Lancia Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Lancia Home Country: Italy Italy

Lancia only got properly involved with rallying in 1965. Lancia itself is actually a comparatively very young car manufacturer. Or more accurately founded in 1906 things started to move rather slowly. Lancia was founded by a guy, not too surprisingly a Vincenzo Lancia, who was a Fiat dealer and started to prepare his own race specials. The first Lancia car was the Lancia Alfa of 1906. Not to be mistaken for the car brand Alfa. For many decades Lancia kept the tradition of using Greek letters as car model names (indeed in Italy it is Alfabet, not Alphabet). Though except the very first car the Alfa name was avoided to not be mistaken for the car brand Alfa. Indeed there was always a friendship between Lancia, Alfa and Fiat. For a start Lancia was a Fiat car dealer. His engineering concentrated on race cars and that included even racing projects for Alfa (the car brand). All this in turn explains why Lancia as a car company itself had a slow start, as road cars were not really his core business from the outset.

Because of this indeed you see a special Lancia engineering attitude in many road car developments. The Fulvia HF engine has an insane small V-angle that most of us would describe as VR-shape (R=Reihe=in-line). And indeed when Volkswagen marketed their VR5 & VR6 engines, they actually had to write “patent by Lancia” on the engine blocks. The V(R)4 for the Lancia Fulvia was created to get as big an engine into as small a car as possible. Other examples show really odd engine displacements, like the Aurelia with 1754cc V6(!) and 2541cc V6. Or the Flavia was less silly with tiny V6s, the Flavia's 1.8L engine was a straight-4 but with 1816cc. The Gamma was more spot on to the 2.5L class, but a 2.5L 4-cylinder Boxer? Ever and ever again you find examples that Lancia cars are not complying to any typical norms, they are engineered how they best drive, not how they best fit traffic laws, insurance and tax classes. Lancias therefore were always good driver’s cars and therefore good motorsport cars.

Although Vincenzo Lancia orientated more towards racing rather than rallying, it was obvious that his cars were not completely unsuitable for other forms of motorsport. Therefore indeed Lancia Aurelia and Flavia models were already successfully used in rallying even if they were mainly privateer efforts. When in 1965 the Lancia Fulvia in its Coupé version was introduced, Lancia started to do odd rallies with this car as a works team. They already had expertise from supporting Aurelia and Flavia entries before and by 1970 the Fulvia was an institution on the rally stages. By the time the WRC started in 1973 the car had grown to the Fulvia HF (= High Fidelity, specially tuned) and it was a big number in rallying and it helped turning Harry Kallström and Simo Lampinen into star names.

Interestingly at that time Lancia was already under full Fiat ownership. Fiat started their own rally program to compete Lancia, but when the WRC was launched in 1973, they both were blown away by the Renault Alpine A110. Partly because of Fiat’s rally cars that had similarities to the Lancia Fulvia, but most likely inspired by the Renault Alpine, Lancia wanted to produce a rally car that could reliably beat the Alpine as well as the Fiat. Lancia started making a specialised rally car, a mid-engined sports coupé that was powered by a Ferrari engine – the Stratos. The Stratos became one of the most unique rally cars troughout history – for its breathtaking details, please refer to the Stratos description.

Fiat didn’t seem overly impressed by the way Lancia pushed them into the corner and soon Fiat started interfering with the Stratos program. Fiat at one point came up with the excuse the Stratos was bad for marketing since it didn’t resemble a road car. Only for that the Lancia Beta Coupé was turned into a rally car, a car that wasn’t bad but even within Lancia never found the attention and love the Stratos got. All this indeed led to the curiosity that Lancia won the 1974 makes WRC using 3 very different works cars, Fulvia, Stratos & Beta Coupé: The old Fulvia got their campaign off in style with a fine podium finish on the Safari, the Stratos debuted in round4 San Remo not surprisingly in winning style, but more surprisingly maybe was when Munari's Stratos retired on the USA Press-On-Regardless Rally later in the season, the Beta Coupé actually secured important makes points too!

