TEAM DREAM After Lancia won the 1983 manufacturerís title, the marque pulled out of the remaining two rounds of the championship
OUR 50-DECIBEL conversation over the walkie-talkie is of the staccato variety. Itís all very stop, start, stop gain. The language barrier doesnít help, either, but there is no need for a direct translation. The gist is clear: kindly get a move on. Some way ahead, and dicing with dawdlers in early morning Madrid rush hour traffic, is a Lancia Delta S4 Stradale. The same car that in Corse trim was arguably the most radical vehicle ever to win the World Rally Championship. Its driver is clearly in a hurry, hence the radio message.
The British contingent of our party is, by contrast, still trying to make sense of his surroundings. The S4ís predecessor, the utterly fabulous 037, makes few concessions to userfriendliness, thatís for sure. If the vinyl-wrapped roll cage and chunky door bars donít alert you to the fact that this is a competition tool, the black anodised aluminium dashboard, profusion of screw heads and exposed fuses unquestionably will. Yes, there are some token nods to civility: there are carpets and seats trimmed in corduroy, but it doesnít exactly scream style and sophistication. The 037 just screams. Soundproofing was clearly not an option.
Function over form is the mantra here. Ahead of you, there are odd-looking pull-switches, a smattering of warning lights, while the rev counter and speedo are flanked by gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure, fuel, turbo boost, and water temperature. Itís all a bit Ďparts bin specialí in here, the steering wheel having been robbed from a Fiat 131, the Vegliaflash clock acting as a reminder of just about every mainstream Italian saloon car of the 1970s. Your view ahead is reduced by the stout tube across the top of the windscreen which ties the A-pillars together, although the two small bumps in the roof ensure that your head doesnít make intimate contact with what passes for headlining.
What is noticeably lacking, however, is ventilation. The 037ís cabin is toasty, which makes you appreciate the efforts of the star wheelmen of the day all the more. They must have had superhuman levels of stamina. The Group B era was unquestionably the most extreme of any period of rallying, and one that continues to be clouded in myth and rumour. For five glorious seasons back in the 1980s, rallying was anything but dull.
The 037 was the first car built explicitly to class regulations rather than adapted to fit. Abarth, which had become Fiat and Lanciaís defacto competition department, was responsible for its design and construction, but, contrary to popular belief, the 037 owes little to the Monte Carlo production car save for the mid-engined layout and the centre-section.
For starters, its iron-block four-cylinder with its four-valve twin-cam head was turned through 90 degrees from a transverse placing to a longitudinal position, and allied to a ZF five-speed transaxle. A supercharger was chosen over a turbo to eliminate lag and improve throttle response. Period figures quoted a power output of 198kW, but this jumped to 224kW in Evolution 1 trim, and 242kW in Evolution 2 spec. Independent double-wishbone suspension featured front and rear, along with dual Bilstein gas dampers out back, while steel subframes were used fore and aft of the centre section, with bodywork being mostly made of Kevlar.
The 037 was bloodied in competition on the 1982 Rally Costa Smeralda, and Lancia went on to claim the 1983 manufacturersí title. However, the arrival of the four-wheel drive Peugeot 205 T16 partway through the following season blunted its challenge thereafter. The Turin marque already had a new weapon in development, though.
Work began on the S4 in January 1983. While notionally related to the production Delta hatchback, beneath the outline it was a different beast entirely. And it really was bestial thanks to a mid-mounted DOHC 1759cc four-cylinder engine which boasted a turbo and a supercharger Ė o and r Ďvolumetric compressorí in Lancia speak. The S4 was reputedly the first car ever to feature this patented twin-charging arrangement whereby a bypass valve opened to allow the turbo to operate once it had spooled up and the blower had provided charge at low rpm. Lancia initially claimed a power output of up to 360kW, but 460kW was available for the í86 Swedish Rally.
