Kimera EVO37 review: glorious Lancia restomod tested Reviews 2021 | Top Gear
Advertisement
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
First Drive

Kimera EVO37 review: glorious Lancia restomod tested

Published: 17 Sep 2021
 comments
Advertisement

What’s this, another throwback resto-mod?

We’ll ignore the cynicism implicit in that question and point out that if we were to re-imagine anything, a Lancia 037 would be near the top of the list of contenders. Although a diminished commodity these days, Lancia is one of the great automotive names, an engineering and design powerhouse for much of the 20th century with a back catalogue that glitters with greatness.

Its adventures in world rallying, when the WRC rivalled and perhaps even eclipsed Formula One for drama and kudos, yielded multiple championships thanks to the Fulvia, Stratos and latterly the Delta S4 and Integrale. In 1983, though, this feisty band of Italian brothers managed to outwit the mighty Audi sport squad with its all-conquering Quattro, to win that year’s championship during the sport’s peak Group B era. That was in the 037, a lissom missile and surely one of the prettiest competition cars ever made, and a project that united storied talents Abarth, Dallara and Pininfarina. Famously, the 037 was also the last rear-drive car to take championship honours in the WRC. Around 200 road-going Stradale versions were made, as per the homologation rules, although the exact figure is lost in the mists of time amid rumours of some numerical chicanery. As beautiful as any car in history, the 037 Stradale made do with about 200bhp. Kimera’s homage might end up well north of 500…

Advertisement - Page continues below

So what’s the deal here?

Well, it turns out that Singer’s inestimable work on the 911 has turned it into one of the most quietly influential companies of the past decade. Turns out that lots of HNWIs have grown a bit weary of ultra-fast and ultra-competent modern hypercars, and don’t mind trading digital perfection for some old-fashioned analogue interaction. Since then we’ve had the likes of the Alfaholics GTA-R 290, Cyan Racing’s Volvo P1800, Eugenio Amos’s Delta Integrale, and most recently the E-Legend EL1 Audi Quattro. That last one is pure electric. The Kimera EVO37 is most definitely not. In fact, you might need a quiet room and a lie-down after driving this thing. It’s the most explosive automotive experience I’ve had since I drove a Ferrari F40 a while back. Noise, boost and lag are commodities that have been largely engineered out of contemporary performance cars, but they have their place. Sitting behind the wheel as you bury the throttle in third gear is like craning your head towards a jet engine as the pilot opens the taps. It’s an extraordinary sound, and there’s a sort of sweet violence to the whole experience. Outside, you can hear the Kimera EVO37 coming from half a mile away.

Sounds like our kind of car and very 2021. But what is it exactly?

Well the whole project is masterminded by former world rally driver Luca Betti, a charismatic Italian steeped in motorsport all his life. "I have a very deep relationship with the Lancia Stratos, via my father. After that came the 037," he tells TG.com. (NB: the Stratos has already been successfully reactivated.) Like many former drivers, Betti’s powerful personality combined with a potent entrepreneurial streak to see him formulate the outline of what became Kimera in 2018. He spent much of 2019 securing the funding, and by September 2020 he was ready to begin development of the car. So it’s happened quickly. "Everyone said we were crazy. Everything is small but very well organised," he continues convincingly.

That’s all well and good, but it’s rather expensive at £414k. Please confirm that it’s not a vanity project lash-up before we sign on the dotted line…

A few months ago TG.com visited the workshops near Turin in which Kimera is building the first few cars (it’s moving operations to a purpose-built facility in Cuneo soon). As with Singer’s sourcing of 964-era Porsche 911s, so Kimera is frantically getting its hands on as many examples of the car that underpinned the original 037 – the Lancia Beta Monte Carlo (known as the Scorpion in the US). Although neither the Monte Carlo nor Lancia as a brand enjoys a stellar reputation for robustness, the result was still pretty epic. The 037’s chassis used the same centre section as the Monte Carlo – of which fewer than 8000 were made – and the rest was bespoke. Kimera’s update, says Betti, "respects the soul of the car", while making some major enhancements.

The reimagining throws a variety of modern techniques into the mix: 3D scanning, rapid prototyping, CAD, and CNC milling are all used. But there’s human firepower here too: Kimera has enlisted double (Lancia) world rally champion Miki Biasion to help with the chassis development, Fiat group motorsport general Sergio Limone is involved, while the engine has been touched by the hand of, well, not God exactly but in this context someone almost as impressive, Claudio Lombardi. He ran Lancia’s powertrain development back in the day alongside team boss and the equally legendary Cesare Fiorio, whom he later followed to the Ferrari F1 team where he designed the Scuderia’s last V12 engine. (He eventually became sporting director there.) Blessing the engine in Kimera’s EVO37 is a nice little retirement gig, and proof that the project is no Federico-in-a-shed operation.

Advertisement - Page continues below

"This authentic evolution turns me on, it’s a great emotion," Lombardi says, as passionate as ever despite being 78. "It preserves the soul of the car of the time, while being enriched by references and tributes, stylistic and technical, of the other successful cars that followed it." And he would know.

So how does it look and feel in the flesh?

