The Delta brought Lancia fame and rally victories
Legendary rally car: the Lancia Delta.
It was never a bestseller. But Lancia’s Delta became the first compact car for aesthetes. And he determined the rally events.
E.r is neither a production millionaire nor an extravagant innovator. Nevertheless, the Lancia Delta, the "Car of the Year 1980", is one of the great masterpieces of Italian automobile construction. As the successor to the legendary Fulvia, it brought luxury and performance to the five-door compact class thirty years ago.
Drawn with timeless, elegant lines by star designer Giorgetto Giuagario – the couturier of the VW Golf I – the elegantly equipped Delta developed into the first classy compact class model for aesthetes, creative people and successful people. However, the Delta was far more than a chic hatchback sedan based on the bourgeois Fiat Ritmo. Rather, he ennobled the Lancia brand once again with worldwide renown and world championship fame.
And while the up to 600 hp high-performance athletes Delta S4 and Delta HF Integrale ruled the World Rally Championship almost at will with a total of six title wins for around a decade, the street versions brought Italian luxury under the Saab brand to Scandinavia. The first Delta generation set two special records in the company chronicle at the end of its career: at almost 16 years of age, it achieved the longest production time. And with over half a million cars sold, it became the best-selling series in Lancia’s history above the small cars, which historically come from the adopted Autobianchi line.
In the mid-1970s, Lancia was still considered one of the most historic and innovative automobile brands in the world, but sales figures were just as they are now at a worryingly low level. Fiat boss Giovanni Agnelli therefore called for the rapid development of new volume models for the fine subsidiary, which had only been taken over five years earlier, i.e. above all a successor to the successful Fulvia model that expired in 1972, which was only inadequately replaced by the larger Beta.
The starting shot was fired for the Y5 project, which was to be implemented from 1974 with the support of Giorgetto Giugario’s successful company Italdesign. For the first time, Lancia did not engage either the old master Pininfarina or the in-house designer Castagnero for a tailor-made automotive suit. Also new was a development cooperation with Saab for the heating and ventilation system, which later led to the joint project Lancia Thema, Saab 9000, Fiat Croma and Alfa 164.
In September 1979 the compact Lancia celebrated its world premiere at the Frankfurt International Motor Show and in the following years it actually managed to meet the demands of the pampered Lancia customers for style, glamor and technology. The Delta achieved a considerable number of units immediately, but not the planned 200,000 units per year.
The Fiat in fine clothing lacked quality, especially rust protection and powerful engines. Similar to its main competitors Fiat Ritmo, Alfasud, VW Golf, Opel Kadett or Simca Horizon, there was the compact Lancia with 1.3-liter and 1.5-liter engines, but all of this in connection with upscale equipment and at high prices.
A package that completely failed in Northern Europe as the Saab 600 and only really picked up speed in other countries from the end of 1982. The Delta was already being hit by the successful Prisma notchback version, but the decisive factor was the relocation of production in favor of quality from the old Fiat Lingotto plant to the modern Chivasso. Together with the first thorough model update, this development cleared the way for a performance explosion that the compact class had never experienced before.
First, in 1983, the Delta 1.6 HF with 130 turbo hp became a superior Golf GTI hunter. Then things happened in quick succession: the father of unprecedented rally successes was the mid-engine striker Delta S4 with 250 hp in the street version limited to 200 units and with 480 hp as a group B rally car. With a total of 15 victories in the first season, the Delta S4 a high-flyer in the European and World Rally Championships and the toughest rival of the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16.
The S4 was a worthy successor to the icons Lancia Stratos and 037 Rally. The delta rally program was to be crowned in 1987 by the Delta ECV with a chassis made of carbon composite material and up to 600 hp – that was the sudden end for rally group B. Too many accidents and an open top performance race seemed the FIA too dangerous.
But Lancia already had a new iron in the fire. The road model Delta HF 4WD with all-wheel drive and distinctive twin headlights was presented as early as 1986, an almost unbeatable world champion on the rally slopes of the world. After that, the Delta was the continuously developed HF Integrale – with characteristic body extensions – the civilian, but hardly defused version of the WRC bullet with which the world rally champions raced to the throne until the 1992 season.
Like few other cars, the compact Lancia experienced an upturn in sales thanks to the technically innovative high-performance versions and the successes in motorsport, which made it possible to forget the initial difficulties and delayed the introduction of the successor for years. To this day, Delta 4WD and Integrale enjoy a nimbus that is reflected in surprisingly high prices for enthusiasts.
In 1993 the time had come: Even if the Integrals of the first Delta generation were to continue to roll off the production line in many special series such as Club Italia or Final Edition, a completely new Delta celebrated its world premiere at the Geneva Motor Show. Based on the Fiat Tipo and Lancia Dedra models, the Delta Nuova was presented, a restrained car that had to do without rallies and was unable to build on the success of its predecessor.
Like the once celebrated sports suit style icon Beta HPE, the three-door Delta HPE was intended to invite you to elegantly transport your golf bag from 1995 onwards. An attempt that was unsuccessful. After all, the HPE was just a three-door compact class that lacked the class and elegance of a station wagon coupe.
The Delta HPE Concept, unveiled in 2006, caused a sensation again, the excitingly shaped herald of today’s current Delta. Since 2008, the Lancia Delta has symbolized its special position in the rather dreary sea of the compact class with its extroverted design, stylish luxury and lush dimensions that go beyond the handy format of its vehicle class. An elegant Italian with a bold plan: under the Chrysler logo, he is now to conquer America.
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