Fleeter Delta

Not surprisingly, Lancia is relived to be able to claim some concrete progress in its return to showroom success, to balance its sweeping victories in the World Rally Championship. Not only are sales up across Europe by almost 15%, but the vital market share has improves by a small amount too. But most of this improvement is in Italy, where the Lancia flag now flies in second place only to Fiat; of the 180,000-car total sold in the first eight months of 1987, only some 40,000 were exported.

Still, small improvements are better than none, and Lancia’s PR department is delighted with this years hat-trick of rally titles: manufacturers, Group A drivers, and Group N drivers. To some extent it was Lancia’s luck to have a suitable car available to step into the new Group A regulations: the compact Delta with 4WD and turbo engine was just about what every factory team would have had ready had there been more notice of the abolition of the Group B missiles.

Now less than a year after the HF 4WD comes the Mark II, called Integrale. Even in showroom spec it looks more like a rally car than the current Group A Delta, since it has large wheel-arch blisters, bigger 15in wheels, and a louvred bonnet.

As road cars, the high performance Deltas have had a lot to offer: even in 1600cc form the HF Turbo is a remarkably rapid machine, and the 2-litre HF 4WD has real punch and beautiful balance. But it has always looked a little expensive over here, now costing nearly £14,000 even without the cost of RHD conversion, and British dealers have not been able to move more than about 100 of them in the 11 or so months it has so far been available.

So what is to happen to the even faster HF Integrale? Again it will arrive in LHD only, but the tweaks to its already sophisticated specificaition are bound to pitch it into an even higher class — possibly £2000 more.

Incorporating some of the lesson learned on the rally circuit, the Integrale (HF 4WD was always rather a mouthful, and the new tag helps to give the revised car a separate identity) offers more power, better grip, and extra braking. Some 20 more bhp has been extracted from the Thema-type four-cylinder twin-cam with its balancer shafts, largely through a bigger Garrett T3 turbocharger and an enlarged intercooler mounted behind the grille. Revised settings to the Marelli electronic ignition/injection plus modified valves, seats and gaskets and a new clutch enable the unit to cope with the extra power which now peaks at 185 bhp

In the previous HF 4WD, much play was made of the overboost system which closed the pressure-limiting valve for up to 30 seconds, briefly pushing the output up above its continuous rated level. A similar system appears on the Integrale, allowing the boost pressure to jump from 0.8 to 1 bar, but this time there is no time limit, so in fact the phrase “high boost” would be a fairer description than “overboost”. However, to keep the driver alert, a little light on the dash glows when the 1-bar figure is reached.

Such is the acceleration of the Integrale that no sooner has the lamp come on than it is time to grab the next gear, so it becomes a challenge to try to reach overboost in every ratio. The only time I managed to keep the light on for more than a second in top was on a long, straight, steep climb up an Italian mountain, when the little hatchback rocketed past normally-aspirated cars as if they had the handbrake on.

Sub-seven-second 0-60 mph times are the entirely believable claim for this 134 mph saloon, which has the great benefit of five doors, unlike most of the other choices in this area, and to match this there are larger ventilated front brake discs with four-pot calipers and a bigger servo. But no ABS — depending on whom one asks, this is either because the car was developed on a budget or because there is no space left under the bonnet when the large intercooler is installed. Both answers, however, make it clear that it is Group A rally potential which actually motivates this project.

ABS is the only missing item in an otherwise impressive technical array; the 4WD system has one of everything. Front/rear torque is split 56:44 via an epicyclic geartrain; a Ferguson viscous coupling modifies this ratio according to grip; and the rear diff is of the Torsen type. Thus there are no controls for the driver to deal with, and if it were not for the complete absense of wheelspin and the remarkable balance of the chassis there would be no clue at all as to which wheels were driving.

Mild-mannered power assistance covers up any steering kickback while possessing the right sort of feel, so that winding through tightish curves is a pleasure amplified by the impressive adhesion. It may be a turbo, but it is nevertheless responsive both in chassis and engine. Noise is low until 90+ mph arrives, when the design’s maturity (it appeared eight years ago) makes itself heard.

Yet the shape is an attractive one, and Lancia has chosen to make only minimal changes, apart from the arches: the fron bumper has air intakes to cool the larger oil and water radiators and the brakes, the headlamps are more powerful, and a subtle flared sill joins front and rear arches.

A mistake Italian firms rarely make is to over-tyre their cars: the Delta’s new alloy rims carry modest 195/55 VR15 tyres, and the final drive has been lowered to compensate for the larger diameter. To make room for the wider wheels, there are new half-shafts and CV joints, and revised damper and spring settings give the car a feel which is firm by Italian, though not by German, standards.

It makes a lovely road-car, and there is little doubt that the Integrale will assume the Rally Championship mantle of the HF 4WD. Rally success appears to sell the lesser road cars, but it looks as though the road-going versions of homologation specials may be at risk of falling victim to their own sophistication when it comes to sales away from home. GC