Hammond vs Lancia Delta Integrale Evo II
This is about confronting an old enemy, tackling and taming a personal dragon. Nearly 20 years ago, riding the Pennines route between Yorkshire and Lancashire on my motorbike, I met one of these, a Lancia Delta Integrale Evo II.
Words: Richard Hammond
Photos: Justin Leighton
This feature was originally published in the March issue of Top Gear magazineAdvertisement - Page continues below
It was, I could see immediately from the bulging haunches stretched tautly over fat wheels and the various scoops and grilles embellishing its Giugiaro-designed body, a potentially potent thing. And I knew immediately that the driver was rather pleased with both it and himself. I also thought he should probably be given a lesson in real performance by me on my Kawasaki ZZR600. But just as I was preparing my bike versus car tutorial, he pulled away from me. Somewhat surprised, I wound the throttle back to the stop, but he continued to extend the daylight gap between us. And then, just to show off, he did it some more.
In fact, he caned my arse across the Pennines. A genuinely startling achievement, seeing as even a moderately powerful bike like mine would generally outgun anything on four wheels. The fact is though, that the Delta Evo II was one of the most successful rally cars of all time, and the car that had just left me in the weeds was the final incarnation of a string of homologation cars. Cars that existed only to gain Lancia admission into the World Rally Championship in their competition-spec Integrale - which won just about everything, including the Group A Constructors' Championship six times between '87 and '92.Advertisement - Page continues below
It had four-wheel drive, a turboed, 215bhp, 2.0-litre engine and independent suspension front and rear. Driving it today, it feels every inch as fizzy, as potent and as exciting as it must have done in the hands of the lucky hooligan who blew me away on the Pennines road. This is not some delicate classic that needs to be driven like it's made of paper chains and porcelain. This is still a grunty, grippy thing that snouts about the place, looking for corners to burrow itself into and come roaring out of, with all four wheels firmly planted and straining to attack the next one.
It became almost predictable when yet another Lancia Delta won in competition back in the day, and driving it now, a real sense of competence and capability comes throbbing through the wheel. Fractionally more power is sent to the rear wheels than the front, but it's not a complicated, high-tech four-wheel-drive system, just a very good one, feeding back through the wheel until it communicates the grip at each corner and how much you can push it.
The Alcantara Recaros and functional dash add to a sense that this really is a serious bit of kit and not a hot-hatch pastiche designed to look good on the high street. The body shape, with those swollen arches and ruthlessly practical grilles and spoilers may have inspired legions of imitators down the years, but this was a homologation version of one of the most successful rally cars of all time. It looked the way it did so that it could do its job very, very well. It was, and is, a very special car that achieved greatness and is still raced today.
So the next time some goober leans an affectionate hand on the bonnet of his classic and tells me that he uses the old girl every day, and I just know that he is lying, I shall mention the Integrale. Because here is a proper, authentic, important, classic with functional beauty and an incredible history that could be used every day without ever shaming itself in front of modern traffic.Advertisement - Page continues below
LANCIA DELTA INTEGRALE EVO II: SPECS
Engine: 1995cc, turbo four
Torque: 231lb ft
Top speed: 140+mph