‘Never meet your heroes’ is pretty solid advice. Chances are ignoring this rule has hit one or two of you with a vengeance in the past. Recently though, crankandpiston may have found the exception to the rule.
Few of you will need much of an introduction to this automotive gem. In the early 1990s the Lancia Delta Integrale effectively ruled the World Rally Championship, winning the Driver’s Championship four times in five years and taking a staggering 46 rally victories. Now that may only be of mild interest to the non-motorsport elite amongst you but there is a significant point to this. In order to qualify for manufacturer points, Lancia were obliged to produce at least 5000 units of a road-going Delta Integrale. Adding a couple of rear seats and a bit of upholstery here and there, and in the early 1990s Lancia was effectively selling a WRC-spec hot hatch for the road.
Which is why, when I was handed the opportunity on a velvet cushion to spend some time with a Delta HF Evoluzione II – thanks to owner Nadim Majzoub – I jumped at the chance. And, simultaneously, prepared myself for the worst.
Let me explain. The Lancia Delta Integrale remains one of the greatest rally cars of all time and – just to add some Hollywood-esque drama – one of my particular childhood favourites. Consequently, a drive in a car I’ve adored for more than two-thirds of my life could either be one of the biggest thrills of my life, or a crushing disappointment. What if the Delta is not the car I imagined it to be? What if the car currently occupying a slot in my dream garage actually proves to be a nightmare? What if one of my heroes doesn’t give me an autograph? Come the end of the day, I’ll either be over the moon or inconsolable.
Having spoken with Nadim earlier the previous evening, I stiffen my lip and head out to the crankandpiston offices, where the Delta has already spent the night. It’s waiting for me as I pull into the parking lot, shrouded by a protective tarp to keep the unforgiving sun at bay. The shape alone is enough to give me goosebumps and I actually hesitate before pulling the covers back VERY gently. This is it…
Aside from the yellow racing stripes and the rakish rear wing, everything is stock. The air intakes on the bonnet and front bumper. The 16” alloys. The twin circular headlights. The subtly flared side skirts. And, of course, the 2.0l 16-valve turbo engine under the bonnet, good for a 220kph top speed and 0-100kph in 5.7s. The temptation to jump right in is enormous but I can’t help but gawk for a few minutes, attracting the attention of several passers-by. This is a Lancia. And I am going to drive it!
Before the spectacles can get too rose-tinted though, it’s important to remember that towards the end of its 90s-heydays, Lancia garnered a rather poor reliability record. True this particular Evo II receives regular services and in just a few weeks will be put into storage for the summer months so as not to strain the mechanics. But as I open the driver’s side door, Nadim’s warning that the Delta’s battery “is a bit iffy” comes barreling to the forefront of my mind, and it’s a few heart-stopping turns of the key before the turbo powerplant fires into life. Good Lord, the noise! I try hard to suppress my laughter but it’s impossible.
Since the battery is already acting up, I decide the best thing to do is let the boys at HQ know I’ll be late and take the car for a quick spin. It’s a sound plan, albeit with a couple of mild drawbacks. It hasn’t even hit 9am yet and already the temperature is in the low thirties. And the Delta has no air conditioning. Even the ‘cool’ air being blown at full pelt towards my forehead does little to help, and I’m mopping my brow just a few hundred yards into the drive. The Recaro seats may well be holding my frame nicely in place, but the surprisingly close layout of the pedals means it’s 50:50 which one I actually hit, and the fuel gauge –already perilously close to empty – seems to move depending on which corner I’m going round at the time.
And I couldn’t care less. The interior has me completely hooked, from the beautifully styled Abarth steering wheel to the almost neon orange instrument lights in front of me. It is a slice of 1980s car design, right down to the beige upholstery and the top of the range cassette player. There’s even a replica diecast model of the Integrale on the dashboard Nadim has had specially made.