This Is What It’s Like To Own A Lancia S4 Stradale
We’ve been slowly working our way through the incredible collection of our friend Tim Pappas, the guy behind Black Swan racing. When he slid the door open to his hangar and this Italian Stallion was glaring back at me my heart skipped a beat. Lancias are tough to come by, period. Lancia S4s? Nice try, not gonna happen. Lancia S4 Stradales with only a few thousand original kilometers? Get. Out. Of. Town.
Ted Gushue: Tell me the story of your Lancia Delta S4.
Tim Papas: The Lancia Delta S4 falls into my “Group B Addiction” category, at one point I really wanted to buy all the great Group B homologation specials. Unfortunately, you get sidetracked and you do different things, and I don’t have the ability to have a collection, like some people do, that has a gazillion cars. I need to be selective and have six or eight really good cars. Anyway, the S4 is to me, the ultimate Group B car. Some people would argue that it’s the Porsche 959, but the 959 doesn’t have racing history (other than the Paris Dakar Rally). It was sort of DOA, by virtue of group B getting cancelled.
TP: I think that the S4, because it was really the pinnacle of insanity in that series, is such a cool car. Twin charged, supercharged, and turbocharged. It’s like what they were doing with fighter planes in World War II, with supercharging and after-charging, it was like, “How can we blow more air into this motor and make more power than we could possibly imagine out of the cubic capacity that we can stuff into this chassis?” The S4 is probably the most pure of the homologation specials, because Lancia was a company that, unlike Audi, did not have the resources to say, “Okay, let’s build a homologation special, which, in and of itself, is going to be a mass produced-quality car”. The S4 has the creature comforts, but only just barely. The air conditioning doesn’t really work, but it’s there. The parking brake doesn’t really work, but they had to have one. If you look at the puck that holds the car on the parking brake, it can’t hold it on a hill, right?
TP: The driveline was engineered by Hewland, and it’s incredibly complicated. The linkage from the shifter into the gearbox, it is… Everything in it is so complicated that it’s almost like somebody said, “Let’s try and make the most complicated thing that we possibly can, and then double it”.
TG: Why do you think that is?
TP: I think it’s just the passion that Italians bring to everything they make. Also, there was a lot of pride at Lancia and Abarth, because there was so much success between the Stratos and the 037. Their success in two wheel drive World Rally Championship was unbeatable, and then the Germans came in with all-wheel-drive and turbocharging, and just started walking away with it. The Italians obviously decided, this is our game, we can’t get beat at our own game, so the S4 was born, and what a beast. When you read about the full-blown race car, over 1,000 horsepower in qualifying trim in a car that was weighing 900 kilos. It’s clocked 0 to 60 on gravel in 2.2 seconds, which is just insane to think about.
When you see the car, with the clamshell panels open, it is no different than the rally car. There is absolutely nothing different about it, other than the bodywork is finished with real glass instead of Lexan, and it does have some sound deadening and some carpeting, and some beautiful suede work that’s all hand done and hand-stitched. It’s got a proper leather dashboard and gauges and a clock and all these other things, but underneath, it’s totally raw. The suspension, all of the uprights, the wheel carriers, everything is hand-fabricated, and everything looks like a one-off. The engine is just a marvel to look at, all of the pipes. I look at it again, and I think: you couldn’t make a little 1.7-liter engine more complicated than this one, with twin intercoolers, one for the super charger, one for the turbocharger, and twin cams…just such a cool car.
TG: What is this car capable of in its current setup?
TP: It’s got pretty short gearing, so I’m going to guess the top speed is probably in the 130, 140 mile an hour range. I would say it’s probably a mid 12-second quarter mile car, probably around four and a half, 4.8 seconds, zero to sixty, something in that range. It’s about 350 horsepower, in its current spec. This car is fully restored. It was restored by two brothers in Turin who are the marque experts, and has been upgraded to what they call the “Potenziato” spec, which is an upgraded clutch, a little bit wider wheel, some engine software, a different exhaust. When Lancia delivered these cars, they were really, in the wrong hands, lethal, because it was a World Rally car. It does not have deformable crash structures, it doesn’t have the sorts of things to protect you, and critically, it’s lacking the roll cage that the race car would have had. They just massively de-tuned them. The spec on the normal car was 240 horsepower.
