1985 Lancia Delta S4 Corsa Group B
- Ex-Works Lancia Martini Racing Team car
- The first Works Lancia Delta S4 to compete in the Group B category, and the first Works Martini Racing Lancia Delta S4 to compete at an International Championship event, claiming 22 stage victories
- 550 bhp, supercharged and turbo charged, 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds on gravel, the ultimate fire-breathing rally car!
- The first car to feature revolutionary ‘twin-charging’
- The most technologically advanced car of its day
Lancia, Group B and the Delta S4
In 1983, Lancia claimed the World Rally Manufacturer’ Championship with the infamous two-wheel drive Lancia Rally ‘037’, beating the four-wheel drive Audi Quattro. The rate at which technology developed through the Group-B era was unprecedented, never-before had teams operated with such vast budgets, they were even flying helicopters above the cars to check progress along the stages! But, in 1984 the 037 began to struggle, even with its ultimate, EVO 2, specification cars the team could only manage one WRC victory in France and slipped to second in the Manufacturers World Championship rankings. The competition had simply moved on, and four-wheel drive was clearly the future.
The Delta S4 was part evolution, part revolution. It featured a mid-mounted 1,759 cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine, but was now twin-charged, the first car to ever feature a supercharger, and turbocharger on the same engine! For the 037, Lancia chose a supercharger to increase the engines power and to avoid turbo-lag, increasing throttle response. However, for the new Delta S4, both a supercharger and turbocharger were fitted. The lag created by the turbo could now be cured with the supercharger which drives directly from the engine, not relying upon high rpm to spin a fan. As the engine rpm’s increase, the supercharger becomes less efficient, but the turbocharger then engages and significantly increases power, with the Delta S4 producing as much as 550 bhp in reliable race spec! Lancia tested one engine under extreme pressure, with over 5-bar of boost (2.2 standard), to see what was really possible, over 1,000 bhp was achieved!
The FIA Group B regulations stipulated that any engine fitted with forced induction was to have its capacity multiplied by 1.4, therefore the engine had to be 1,759 cc to be eligible for the under 2,500 cc class. However, despite the engine size being well regulated, there were no limits on boost pressures!
As all manufacturers, Lancia developed a four-wheel drive system in cooperation with gearbox specialists, Hewland, in the UK. A centre differential allowed between 60 and 75% of the torque to go through the rear wheels, with the rest to the front axle.
The name ‘Delta S4’ was used for marketing purposes with the chassis being a tubular space frame construction. It featured long-travel double wishbone suspension front and rear with the bodywork being made from a carbon fibre composite. Both the front and rear bodywork sections were fully removable, allowing for quick and easy access for the mechanics between stages. The S4 also spent vast amounts of time being developed in the wind tunnel, with the bodywork featuring a gurney flap just ahead of the radiator vent opening, a front splitter with winglets moulded into the front bumper section, a flexible front skirt and a rear wing atop the rear bodywork.
Development had been ongoing for some time, with both Giorgio Pianta, Fiat’s test driver who had previously helped develop the 131 Abarth and Lancia Rally 037, and Markku Alén conducting extensive testing of the Delta S4 at Fiat’s private test track, Mandria, before the model made its debut at the 1985 Costa Smeralda Rally. At this time, April 1985, the S4 was yet to be homologated, so had to enter the event as a safety car. In July 1985, another S4 entered the Rallye des 1000 Pistes, again un-homologated the car was wearing number 201 being driven by Alén. The next event for an S4 was two weeks later in the Italian championship, the Rally Colline di Romagna, where again Alén was entrusted with driving duties. The team, car and drivers didn’t disappoint with the S4 claiming its first victory in a rally, although it was un-homologated still and was not entered in the Group B category.
The next stage of development was to enter a European Rally Championship event, which Lancia Martini Racing did at the 1985 Rali Lois Algarve in November. The car we are offering here, chassis 205, is that car.
