Lancia Delta HF Turbo

The Delta HF Turbo paved the way for the all-conquering Group A Integrale. We tell you how with Lancia’s original UK press car…

Words John-Joe Vollans Photography Chris Frosin

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allying in the late ’80s might have lost a little of the headline-grabbing figures of a few years prior, but if you were lucky enough to glimpse a Group A rally car fully sideways on a Welsh forest hairpin, we doubt you’d have cared. Group A cars still spat flames and offered a tantalising glimpse of their flared arches and turbo intakes as they shot past, inches from both you and the trees. When the stage ended, you could get into your Lancia HF Turbo and do your best impression of Juha Kankkunen on the way home, it's unlikely you'd have done the same in an 037 or RS200.

Though pub bores will tell you that Group B was the most exciting era of rallying ever and that it’s never been the same since, we know better. Forget the performance figures (they weren’t that much faster), the racing was just as competitive and exciting in Group A and you actually stood a chance of putting a slice of it on your driveway.

Homologated cars from this era are some of the most exciting machines of the era. The Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth, Toyota Corolla GT, Mitsubishi Starion, Subaru Impreza and the daddy of them all, the Lancia Delta Integrale. The ’Grale can be traced back to the first fast Delta, the HF Turbo. So, 30 years after the Delta’s debut victory on the Monte Carlo rally, we take Lancia’s own HF Turbo press car out for a drive to trace its ancestry. Before the 037 was dominating tarmac stages across the globe and winning constructor’s titles for Lancia, a much less flamboyant rally-star-in-the-making was already doing its duty – ferrying families to the supermarket. It’s hard to picture now, through the misty lens of nostalgia, but back in 1979 when the Lancia Delta first appeared, it was anything but a performance model. The Delta was first and foremost a compact and practical hatchback to rival Volkswagen’s Golf. Like its German competitor, the Delta was styled by Giugiaro and, just like the Golf, few saw its latent performance potential.

A seed of change was planted in the motoring industry in 1980 with Audi’s introduction of the Quattro. This new four-wheel drive rally machine caught the Italians, and the rest of the world napping. It caused an avalanche of turbocharged, all-wheel drive performance cars to enter the market. The Group B regulations allowed for the creation of frankly bonkers performance machines, so long as there were a handful of road cars sold to homologate them. The Delta S4 was one such beast, but it bore so little resemblance to its road-going namesake that it didn’t represents Deltas accurately. No, the Delta’s true time to shine was just around the corner. With the end of Group B regulations and the introduction of Group A, a niche began to appear – one into which Lancia was ideally placed to exploit. By 1987 the Delta range already had a performance road model with which to develop a new rally superstar. The modest Delta HF Turbo had been launched in 1984, and with it Lancia demonstrated Nostradamus-like levels of prediction. This car already had a turbocharged four-cylinder, twin-cam engine capable of being enlarged to the upper extreme of what Group A rules allowed. It was light, handled well, and once it gained four-wheel drive in ’86, became the blueprint for all competitive Group A machinery.

Ford, Audi and Mazda had to play catch-up. The Delta HF Integrale, as it became known, would gain its maker a still-unsurpassed 46 international rally victories and six consecutive constructor’s titles. The HF Turbo was trumpeted by Lancia in its press material as ‘the fastest 1600 five-door hatchback on sale in the UK.’ As we now know, its legacy is a bit more exciting than that...

On June 25th 1984 the Lancia HF Turbo was officially launched in the UK. This particular HF Turbo was one of Lancia’s own press demonstrators on that day, offered to motoring journalists to test. It was one of just 20 such cars and is thought to be one of only two that remain. As you’d expect for a car that was designed to wow the motoring press, this HF Turbo has been loaded with all the toys available in the Lancia arsenal circa ’84 – plus those bold graphics of course.

The cabin in this HF Turbo was the first to benefit from Lancia’s ‘Bar Graph’ instrumentation. It’s so ’80s it looks straight out of an episode of Airwolf. We love it, of course, and can’t hide a smirk when the digital auxiliary dials in the centre console light up with a green LED glow. As a range topping display model this HF Turbo was given the Executive Pack: Recaro bucket seats, sliding steel sunroof, central locking and headlamps that wash/wipe themselves.

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With its famous role in Lancia history at the forefront of our minds, I take the keys with reverence from Neil Fender, proprietor of Fender Broad Classic Cars (fenderbroad.com) who is currently offering it for sale. The first impression is a broadside of motorsport nostalgia from that Martini Turbo livery. Martini racing war paint is up there with Alitalia and Gulf as some of the most evocative racing schemes in history. It suits the car perfectly, contrasting with the brilliant white base colour. This Delta is obviously no weekly-shop wagon.

