Whether it was arrogance or simply a misjudgement of the situation is not quite clear. Although Audi had won the manufacturers’ title in the World Rally Championship for the first time with an all-wheel-drive vehicle in 1982, Lancia struck back again just one year later with the rear-wheel-drive 037. Exactly when the Italians started developing the Lancia Delta S4, codenamed SE038, cannot be traced back very precisely; somewhere, at some point, the papers were lost. But the abbreviation SE also clearly shows who was in charge: Abarth. The legendary brand had been taken over by Fiat in 1971 and had actually been wiped out, but in 1976 the racing activities of Fiat and Lancia were bundled under the umbrella of Abarth Corse at Corso Marche, and from then on around 100 employees took care of motorsport. And yet they slept through the most important development in rally sport in the early 1980s, all-wheel drive.
There was no plan B. If Lancia wanted to continue to compete for titles, they had to start from scratch – and with a technology that the Italians had no experience with. They could have got themselves an Audi Quattro and copied a bit, but pride wouldn’t allow it. The Abarth engineers invented a very complex four-wheel drive, there was a centrally mounted Ferguson differential, which fed 30 per cent of the power via a viscous coupling to a free-running front differential from Hewland. And 70 percent to the rear wheels via a Hewland locking differential. Shifting was done via a ZF 5-speed gearbox, brakes by Brembo.
Power is a good keyword. It came from a centrally mounted four-cylinder with aluminium head, four valves per cylinder, dry sump lubrication and a displacement of 1795 cm3. The machine bore the type number 233 ATR 18S – and was the first “twincharging” production engine. Between 0 and 4000 rpm, an Abarth R18 Volumex compressor provided additional power; higher up, a KKK K26 turbocharger took over this task. In addition, there was an electronic ignition and an electronic injection system from Weber and Magnetti Marelli, which for the first time could make use of computer algorithms and RAM memory. For the road version, a 30 percent smaller supercharger was used, which was then enough for 250 hp and and 290 Nm of maximum torque at 4500 rpm. In the racing versions, it was all a bit more violent; the official figure is 490 hp. But the four-cylinder could also be driven with 5 bar turbo pressure for a short time, then it was more than 1000 hp. For the Stradale, a sprint time from 0 to 100 km/h of 6 seconds was given, the top speed was 225 km/h. The Corsa was also a bit more powerful. Here, too, the Corsas were a bit more violent, one example managed 0 to 100 in 2.4 seconds – on gravel.
Of course, all this needed a very stable framework. At Cecomp (Centro Esperienze Costruzione Modelli e Prototipi) in Turin, a spaceframe was developed on the computer, built from thin steel tubes. On top of this, the Stradale had a plastic body (polyester resin, to be precise), the basic shape of which had been designed by Renato Sconfienza and bore a distant resemblance to the Lancia Delta HF Turbo; the work was completed in the wind tunnel and by the architect Bruno Giardino. The Stradale was built by Savio in Turin, then completed by 34 specialists at Abarth. The racing versions received plenty of Kevlar and carbon, which changed constantly.
While other Group B homologation cars didn’t even bother to be anything other than race cars in disguise, the Stradale of the Lancia Delta S4 were quite different. There was plenty of Alcantara and leather inside, there was also enough space for the two occupants and even something like a boot. They probably felt they had to offer the buyers something, because the price was absurd at 110,700,000 Lire – for that you could also buy five HF Turbo. There was air conditioning from Diavia and power steering in the road version. And then there were those wonderful seats designed by Zagato – more sculpture than seating. They were then also used for the Aston Martin V8 Zagato.
In September 1985, the Lancia Delta S4 Stradale was presented to a small group of journalists on the island of Elba, and in October it had its official world premiere at the Motor Show in Turin. And already on 1 November, it was homologated by the FIA for Group B, this under the code DGM51831OM. There should have been 200 examples, so that Evo racing versions could have been built, but the officials probably turned a blind eye, because less than 100 were built, maybe only 70. As already mentioned: all papers were lost somewhere, sometime, and apparently nothing can be found at Savio. However, it is assumed that a total of 28 Corsas were built.
The Delta S4 had its first race at the last WRC round of 1985, at the RAC in England from 24 to 28 November. And it immediately scored a double victory, Toivonen/Wilson won ahead of Alen/Kivimäki, easily. On a special stage on the Brands Hatch circuit, the Lancia was so fast that in the Formula 1 race of the same year, it would have been enough for it to finish in the middle of the field in practice. However, the Lancia Delta S4 did not win many races, Toivonen/Crest in the Monte Carlo Rally, Biasion/Siviero in Argentina, Alen/Kivimäki in San Remo (later disqualified, which also cost the team the WRC title) and in Greece; Tabaton also became European champion in 1986. At the Corsica Rally, Toivonen/Cresto lost their lives after an inexplicable accident, which was certainly one of the triggers for the ban on Group B monsters from the 1987 season onwards.