Markku Alen tamed both the 037 and S4
ĎMAXIMUM ATTACKí was his mantra, and few drivers ever tried harder than Markku Alen. ďI spent 16 years rallying for the Fiat family, of which eight were with Lancia. I had a lot of good times with the 037 and the Delta S4, plus a few bad ones. The 037 was very different to the Stratos. They were both mid-engined, but that was about as similar as they got. The 037 was quick straight away, and I won a lot of rallies in 1983 and also its last one, the í84 Tour de Corse.Ē
ďIt was a good car on asphalt, but having RWD cost us on snow or gravel. That was a big handicap against the Audi Quattros with 4WD. It was fun to drive, though. The 037 changed direction well, and the power delivery was good. Turbo cars in the 1980s tended to have on-off power delivery; like operating a light switch. You didnít get that with a supercharger.Ē
The S4 with its blower and turbo was something else purely for rallying,Ē he says. ďThe supercharger worked on its own to 3500rpm. From there to 5500rpm, the turbo gradually came in, and past that to 9500rpm the supercharger was bypassed.Ē
ďThere were a lot of delays in getting the car done, and we werenít really ready for the 1985 RAC Rally, but our rivals hit trouble and I led the rally. I then had a few problems, second to Henri Toivonen.Ē He adds: ďWe had one full year with the S4 before Group B was banned. People say that we were mad to drive these cars, but we didnít think that at the time. You want the fastest car and the S4 was very fast, but there was more to come...Ē
Lanciaís marketing team may have insisted that the S4 resemble a production model, but the bodywork had carbon fibre front; and rear bodywork and doors made of Kevlar. There were also numerous aerodynamic aids including a front splitter and winglets incorporated into the front bumper/spoiler. The one-piece, flip-up rear end also featured a sizeable aerofoil. Underpinning the S4 was a tubular spaceframe with double-wishbone suspension front and rear.
Performance-wise, the 4WD Delta S4 in full-house works spec could sprint from 0-60mph in less than 2.5sec... on gravel. As for homologating the model for production, Lancia engaged in a certain amount of chicanery. As few as 65 Stradales were made, some way short of the requisite 200. Not only that, some may have been converted to rally-spec to confuse future historians. The S4 was an instant winner at the end of 1985, too, and claimed three WRC wins in 1986. Sadly, the model is perhaps remembered more for the crash on the Tour de Corse, which claimed the lives of Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto, than for its competition prowess.
Our test route comprises a series of twisty roads on a disused industrial estate; one often used in testing by the carsí owner, Teo Martin. It soon becomes clear that the 037 and Delta S4 are diametrically opposed in appearance and temperament. Up close, the 037 wears its Pininfarina badges with pride. Itís almost pretty. The stance is spot-on, the surprisingly long wheelbase and lack of rear overhang ensuring that thereís less chance of the dreaded pendulum effect; of the flailing tail connecting with something immovable should you find yourself on a forest stage. The lift-up, one-piece rear bodywork is also light to the point of feeling flimsy.
The same cannot be said of the S4 Delta Stradale. Tilting its rear bodywork forward is almost a two-man job (the road version featured rather more glassfibre than carbon fibre). It is also brutally ugly in the best way possible, but oddly feels less of a rally weapon once inside. Yes, the door bars ensure that threading your way in isnít the work of a moment, and thereís a roll-cage structure, but the cabin is almost luxurious by contrast with the 037. The extensive use of Alcantara ensures this. Itís positively tactile. The groovy orange and black instruments appear to have been carried over from the Thema saloon and thereís less of a scattergun approach to their placement relative to the earlier car. It even has reasonable allround visibility.
Scroll forward a few hours and itís abundantly clear that neither car has been tamed for road use. Yes, they have less horsepower than the rally versions, but they still require absolute commitment. The 037 in road-going trim produces a claimed 153kW at 7000rpm, and 233Nm of torque at 5000rpm. This doesnít sound particularly impressive by modern standards, but the torque curve is virtually flat at 5000rpm. It revs hard, too, all the way up to 7000rpm. According to Lanciaís PR bumf, the 037 Stradale could cover the quarter mile in 18.5sec in fifth gear, starting at 40km/h. Itís an odd boast, but one that is entirely believable.
