Welcome to the Thrill of Owning, the new heading on our blog that at regular intervals (ideally once a month, but please don’t hold us too strictly to it…) will present cars that are not only a thrill to drive but also somewhat of a thrill to own, in the sense that their value has not yet shot through the rough and will not be halved in the coming years. Rather we try to present cars that have yet to take off and in the best of cases, may start to gain in value over time. The main reason for considering them should however be the same reason as reading this blog – that they are a thrill to drive!
Obviously you need to kick of a new section in style, and we do so with a car that no one with the slightest motoring interest born in the late 60’s or 70’s can have missed: the legendary Lancia Delta Integrale. Not because it’s pretty. Not because it, magically, has better build quality than any other Italian car from the 80’s. No – quite simply for the reason best expressed by Evo, the bible of this blog: driving-wise, it’s “one of the finest cars ever built”. And as if that was not enough, the last versions of the Integrale were even called just that – EVO (short for Evoluzione).
The Integrale dates back to the family hatchback Lancia Delta, launched in 1979. Lancia had been established on the rally scene since the 50’s and was at the time racing the legendary Stratos (that is one car that price-wise has already shot through the roof!) and Beta. The launch of the Audi Quattro in -81 however changed the rules of the game, demonstrating the enormous advantages of four-wheel drive. Both the Stratos and Beta were rear-wheel drive cars, as was the 037, which was based on components of the other two but still managed to clinch the world title in 1983. That was however an exception as it had become clear that Lancia needed a 4wd car to remain competitive on the rally scene. The solution was brought by the Delta that Abarth helped fit a 4-wheel drive system on. The Integrale had thus been launched and it went straight on to win the world championship the first year it took part in 1987, and then continued doing so the five following years until 1992, mostly with Juha Kankkunen behind the wheel.
The body of the Delta Integrale started getting fatter already in 1988 to accommodate 4-wheel drive, larger wheels and more advanced suspension components than on the original Delta, and it grew even further in 1991 with the launch of the EVO-series. Production stopped in January 1994 and still today, with six consecutive world rally titles between 1987 and 1992, it is the most successful rally car in history.
Engine – chassis – body
All Integrales share the same 4-cylinder, 1995 cm3 turbo engine that in street versions produced between 185 and 215 hp depending on turbo pressure, with a classical, 80s ketchup-bottle like delay in power delivery. Torque for all cars was slightly above 300 Nm. All versions were 4-wheel drive with a 47/53 front/rear split, contributing to their incredible balance.
When you stand in front of an Integrale it becomes clear how small it is, compared to modern cars – only 3.90 metres long. At the same time it’s probably the most practical rally car that was ever built, with four doors and a very decent boot. Driving it softly you may even be able to fool your better half into thinking you have bought a normal hatchback, although you may struggle to explain why you went for a not-so-pretty 80’s model… The chassis and suspension saw a constant evolution over the cars lifetime and chassis-wise it is clear that the Evo models are the most advanced. All Integrales are however very well balanced and will cover all the daily needs of middle-aged men with rally memories from their youth.
The first Integrale in 1987 was 8v, and that engine was produced until 1991 although the 16v was launched already in 1989. This was linked to the introduction of catalyzers at this time, which the 16v version didn’t receive until 1993. The 16v engine is slightly more powerful, developing between 200 and 215 hp depending on year of production, whereas the 8v produced 177 – 185 hp. Torque was however roughly the same in all versions.
On looks, the two Evo versions (Evo 1 (1991-1992 and Evo 2 (1993-1994) are as good a tribute to the 80’s as you will find, and if you are less into the large shoulders and rolled-up sleeves, you may prefer the earlier Integrale versions.
A few years back I had the opportunity to drive a 16v Integrale Evo 1, unfortunately not for as long as I would have liked to. It was not clear to me at the time what classic this car was about to become, but to this day I remember how incredibly well-balanced it felt and how the power delivery was vastly different from other high-pressure turbo cars I had then experienced (including my father’s Saab 900 Turbo 16v Aero, where you could easily loose the rear of in third gear if there was a bit of gravel on the road)… This was a car that really made you fell like Juha Kankkunen in those fabulous Recaro seats and with one of the most direct stearings I have experienced. As for the rest, in terms of build quality it was pretty much the same feeling as in an 80’s Fiat, but what did I care?
Given the large similarities between the models (even though the Evos 1 and 2 were more technically advanced, especially suspension-wise), the critical point is really to find a good – and original – one. This is at heart a rally car and many have been driven as such, so the challenge is to find one with low mileage, in good shape and ideally with an engine that has not been modified or if so, then only by someone who knows what he’s doing.
The best part is yet to come: even a very good Integrale or Evo will not ruin you, neither in price, nor in maintenance given its relative simplicity. Expect to pay between 20.000 – 30.000 EUR for a good to top Integrale and slightly more for an Evo. The offer is clearly limited, but there are quite a few cars in Germany in decent condition and around half a dozen in Switzerland. An insider’s tip can also be to try and find a car re-imported from Japan, for the simple reason that they have mostly been driven carefully (and by the way, all Integrales were left-hand drive). In terms of equipment there really wasn’t much on the list and that will certainly not be the main concern in buying this car. Some Integrales are fitted with leather (Recaro) seats as an option to the alcantara ones, but the latter are actually to prefer, giving better grip. The optional air condition can be nice if it still cools, but otherwise opening the window is a perfectly good option – it won’t really affect the noise level…
The German Auto Bild Klassik price catalogue, that we use as benchmark for this section, has the Integrales in the same price ranges given above. Price evolution has so far been limited but the trend is clearly pointing upwards. There is good reason to think it will continue to do so, but the biggest smile will be put on your face by driving one of these babies and remember was it was like when the driver, not the ESP, was actually in charge!
For further Integrale impressions I recommend the following clips, featuring first Juha Kankkunen gives driving lessons on an Integrale in 1992 (imagine the crowed standing as close to the cars today!), and then Evo founder Harry Metcalfe showing and driving his fabulous Integrale Evo II.
Have you owned or driven an Integrale? Have you thought about getting one? Do please let us know over the comments field!