You have to see it clearly: Among the wild Group B cars, the Lancia Delta S4 was the most consistent, the most brutal, the most technically advanced. And as a 1200-kilo Stradale, it was definitely a “supercar”, faster on the track than any Ferrari or Porsche of those years despite “only” 250 hp; later there was a “Potenziato” upgrade to over 300 hp. They rarely come on the market and they cost a lot when they do; the real specialists are at Girardo & Co. in England and in Turin, where they are the Baldi brothers. One may argue about the beauty of the Lancia Delta S4, but certainly not about the competence of Lancia/Abarth.
This is, of course, worth a new collection for us. The Stradale shown above is 031, the Corsa is 205 (see also below):
Sold by Girardo & Co., offered with the following text: «This Lancia S4 Stradale is chassis number 033, which was awarded its Certificate of Origin on Christmas Eve of 1986, as noted on its Italian Estratto Chronologico. In March the following year, the car was sold to its first owner, Clipper Auto Ltd in Livorno, and assigned the registration ‘LI 385622’. A year later, ACI Leasing in Vicenza acquired chassis 033 and reregistered it with the number ‘VI 772093’.
A handful of further Italian custodians followed until December of 1998, when this Lancia was bought by ART Engineering Ltd. The UK-based company was founded by Paolo Alessandrini, the famed Italian racing driver who competed in the World Rally Championship with a Lancia Delta S4 Corsa, the Audi Quattro and the Peugeot 205 T16 among others. Chassis 033’s next public appearance was in 2005, when it appeared at the Christie’s Exceptional Motor Cars and Automobilia auction. The car remained in England and was subsequently registered with the UK number ‘C39 OVX’. The then-owner took the decision to send this S4 Stradale to the renowned Lancia specialists Elio and Giovanni Baldi in Turin to be restored. In the process of working as part of the Lancia Martini Racing Team and Abarth during the Group B and Group A eras of rallying, they gained great knowledge, experience and respect. Today, there is simply no better people to maintain and restore these precious Lancias. During the restoration, the Baldi twins rebuilt the engine, gearbox and differentials, using their knowledge to upgrade the engine from ‘standard’ Stradale specification to ‘Potenziato’ specification, which boasts well over 300bhp. The upgrade involved installing a new and upgraded clutch, enhanced engine software and a new exhaust system. Chassis 033 was treated to a comprehensive ‘nut-and-bolt’ restoration, with the car being stripped right back to its tub. All mechanical components including the suspension and brakes were also restored. The end product was nothing short of sensational – a truly ‘as-new’ S4 Stradale.
Finished in Rosso Amaranto, chassis 033 was acquired by Timothy Pappas, a real-estate tycoon and the owner of Black Swan Racing in the United States. In May of 2016, the online automotive publication Petrolicious interviewed Pappas and photographed the car for a feature. Black Swan Racing is an IMSA team, which maintained this Lancia during Pappas’ ownership. Later in 2016, the S4 was sold to a significant and sizeable Chicago-based collection, where it was seldom used. Girardo & Co. negotiated the purchase of chassis 033 in August of 2018 and returned the car to Europe and reregistered it in the United Kingdom. In November of that year, Classic Driver featured this S4 Stradale in yet another online feature. It commented, “In reality, the S4 is not the intimidating and excessive monster it appears from the outside. What it is is a beautifully resolved sports car in which you can really feel the technology beneath working with you.” Following its moment in the spotlight, we opted to return chassis 033 to the Baldi twins in Turin, where it was thoroughly inspected and serviced prior to delivery to its most recent UK-based owner. Having dealt with over 10 of these Group B unicorns, we can confirm that this Delta S4 Stradale is one of the best we’ve encountered, having been used sparingly since its meticulous restoration undertaken by the world’s leading marque experts. Furthermore, the car is accompanied by its tool kit, jack, spare wheel, Italian ownership documentation, UK V5 registration and history file, which includes many images of the aforementioned restoration process.»
Engine number: ?
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, Essen 2019, sold for 1’040’000 Euro.
History: apparently only had just 2196 kilometres when sold in 2019. Was first delivered to Italy.
Engine number: 233ATR18S 1068
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, Open Roads 2020, sold for £770,000.
History: Alen/Kivimäki drove chassis number 207 straight to second place in the 1985 RAC Rally, the Delta S4’s first race. And managed a victory with Tabaton/Tedeschini at the Halkidiki Rally in Greece, which counted towards the 1986 European Rally Championship. Later, the vehicle was used in autocross.
Chassis number: ZLA038AR000000215
There is a nice story about this car, here.
After all, Lancia is soon to be revived. That’s why we’re already taking a closer look at the brand’s past. The easiest way to find the individual models is in our archive.