In the late 1970s Fiat had the 131 and it again seemed to be Fiat pressure that the 131 was the group’s main rally car while the Stratos was more an occasional sight. Maybe the best indication what was going on was shown up by the driver Bernard Darniche. Fiat persuaded him for a long time before he would swap his French importer’s (Chardonnet) Stratos for a full works 131 and with the first opportunity Darniche found his way back into the Chardonnet Stratos and with it won the 1981 Tour de Corse, which was at a time the 131 – the car Fiat wanted to see as the Stratos replacement on the rally stages – was nearing the end of its competition life. Indeed one has to reflect on this crazy situation, this Stratos win meant the Lancia Stratos could still win rallies when the car that was designed to replace it stopped winning! And Darniche was not alone, when the titles were already decided, on the 1979 RAC Fiat’s full time #1 driver Markku Alen took the opportunity to enter a private Stratos, and as a mark of silent, funny protest Markku's Stratos displayed the very fitting registration plate “LOV 1T”!

For 1982 this all changed, Fiat gave up the pressure and a new Lancia was meant to represent the group full stop on the rally stages. This was the start of the Lancia Rally 037. It also was the start of groupB. It is incredible that in groupB competition Lancia went a completely different route to Audi’s famous Quattro project. That the Lancia Rally could often beat the 4x4 turbo Audi and even beat them to the 1983 makes WRC title only goes to show how incredible Lancia’s engineering was. Lancia’s 4x4 groupB car, the Delta S4 however was delayed and although it was massively competitive, Lancia seemed to struggle getting it reliable and sorting out its handling before groupB was finished.

One of the best showcases about Lancia’s attitude and their biggest success however was coming with the ban of groupB. When groupA was introduced and that meant 5,000 road cars had to be built of any car you wanted to use for rallying, Lancia did not hesitate one second to identify what was needed was a 2.0 turbo 4x4 hatchback and 5,000 of them. The car was homologated ready in time for Monte Carlo 1987 and it was the only car of perfect size and configuration in early groupA. It took the opposition 1 ½ years to come up with something similar, but in that time Lancia wasn’t standing still, they were developing and fine tuning their groupA Delta day and night, came out nearly annually with new evolutions, never mind how far ahead of the opposition they were. Unfortunately when the Delta road car was replaced by a bigger and heavier new Delta, Lancia decided not to make a 4x4 version of it, they stopped their rally program at the end of 1993 and where not seen in rallies since.

The groupA Delta was so far ahead of its opposition, mainly thanks to the groupA regulations, in the first 6 years of this project alone they won 46 WRC events and all 6 makes titles! The biggest domination the WRC has ever seen was in 1988, when Lancia won all bar one event! All this helps to Lancia being the most successful WRC manufacturer for a very long time – they claim 73 WRC event victories to their name – a record that stood until 2010, 17 years after Lancia stopped rallying!

Finally….

