Lancia's Delta HF -a significant debutant

In a particularly busy round of autumn announcements, many of them geared to the Frankfurt Show last September, little attention was given to the Lancia Delta Turbo which will reach the British market in mid-1984. It is an important newcomer nonetheless, bringing the Italian make to the forefront in the high-performance family car market, and the opportunity of driving the car briefly was not to be missed.

The first question that’s bound to be asked is why Lancia chose to fit a Garrett turbocharger on the Delta’s 1.6-litre engine rather than the Volumes supercharger that is favoured for the Trevi, the Coupe and the HPE. Lancia director Dr Alberto Pianta explained to us that the company is committed to having a forced induction version for every model in the range eventually, but is open-minded about which system to use. The Volumex supercharger, as applied to the Coupe which we featured last month, has “softer” characteristics which do more for the torque than for the power output, and is therefore better suited to the larger-engined models. The turbocharger, already used very successfully on the World Rally Championship winning mid-engined Rally model, is more “explosive” to use Dr Pianta’s expression, and will be preferred by younger drivers who want the feeling of power.

Lancia claim that the Delta Turbo HF is the first small, mass produced saloon to have a turbocharger fitted; Saab may not agree with that, having produced 100,000 turbocharged cars in seven years, so maybe the claim hinges on the definition of “small”! Lancia intend to make 5,000 Delta Turbos per annum, of which 3,000 will be reserved for the Italian market and the remaining 2,000 distributed initially in France and Germany, and then in other markets including Britain.

A great deal of development has gone into the Delta Turbo HF, as you’d expect of a company of Lancia’s standing. Taking the Delta GT’s twin-cam, 105 bhp, 1,585 cc four-cylinder engine as a base, the HF version incorporates the Garrett T3 turbocharger upstream of a Weber twin-choke carburetter, boosting the power output to an impressive 130 bhp at 5,600 rpm. The torque is improved by a whopping 42 per cent, to 143 lb ft at 3,700 rpm, suggesting that the HF will be both lively and flexible.

An air-to-air intercooler is included in the specification, lower piston crowns reducing the compression ratio to 8:1, and the power amiss managed by a new Marelli Microplex system (more advanced than the Digiplex system used on Ferraris, apparently) which also . has a knock-sensor to regulate the igruuon advance. A ZF 5-speed gearbox replaces Lancia’s own box, the normal all-disc brake system is retained, an oil cooler is added to the specification, the forward part of the exhaust system is made of stainless steel, and new alloy wheels are fitted with Michelin TRX tyres.

On paper the Delta Turbo HF is an extremely attractive package, technically a lot more interesting than its potential rivals. The “packaging” is rather anonymous, unfortunately, the four-door bodywork strongly resembling the VW Golf for instance, but it is modem and spacious for family usage. A four-wheel-drive version of the Turbo HF has also been announced, and a coupe version could be a real winner.

Despite Dr Pianta’s hint of explosive power, the Turbo HF is all the more impressive on the road for having a lot of power — and torque — delivered smoothly, lacking the “step-on” effect that you’d feel in a Porsche. The combination of 130 bhp in a family saloon weighing exactly 1,000 kg (20 cwt, near enough) is potent to say the least, whipping the HF to 62.5 mph in 8.9 seconds and to a top speed of slightly over 120 mph. The turbocharger is unusually quiet, too, betrayed only by a faint whistle which you would notice with the windows down, resulting in a performance which would do credit to a potent 2-litre model.

In the few miles that we drove the car, three up, we formed the impression that the Delta Turbo could become a formidable class contender, and could attract the following of the Alfasud Ti which is now being phased out. The handling felt good, as did the gearbox, brakes and steering, leaving as with one doubt which would need checking in a full road test, that front-end stability is not all that it might be; on a windy day the Delta felt rather unsteady at the front, particularly in overtaking, suggesting that a deeper front air dam might be needed. This might, equally, have been some peculiarity of the mad surface, or of the TRX low profile tyres, or a combination of all three factors.

The purpose of our visit was to tour Lancia’s Chivasso plant, which opened in 1962 and has recently been extended and thoroughly modernised, £33 million (half of the current total budget) having been spent on the rustproofing and painting areas. Lancia is the first company in the world to have adopted cataphoresis painting, that is, dipping the bodies in baths of primer paint through which an electric current is passed. An average of 20 to 40 microns of primer adheres to the metal, and Lancia go to the extremes of cutting up a couple of shells every week to check the primer thickness in the most inaccessible parts. Most of the painting is robotised, and the shells are then sent down a line where all the cavities are wax filled, and the undersides thoroughly undersealed, before assembly.

Whatever Lancia’s recent reputation for rust proneness, the company is taking great pains to rectify the matter. Only time will really tell how successful Lancia have been, but the company is confident that its preparation now matches that of VW, Saab, or any other noted rival. — M.L.C.