently been released, so naturally that was the one I targeted. I used to have so much fun with my dark blue metallic example, taking the local curves at full speed, pressing as had as I could on the gas pedal to make the rear slide outwards… I was “unconscious,” in my thirties,” he laughs, “I wouldn’t do that now!” Having accumulated 100,000km between them, the three Deltas then remained parked in storage for some time. The owner we talked to for this story didn’t have any significant interest for historic cars back then—to be fair, these were still fairly new at the time—so he couldn’t see a reason not to sell the Lancias and trade them in for something new. Thankfully, something stopped him.
“It was around that time that I thought back to a certain Lancia Aurelia B24 convertible my family used to own, a car that I was often sat in during family photos, but one that had disappeared. At a certain point it left the family, and it may also be for this reason, namely the fact that my uncle regretted having sold it, that since then no Lancia has left our garages,” he reveals. Instead of trading in for the latest and greatest, the uncle and nephew collectors’ latest acquisition is the earliest Delta in the group, an early HF 4WD model (the grey car pictured here).
“We found it in Sicily thanks to a Lancia expert friend of ours. I love having the four Deltas together now, because they were exceptional cars that we Italian enthusiasts all hold in our hearts to some extent. They also represent a certain era for my family and our company,” he remarks. “I occasionally take one out on Sundays to simply enjoy it. I no longer venture into curves at high speed, and don’t drive as fast as possible when I find myself in Germany as when I used to, but every time I get in one, the first HF or the Evo, the driving excitement never fails to find me as I’m transported back to the years of my youth.”