On the face of it the Delta might seem like a boxy little hatchback – another exercise in angularity from the ruler of Mr Giugiaro, and one likely subject to the same rust worm that had blighted Lancia’s gorgeous Beta. Beneath that workmanlike exterior however, were the makings of a champion, for the Delta, or rather a car that looked a lot like a Delta, became the latest in Lancia’s illustrious line of World Rally Championship contenders, and unlike the Stratos or the 037 this one could be purchased from your local dealership, Martini stripes and all.
They’re not exactly common these days, but the sight of a Delta, be it of standard or Integrale spec, invariably conjures for me an image of the mercurial Henri Toivonen, a man of legendary fearlessness, whose works car claimed victory in the ’85 RAC and ’86 Monte Carlo Rallies, its first two races. The Delta S4 was a fearsome car, with both turbo and supercharging in place the 1759cc aluminium engine delivered somewhere in the region of 1000hp, which given a total weight of 970kg delivered truly incredible performance and made it perhaps the ultimate Group B racer. Though the extraordinary saga of Group B rallying could fill several books, suffice to say that by 1986 the dangers of racing cars of virtually unrestricted power through unprotected crowds of fans on narrow roads were about to become horribly apparent. After Joaquim Santos’ Ford RS200 ploughed into the Portuguese crowd, killing three, Group B racing was in trouble, and when Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto’s Delta inexplicably flew off a Corsican mountain road, killing both as it fireballed through the trees, it spelled the end of rallying’s most famous era.
The Ultimate Group B Racer
The Delta S4 was a fearsome car, with both turbo and supercharging in place the 1759cc aluminium engine
It did not however spell the end of racing for the Lancia Delta, which under the new regulations reverted to something rather more akin to the production model, becoming less fragile and even more formidable in the process. The HF Integrale would collect a record six consecutive Constructors’ Championships and carry Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion to two Drivers’ titles apiece. Happily for the customer, the roadgoing models edged ever-closer in looks and performance to their sporting counterparts, whilst retaining the basic features that had made the Delta such a success upon its launch in 1979. Giugiaro’s design was essentially that of two boxes: one housing the transversely mounted engine, a configuration which reduced overall length, the other housing the passengers. In addition to proving remarkably comfortable and spacious inside, the Delta was also widely praised for its excellent balance and handling, building a reputation as a real drivers’ car.
The 1980 European Car of the Year changed a lot over the course of its 15 year production run, starting life as a humble, if advanced, hatchback and ending its days as a formidable performance car, but thanks to Giugiaro there was always room for shopping in the boot and kids in the back.
You can see the Wheeler Dealers working on a Delta Integrale on Shed on the 3rd September at 5pm.
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