The history of four world-leading Italian motoring brands
From the most emblematic models to the most successful, revolutionary people, and the most significant events, this section illustrates and celebrates the cornerstones of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Abarth.
During the 1986 season of the World Rally Championship, Abarth engineers worked on designing the car that would replace the Lancia Delta S4. The technicians set up a futuristic prototype in which composite materials were used extensively. This is how the name ECV (Experimental Composite Vehicle) came about: an experimental car made with composite materials. The prototype also had a new engine equipped with a revolutionary supercharged engine called Triflux.
While the powerful Group B cars were racing in the 1986 World Rally Championship, Lancia had already developed a car with the specifications of the new Group S, which was at an advanced stage of testing and was due to debut in the following seasons. On the one hand, the Group S car regulations placed more emphasis on safety, while on the other hand, they allowed greater freedom as they required a much smaller number of cars for homologation to be built than Group B.
With the Group S cars, real prototypes were once again being designed also for rallies: these were unique cars, quite different from conventional cars, which made it possible to test materials and solutions that could not be used in mass production due to their prohibitive costs. As a result, they became a testing ground for technologies which, with the necessary adaptations, could later be applied to production cars, adopting the “from track to road” paradigm that has always distinguished the demanding sporting commitment of car manufacturers from all over the world.
In order to improve its performance, the car that was to replace the Lancia Delta S4 Group B had to ensure the achievement of two goals: increased engine power and the use of new materials for constructing the chassis, which could provide improved torsional rigidity while also reducing overall weight. These were the challenges facing Abarth, which had recently become the official racing team of the Fiat Group and was tasked with preparing and assisting the Fiat and Lancia branded cars in competitions.
The chassis was designed by Engineer Sergio Limone, who was in charge of design and experimentation for the Squadra Corse Lancia HF. He created an innovative composite body using Kevlar and carbon fibre. A special “cradle” enveloped the engine while a series of panels was used for the rigid cockpit and the rest of the bodywork. Only the front chassis was made of conventional steel tubes so that it could be repaired and replaced more quickly. In order to make the car even lighter, new composite materials were also used for the drive shaft and wheel rims. All in all, while providing greater torsional rigidity than the Delta S4, the car weighed about 20% less.
The engine designed by Engineer Claudio Lombardi, Abarth’s technical director, for the ECV had the same displacement as the Delta S4, but had a different cylinder head and a different supercharger with two turbines. In the engineer’s mind, this innovative engine could already have been fitted to the Delta S4. However, due to conservative choices made during the 1982 design phase, Lombardi decided to equip the Delta S4 with a conventional engine with volumetric compressor, which had already been extensively tested on the Lancia Rally 037.
Consequently, on the Delta S4, Lombardi only added a turbine to the tried and tested volumetric compressor in order to bridge the power gap with competitors.
At last, Lombardi was able to build what would become his famed Triflux for ECV, with a crossflow cylinder head and two turbochargers. The ingenious cylinder head, with intake and exhaust valves positioned crosswise, allowed the engine to be supercharged more effectively even from low revs, but also to deliver more power at high revs. Right from the first dyno tests, the results were very encouraging: 600 HP was reached, which is about 100 HP more than the Delta S4 engine.
Following several tragic accidents in the 1986 sporting season, the Federation decided not to make the transition from Group B to Group S. Instead, the following season, the decision was made to let less powerful cars race, which were more suited to mass production. The ECV project was therefore discontinued, but the prototype was still prominently showcased and underwent significant development.
In the wake of the accidents at the rallies in Portugal and Corsica of 1986, the FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) decided to cancel the transition to Group S and opted to let cars derived from road-going cars race, thus limiting participation only to Groups A and N. Both Groups admitted cars built in at least 5,000 units per year. Group N homologated cars required all safety equipment, from roll cages to fire extinguishing systems, with just a few mechanical modifications, while Group A cars had greater freedom in developing the mechanical parts.
And so, from one day to the next, all Abarth’s efforts were focused on the new car, which had to comply with the specifications of the newborn Groups A and N: the Lancia Delta HF 4WD, which would mark the beginning of an era that became the most successful in Lancia’s sporting history.
However, the futuristic Lancia ECV, with its innovative composite bodywork and revolutionary Triflux engine, was not shelved. In fact, Lancia decided to show off what had been conceived as the evolution of the Delta S4: thus, in late 1986, the ECV, equipped with a brand new Lancia-Martini red livery, was put on display at the Motor Show in Bologna, which at the time was one of Europe’s leading motor shows. Both the public and sector professionals were very impressed by the car, and everyone was disappointed to learn that, unfortunately, it would not be able to compete in rallies.
The prototype, however, was not fully developed yet: the Lancia sports management team decided to continue experimenting on the ECV and made substantial changes to the bodywork. Italian designer Carlo Gaino took care of its design and created new shapes that were noticeably different from those of its progenitor, the Delta S4. By using composite materials once more, Gaino was able to further reduce the weight: the ECV2 was therefore created in 1988.
All these changes were aimed at improving aerodynamics, the most significant being the rear end and, in particular, the spoiler. While on the Delta S4 and ECV the rear wing was placed at the end of the roof, in the ECV2 the wind tunnel results suggested “detaching” it completely from the bodywork and placing it at mid height. The tail was therefore modified and shortened, and the clear engine cover became enveloping.
The large air intakes on the rear pillars, which were characteristic of the Delta S4 and ECV, were removed and all that remained was the slit at the end of the roof to channel air to the engine compartment. The front bonnet was completely redesigned, with a large double opening to allow the air that cools the large radiators to flow out. The large front spoiler was connected to the radiator grille, which resembled that of the Delta 4WD with its red profile, while the headlights were streamlined. Along the side of the car, the side skirts improved lateral aerodynamics while the wheel rims featured external disc brakes, which were also made of composite material, to help cool the brakes. The bodywork had another distinctive feature, i.e. its colour: a brand new Bianco Perla (pearl white), with a light blue, blue and red band sporting the Martini Racing livery on the entire side and rear. This specific shade was later used on a special limited series edition of the Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione, also called Bianco Perla.
Its harmonious exterior design, with stood out for its futuristic elegance, was matched by a basic and minimalist interior resembling that of a workshop car, which had a huge pressure gauge in the middle of the dashboard to control the turbine boost pressure.
The Lancia ECV2, developed by modifying the previous ECV, is the star of “The rally era” themed area at the Heritage HUB in Turin, alongside its progenitor, the Lancia Delta S4.
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