A lot has happened with Lancia since. Despite being the most successful rally brand for decades we are probably never to see Lancia in rallying again :-(
Italians are Italians, passionate, impulsive, loving life on the fast lane. Which means all Fiat SpA brands were quite similar in serving a stylish-sporty niche. This is bad news in a modern global market world. Fiat SpA really had to move one of their makes to become a luxury brand. For this Lancia and Alfa had the best image. And despite Lancia being born out of a motorsport tuner and having such a big rally heritage, it somehow is much harder to see Alfa as a luxury brand. Despite their niche, top versions of Lancia models always had interiors of finest materials. Even the road version of the Lancia Delta integrale had Alcantara suede seats. The top version of the big Lancia Thema 8.32 limousine loudly advertised a Ferrari engine, just like the Stratos, and it was really fast, yet its interior would have made any Mercedes, Rover or Jaguar proud for luxury. Despite its motorsport origins and rally successes, Lancia was the only Fiat SpA make that made sense for the luxury market. But in return, should Fiat SpA go rallying again, Fiat and Alfa would make more sense today than Lancia for rally marketing. But it is even worse than that. Trying to move Lancia into the luxury segment was not accepted by Lancia fans, nor by luxury car customers. But what else could you have done with Lancia? MPV-vans? SUV-alibi off roaders? Budget cars? For a brand with a history of Stratos, Delta integrale, Thema 8.32? Sadly Lancia today is a dying brand and in UK by now Lancia cars are sold as Chrysler. It is quite a credit to Lancia that they were the only Fiat SpA brand that made sense to move upmarket, but exactly that is killing them now - indeed they were probably too good for their own self. It’s not that rally marketing did not work for Lancia. In fact Lancia would surely be more successful today if they were left as they were, but that again made them too similar to Fiat and especially Alfa, serving the same market bracket that in modern world sadly is turning a niche market – a lose-lose situation really :-(

COLOURS & TYRES:

Lancia indeed doesn’t seem to have their own house colour. They have managed to find sponsorship throughout all their rallying programs, although early sponsorless Fulvia were red with black bonnets. Lancia seems to be identified with Martini, but indeed the Martini sponsorship did not start until 1982. Before that the Stratos is best known for the white, green and red Alitalia colours that was also famous on Fiat 131s. But there was also a famous period of Pirelli sponsorship with the Stratos being in a distinct black, white & red. Famous as well was the French importer Chardonnet Stratos, which was all blue. In the right order, Lancia indeed had Marlboro sponsorship first, in 1974-1975, it followed Alitalia 1976-1977 and Pirelli in 1978. The Martini theme was carried on from the Rally 037 over the Delta S4 to the groupA Delta. With the groupA Delta things were kept interesting as with every new evolution the layout of the colour scheme changed severely. But only on one event was a base used other than white: red on the San Remo 1989, the debut of the 16v version. Lancia had at the time as well a “B-Team”, run through Jolly Club, which typically had sponsorship from the Italian lottery organisation Totip. In 1991 Jolly Club got major backing from Fina and were responsible to run Didier Auriol. In their last season, 1993, Lancia lost Martini and had an interesting scheme: their main drivers being Carlos Sainz and Andrea Aghini, Sainz had Repsol sponsorship, which was navy & orange, while Aghini had Totip sponsorship and a car of exactly the same layout to Sainz’s, only navy replaced by bright green.

Another really unusual novelty of that year was that the same team used two tyre manufacturers, on most events Sainz’s car used Michelin tyres while his team mate Aghini was on Pirelli. Other than that Lancia used Pirelli most of the time but used Michelin from 1988 to 1992.

REGISTRATIONS:

One important aspect in Lancia's story is how closely Lancia is tied to Fiat. Although this is officially denied, it seems that at least for a long time Alfa Romeo was a far more independant daughter to Fiat SpA than Lancia. Maybe the situation is best compared to PeugeotSA, where Peugeot and Citroën are independant sisters within PSA, but Talbot was a straight daughter of Automobiles Peugeot itself. Although Fiat was not exactly cooperative with the Lancia Stratos project, it is remarkable how sponsors and drivers swapped from Lancia Stratos to Fiat 131 and later from Fiat 131 to Lancia Rally 037. No such exchange ever happened with Alfa. Talking registrations it becomes even more obvious. Alfa works cars carried "MI" Milano plates, where Alfa is based. Lancia rally cars throughout history not only carried "TO" Torino plates, Lancia works cars were in fact always registered in the name "Fiat SpA"! So for Lancia we have "TO" plates, the following combination of 5 numbers and 1 letter is simply sequential. One lovely exception was the semi works Stratos of Chequered Flag that Markku Alen drove on the RAC one year. It had a 1979 Birmingham plate "LOV 1T". The famous French Chardonnet cars kept their original "TO" plates. As well Lancia often had the attitude of putting trade plates on the cars first. These trade plates start with "A6", followed by a 5-digit sequential number. These plates were very rarely used on actual events but are in fact found on the first events of Stratos, 037 and Delta S4.

