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September 26th 2007

A look at Lancia's famous rally cars, Part I.

Story and Photos by Hugh Doran

Ever since Lotus boss Colin Chapman took out a competition licence in the name of “Gold Leaf Team Lotus” motorsport has been a rather colorful sport. Today we are well used to seeing racing cars painted in the colors of all manner of various products.

Looking back over the years there have been some bad paint jobs on the cars, but there have also been some good ones. Then there are the ones that really stand out. One such livery is the Martini colors worn by Lancia in the World Rally Championship.

Lancia’s association with Martini began with the LC1.

Lancia’s association with Martini started back in sportscar racing in the early 1980’s with the LC1 and LC2. But it is the Lancia rally cars that everybody remembers, with the Martini livery that was first shown on the 037. The Lancia 037 is a stunning looking car, no matter what angle you view it. The spiritual successor to the Stratos, it marked a serious return to rallying for the Turin company. This was a car that was born to rally, the engineers had read the rule book and then built the car from there. The shape is very loosely based on the Beta Monte Carlo although you would never know it. Look at the two cars in profile and squint a little and you will see what we mean.

Lancia 037m 1983-1985
The 037 went against the convention at the time in as much as there was no turbo charger. Instead Lancia had decided that the Volumux supercharger was the way to go as the turbo’s at the time were still producing serious turbo lag, where as supercharging gave instant throttle response. The first 037’s were developing 305bhp from their 1995cc engines. Although from 1984, the engine had been stroked out to 2111cc and produced 325bhp.

The 037 - quite possible the prettiest car ever to grace the world of rallying. Later 037s had round light clusters - the earlier cars had rear lights lifted directly from the Beta Monte Carlo

The one thing that the engineers either forgot - or simply overlooked was four wheel drive. Audi was in the process of changing the face of rallying with their four wheel drive Quattro’s. But as with any radical leap forward in motorsport there is often a period during which a lack of reliability is experienced. Audi suffered in this period and allowed Lancia to make hay while the sun shone. With wins on the Monte Carlo, Tour de Course, Acropolis, New Zealand and San Remo rallies, Lancia wrapped up the 1983 World Rally championship.

Taking a closer look at these rallies it is clear to see that what Lancia had produced was a great all round rally car. Forget the fact that Audi were developing four wheel drive. For the fact remains that all the rallies won by the 037 in 1983 had completely different characters. The Tour de Course and San Remo may both be run on tarmac, but more often than not the tarmac in San Remo is wet during the rally and the tarmac in Monte Carlo is normally hidden under snow and ice, whereas the surface in New Zealand is smooth and super fast. The Acropolis it is as rough as could be, not only is dust kicked up by the competing cars, but small rocks as well making this event a real car breaker.

The success or the 037 wasn’t just confined to the world stage. Miki Biasion, Carlo Capone and Dario Cerrato were victorious in the 1983, ‘84 and ‘85 European Rally Championship. However the days were numbered for the 037 as first Audi perfected four wheel drive and then Peugeot took rally car performance up a gear. Lancia needed something new.

Delta S4 1985-1986
The Group B rules allowed the engineers to produce some pretty outlandish cars. But it was Lancia who produced the most outlandish of the lot in the form of the Delta S4. This was truly beauty & the beast all wrapped up in one package. The styling was brutally aggressive, but at the same time it had that certain sublime attractiveness that only the Italians can muster. However the real brutality was to be found under the lightweight skin. A tubular chassis supported the mid-mounted engine which featured both a supercharger, for instant throttle response, and a turbo charger for added grunt further up the rev range. Kicking out 450bhp this was the ultimate pocket rocket - although Marku Alen spent most of 1986 pleading for an extra 50bhp!!! As an indication of the power of these cars, depressing the gas pedal by a mere 1mm was enough to propel the S4 from 50mph to 70mph!!!

Lancia took two S4s along to the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally held in the UK. Back then what is now known as the Rally of Great Britain was the type of event that separated the men from the boys in no uncertain terms. You just didn’t know what sort of conditions you were going to come across, be it mud, ice, snow, rain, fog or a combination of all of the above. The Delta S4s entry on the ‘85 Lombard rally was intended to be a development exercise prior to a full season in 1986, the Lombard being the final round of that years championship and run at the back end of November. Marku Alen and Henri Toivonen were the drivers chosen to put the S4s through their paces. The choice of Toivonen raised a few eyebrows as he had a reputation as being a bit of a Lancia bad boy, often to be found climbing from a wrecked 037 that had been firmly implanted in the scenery. However with the S4 at the Lombard, he won the rally first time out with Alen in second. In fact there are those who say that Toivonen was the only man to be able to truly drive an S4 and get the maximum out of the car.

Toivonen made it two wins from two on the 1986 Monto Carlo rally. He was robbed of three in a row by engine failure in Sweden, and then came Corisca. Toivenen had flu and would wander round the service areas almost comatose. However he seemed to come alive behind the wheel. Leading the rally by the best part of two minutes at the end of the first day. Although no better, he continued to attack on day two.

Poetry in motion as a rare Delta S4 is let loose at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Nobody saw the S4 leave the road. In fact nobody even knew that anything was wrong until the next driver through the stage, Timo Salonon, saw smoke rising and stopped to investigate. Looking over the edge of the cliff on this mountain road, Salonon saw the the S4 sitting on a ledge engulfed in flames. Toivenen and his co-driver Sergio Cresta lay dead in the wreckage, still strapped into their seat. The fire was so intense that Lancia’s engineers couldn’t even determine what had caused the accident. Twenty one years later we still don’t know. We don’t even know if Toivenen and Creata died as a result of the impact or as a result of the fire.

This was a second tragedy in as many rallies. Four spectators had died in Portugal just weeks before. The FIA felt the need to act and 24 hours after Toivonen’s death a statement was issued banning Group B from the end of the year. The most outlandish period in rallying was over. But not before it had taken championship success. This came thanks to Fabizio Tabaton in the European Rally Championship - Lancia’s fourth win in a row in this series. Marku Alen also took the World Championship at the wheel of an S4 - although he only held the title for a matter of days until the FIA annulled the results of the Sanremo Rally and handed the title to Peugeot’s Juha Kankkunen.

Read Part I.

Read book review, "Lancia Delta HF Integrale".

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