Perhaps typical of an Italian special edition, this particular Integrale has a fascinating story to tell. It’s rain channels on the roof and grey carpets are indicative of an Evo I model, but the bulge in the floorpan for the catalytic converter points to it being an Evo II. Add the later car’s adjustable rear wing, slightly wider fender flares, bigger Recaros, later dash plus A/C and this can only be an Evo II. However, it appears to have been bolted together with a few parts left over from the earlier model.
Good looks aren’t everything, of course, and true drivers aren’t shy when it comes to a little fettling of their classic, especially in the performance department. Dave’s Integrale had been given a smaller Garrett turbo from the Evo I to the replace the stock T3 for quicker spooling. With four-branch headers, a cat bypass plus an Abarth chip in the ECU, power was increased to a healthy 250hp.
It’s not a huge figure by modern standards, but the Integrale’s appeal and desirability are based on its combination of talents, honed over years of competition development. The Evo II was the culmination of that development, and its chassis in particular means it’s revered as one of the most driver-focused road cars ever produced.
“The handling and the way it performs is legendary,” Dave said. “Grip is phenomenal, it’s surefooted even on icy roads and gives the driver real confidence. And considering its age, the chassis complexities and its specification are fantastic.”
It was this handling that made the Integrale almost unbeatable on certain rallies. If you want to appreciate what the fuss was about, you could do worse than spend a few minutes watching YouTube videos of the Integrale in action. Not only is the turbocharged soundtrack a joy, but witnessing the balance through the turns, particularly on high-speed tarmac rallies, highlights the precision of the Integrale chassis.
Even today, the four-wheel drive system was incredibly sophisticated. It had a epicyclic torque converter with Ferguson viscous coupling in the center and a Torsen-type rear diff, making wheelspin almost impossible, giving rally- and fast-road drivers incredible traction.
The downside of this was an increased likelihood of clutch replacement; because the tires would grip so hard, the only thing likely to slip was the clutch itself. This meant the Integrale could be expensive to own if you intended to use it for track days or conduct aftermarket tuning. For most owners, however, it simply added to the car’s mystique, but the Achilles heel meant the Integrale was eventually eclipsed by Ford’s Sierra RS and Escort RS Cosworths as the road car of choice.
Yet many enthusiasts believe the handling traits of the Delta Integrale and its contemporaries have never been surpassed, thanks to their rally specification and the almost total absence of electronic gizmos. This is evidenced when we consider the Integrale’s great rival of the era that featured an equally praise-worthy chassis, the E30 BMW M3 – a car that, unlike the Lancias, thankfully arrived on American shores.
Dave is quick to throw his opinion on the two boxy rivals. “The Integrale is very easy to drive quickly, can be used every day and driven smoothly. The only compromise is its heavy clutch. I’ve driven E30 M3s and would say the BMW is an easier car to live with because they don’t need as much fettling. But in the wet, the Integrale’s 4WD pays dividends.”
With the enduring popularity of the E30 M3, we can only imagine that the Integrale would be held in equal reverence if it had arrived on American shores.
In the final specification, not least with its rally heritage on show in the Martini body, Dave’s Delta HF Integrale 16v Evo II epitomizes what Europeans hold dear in their small performance cars. It had an unbeaten motorsport pedigree, brilliant chassis, purposeful body and a punchy little engine. Even today, in the right hands on a twisting European mountain road, these Lancias have few rivals for either speed or enjoyment.