Chassis numbers: Not too much of interest here, but since a friend and Stratos expert helped a lot with the chassis numbers, I want to give some notes. The Lancia story is actually easiest explained if I go back to front: groupA Deltas, as typical for groupA, don't have build order numbers, just random road chassis numbers - in fact some examples I could identify: Biasion Monte 1990 = ZLA831AB000458692 (TO 36176N), Auriol Argentina 1990 = ZLA831AB000502309 (TO 23902P), Kankkunen Portugal 1992 = ZLA831AB000556734 (TO 53226S). I think we can agree from this that groupA (and group2/4) chassis numbers are not very interesting for counting rally cars.
The Delta S4 as one of the most extreme groupB supercars is like most groupB cars, only with the interesting hick up that they first made the 200 homologation special road cars and then built the rally cars on top of it rather than pick them out from those 200. This means a Delta S4 chassis number ZLA038ARO00000201 is rally car (build) number 1. Exactly 28 rally Delta S4 were made, so we have chassis ending 201-228 in sequential order. The "ARO" bit (compared to the gA Delta's "AB") identifies an Abarth project with "038" being the project number, compare to the Rally 037. On the 037 however, although only 200 needed to be made it was always clear the 037 should become a famous car for privateers throughout Europe, so more than the 200 were made. Though was it intent or mistake that the group4 number of homologation cars was hit when the first new groupB car was made in 400 units rather than 200? I have records that show cars being assembled at different corners of Torino and if I add these up I am at exactly 400 cars, but this is unconfirmed. But this is further backed up by the Evo versions rallied from 1984 having chassis numbers 401-420 (with 400 being the development car and having follow on reg plates TO W67768-TO W67788). And all of these have been rallied by the works team, they weren't even enough as in 1985 several older chassis numbers turn up being converted to the Evo. The car's name an 037 chassis number would be ZLA037ARO00000xxx with the last 3 digits going from 001 into the 400s and the rally cars being picked out at random. And now the Stratos, again more than needed for homologation were made and rally car chassis being picked out at random, so like with the 037 you won't find a rally car build order. As a group4 car it would have normal road chassis numbers, but then the Stratos was never to sell in the millions, so we end up with 4-digit chassis number endings that on the rally cars are mostly between 1500-1900.

Lancia Rally Cars

Model Class
Lancia Lancia Autobianchi  Group 2
Lancia Lancia Beta Coupé  Group 4
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group N
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group A
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group N
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group A
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group N
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group A
Lancia Lancia Delta  Group B
Lancia Lancia Fulvia  Group 4
Lancia Lancia Rally  Group B
Lancia Lancia Stratos  Group 4

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1994 WRC Group A 7th. Lancia (13pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1993 WRC Group A 3rd. Lancia (118pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1992 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (140pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1991 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (137pts) 14

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1990 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (137pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1989 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (140pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1988 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (140pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1987 WRC Group A 1st. Lancia (140pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1986 WRC Group B 2nd. Lancia (122pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1985 WRC Group B 3rd. Lancia (70pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1984 WRC Group B 2nd. Lancia (108pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1983 WRC Open 1st. Lancia (118pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1982 WRC Open 9th. Lancia (25pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1980 WRC Open 66th. Lancia (16pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1979 WRC Open 5th. Lancia (65pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1978 WRC Open 7th. Lancia (49pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1977 WRC Open 5th. Lancia (60pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1976 WRC Open 1st. Lancia (112pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1975 WRC Open 1st. Lancia (96pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1974 WRC Open 1st. Lancia (94pts) 8

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1973 WRC Open 12th. Lancia (17pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar