While Group B spawned the most extreme rally cars the world’s ever seen, its Group A World Rally Championship successor was the source of some of the greatest road cars and perhaps none more so than the iconic Lancia Delta Integrale. Success on the stages doesn’t always equate to greatness on the road, but in the case of the Integrale it absolutely nailed it in both arenas. In competition it had 46 WRC wins, six Constructors’ Championships and four drivers’ crowns – two for Juha Kankkunen and two for Miki Biasion.
The passage of time can turn heroes into has-beens. Not so the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. Even today, over 30 years after the original 8-valve Integrale was launched, you can storm along in the company of modern high-performance machinery and not have to make many excuses regarding the four-wheel-drive Lancia’s age. Sure, it may not erupt out of corners with the savage rage of a Mercedes-AMG A45, but – in the later editions especially – the speed you carry into a corner can be maintained and used to rocket you out the other side.
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Though more than capable of blinding speed across challenging roads and in dire conditions, the Integrale’s other attributes are what have helped it endure – and remain adored. Its wonderfully neutral chassis balance and agility. Its intimate steering feel. The whoosh and chuff of its turbocharger as it stokes the seductive-sounding 2-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine. Not to mention the Integrale’s looks: beefily broad, broodingly hard-faced. As an overall package it’s deeply charismatic, which partly explains why values continue to remain strong.
Lancia Delta Integrale in detail
There’s something just so intrinsically right about a car with boxy, blistered wheelarches – BMW E30 M3, Audi Quattro and, of course, the Integrale – they speak of extensive modifications to elevate the relatively mundane to the pinnacle of performance and that’s exactly what Lancia did with the humble Delta.
Originally launched in 1979, the five-door hatch was, like many of its contemporaries, refined during the course of its life and eventually spawned a hot version, the Delta HF, with a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, and by 1986 this had morphed into the HF Turbo AWD featuring a 2-litre turbocharged four and, crucially, four-wheel drive. When Group B was outlawed in 1986 and Group A rules for the following season demanded a production run of 5000 examples, Lancia unwittingly had a winner already sitting in its showrooms. It won nine out of the 13 rounds in 1987, bagging both the constructors’ and drivers’ titles.
Inevitably the opposition started to catch up, so Lancia refined the concept and launched the Delta HF Integrale 8v boasting a host of revisions over the AWD model. The 2-litre was upgraded to produce 182bhp and 224lb ft, while wheels, tyres and brakes were all larger, along with revised springs, dampers and front struts. To accommodate the bigger wheels and suspension revisions the iconic blistered arches made their debut, too.
Further changes came in 1989 when the 16v model was introduced – identifiable by its raised bonnet line to accommodate the engine – and power was now up to 197bhp. The best was yet to come though and that was the Evoluzione (generally shortened to Evo) which made its debut in 1991 and offered the most comprehensive of makeovers.
While the engine wasn’t substantially changed, power increased again to 207bhp, but changes to its suspension ensured its competitive edge was retained. There were box section track control arms, the front strut towers were raised, and the front and rear tracks were widened, necessitating the use of even more heavily blistered wheelarches and larger, 16-inch Speedline alloys. The front and rear bumpers were toughened up and widened to blend with the extended arches and there was an adjustable spoiler to sit at the top of the tailgate.
The last of the line – excluding the special editions which were primarily concerned with extending the Integrale’s rather restrictive colour palette – was the Evo II, effectively an Evo but fitted with a catalytic converter and some engine tweaks to make up for any horses that had been reined in by the cat.
While it’s the Evo models that have become the most coveted, an Integrale in any of its incarnations is a glorious machine. Its clever four-wheel-drive set-up gave it limpet-like grip whatever the weather, but like the rest of the car it was tweaked during the course of its lifetime. Derived from the system seen on the mid-engined S4 Group B car, initially it was a front-biased set-up distributing power 56 per cent to the front and 44 per cent to the back, but increasingly this became more rear biased – 47 front and 53 to the rear on later versions. A centre diff directed the torque based on these ratios until a Ferguson viscous coupling detected wheel slip, diverting power to the wheels that were best placed to deploy it, while a Torsen rear diff could vary the amount of power being sent to the individual rear wheels, too.
Inside there were constant tweaks and revisions, with sports seats and the optional Recaros (fitted as standard to the Evo cars in most markets) being clad in a mixture of cloth, Alcantara and leather depending on the market and the option boxes ticked. One constant was the typical Italian driving position which didn’t suit all drivers and there was a feeling of being perched on the car rather than sitting low down as you might expect from such a sporting proposition.
The dash is classic 1980s with a squared off binnacle featuring a plethora of dials and gauges sitting alongside the expected speedo and rev counter. Decorated in yellow script with yellow needles, they were a distinctive feature of the car.
By the end of its production run in 1994 Lancia had produced nigh on 45,000 Integrales, proving just how popular the Group A era had been, and without it the hottest Delta could well have been the HF Turbo. Today the best examples change hands at up to around £50,000 for the Evo, with special edition models with 16 valves commanding prices in the region of £20k to £30k.
Specs (Evo II)
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 1995cc, turbo|
|Power||212bhp @ 5750rpm|
|Torque||232lb ft @ 2500rpm|
|Top speed||137mph (claimed)|
What we said
evo 271 – Group A icons
‘The Integrale’s driving position is how you might imagine it to be: resolutely Italian and ergonomically haphazard. The wheel is laid noticeably flat, and I feel like I’m peering under the tops of the window frames to see out: this, and the angular dashboard architecture, betray a car that in its fundamental form went on sale at the end of the 1970s.
‘Which in some ways makes its ability, even more than its latent charm, the biggest surprise. After the crudity of the Cosworth and the hyperactive rawness of the Subaru, the Integrale feels a more rounded proposition, overlaid with a certain Italian flamboyance that the other cars here could never even begin to comprehend. I mean, the Lancia has deep tan carpeting, for starters, and its sculpted exterior panels are as suave as they are purposeful.
‘Still, it really gets up and goes, the Lancia. There’s not that much lag, and the classic twin cam is smooth and distinctive in voice, if not overly loud: there’s none of the deep, ripping gargle that characterised the Group A versions with Torino number plates. The most obvious dynamic difference is that the Integrale feels more conventional, and that it needs a fraction longer to get turned in than some of the scalpel-sharp nutjobs from the Far East… The gorgeous Momo Corse wheel needs more working on corner entry, and there’s a perceptible sensation of the car settling initially and adopting a stance before cornering can begin. At first I find it a little unnerving given the slippery, muddy asphalt underneath us, a small spike of adrenaline that car and driver are about to get familiar with the scenery head-on. But once you’ve learnt that it’s simply how the Lancia goes about its work, and that traction is superb from there on in, the confidence begins to build, and using the brakes more on entry seems to help, too.’