New cars: Lancia Delta 1500

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Because I was unable to try the much-publicised (“Car of the Year, 1980”) Lancia Delta when Andrew Andersz, the British PRO, first found one for me, due to other business commitments, I had the advantage of being able to read what some of the other critics had said about this new car, which is so important to Lancia. The odd thing is how performance seems to differ between different Deltas. Most writers seem, however, to have enthused more than I do over the little package. 

I tried to approach the new top-small-car of the Fiat/Lancia empire without thinking too much about other Lancias I have enjoyed – the marvellous little pre-war Aprilia, the splendid B20 Aurelia 2500 GT, the so-restful Flavia and the excellent Fulvia, and the present-day Gamma, which has “character”. Would the Delta be the 1980’s equivalent of the Ardia or Appia? I found in fact, the Delta to be just another little Eurobox. But it is a very nice, decently refined, quick little Eurobox, notably-pleasant to drive. But “Car of the Year”? That makes me wonder how far the “jury” drove their test-Deltas, before coming to this decision. . . . 

There are so many very good economy-cars about these days that personal choice must be a nightmare, or the cause of sleepless nights! the charming little Ford Fiesta, the well-mannered Vauxhall Astra, the funny Fiat Strada, and those practical Renault 5s, for a start. And Motor Sport has tried hard to direct you towards the VW Golf GTi, while finding it very hard to resist the “different” Alfa Romeo Alfasud. And now there is the Lancia Delta. . .. 

So what do we find? Beatifully light and smooth rack and pinion steering, a trifle too low geared at times, (3.8 turns lock-to-lock) with lack of feel around the straight ahead position, but possessing almost too-powerful castor return action. Good all-independent coil-and-strut suspension, working very well but apt to be choppy at low speeds. Cornering? As you would expect from a compact, front-driver with transverse engine – eventual slight understeer, just a trace of softness at the rear-end under some conditions, but tenacious road clinging from a wheel at each comer of a short 12′ 9” long wheelbase car on alloy wheels shod with Michelin 13″ ZX tyres. The noise level is very commendably low, and general refinement very good, unless you want to scream the overhead-camshaft 85 (DIN) bhp, five-bearing very “over-square” 1,498 cc Strada-based engine round at 6,000 or more rpm. It peaks at 6,200 rpm but doesn’t call for such revs for obtaining some quite brisk performance.

Some commentators have remarked that the gearing from the five-speed box is well spaced for good performance. On the contrary, I thought the Lancia Delta rather under-geared, inasmuch as it is as nice in fifth-speed as in fourth and it picks up surprisingly well and is flexible and docile in this highest gear. There is from 97 to over 100 mph, if that is of any interest, available from a Delta, depending on which one you pick, and a 0-60 mph speed increase in about 12 seconds. The light clutch is a little “sudden”, the gear change is moderately good after the narrow gate has been accepted and also the slight “round-the-comer” action needed for smooth shifts between fourth and fifth. It is a rubbery gear-change, but smooth. The disc-drum brakes are effective, the central handbrake well placed. 

The seats are comfortable, and have velour upholstery. The back-seat squabs fold down individually to increase luggage space in the five-door hatchback body. The styling is by Giorgio Giugiaro’s Ital Design Draughtsmen. It is in the decor, control details, and appearance that I began to doubt the validity of that “Car of the Year” accolade. The Delta’s interior is rather drab, although nicely arranged and the square boxes that house the instruments are no nicer than those of a Rover 3500. The Delta’s appearance, too, is so ordinary that twice I walked past it after parking it, when my mind was dwelling on being back in a Lancia again! The biggish, oblong-shaped, pad in the steering-wheel centre sounds the horn but isn’t there when you want it. The triple “boxes” or binnacles carry the two deeply-recessed instrument dials (speedo and Veglia Tach), with four smaller dials for oil-pressure, water-heat, fuel-level and Voltage reading in the next binnacle, and then in the next “box” six recessed knurled knobs (covering heater/ventilator controls), seven square push-buttons for fog light, reversing-light, rear wash/wipe, rear-window demisting, hazard warning, switches, spare switch and a check switch), fresh air vents and triple heater-quadrant levers. There are further vents with rather-complex knobbery at the facia’s extremities. There are plenty of explanatory facia symbols and warning lights. The minor controls’ stalks are also in triplicate, with the unusual plan of having to tum the strip-type dipper stalk to get the side/head lamps to light. I disliked the fact that the lamps and wipers stalks move up to stop things happening, which seems to me an illogical movement; but at least the small stalk for the turn-indicators is on the right. Below the block-matt facia the test car had a Voxson stereo-radio. 

The pedals are not biased to the left as on some fwd cars, and the driving stance can be comfortable, steering-column rake being adjustable. The deep screen-pillars obstruct sideways vision a bit and the Delta isn’t an easy car to reverse. The neat interior door handles are set far forward, within the long door pulls.

There should really be no grumbles about winter driving in a Delta, because Saab have planned its heating. But for a “Car of the Year”, apart from the foresaid flaws, how can the fuel-gauge be so casually calibrated, as are the other small dials, the low-fuel-content light allowed to flash so soon when two gallons or more remain? Nor did I like the wipers that don’t park properly, or self-park when switched off.

The Delta’s rear-hinged bonnet lid props automatically but has to be hand-lowered; this is if you can find the illusive release control which is, however, placed under the o/s of the facia, correctly for a rhd car. Some exposed wiring-loom and the universal joint of the steering column reveal themselves, as you search. The engine showed no thirst for oil, the oil-filler cap was stiff to unscrew; though.  

That, then is the Lancia Delta, another of a growing family of very good small cars, which are able to stand-in for bigger, more thirsty, ones, inasmuch as they run quietly, have quite a good performance, and will cruise effortlessly at well over our legal speeds. It has styling much like that of other Euroboxes; The four-stud wheels look a trifle naked. The Delta is a commendable example of this trend, average-priced at £4,995, and with several good features that lift it out of the rut. To overcome their sad reputation for rusting, Fiat offer two-year or 20,000-i;nile “Delta Deal” free servicing, if you buy one before the end of the month, and Lancia a six-year anti-corrosion warranty, in conjunction with Cadulac Chemicals Ltd. A nice little car, the Delta. But no more entitled, in my oprmon, to carry the Lancia-of-Turin insignia than is a Beta. However, it could well be your personal car of the year if you are economy minded. – WB.  

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