The next thing you notice is the tiny wheels and tyres. This HF Turbo sits on its original 14in rims with 5.5-inch wide tyres – more sit-on lawnmower than rally winner. Together with the on-stilts ride height it reminds you of a time when performance car technology was less about ultimate grip and more about fun. It also highlights how much room there was in the Delta for further development.

Lancia borrowed heavily from parent company Fiat in this era and as a result the HF Turbo is predominantly a Ritmo/Strada underneath. These were excellent hot hatches in their own right, so it’s a good base to start with. The suspension uses struts all round and was located at the rear with parallel arms and radius rods.

The engine is a classic Lampredi twin-cam, but this time the two-valve per cylinder head is fed via a single, blow-through Weber carburettor. The turbo doing that blowing is a Garrett T2, which allows for 140bhp – modest by today’s standards. In a car that weighs exactly a tonne, yet still allows it to get to 60mph in 8.5secs and romp onto 123mph. Big numbers for a mid-’80s hatch.

Getting the car warmed up as we head out to some tasty B-roads around Fender Broad’s base in Bristol, the quirks of ’80s turbo performance cars emerge. There’s very little performance on offer lower down the rev range; that T2 takes a while to build a head of steam, but once you get into the midrange it punches steadily. This engine likes to be kept in a sweet spot – a narrow band in the middle of the range that provides a useful surge of torque.

Out of town and onto some dual carriageways the car’s build quality starts to become apparent. It’s not a quiet cabin – there’s all manner of squeaks and rattles and wind noise to deal with, but the good news is that the engine grunts and barks even louder. It’s a tuneful little four-pot, raspy and grizzly rather than smooth and purring, but it suits its rally character to a tee.

Given the opportunity to go, this HF Turbo leaps at the chance – revving it releases addictive turbo noise and hustles the HF along rather well. The only impeding issue is its remote, vague gearchange. We’re pretty sure that the linkage in this example isn’t in the first flush of youth, but you can still make progress once you’re used to the slop.

The ride is decent too, it’s only jarring over the worst of potholes and those Recaros are both figure-hugging and comfortable. The skinny tyres aren’t too good at reigning in the torque from this turbocharged lump – they chirrup under full throttle in low gears and protest when you barrel into a corner too fast, but they hold on well enough and let you know when you’re pushing your luck. Maintaining a high speed through corners is the HF Turbo’s forte. It’s a lovely, neat handler that keeps pretty flat and shifts its weight about predictably.

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The Modern Classics view

Can you feel the Integrale in its early form? Yes of course, it’s all here. Only the refinement that made it into a true winner on the road is missing. The chassis gives you heaps of feedback when you’re driving it near the limit and those skinny tyres make the car feel excitable and nimble. Lancia kept this essential ‘feel’ right through the Delta model line. The last-of-the-line Evo model may have piled another 300kg on top of this HF Turbo, but it still kept the liveliness that makes the Delta such fun behind the wheel.

You can’t help but daydream about all those Deltas in exotic places sliding to victory in international rallies. Although this car represents the very start of all that, it’s clear after spending a day with one, how the Delta came to be so all-conquering. An advanced machine for its time, the HF Turbo is far from perfect – but it’s clear from this early example that Lancia was on the right track and with a decade to hone its concept, it became unstoppable.

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Lancia Delta HF Turbo

Engine: 1585cc/4-cyl/DOHC, Turbo

Power: 140bhp@5500rpm

Torque: 141lb-ft@3500rpm

Maximum speed: 144mph

0-60mph: 8.5sec

Fuel consumption: 28mpg

Transmission: FWD, five-speed manual

How many left? 157


Lancia Delta timeline

January 1987 Delta HF 4WD takes the first Group A era victory for the ’Grale on its debut at the Monte Carlo Rally. New 2.0-litre 8v engine makes 185bhp in road-going tune.

January 1988 In its first full season, the Delta HF Integrale (so named since November ’87), sweeps to a constructor’s title for Lancia and a driver’s title for Juha Kankkunen.

May 1989 The new 16v Integrale furthers Lancia’s WRC dominance. The firm takes another consecutive constructor’s title.

October 1991 Wider bodywork appears on the first Delta Evoluzione model. There’s also revised suspension mounts, additional air intakes, bigger brakes, a power steering radiator and a more powerful 16v engine. These homologation additions to the Delta net another constructor’s title and another driver’s title for Kankkunen.

October 1992 The last full season for Lancia in the WRC saw the Integrale’s final win in San Remo at the hands of Italian Andrea Aghini. Team mate Kankkunen finished second.

June 1993 Evo II model adds even more power and more sophisticated engine ECU, but these are only road car changes, the previous Evo I forms the basis of the rally car. Integrale struggles on in privateer hands, but Toyota takes overall WRC victory.



Lewis PlumbLancia, Delta, HF, Turbo