The Lancia Delta started life in 1979 as a four-door, front-drive economy hatch. With the demise of Group B midway through the 1986 season, however, Lancia homologated the Delta HF 4WD—gave it four-wheel drive, a Lampredi turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, a number, and a livery—and sent it on to compete in Group A, where it won the 1987 season. The car underwent further developments in 1988 to become the Delta HF Integrale.
The Group A rules would stick around for another five years until the inception of the FIA World Rally Car ruleset, so the Lancia crew was well-positioned to win another five titles from 1988 to 1992 with a highly skilled set of drivers, an incredible mechanical team behind the scenes, and of course, one of the best rally cars ever built.
But Fiat—Lancia’s parent company—decided to pull the plug on the rally team at the end of the 1992 season, reallocating those expert mechanics and constructors from the Lancia team to Lancia’s sister company, Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo was struggling in motorsports at the beginning of the ’90s, and after six straight years of victories in the Delta, Fiat felt that Lancia had no more left to prove, and ultimately there was more good to be done in helping Alfa become competitive again.
The strategy worked for Alfa Romeo. Shortly after the cessation of Lancia’s rally activities, the Alfa Romeo 155 16V Ti was born and it rapidly accumulated trophies across the entirety of Europe, winning Italian, German, British, and Spanish touring car series championships within two years of its inception; it was the Lancia dominance of the track repeated anew with another company.
But Lancia itself would never reach the heights of its WRC success again. Twenty-nine years after notching its final WRC constructor title, Lancia is now a vestigial appendage of the Stellantis group, like a corporate appendix evolution has held onto for historical reasons long since forgotten. The rebodied-Fiat-compact Ypsilon is the only Lancia model available for purchase in Italy today, and it is largely forgotten even there.
And so with the benefit of hindsight, I do not need to soften my praise or dull my enthusiasm for this car. This is the high-water mark of the most storied manufacturer in all of rally racing. Lancia had a peak and the HF Integrale Evo was it. It sets high expectations to frame the car in such stark terms, but if this isn’t worthy of idolization on a bedroom wall poster, nothing is.
This specific model has even more going for it than normal. On paper, it is an HF Evoluzione I—the first of the Evoluzione editions sold to the public and the final Delta to ever win a WRC manufacturer title for Lancia. In 1991, when Lancia ended manufacturer support for rallying, the Evoluzione was its final love letter to the motorsport—the summation of years of victories and fine-tuning all distilled into one last masterpiece.
This specific car has been modified with higher boost pressure, Delta Evo Final Edition shift linkage (for more direct feel), and springs (for better ride quality). The modifications are not extensive, but they turn the car into the best possible variation of the Lancia Delta ever conceived, with the rally pedigree—and free-flowing exhaust—of the Evo I combined with the driving improvements of the later Evoluziones.
So if there is a street-legal Delta on this Earth that could live up to the gargantuan reputation the brand has built, this is it. And to be fair, it looks the part. The Delta HF Evo is usually thought of in Martini or Totip colors, flying through the air on a remote trail crisscrossing Scandinavia in full Technicolor beauty, but seeing one so sinister and monochrome in the alleys of Dallas, Texas, makes it imposing in a way it has earned.
And because the styling was so spartan and utilitarian, it has aged gracefully. The Giugiaro-penned brutalist angles of the minimalist hatchback design define the silhouette, with just enough muscle added from the bulging fender arches to make it look meaner than all other versions of the Delta.