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The greatest hot hatch - Lancia Delta Integrale

Fri, 27 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0800

By Glen Waddington

First Official Pictures

27 February 2009 12:00

As you may recall, there was a bit of a four-wheel drive thing going on in the 1980s. It was single-handedly started by Audi and copied by Porsche (959), Ford (Sierra XR4x4), VW (Rally Golf), even Citroën (BX GTi 4x4), all in the name of high-speed handling. Without them, and the rallying success story they ultimately spawned, there’d be no Subaru Impreza Turbo or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo today.

Lancia had a go, tentatively at first, with the Delta HF Turbo 4WD in 1986. But when the Integrale version arrived two years later, a legend was created. No four-wheel drive saloon is as much fun to drive, full stop. And that includes the Audi Coupé Quattro.

Today, British Lancia fans are in a bit of a quandary. After pulling out of the UK market in 1993, the Italian marque was due to return this year with the new Delta – until the economic downturn changed their minds. It’s a rebodied Fiat Bravo, undistinguished except by its odd styling. Engines, suspension, dashboard – they’re all Fiat. Those Lancia fans will think back to such past Lancia glories as the Aurelia and Flaminia of the 1950s and ’60s and want to weep – Lancia used to build cars as charismatic (and expensive) as Aston Martins. Nowadays the company clings on to survival, but at least it is clinging on.

Most of us won’t remember much about Lancia’s pre-Fiat glory days. What we do remember is that little square-edged hatchback from the late 1980s, the one that scored six successive World Rally Championships from 1987 to 1992, and thrilled a generation of hot-hatchers – and we’ll conveniently forget its roots in a 1979 Milanese designer shopping trolley, itself based on the floorpan and simple strut suspension of the Fiat Strada. You know, the one designed by computer, built by robots and ‘bought by morons’.

No moron ever bought an Integrale. You see, in the UK it wasn’t such an obvious choice, despite the performance promise of its 2.0-litre turbo engine and its four-wheel drive handling prowess. The thing was available only in left-hand drive, as if in a deliberate effort to keep it exclusive. But it’s worth getting over the shock of having to sit on the wrong side. This car was tailor-made for British B-roads.


 


By Glen Waddington