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The four Lancia Delta HF all-wheel drive evolutions

Unbeatable rally rulers.

With a modern, elegant and laid back two-volume hatchback as its point of departure, Lancia succeeds in creating the most successful rally car ever, capable of bossing the world rally stage for six years in a row.

The first generation of the Lancia Delta was created in 1979, when the magic pencil of Giorgetto Giugiaro conjured up a compact two-volume car, developed following the geometric motif of the trapezoid. The votes of the European specialist press, which elected the Delta as Car of the Year 1980, confirmed a success already decreed by the public since its first appearance. 

The Delta chronologically replaced the Beta, inheriting from it the best parts of the chassis, in particular the modern independent MacPherson type suspension, both in the front and at the rear. But it was the Lancia Fulvia – born as an elegant medium sedan but rendered immortal by the sporting and commercial triumph of the Coupé – which passed the baton of racing glory to the Delta. 

Initially equipped with the 1300 and 1500 engines of the Fiat Ritmo, in 1983 the Lancia Delta adopted the sophisticated 1585 cc twin-cam engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi: the 105 HP Delta 1600 GT made its debut, soon joined by the 130 HP Turbo version boasting the heroic HF brand. Thereby, Lancia decided to resume the prestigious acronym that had qualified the top performing versions which, after the Lancia Stratos, had no longer been used.

Between 1985 and 1986, in collaboration with Abarth, the Delta S4 was created: an extreme racing car conceived to fight on an equal footing with other all-wheel drive competitors in the World Rally Championships. The Delta S4 was called upon to replace the victorious Lancia Rally 037 and was produced in only 200 units in order to obtain Group B homologation. Apart from the name, it shared very little with the standard Delta, along with a vague echo of its shapes. 

Lightweight but extremely powerful, these ‘monstrous’ thoroughbreds achieved levels of road-racing performance that made them dangerous. A series of accidents led the FIA (the International Automobile Federation, motor racing’s regulatory body) to ban Group B racing cars  from the World Rally Championship starting from the 1987 season, also stating that they were too different from their series production models. Therefore, Group A became WRC’s new “headline category”. To obtain approval to race in it, 5,000 cars had to be produced in twelve months, maximum power could not exceed 300 HP and car weight could not be less than 1035 kg. These Federation innovations were implemented to make the cars more solid and less fast, providing more overall safety for participants and for the public.

Lancia was prepared for this: in 1986, it had already begun production of the Lancia Delta HF 4WD. The car was developed rapidly because the materials and technologies needed were already in production: the engine of the Thema Turbo i.e. and the all-wheel drive system of the Prisma 4WD. The engine was transferred without modification, and the transmission of the Prisma – which already shared its platform with the Delta – was improved through the adoption of a sportier Torsen differential in the rear.

The new Lancia Delta HF 4WD was victorious on its debut, at the 1987 Monte Carlo Rally. Continuing with devastating superiority, that year it won its first World Rally Championship, the first of six consecutive seasons, from 1987 to 1992. The first HF 4WD was followed by three evolutions, all confirming the superiority of the Delta HF.

Four versions of the Delta outran their opponents in rallies between 1987 and 1992. The Delta HF 4WD had made its debut at the 1987 Monte Carlo Rally: it featured permanent all-wheel drive with ZF self-locking differential at the front, Ferguson viscous centre differential for limited skid and a Torsen-type differential at the rear. A two-litre 165 horsepower engine propelled the standard road models, but the Group A racing version rose to 265 HP at 6250 rpm. The Lancia Martini Racing Team, which dominated the 1987 World Rally Championship, counted on 24 official cars.

The Delta’s double win on its debut in the 1987 Monte Carlo Rally marked the beginning of an unprecedented saga in rally racing, lasting six continuous years. Biasion and Siviero finished 59 seconds ahead of their teammates Kankkunen and Piironen, after 7 hours, 39 minutes and 50 seconds of racing. In third place, the Germans Röhrl-Geistdörfer in Audi finished over 4 minutes later.

Also outstanding was the 12th place overall – and 2nd in Group N – of Fiorio and Pirollo with the Delta HF 4WD of the Jolly Club, a satellite team to the official team. Their Delta was technically a "production derivative", meaning a car prepared according to Group N regulations, which permitted less processing than Group A. They finished the 1987 season by winning the "Production" World Rally Championship. Alex Fiorio was the son of the team’s sporting director, Cesare, who had pushed insistently for the creation of the Lancia HF Team in 1963 and who was still leading it in 1987, during its new, incredible series of successes.

