By on October 23, 2019

Today’s Lancia is one of the company’s final unique product offerings. In the finest tradition of creating a sleeper, the good people at Lancia took their practical Delta hatchback to new planes of existence. Presenting the 1990 Lancia Delta HF Integrale.

The Delta started out as Lancia’s small family car offering. More affordable than the Beta, it also was available only in five-door hatchback guise. When it entered development in the mid Seventies, there was already a small, family car-shaped hole in Lancia’s lineup (the company lacked such an offering ever since the Fulvia Berlina bowed out in 1973). The Italians turned, suitably, to Italdesign to pen the shape of the Delta, tasking legend Giorgetto Giugiaro with its creation.

Built with handling in mind from the get-go, the Delta was fitted with a MacPherson suspension setup. It borrowed the basic engines from Fiat’s Ritmo, but Lancia’s engineers made some revisions. In order to fit with the more upscale Lancia image, carburetors were revised, the exhaust system and ignition were changed, and there was a new intake manifold. Engineering refinements combined with things like an adjustable steering wheel, split folding rear seats, and optional air conditioning to make the Delta feel more like a sophisticated Lancia and less like a Fiat.

Meanwhile, Saab assisted Lancia in the development of the heating and ventilation system, and while they were at it imparted their expertise in rustproofing. Saab, which had an interest in the Delta from the start, is credited with several improvements to the hatchback’s overall design.

Delta was not ready for production until 1979, when it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Its initial offering saw three models, none of which were exciting: Base and mid-level versions used a 1.3-liter inline four of 74 horsepower, while a top-trim 1.5-liter version managed 84 horses. The Swedish market received the Delta after Saab assisted in its development, but could not go without a properly Swedish name on the rear. Thus, the Saab-Lancia 600 was sold only within Sweden.

The motoring press was delighted, immediately granting the Delta a European Car of The Year award in 1980. A very important model for the small company, the Delta was revised and improved almost immediately. First up were additions like trim varieties and an automatic transmission, followed by much more substantial… evolutions.

In Part II we’ll see how a very common family hatchback was transformed into something very special.

[Images: seller]

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