Lancia, in the words of Clarkson, had more great cars than any other manufacturer. Although they weren't the most reliable cars, they were certainly stunning and, when acquired by Fiat, became the most successful rally team of all time. Prepare for lots of information!
With the Fulvia - arguably their most beautiful car - Lancia returned to racing in 1965, after being absent in Formula 1 since 1955, in the form of rallying. It finished 8th in its debut race at the Tour de Corse rally in France, and was continuously updated as a prototype until 1969 when it was homologated.
It won every Italian Rally Championship from 1965 to 1973, except 1970, but the highest mountain the little Fulvia climbed was when it won the International Championship of Manufacturers in 1972, which ran from 1970 to 1972 and replaced by the WRC in 1973.
It had limited success in the WRC but it helped to win the 1973 championship before it was replaced entirely by the Stratos. Since the start of production, the Fulvia had a cleverly designed, compact 1.3 litre V4 engine.
The later prototypes for the rally car, and most of the cars produced after 1967, switched to a completely reworked and beefier 1.6 litre powerplant producing upwards of 130 horsepower. The Fulvia was their first great rally weapon, and truly a thing of beauty.
Although traditionally Lancias were designed by Pininfarina, Bertone gave them an offer to create a concept car to replace the pretty Fulvia. When the concept car, the Stratos Zero, came about in 1970, the Lancia workers applauded Giovanni Bertone upon arrival in the fantastic wedge-shaped slice of automotive art.
In fact, they liked it so much that they built a prototype design for the Stratos that we remember today. After widely positive reception regarding the design and the incorporation of Ferrari's Dino V6 into this prototype, they immediately got to work with building a production car. They raced it in Group 5, and eventually homologated enough cars to compete in Group 4.
The Stratos was the leader of the pack, weighing in at just 900 kilograms and pushing figures up to 320 naturally aspirated horsepower. Two cars were fitted with single KKK turbochargers, boosting power up to 560 horsepower. Lancia went on to win the 1974, 1975 and 1976 World Rally Championships and paved the road for their later WRC cars.
The homologated version was sold as the HF Stradale, with a detuned version of the 2.4L Dino V6 producing 188 horsepower along with 166 lbs/ft of torque. The Group 4 regulations stated that 500 production models had to be made, but when this was changed in 1976, production came to an end after 492 were made.
When Lancia retired the Stratos, they came back strong in rallying with the Group B-orientated 037. Loosely based on the attractive Montecarlo, the 037 had a supercharged 2 litre transverse straight four, placed into the middle of the car. The rear wheels drove it forwards with 280 horsepower, and the supercharger eliminated turbo lag.
The 1982 season plagued by mechanical issues for Lancia, and although the 037 showed potential by picking up a few points in the hands of Markku Alén, it ended up in 9th place overall. They improved the car, and then Walter Röhrl joined for the 1983 championship. He and Markku together claimed a total of five victories, with other Lancia drivers scoring extra points in various races.
All of these victories led to Lancia claiming the world title once more, and it would be the last time a manufacturer won with a rear-wheel drive car. The 037 continued to compete in 1984, 1985, and 1986. It claimed 2nd, 3rd and 2nd place respectively alongside the Delta S4 in 85' and 86', until Group B was banned and Group A was introduced with more regulations.
The Stradale weighed 1,170 kilograms and had a power output of 205 horsepower but retained the beautiful exterior as if it was just a repainted Martini Racing 037. Due to the less restricted Group B rules, only 207 road cars are known to be produced between its inception 1980 and its retirement in 1986.
Lancia Delta S4
The much-beloved Delta S4 was not as successful as other models, but it still performed well and - although it had nothing in common with the Delta - helped to boost sales for Lancia. It had a mid-mounted 1.8 litre inline 4 producing 483 horsepower. With all-wheel drive for superior traction, it performed better than the 037.
Some sources claim that the engine could be pushed to 500 horsepower under extreme conditions, or even 1000 horsepower with a higher boost pressure. Twincharging - using a turbocharger and a supercharger together - significantly improved driving experience and eliminated the 4500rpm boost threshold. This kind of thinking was crucial to a car where handling is key.
At the end of the 1985 WRC season, the Delta S4 was introduced for rallying, and won the Wales Rally 1-2, finishing in third place overall for that year with both the S4 and 037. They decided not to compete in Kenya, and were on course to win the championship. However, the results of the Sanremo Rally were annulled due to 'irregular technical scrutineering'.
The Stradale had 200 produced between 1985 and 1986, and although it costed much more than a standard Delta, it kept most of the technical specifications whilst being downtuned to 247 horsepower and 215 lbs/ft of torque. Group B was banned for safety reasons after Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto were killed after a fatal misjudged hairpin turn led to crashing into a ravine and bursting into flames. This was the end of an era.
Lancia Delta HF Integrale
Finally, we come to the Group A era, and after the banning of Group B, Lancia pulled themselves together to gather a record six championship victories with the Delta. This car was actually based on a more powerful version of the ordinary Delta hatchback, the HF 4WD. However, for rallying purposes, the engine was upgraded to 286 horsepower and 315 lbs/ft of torque.
The abolition of Group B left many manufacturers to turn to less suitable cars for the 1987 season, but Lancia was ready. The rally-tuned Delta HF 4WD dominated the underpowered cars, as well as all of the rear and front wheel drive models entered. There were some issues, but there was absolutely no doubt that Lancia would win the drivers and constructors titles.
There were no worthy challengers until 1989, and by then Lancia had already won a total of six championships. Toyota stepped up with their Celica GT-Four, but it was much less reliable and allowed Lancia to pull ahead for yet another title. Lancia won every manufacturers championship until 1991, when it had a final championship victory, signalling the end of their rallying days.
In the two years following the last win from constructors Lancia, the Delta went under the supervision of the Jolly Club team and soldiered on to win one more title in 1992, before officially retiring in 1993. Many road variants of the Delta were produced over a 20-year period, and remains to this day the most successful rally car, only rivaled by the Subaru Impreza.
Sadly, Lancia fell into obscurity in the 21st century when its parent company, Fiat, was joined Chrysler to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Now, they only produce this dreadful Ypsilon supermini, which, although it is practical and affordable, certainly doesn't capture the spirit of these old Lancias. What a shame, because these legends definitely deserve better.