European roads in the 1980s offered plenty of excitement for rally enthusiasts as two words became increasingly commonplace in manufacturer sales talk: Homologation Special. As a result, many dealerships had a purposeful, motorsport-inspired beastie in their showroom alongside the mundane offerings typical of the era.
Almost overnight, ubiquitous family cars became sexy. The general public was offered muscled versions of familiar snooze-boxes, giving us the VW Golf Rallye, BMW M3, Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and Lancia Delta Integrale, to name a few. All came thanks to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and the new Group A regulations that replaced the banned Group B cars.
To compete, all a manufacturer had to do was produce 5000 units of any car they wanted to run in the rally championship. If you could afford the price premium and insurance costs, these race-inspired road cars were in plentiful supply.
Inevitably, the homologation cars have become valuable collector’s items today, treasured for nostalgia as much as their cash value. One of the most sought after is little known outside Europe: the boxy Lancia Delta HF. Of all the homologation specials, this five-door had the greatest claim to glory in its rally days.
Based on a slightly unloved hatchback, and renamed Integrale, the 4WD, wide-arched racer dominated its era of rallying, winning a total of six consecutive WRC constructors’ titles (1987-92) and four drivers’ championships (1987-89, ’91). In doing so, the Lancia is regarded by many as the most successful rally car of all time.
The homologation version was monumental as a road car, creating an enthusiastic fan base that continues to this day. Variations and special editions abound, increasing the Integrale’s mystique and tying it to the model’s continual rally success all those years ago.
While scoring victories from Monte Carlo to Argentina and Australia, the Lancia became synonymous with the evocative Martini racing livery. Limited edition street versions celebrated with flashes of Martini’s red and blue color scheme, but for maximum effect, an Integrale in total WRC guise is impossible to beat.
This example belongs to 39 year-old David Jorge from St Albans, UK. It’s a ’93 Delta HF Integrale 16v Evolution II model, and the last in the line before production ceased in ’94.
It began life as one of four promotional cars that were produced by Lancia for Magneti Marelli Developments, the Italian company that provided the Integrale’s engine management systems.
Being a special edition of a special edition, it’s the sort of Lancia aficionados desire most. Dressed in full factory colors and sponsorship, the Evo II was fitted with ABS, air con and, of primary importance, the most powerful engine the model ever had: a 215hp 16v version of the Garrett turbocharged inline-four. To put things in perspective, for its year the five-door Integrale was firmly in Porsche 911 performance territory.
The interior was wrapped in black alcantara with red stitching and seatbelts – features typically found on the earlier Evo I Martini 5 special edition cars, produced to celebrate the model’s fifth world championship. In fact, the only noticeable thing missing compared to the rally cars is a rollcage.
Its rarity was part of the appeal for Dave, particularly as it was the most desirable and valuable Evo II variety. “I bought it three years ago in its current condition, with only a few jobs needed to tidy it up,” he said.
“I’ve got a thing for Italian machines and remember watching the Integrales when they were competing. I thought they were incredibly cool and always wanted one. I enjoyed it so much I also bought an Integrale Evo I for track use, plus I have a Ducati 998R and two MV Augusta superbikes.”
A passion for all things Italian is commendable, but the Integrale is far from subtle when blasting around the local English countryside. In fact, David admitted a touch of reluctance when buying such a head-turner. “I wasn’t sure about the full Martini livery, but it was painted by the same company that did the factory rally cars – Nitro C – so the quality was excellent,” he said. “Every time we go out in it, people ask if it’s real. They film it, photograph it, and I’ve even been stopped by the police just so they could look it over.
“However, my wife hated the car until the snow came. Then we were one of the few cars that didn’t get stuck thanks to its 4WD!”
Perhaps typical of an Italian special edition, this particular Integrale has a fascinating story to tell. It’s rain channels on the roof and grey carpets are indicative of an Evo I model, but the bulge in the floorpan for the catalytic converter points to it being an Evo II. Add the later car’s adjustable rear wing, slightly wider fender flares, bigger Recaros, later dash plus A/C and this can only be an Evo II. However, it appears to have been bolted together with a few parts left over from the earlier model.
Good looks aren’t everything, of course, and true drivers aren’t shy when it comes to a little fettling of their classic, especially in the performance department. Dave’s Integrale had been given a smaller Garrett turbo from the Evo I to the replace the stock T3 for quicker spooling. With four-branch headers, a cat bypass plus an Abarth chip in the ECU, power was increased to a healthy 250hp.
It’s not a huge figure by modern standards, but the Integrale’s appeal and desirability are based on its combination of talents, honed over years of competition development. The Evo II was the culmination of that development, and its chassis in particular means it’s revered as one of the most driver-focused road cars ever produced.
“The handling and the way it performs is legendary,” Dave said. “Grip is phenomenal, it’s surefooted even on icy roads and gives the driver real confidence. And considering its age, the chassis complexities and its specification are fantastic.”
It was this handling that made the Integrale almost unbeatable on certain rallies. If you want to appreciate what the fuss was about, you could do worse than spend a few minutes watching YouTube videos of the Integrale in action. Not only is the turbocharged soundtrack a joy, but witnessing the balance through the turns, particularly on high-speed tarmac rallies, highlights the precision of the Integrale chassis.
Even today, the four-wheel drive system was incredibly sophisticated. It had a epicyclic torque converter with Ferguson viscous coupling in the center and a Torsen-type rear diff, making wheelspin almost impossible, giving rally- and fast-road drivers incredible traction.
