The Fast and the Forbidden: 1987-93 Lancia Delta HF Integrale

The modern formula for a rally car (and its corresponding homologation model for the street) consists of a turbocharged, 2.0L four and all-wheel drive wrapped in a small, nimble package with rather pedestrian pedigree. We in the States are familiar with this recipie by way of Japanese rally specials like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. However, the Europeans also used to get in on the action, and one of the most iconic Continental cars in this class was the frumpy but fast Italian stallion, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale.

The Delta debuted in normal, front-drive form back in 1979. Six years later, it formed the basis for Lancia’s entry into the FIA’s Group B rally formula, the Delta S4. Yet despite its Delta-like styling, the S4 was a pure race car underneath, with a mid-mounted 1.8L four that was both turbocharged and supercharged driving all four wheels. Sadly, it was the Delta S4 that would hasten the demise of Group B, as Finnish ace Henri Toivonen and his Italian-American co-driver Sergio Cresto burned to death when they crashed during the 1986 Tour de Corse. Despite this tragedy, Lancia bravely stayed in the sport, bringing out a new car for the slower, tamer Group A rules in 1987.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale rear 3/4 view

Evolved from the Delta HF 4WD, the initial Delta HF Integrale added revised internals and a larger turbo to the 2.0L, 8-valve twin-cam four. The angular 5-door hatchback styling of the normal Deltas was supplemented by flared fenders, quad round headlights and “HF” badging front and rear (which later incorporated Lancia’s answer to corporate cousin Ferrari’s prancing horse: a galloping elephant. How great is that?). Output was 185hp and 224 lb.-ft, which was fed to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission and translated to 0-62 mph times of about 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 133 mph. Unsurprisingly, the Integrale proceeded to dominate the 1987 WRC season, and 1988 was more of the same.

But the competition wasn’t standing still, and neither was Lancia. For 1989 the engine was treated to a new 16-valve cylinder head, larger fuel injectors, a revised intercooler and an overboost function, bumping output of the street version to 200hp and 220 lb.-ft. Top speed climbed to 137 mph and 0-62 times fell to 5.5 seconds, and even more success in WRC (seen below) and regional series followed.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale rally

Were the Lancia engineers satisfied? Not by a longshot. Ford, Toyota and others were closing the gap, so the Italians cooked up the Evoluzione I (1991 and ’92) and the Evoluzione II (1993). They featured revised front and rear styling, wider fender flares over bigger tires on bigger five-lug wheels, front strut tower brace, and a rear spoiler atop the hatch. Evoluzione IIs would prove to be the most powerful Integrales, peaking at 215hp and 230 lb.-ft despite the addition of a catalytic converter.

Success in rallying certainly helped bolster the Integrale’s mystique on the street, but the fact that it was a hoot-and-a-half to drive didn’t hurt either. Sure, it’s not terribly quick or powerful by modern standards, but its grip can still be described as “tenacious,” and its distinctive Italian suit is as charming as it is practical. A tiny handful have made it to this side of the Atlantic, but most of us can only admire these rally-bred runabouts from afar. Which is a shame, because who knows where the sport compact scene would be today if it had received a healthy injection of Apennine brio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?