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
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.
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.
Lancia Delta HF Turbo
Engine: 1585cc/4-cyl/DOHC, Turbo
Maximum speed: 144mph
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.