The World’s Best Rally Car, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Born from rallying, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale is a driver’s dream, both in dirt and on pavement.

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Unlike the Audi Quattro, you won’t see a Lancia used in any car commercials to promote a new sedan, and it likely hasn’t graced any teen car fan walls for decades, either. But while the Lancia Delta HF Integrale didn’t sell in big numbers or boast huge power, it is a legend in the world of rallying and it stands as one of the most beloved cars to ever grace both dirt and pavement. The Delta HF Integrale destroyed competitors with abandon, utilizing a neutral chassis and driving dynamics, and commandeering steering that would make a Porsche 911 jealous.

A quarter of a century after its introduction, the Delta HF Integrale still garners mounds of automotive and racing respect, and it elicits covetous feelings whenever a great road-going version shows up for sale. In racing format, this homologation special was a rally weapon to be reckoned with, and it earned a hard and dirty five WRC manufacturer titles between 1988 and 1992, beating the likes of the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and the Audi 90 Quattro. As a limited-run road car, it stands as one of the best-driving cars in the world — despite its somewhat obscure reputation as a production sports coupe.

MORE DIRTY DRIVERS: The Audi Sport Quattro | The Toyota TRD Pro | The Lancia Stratos

What It’s All About

The Delta HF Integrale was born out of the termination of high-powered, high-speed Group B racing. In that era, the sky was just about the limit in regards to lightness and horsepower output, and manufacturers only needed to produce 200 cars for homologation, which didn’t overburden them with producing many cars for consumers. When Group B ended in 1986, Group A placed greater restrictions on power and required double the cars for homologation. Lancia needed a replacement for its Delta S4 Group B car, which was powered by a supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 480 horsepower. Lancia found their temporary replacement in the Delta HF 4WD in 1987, which took the podium that same year. Lancia then replaced the Delta HF 4WD with the Integrale for the 1988 Group A season by essentially taking a Delta HF and giving it a wider track and bigger wheel arches. The result was, essentially, the establishment of a racing legend, slicing up competition with the precision and capability of a master surgeon.

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In fact, the Delta HF Integrale was so damned good at negotiating and carving the WRC courses — thanks to its combination of excellent balance, light and precise steering and power — that it made other cars look ham-fisted and prehistoric. It’s also important to note that the Integrale wasn’t based on an all-wheel-drive production car like the Audi Quattro; the Delta HF Integrale’s roots were far more humble, based on the front-wheel-drive Lancia Delta, which stemmed from the very pedestrian Fiat Ritmo and Fiat Strada (cars that would consistently fail to turn heads, even in a supermarket parking lot). But the Integrale was a masculine, boxy beast with flared fenders that made it look like a sinewy prizefighter. It had presence both as a rally car and as a thrasher of commuter streets. Along with its good looks, the Integrale was also able to outgun cars that should’ve eaten it for breakfast. What Lancia did with the Delta for its racing purposes was nothing short of an automotive pièce de résistance, making greatness from a basic platform.

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Technical Rundown

The Integrale’s power pales in comparison to modern rally cars, but that doesn’t mean it was any less capable in its life on the rally courses of the world. The HF AWD, the precursor to the Integrale, only had 165 horsepower from its 2.0-liter straight-four engine. That was in 1986. In 1987, the Integrale sported 182 horsepower in an eight-valve engine. In 1989, the Integrale’s output rose to 197 horsepower in a 16-valve, and then to 210 horsepower and 215 horsepower in the Evoluzione and Evoluzione 2 models in 1991 and 1993, respectively. These kinds of power numbers make the current Subaru WRX STI look like a Bugatti Veyron compared to the Integrale, but it wasn’t just about power. The Integrale rally and street cars had the right mix — an open differential in front, a rear viscous coupling differential in the center and a limited-slip differential in the rear, along with an all-wheel-drive system and a rear-biased torque split that gave the HF Integrale excellent dynamics.

What made the Integrale a sickeningly good street car is exactly what made it dominant on the rally course. Its sub-3,000-pound curb weight, neutral chassis and handling prowess easily put it up against the likes of Porsche and Ferrari, all for far less money and with arguably better looks. The Integrale especially came into its own when the Evoluzione arrived with chunkier wheel wells to harken to its rallying roots, along with Alcantara racing seats, a fabulous three-spoke Momo racing steering wheel and bigger alloy wheels to fill the arches properly. The Evoluzione 2 was the Integrale’s swan song in 1993, ending with maximum horsepower, the best rear torque split of any previous Integrale and the kind of looks that get collectors hot and bothered. It finished its run having made its mark as one of the best driving cars on the planet, an accomplishment as glorious as any in auto-dom.

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Its Place In History

The Delta Integrale remains one of the most dominant cars in the history of rallying, and no other run has been as glorious or as consistent. Furthermore, no other car has ever won as many concurrent victories in the history of the WRC. The Integrale was way ahead of its time in terms of the rallying capabilities that were reached by finding the right combination of technologies, and other manufacturers took years to catch up. And, the Integrale as a road-going car was more than just quick — it was fantastic and rewarding to drive in the everyday, making mincemeat of cars costing far more and with far more illustrious brand recognition. Meet a rare fellow who has gotten his hands on one, and you’ll find one truly happy man — one who has likely attained his automotive holy grail with a car that’s neither exotic nor prohibitively expensive, but is nonetheless entirely composed of legend.

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