TG: At their peak tune, I think you mentioned this the other day…
TP: …I’ve been told that the cars, when they put the formula one fuel in them, the turbo era fuel which was formulated for making ridiculous horsepower, that they were making around 1200 to 1300 horsepower in qualifying, and in the race they were around 800. When you drive in that car with 350 horsepower, it’s kind of scary to think about being on dirt with no traction, with 800 horsepower. Not like today, where these guys have sequential gearboxes, and they’ve got the big rear brake stick, all the different things that have been developed in World Rally. Plus, these mechanical differentials as compared with all the crazy electronic stuff that the cars have today. Differentials make the cars so much more difficult to drive. The performance is de-tuned for sure, but I think, where it is, it’s a very well-balanced car at this power level. It’s plenty fun to drive. I think it would be a handful if it had another 100 or 200 horsepower.
TG: Even just listening to the gearbox, it’s so strained to handle what’s being thrown at it.
TP: The race cars, obviously, they spent a lot of time rebuilding them. They would go and race them and beat the crap out of them, and then they would get all kinds of service and attention. In the street car, Lancia detuned the cars to make them reliable, so that you don’t have to have your mechanic working on it all the time. The car feels very similar to the Audi Sport Quattro. What I like about the S4, is the supercharger provides instantaneous torque off the line, and then just when the supercharger runs out of steam, the turbo is at its peak.
TG: It’s right there.
TP: It just has a perfect transition. It’s a very nicely engineered system compared to a Porsche, if you’ve ever driven the 959, that sequential turbo system isn’t really fantastic, it’s a little bit….
TG: Not many of us have driven 959s, for what it’s worth…let alone S4s.
TP: [laughs] Well it’s quirky, I’ll just put it that way. It was never perfect, and that’s the reason that Bruce Canepa gets rid of the sequential turbocharging system and makes it into a conventional twin-turbo system, because it was subject to problems, and a lot of the parts aren’t being made anymore. The 959 system was a great idea, small initial turbo, bigger second turbo, but the supercharger actually does that better.
TG: What would these have been originally sold at?
TP: I think, at the time, it was worth twice an S-Class Mercedes-Benz. That’s how the Italian guy that I know put it to me. The S4 and the Sport Quattro were ridiculously expensive cars for their time. Lancia did not sell a lot of the cars initially, and then they had the accident with the World Rally car, and Henri Toivonen and his co-driver were tragically killed in the fire that ensued after the crash. The fuel cell is right under the passenger compartment and was not well-protected, and it was really sad. People in racing shouldn’t die. It should be safe enough so that people don’t die, but that’s obviously another conversation. In any case, here they were, they had these street cars which were identical to the rally car, and the fuel tank is in the exact same location. They decided not to sell the rest of the cars, and they were actually crushing the cars.
TG: Jesus. How many of these are left?
TP: The man who restored my car, when I met him, he told me that story. He was describing how he and his brother and the other guys were in tears, because they had hand-built all these cars, and they “built 200” for homologation. I don’t know that they actually built 200, there were lots of stories (about production numbers). Yeah, that they were bringing them from one room to the other room and showing scrutineers the same cars over and over with different numbers on them. He told me he thinks approximately 45-50 S4 Stradale, (the road going versions) exist today.
TP: More, probably, were sold, but a lot of the cars were bought as street cars and immediately turned into club rally cars, because they were a real rally car.
TG: Yeah, you could convert quickly.
TP: Guys were just gutting them, and turning around and club racing them, and obviously crashing them, and so on. This car is definitely among the rarer of the Group B homologation specials. They built more than 200, I think they built 210 or so, Sport Quattros, and about 160 plus have to still exist. It’s a special car, in that sense. If you take a step back and you look at the S4, it really is a prototype, hand-built, special car. Getting back to what I was saying about this obsession with the Group B homologation cars that I had, when you start to see these cars, the 037, the Stratos, this car, the Sport Quattro… They’re so unique, and they were built to only do one thing, which is to make a really bad-ass race car legal. They weren’t built to satisfy some particular demographic sales exercise, it was just, “We need to build this bad-ass race car and the FIA is making us sell 200 of them to the public, so…”
TG: Call your friends, because we can’t sell these.
TP: Yeah, we’re going to slap a huge price on them, and we’re going to make them insanely cool, and then that actually worked so well, that certain manufacturers, Renault probably being one of the more successful at doing it, sold a ton of R5 Turbo Is and IIs.
TP: Then, Lancia came out with the Delta Integrale Evo, which was not even a homologation special, it was just for the sake of selling performance, a sporty sedan that had the rally heritage but wasn’t really a homologation car. By the nineties, you lost that one-off special handmade feel for these cars.
Photography by Ted Gushue