The 1995cc Ďfourí is such a willing little unit, if not the sort of scalpel-sharp, rev-happy competition engine you expect. But then in Stradale trim it is only packing a single twin-choke Weber carburettor. There is no fuel-injection, as on the rally cars, nor fancy electronics. With greater familiarity, though, the 037 is great fun to steer. A belt drives the twin Roots rotors that pump the supercharger, and, at the right revs and with the right boost, it accelerates keenly even if ultimate urge is blunted by its slightly hefty (all things being relative) kerb weight of 1097kg. If the boost gauge is to be believed, a maximum of 13psi is available.
The 037 proves to be non-threatening so long as you concentrate. The five-speed íbox snicks into gear with the faintest ker-klunk, with minimal movement across the gate. The steering, with just 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, is heavy at pottering speeds, but feels deliciously light and positive at speed. Then thereís the whine from the supercharger, which gets louder the faster you go. Itís hypnotic, even if the engine note isnít exactly tuneful.
The key weapon in the 037ís armoury is its neutral chassis. Thereís the occasional bump-thump from the fat Pirelli P7s, but it isnít difficult to get the tail to step out of line. Even then, you donít need to be a Group B God to gather it all up again. Itís just so clean, fluid and delicate in all its movements. Itís poles apart from the Stratos; you donít feel as though youíre constantly on a knife-edge between joy and calamity. Here itís mostly joy.
Step, stoop and fall into the Delta S4, and itís a different story. An embarrassing bunny hop off the line is followed by rapid acceleration as all four wheels hook up. Traction is of the molten variety. Once the fluids have had time to warm up, the carís breeding shows. The carís owner insists that it will be horrible to drive unless you rev it hard. It thrives on revs, so this is no great hardship, but the manner in which power is delivered takes your breath away. At low speeds, the supercharger chimes in and pick up is instantaneous. Then at 4000rpm, the turbo kicks in abruptly. It takes a while to get accustomed to this, not least because it is so brutal.
If period stats are to be believed, the S4 Stradale produces 186kW at 6750rpm, and 291Nm of torque at 4500rpm. It also tips the scales at around 1200kg. With the boost gauge spinning off its axis, thereís a sustained surge forward. Itís utterly addictive. The five-speed íbox is a little argumentative, however. Thereís so little movement between planes that itís all too easy to Ďgrandmaí a gear change. Once acclimatised, and ramming the lever home, the baulkiness departs and the changes smooth out. With older cars, you want to coax the best out of them, so this does feel a little bit sadistic, but the S4 simply doesnít respond to tactility.
The pedal arrangement is also close-coupled, which doesnít help. Not only that, the throttle action is unyielding. Then there are the brakes, massive ventilated discs with servo-assist. The 037ís similar set-up was something of a weak link in that the pull-up was uneven. Here, itís all or nothing. Thereís little movement until the last few inches of travel and then it stands on its nose. Again, itís something you get used to, but itís unnerving the first time you call upon the anchors in a hurry.
Once you get attuned to the all-or-nothing nature of the S4, it proves toweringly capable. The steering is ultra-responsive. Itís not in the least bit nervy, despite there being relatively little weight over the front wheels. Turn in without first doing a Scandinavian flick and it will understeer; markedly so. Try too hard and the tail soon starts to wag the dog.
Unfortunately, a crowd soon appears so play ends a little prematurely. Thereís just the small matter of deciding which car to drive back to base. It isnít the Delta S4. Itís a remarkable car, but it is also something of a blunt instrument, and one which only the bravest of the brave can fully exploit. When you get it right, itís sublime, but itís a car which requires absolute commitment at all times to master. That and the fact itíd take weeks, rather than hours, to learn its innermost secrets.
The 037, by contrast, is a car which is rewarding to drive in a way that requires less driving talent to enjoy. Itís far from perfect, but its flaws only reinforce the positives. Itís an utterly beguiling experience. The 037 is a rally car pin-up which, for the most part, lives up to the billing in road-going trim. Itís twoparts inspiring, one-part maddening and wholly engaging. The S4, by contrast, doesnít cast such a poetic spell. You ache for the 037ís continued company, which says it all, really.