The downside of this was an increased likelihood of clutch replacement; because the tires would grip so hard, the only thing likely to slip was the clutch itself. This meant the Integrale could be expensive to own if you intended to use it for track days or conduct aftermarket tuning. For most owners, however, it simply added to the car’s mystique, but the Achilles heel meant the Integrale was eventually eclipsed by Ford’s Sierra RS and Escort RS Cosworths as the road car of choice.
Yet many enthusiasts believe the handling traits of the Delta Integrale and its contemporaries have never been surpassed, thanks to their rally specification and the almost total absence of electronic gizmos. This is evidenced when we consider the Integrale’s great rival of the era that featured an equally praise-worthy chassis, the E30 BMW M3 – a car that, unlike the Lancias, thankfully arrived on American shores.
Dave is quick to throw his opinion on the two boxy rivals. “The Integrale is very easy to drive quickly, can be used every day and driven smoothly. The only compromise is its heavy clutch. I’ve driven E30 M3s and would say the BMW is an easier car to live with because they don’t need as much fettling. But in the wet, the Integrale’s 4WD pays dividends.”
With the enduring popularity of the E30 M3, we can only imagine that the Integrale would be held in equal reverence if it had arrived on American shores.
In the final specification, not least with its rally heritage on show in the Martini body, Dave’s Delta HF Integrale 16v Evo II epitomizes what Europeans hold dear in their small performance cars. It had an unbeaten motorsport pedigree, brilliant chassis, purposeful body and a punchy little engine. Even today, in the right hands on a twisting European mountain road, these Lancias have few rivals for either speed or enjoyment.
But perhaps David’s best experience in the car was to be invited to display the Integrale along with other members of Club LanciaSport and Club quattro at the Sunseeker’s Rally in southern England a few years ago. After completing a demo lap around the stadium special stage, a convoy of Integrales and quattros made its way to a spectator stage, only to pass the rally competitors coming the other way. To his amazement, the rally crews were waving and giving thumbs up, delighted to see these rally icons on the road together!
Lancia Delta HF Integrale
Back in 1979, Ital Design produced a five-door hatchback called the Delta that was based on the Fiat Strada platform. In ’86, Group B
rally cars were banned, leading to the introduction of Group A regulations as the leading source of competition cars, for which Lancia produced a four-wheel-drive Delta. Called the Delta HF 4WD, it had permanent four-wheel drive, an eight-valve 1995cc engine and Garrett turbocharger, delivering 165hp. Lancia’s works rally team snatched both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ Group A rally world titles in its first year, which would be a sign of things to come…
In late ’87 the Delta HF Integrale was born. It wore an aggressive ‘pumped-up’ look with wrap-around bumpers, angular wheel arches for upsized tires, and enough air intakes and louvers to shame a fighter jet. The same four-cylinder engine was wound up to 185hp with a larger Garrett T3 turbo. It resulted in 0-62mph in 6.6sec and a top speed of 128mph – not bad for a hatchback.
In ’89, Lancia unveiled the HF Integrale 16v. Power was up to 200hp, and was immediately recognizable by the bulged hood. Then ’91 saw the Evoluzione I. The evolution models were permitted under Group A regulations, allowing series production modifications to be incorporated into a smaller number of cars than the original 5000. The Evo I got wider wheel arches for a wider front and rear track plus 210hp. This was the last homologation Delta used by the works team, but in June ’93 the Evoluzione II was introduced with 215hp and 0-60 in 5.7sec, but was never officially rallied by the factory.
With the Delta and Integrale, Lancia dominated the WRC, winning four drivers’ titles and six constructors’ titles in a row from ’87-92: a record that remains. A recent magazine poll named the Integrale the ‘Greatest Hot Hatchback of All Time’.
WRC: a brief history
Rallying gained its enormous popularity in Europe during the ’60s when factory-entered “works” teams became involved, along with their marketing departments. This saw the gradual end of the amateur era and is best remembered for the Mini Cooper S in the mid-60s.
Following the formation of the World Rally Championship in 1973, the Ferrari-powered mid-engined Lancia Stratos took the series by storm. In ’79, the FIA allowed four-wheel drive to join the party, and the face of rallying changed forever when the Audi quattro swept the ’80 season.
The FIA then divided rally entries into Group A and Group B classes in ’83, and things got deadly serious. Group B had almost no limit on technological innovation, so the factory teams built some truly awesome machines like the Audi S1 quattro and Peugeot 205 T16. As we now all know, Group B cars were soon quicker than F1 cars of their day, with the supercharged and turbo’ed Lancia Delta S4 being timed 0-62mph in under 3sec on gravel!
Unfortunately, several fatal accidents (including ace Henri Toivonen in his S4) meant Group B was banned. With only Group A cars allowed, the 165hp Lancia Delta 4WD became the ideal package, winning the WRC title before being replaced by the HF Integrale in ’87 that continued the silverware collection.
Through constant development, the Delta in its various guises dominated WRC from ’87-92 winning four drivers’ titles and six consecutive constructors’ titles. History has proved the Integrale to be the Holy ‘Grale of rallying.
Lancia Delta Integrale Specialists
1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v Evolution II
1995cc in-line four-cylinder twin-cam 16v turbocharged with Integrale Evo 1 Garrett turbo, Abarth ECU chip, custom four-branch headers, cat-bypass exhaust
Permanent 4WD with centrally-mounted epicyclic torque converter and Ferguson viscous coupling, Torsen-type rear differential with 5:1 wheel torque ratio
17x7.5" Compomotive TH2 powdercoated wheels with 205/45 ZR16 Yokohama Parada tires
Standard Evo II bodywork including adjustable roof spoiler, genuine Martini Racing graphics