At the beginning of the Eighties, Lancia was handed back the task of winning the World Rally Championship for the Fiat Group, after the all-conquering Stratos had been sidelined by the Fiat 131 Abarth Rally for commercial reasons. Despite having only rear-wheel drive, it was a rally car that ruled the roost over emerging four-wheel-drive competitors.
Rally regulations were constantly evolving and the Fiat 131 Abarth Rally, which had already achieved excellent results, needed replacing. Project number SE037, to which the car owed its “037” moniker, was modelled on the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, which had already spawned a competition version in 1978 for endurance races in the silhouette category. The road-going version of the new Lancia Rally debuted at the 1982 Turin Motor Show and 200 needed to be built for the competition model to be homologated into Group B.
The car’s hybrid structure combined a monocoque with a tubular chassis. Two tubular subframes were anchored to the central frame section derived from the production Beta Montecarlo, running from the windscreen to the rear firewall. The front structure supported the unequal-length double wishbone front suspension and the radiators, whereas the rear structure supported the rear-mid positioned engine block, gearbox and differential, with unequal double wishbone rear suspension featuring two shock absorbers on each side and different arm attachments to easily vary the geometry. The wheels were fitted with four-piston Brembo brakes and unbeatable P7 Corse tyres, with Pirelli also supplying the two 35-litre safety fuel tanks side mounted in front of the rear wheels, including on the production version.
The body, designed and produced by Pininfarina, was made of polyester with fibreglass reinforcements. In particular, the bonnet and boot lid could be detached very quickly, allowing easy access to the mechanical parts. The engine was developed by Abarth and derived from the 16-valve, 2.0-litre powerplant on the Lancia Trevi. In the road-going version, fuel was supplied via a twin-barrel carburettor. As for supercharging, chief engineer Aurelio Lampredi choose a Roots-type Volumex supercharger tuned by Abarth, which was preferred to the turbo solution due its superior response and low-RPM boost, despite delivering less power overall. The engine developed 205 hp, enabling the car to achieve a top speed of 220 km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 7 seconds.
Once the 200 units required for Group B homologation had been built, the Lancia Rally began competing in WRC races. Besides the 53 cars used over the years by the official works team, most 037s were used in competitions by private teams and drivers, so models preserved in the road version are particularly hard to come by.
The 037 racing version was equipped with an injection system instead of the twin-barrel carburettor, enabling it to develop 255–280 hp. Engine output was subsequently boosted to 310 hp by increasing the displacement to 2111 cm3 and the pressure of the volumetric compressor from 0.6–0.9 bar to 1.0 bar (EVO II).
The car made its competitive debut in April 1982 in the Rally Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. A thrilling second season followed in which Lancia, whose drivers Walter Röhrl and Markku Alén opened the campaign with a 1-2 finish in the Monte Carlo Rally, achieved its goal of winning the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.
The victory was particularly significant because it happened just as four-wheel drive Audis were emerging, but Lancia was able to compensate for the performance of its rear-wheel drive car thanks to the reliability and tremendous efficiency of its entire Squadra Corse racing team. The 037 project also proved to be a winner due to important details that made the difference in races, such the gearbox that could be replaced in only 12 minutes.
Success in the 1983 World Rally Manufacturers' Championship was capped by victories in the European and Italian championships, obtained by a young driver from Bassano del Grappa behind the wheel of a Lancia Rally 037: 25-year-old Miki Biasion. The Vicenza native started out with satellite team Jolly Club and his car, dressed in Totip livery, dominated the European Championship, winning 11 out of 12 races. It was the beginning of prolific career aboard Lancia cars for Miki, who was soon drafted into the official Lancia Martini team and entered several more races with the 037 before switching to the incredible Delta S4, in which he notched his first WRC victory in the 1986 Rally Argentina, and later becoming one of the most successful drivers of the Lancia Delta Group A, along with Alén and Juha Kankkunen. Indeed, Biasion made a significant contribution to Lancia’s consecutive WRC constructors’ titles from 1987 to 1991, clinching the drivers’ championships in '88 and '89.