Turning The Road Into A Rally Stage With A Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione In California
Photography by Naveed Yousufzai
It’s not often that one gets the chance to spend a week driving a Lancia Delta Integrale Evo, let alone in a country they were never sold in. Imports of this caliber are still few and far between, so you can imagine how humbled I was when the owner of this road-going rally car, Gen Shibayama, handed me the keys for a week to experience firsthand one of the most impactful cars of my childhood.
It measured up to everything I’d hyped it in my head to be. It was immersive, analog, thoroughly alive, and not the least bit afraid of getting squirmy under the right circumstances. But regardless of the nostalgia and the outright fun, the one thing that really pointed itself out time and time again was just how well engineered and ahead of its time it was. Now I won’t say that it’s easy or cheap to remedy if you’ve got a neglected example in the States, but when you get to live with one that’s been taken good care of, you get a sense of what it represented three decades ago. it’s unfortunate that Lancia doesn’t make cars like this anymore, but I’m glad their rallying legacy ended on a high note, both on the stages and on the streets with homologations like this red-hot hatch.
It’s above and beyond standard hot hatches, and driving it didn’t feel like being in a Italian version of a GTI—no disrespect meant, it’s just a different beast. While it’s no Delta S4 Stradale, this still feels like a lightly translated roadworthy rally car, a close cousin of the more thoroughbred WRC version it resembles beyond the obvious aesthetic parallels. Having driven E30 M3s, Lancer Evolutions, and Impreza WRXs of the era, this car easily stacks up. While the latter two of those contemporaries boast AWD setups and turbocharged power plants, they all share very similar weights and wheelbases. And when you drive them, they all tend to react well to the same techniques, especially so with the AWD cars—certain inputs are required to make the cars really “work.”
The recipe is typically comprised of a late trail brake, throttle and boost control until you hit the apex, and powering out while managing quite a bit of understeer if you’re on pavement, with your foot to the firewall as you try to keep momentum and revs up. I suppose if you’re an experienced rally driver, though, you’d probably just opt for a four-wheel power slide instead! You don’t need have McRae-esque talents to have fun with these cars, though, and they offer a unique set of challenges to master from the ones you get in RWDs and cars engineered for smooth surfaces only.
When it comes to the overall experience of having a proper feel for this car, the Lancia is hard to get out of. It’s addicting to nail down the driving style, and even more so once you do. There’s just something a bit more special about this car. Perhaps it’s attributable to the excitement of driving a rare homologation special of one of the most successful WRC cars of all time, but I’m pretty sure that’s only a partial explanation. Regardless of pedigree and provenance, this is just an enjoyable piece of machinery.
It’s a slightly weird but amazing mixture of Italian automotive romance and nuisance, but also function-first rallying. There are little idiosyncrasies that make driving this Delta a bit more challenging than the others from its era, and that alone makes it something worth seeking out. There are faster and more modern (and more vintage) road going rally cars, but this one hits a sweet spot.
For instance, the boost lag is far more prominent in this versus something like the GC8 WRX I’ve driven. The lag in the Lancia reminded me of the abrupt kick you get out of an early Porsche 930, but with the confidence you get from having more differentials to deal with it. With the wide track of the Integrale, you get the ability to brake a little later and to get on the throttle on a little sooner, are able to be a bit more aggressive with the inputs as you find the right set to make the car rotate the way you want it to, through hairpins, sweepers, and all the in-between that make up any good (quasi) rally stage.
The top end power in the Lancia definitely suffers from early-’90s turbo drop off, but it’s still fun to top out the gears when you find some straight lines ahead of the next tangle of curves where the car really shines. But again, all of these distinctions work together in creating a driving experience that makes the Lancia feel special regardless of what you’re doing with it. Just sitting in traffic, going through rows of traffic lights one at a time, it’s still got that aura of the Group A WRC days that makes it fun even if you’re not looking to have any in the moment.