1988 witnessed the arrival of the Delta HF Integrale. Externally this differed from the previous version in its widened wheel arches, able to fit wider tires, and larger front air intakes. It had a new 6-speed gearbox, and its weight was lowered by roughly 23 kg. Various suspension elements that had revealed limitations during the first season were reinforced. The official team used 17 cars in 1988, and 19 in 1989.

Among the many victories in 1988, the triumph in the Safari Rally stood out: Lancia had been chasing that win for many years, firstly with the Fulvia and then with the Stratos, but bad luck and various technical problems had deprived it of success in one of the most exhausting World Rally races of those years. The Group A Lancia Delta HF Integrale had been specially prepared for the Safari event, and finished in Nairobi ahead of the fleet of Japanese cars, which had won this rally 12 times in the previous 18 editions. After that first Safari victory in 1988, the Delta HFs went on to win it in 1989 too, again with Biasion and Siviero, and in 1991 with Kankkunen and Piironen, demonstrating the undoubted qualities of the car in terms of sturdiness, and also the impeccable organisation of the Lancia Martini Team.

1989 brought further developments to the cylinder head, increased from 8 to 16 valves and 4 valves per cylinder, and the debut of the Delta HF Integrale 16V. A conspicuous "hump" appeared on the bonnet to accommodate the new cylinder head. This Lancia weighed in at roughly 295 HP at 7000 rpm. There were few other visible changes but plenty of technological innovations, including the electronically controlled clutch, a fan driven by a hydraulic motor, telemetry for acquiring data for use in servicing, and above all an influx of electronics to control the engine. Three official team cars were prepared in 1989, and 28 in 1990. The Integrale 16V’s debut took place at the Sanremo Rally in October 1989, when the Lancia-Martini’s Deltas boasted a brand new livery with a red background. This was the only occasion in which the official Delta in Martini livery deviated from its customary white background enriched by graphics with the sponsor's colours - blue, black and red - varying from year to year.

In 1990, the result obtained by the 16-valve Lancia Delta HF at the 24th edition of the Rallye de Portugal remains legendary: 4 Deltas in the first 4 places! Biasion-Siviero, Auriol-Occelli and Kankkunen-Piironen on the podium, and in 4th place the acrobatic “Darione” Cerrato driven by Geppy Cerri with the Totip-Jolly Club livery. This was the third consecutive victory in Portugal with the Delta for Miki Biasion, a winning streak that began in 1988, after the unfortunate edition of 1987 where he came 8th because, due to a leak, he had ran out of fuel and lost precious minutes at a time control. However, he did manage to reach the finishing line, thanks to the generosity of a colleague who donated his own petrol to Miki, allowing him to finish the race and collect 3 more points for the World Championship.

The last Delta HF of this glorious family arrived in 1991: the Delta HF Integrale 16V Evoluzione.

Its fenders were further widened to adapt to the new carriageways and a conspicuous spoiler appeared at the back of the roof, but the most important changes lay beneath the bonnet, since the Federation had introduced the use of flanges to limit turbocharger flow rates.

Due to year-on-year improvements, in spite of the officially declared figures, the engines of all Group A cars had by now well exceeded the 300 horsepower limit imposed from 1987. In 1991 the team had 26 official cars, and 19 in 1992.

In synthesis, the four-wheel drive Lancia Delta HF, in four evolutionary versions, notched up: the Constructors' World Rally Championship six times (1987-1991); the World Rally Drivers Championship four times (1987-1989 and 1991); the Production World Rally Championship (Group N) once, in 1987; the European Rally Championship six times (1987-1991 and 1993) and the European Rally Championship Production twice (Group N), in 1988 and 1989.

A whole book would be needed to describe all the victories of the four official Delta HF series... and the sterile list of numbers, even record-breaking numbers, would not reflect the ever-growing enthusiasm of the public for rally racing during the era marked by Lancia’s Group A cars. Throughout its history, the Delta HF series conquered 46 overall victories in rallies valid for the world championship: 11 won by the Delta HF 4WD, 14 by the Delta HF Integrale, 13 by the Delta HF Integrale 16V and 8 by the Delta HF Integrale 16V Evoluzione.

The marriage of Lancia with its HF initials, once again, had left an indelible mark in the history of motorsports, obviously with positive commercial repercussions closely linked to its sporting successes. Just as the triumph of the glorious Fulvia 1,6 HF at the 1972 Monte Carlo Rally had extended the life of the Fulvia Coupé until 1976 (whereas the sedan version ceased production in 1972), so the six-year reign of the all-wheel drive Delta HF in the World Rally Championship permitted the Delta to extend its life cycle until 1994.
Fifteen years for the creation of a true myth.

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