A dead ringer for the 037. Its steel monocoque has been bolstered by a new tubular structure front and rear, which dramatically improves torsional rigidity. Suspension is by forged double wishbones, and there are dual Öhlins dampers at the rear with a more compact coilover set-up at the front. Brembo supplies the brakes, while Sparco is responsible for the construction; the body panels are made of carbon fibre composite (the original used Kevlar).

The engine is a 2.1-litre four cylinder that uses the block from the original with new ancillaries. It also cherry-picks an unusual technical solution from the later mid-Eighties Lancia Delta S4 group B beast: as well as the Volumex supercharger (now electrically rather than mechanically driven) as seen in the 037 for improved low-end response, it also uses a turbo to boost performance at the top end. Power output in the finished car is nudging 500bhp but could end up as high as 550bhp, and given that the Kimera EVO37 weighs around 1,000kg (the final figure is still to be confirmed) we’re talking about an extremely vigorous power-to-weight ratio. TG.com is driving the first completed car, which is currently pegged back to a mere 400bhp, but given that an earlier prototype was spinning its rear wheels in fourth gear, we can live with this deficit.

Top Gear
Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

A sequential paddle-shift auto is available, but Betti confirms that every one of the 20 cars he’s sold so far out of the planned run of, you guessed it, 37 is fitted with a six-speed manual (it’s a Graziano ’box – the original car used a ZF five-speed). It has an exposed gaiter and linkage and looks gorgeous. You wouldn’t choose an auto over something like this unless you were nuts.

And?

Firstly, this is one of those cars – like the Singer, the Alfaholics GTA and the Cyan P1800 – that you could just look at for hours. So much of the appeal of these cars is tied up with the quality of the execution, and the bar is high. Betti is keen to point out that this particular car has a few rough edges, but I’m honestly too busy taking in its shape and sheer presence to really notice. He presided over the design, and the result is a postmodern mix of the slightly dainty looking Stradale and the fire-breathing, more tumescent rally car. The quad headlights are now LEDs, the nose is eye-catchingly low, the wheelarches more blistered. But that’s nothing compared to the view across the rear three-quarters, with that upswept tail, quad exhaust, the circular tail-lights and fat 295 rubber. Even the number plate, with its orange ‘prova’ script, mimics the old Italian style. Kids call it vaporwave, a semi-ironic pillage of the past – mainly the Eighties – but however cool the Kimera EVO37 looks in the images, it doubles down on that in the flesh. It’s absolutely stunning.

So what’s it like on the move?

Something of a dynamic time capsule. The doors are feather-light but need a hefty slam. Look how little interior door frame there actually is. You sit low and are aware of how small and perfectly formed the 037 is. Only the Alpine A110 of the current crop gets close to this sort of wieldiness. Betti is a big guy – especially for a pro driver – so there are no problems getting comfortable. The dashboard is a simple elongated rectangle that apes the design of the original, with minimal instrumentation: oil pressure, boost pressure, speedo, rev counter… the air vents on this car are currently non-functioning so the heat soak through the rear bulkhead is even more noticeable. There’s no rear view mirror and the door mirrors are slender to the point of invisibility, which is pretty much the case for the view behind. But the seats are terrific, the suede-style Alcantara trim is period appropriate, and there’s no carpet on the floor. As we’re about to discover, sound deadening isn’t high on the list of attributes here. In fact, it’s not on the list at all. Time to buckle up those four-point racing harnesses.

Noisy, then.

Prime the pump, flick the ignition switch cover, and thumb the EVO37 into life. It’s Metallica-gig-loud at tick-over. Although Kimera talks of everyday useability, we’d query what your everyday drive looks like if you can slot one of these into your life on a daily basis. The project’s admirable fealty to the original manifests itself in a number of – admittedly thrilling – aspects: the steering, gearchange and brakes all demand that you gird your loins. As does the ride and handling. Actually, it rides well even on some of the broken blacktop we found, but pick up the pace a bit and everything goes swiftly into the red. Kimera is still calibrating all the major controls, but right now everything is either weighty and physical or restlessly hyperactive. None of this is bad per se; that’s what you’re signing up for, after all.

Betti says he’s going to calm the steering down, and he’s also working on making the EVO37 easier to manoeuvre at low speeds, in terms of getting out of junctions; Walter Rohrl would recognise the need for finesse as things currently stand. The explosive acceleration would also compress the four decades since he drove one of these Lancias to so many memorable victories, although he might not immediately recognise the soundtrack. The supercharger’s whine is overlaid by the most insane whoosh from the turbo, which also generates a quasi-spectral howl as you back off the throttle. Time and familiarity would help establish where the limits are, but let’s just say I stick to slow in/fast out for the duration of this first foray, and give it full beans in a straight line. Enough old-school rally-bred Lancias have disappeared into the scenery over the years without me adding to their number. Even just ambling along at four-tenths the EVO37 vibrates with greatness.

On balance, this sounds like a substantial thumbs-up.

Oh yeah. The restomod wave shows no sign of abating, and it’s drawing increasingly interesting examples into the daylight. Kimera’s EVO37 reboot has come together very rapidly but the result is expertly executed – as you’d hope when you discover who’s involved. The 037 is a talismanic car for people of a certain age, from a brand that continues to generate substantial goodwill, competing in a branch of motorsport at the height of its powers. No one will ever truly nail a definition of what cool is, but this new take on the Lancia 037 gets exceptionally close.

Photography: Johnny Fleetwood

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.