The prototype for the ultimate rear-wheel-drive winner of the World Rally Championship
The very first Lancia 037 Rally produced
Originally owned by Fiat and subsequently acquired by Ingegnere Sergio Limone
Fastidiously restored to its original 1981 prototype specification
Boasting an impressive photo-documented development history
When the FIA introduced Group B ahead of the 1982 World Rally Championship, manufacturers were presented with a very enticing set of technical regulations. See, the idea was not to constrain car makers, but rather encourage them to push the technological envelope further than it had ever been before. And that’s exactly what they did.
With the Fulvia and the Stratos, Lancia had dominated the International Championship for Manufacturers, clinching the titles in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1976. The top brass in Turin understood that the Italian people expected success. Failure was not an option.
The year 1982 also marked the beginning of a very special relationship between Lancia and Martini & Rossi, the alcoholic beverage brand sponsoring the Turin marque in both their rally and road-racing motorsport campaigns. It was to prove one of the sport’s most enduring and successfully alliances, spanning a decade and yielding seven Manufacturers’ titles and four Drivers’ gongs.
The Lancia 037 Rally was the first Group B car and the final rear-wheel-drive car to win the World Rally Championship. It made its competitive debut in the 1982 Tour de Corse, where it was driven by Markku Alén and Attilio Bettega. The rate of development was unrelenting in Group B and an Evo 1 specification appeared ahead of the 1983 season and an even more potent Evo 2 at the beginning of 1984. The Lancia 037 Rally claimed six rally victories. The five chassis which earned those victories were driven by Alén and Walter Rohrl.
The Group B era is one the like of which we’ll never see again – a time of unlimited budgets, boundless performance and the most technologically advanced competition cars in the world. It’s fair to say the Lancia 037 Rally was top, front and centre.
As its number suggests, chassis SE037-001 is the very first prototype for the Lancia 037 Rally. Dallara was responsible for building this Lancia in September of 1980, shortly after the project was given the go-ahead by the top brass in Turin.
Dallara already had the jigs used to build the Group V Beta Montecarlo Turbo and we have photos on file showing this car being built simultaneously along its road-racing cousin. We also have photos clearly showing the engine fitted with its Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system and the roots-type Abarth supercharger.
The twenty-third of September in 1980 was a momentous day not only for Lancia but for rallying in general. Why? Because SE037-001 turned a wheel for the first time. The location was the legendary Campo Volo – the private airfield near Abarth’s factory where many a rally car had been tested prior to racing competitively.
Photos from the day show the car being weighed and then put through its paces on the runway. Present for important inaugural test were the new Abarth boss Paolo Messori, chief test-driver Giorgio Pianta and ex-Abarth manager Renzo Avidano. Inevitably there were niggles to be ironed out, as evidenced by the removal of the car’s supercharger.
Abarth’s chief ingegnere Sergio Limone detailed the technical aspects of the new model. “Starting with the engine as fitted to the 200 road-going homologation cars,” he explained, “it is fitted longitudinally so the long double-wishbone suspension had enough space and the gearbox could be easily accessed during rally service intervals. It could be replaced in 12 minutes. Lubrication was also a dry-sump system specially designed by Abarth for two reasons: firstly, providing consistent oil pressure in all conditions, and secondly, allowing the engine to be mounted considerably lower in the chassis and this improving the centre of gravity.”
One month later, SE037-001 was taken to the Galleria del Vento, Pininfarina’s wind tunnel. Once again, this significant test is photo-documented, Sergio Limone noting that it was at this point the decision was made to employ a full-length rear window. In February of 1981, a shortage of Abarth superchargers meant this 037 Rally prototype was required to test with a naturally-aspirated engine from the Fiat 131 fitted.
Away from the Campo Volo, Giorgio Pianta was chosen to be the first to drive chassis SE037-001. Pirelli’s test-track at Vizzola proved to be the perfect location. To the outside world, Lancia’s rally outfit was awash with financial resource, though as Sergio Limone commented, “We towed the prototype to Vizzola on a trailer behind a Fiat 132 and we only had a small mechanics’ van”.
By this point, the relentless schedule of testing was leading to developments, all of which are well documented in the wealth of period imagery we have on file for this Lancia. February’s issue of the weekly Italian motorsport magazine Autosprint also included a news story featuring photos of SE037-001 in action at Vizzola. The world waited with baited breath as Fiat prepared to climb into the Group B ring.
Testing continued throughout March and April of 1981, the front and rear of the bodywork receiving most of the focus – this is where the rear spoiler was conceived. It’s interesting to note that at this point the car was badged solely as an Abarth. The decision was taken at the end of April that Pianta could test SE037-001 at the famous Mandria rally circuit, before it returned to the Campo Volo to finally be tested with its supercharged engine. Said engine was the baby of Lancia’s technical director Giovanni Tonti and his team at Lancia’s Reparto Corsa skunkworks.
During the 037 Rally Prototype’s next visit to Pininfarina’s wind tunnel, a second spare wheel was mounted to the roof, just like the mechanics used to do with the Stratos on the Safari rallies. The new rear wing was also rigorously tested, and while its addition slightly increased the overall drag coefficient of the car, it was concluded that it was an essential part and that it would make production.
Back in the days of Group B rallying, tyre choice was of the utmost importance. In July of 1981, Lancia conducted a behind-closed-doors test at La Mandria with Michelin – a test which ultimately proved unsuccessful because of the incorrect sizes of the tyres supplied. Two weeks later, the team repeated the test but with Pirelli tyres fitted to the car. That Lancia wound up using Pirelli tyres for its entire Group B campaign is telling of that test’s success. It was around this point that SE037-001 was photographed alongside chassis 003, which wore the final Pininfarina-designed bodywork incorporating all the features honed to perfection on this prototype.
November in 1981 marked an important milestone for Lancia’s 037 Rally prototype, for it was at then Abarth began testing the car on gravel. Giorgio Pianta carried out the lion’s share of the driving, though the World Rally Champion Markku Alén and future European Rally Champion Carlo Capone were also present. Lancia also acquired an Audi Quattro and brought that along. Photos from this specific test show SE037-001, still badged Abarth, with a modified headlight design.
In January of 1982, this 037 Rally was refinished in the Works Lancia Martini Racing livery and tested by Markku Alén ahead of its role as a recce car in the 1982 Acropolis Rally. With its development and Works duties complete, SE037-001 was retired. Initially, there were plans to demolish the car, though Ingegnere Limone saved it from the scrapyard, negotiating to buy the prototype on 30th June 1983. We have photos on file showing this Lancia, with its original red prototype nose and tail sections, being towed away from the Turin factory. The doors were still finished in the Martini livery.
With an incredibly watchful eye, Limone fastidiously restored SE037-001, returning the prototype to its original 1981 specification, complete with black roof and rear spoiler and 1,995cc supercharged engine. Later, the car was road-registered in the United Kingdom and assigned with the number ‘LAB 037’. Federico Burrati acquired this Lancia next and in 2010, had the car certified by the International Federation for Historic Vehicles (FIVA). At this time the Italian Lancia Club awarded SE037-001 its Certificato di Identita. Burrati was a dyed-in-the-wool Lancia enthusiast, who also owned a Delta S4 Corsa.
This prototype subsequently resided in a prominent Lancia collection alongside a Delta S4 Stradale and a 037 Rally Stradale, and was exhibited Belgium’s largest automotive museum, Autoworld Brussels.
When deciding where to photograph this ultra-special prototype, it felt only right to return SE037-001 to the hallowed asphalt of the Campo Volo in Turin, on which it first turned a wheel. The occasion was made even more memorable when Ignegnere Limone popped by to see his baby in the metal once more.
This prototype marks the beginning but also the end of rallying’s greatest chapter – never again would a rear-wheel-drive car win the World Rally Championship. This Lancia paved the way for the marque to win the 1983 title, no fewer than six rounds of the World Rally Championship and a staggering 50 European Rally Championship victories.