The Delta S4 made its highly anticipated World Rally debut at the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally in Great Britain. Lancia were dominant, taking victory in 44 stages, with Henri Toivonen claiming victory over Markku Alén in second place. With the S4 making one appearance in the 1985 WRC, the Lancia Martini Racing team claimed third in the Manufacturers World Championship.
For the 1986 season, the Delta S4 was now the main weapon of choice for Lancia, with the ever-improving Toivonen claiming victory at the most prestigious event of all, the season-opening Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo! The success continued with a second place at the following rally in Sweden, then victory in Rally Argentina with Miki Biasion and San Remo with Markku Alén, who also claimed victory in the season-ending Olympus Rally in the USA. Interestingly it is also reported that during build up for the Portuguese rally, Toivonen tested a Delta S4 at the Estoril circuit, setting a lap time which would have qualified him sixth on the Formula One grid two or three weeks earlier!
As the 1986 season progressed, Toivonen stood out as the main championship protagonist. At the French event, he was feeling unwell, but took stage win after stage win, leading the rally by a huge margin, but commented several times about the speed of modern Group B rally cars on the narrow and very twisty mountain roads, “This rally is insane, even though everything is going well at the moment. If there is trouble, for sure, I am completely finished.” Sadly, during the second leg on Friday 2nd May, Toivonen, his co-driver Sergio Cresta and their Lancia Delta S4 left the road and lost their lives. Although hugely successful, the season was marred by tragedy for the Lancia Martini team.
Within hours of the crash, Jean-Marie Balestre and FISA decided to ban Group B cars from the 1987 season, whilst also cancelling the planned Group S championship. At the same time, Audi and Ford immediately withdrew from rallying, with other teams continuing only until the end of the season. The final Group B World Rally, the Olympus Rally, was won by the Lancia Delta S4, driven by Markku Alén and Ilkka Kivimäki. Even the last stage, of the last Group B rally was won by a Lancia Delta S4.
The S4 was, and still is, the ultimate Group B rally monster, it was the most technically advanced rally car of all time, born into an era where resources were near-endless and the teams all pushed for one thing, more speed, until they became “too fast to race”. The S4 was the extreme, the ultimate and the last, it provided performance beyond human control. Never again would we witness such speed, power and fury as in the Group B era. Rallying was never the same again.
This Works Martini Racing Lancia Delta S4 Group B
The car offered here, chassis 205, was built by Abarth during 1985 and is the first Works Lancia Delta S4 to enter a European Rally Championship event. The Delta S4 was homologated on 1st November 1985, with this chassis entering the gravel event, Rali Lois Algarve, that same weekend in Portugal.
Markku Alén, 1978 World Rally Champion, and Ilkka Kivimäki were tasked with driving this Works Martini Racing entered S4, chassis 205 in its stunningly iconic Martini livery. The pair were heavily involved with the development of the Delta S4, having previously entered the Rallye des 100 Pistes as course car, and later the Italian Rally Colline di Romagna where the S4 claimed victory.
Algarve was the final test before the S4 entered the World Rally Championship scene at the closing round of the 1985 season in the United Kingdom. In Portugal, this car was displaying its temporary Italian license plate ‘A6 37179’ and was assigned race number 1. The event started on the 31st October, with the Delta S4 being granted an ‘advance homologation’ by FISA, allowing this Delta S4 to be the first entered under Group B rules. The week before the event started, at the special request of team sponsor, Martini, Markku Alén demonstrated this car inside Lisbon’s Stadium de Restelo. This was the first European, and therefore, first International rally in which any Lancia Delta S4 Corsa entered, making this car incredibly important in the history of the S4.
At this time, Lancia were using every opportunity to test and further develop the Delta S4, continually removing weight until they reached the point at which they were adding weakness. For the Algarve Rally the car was set up with 70% of the torque being transmitted to the rear axle, with a Ferguson hydraulic differential in the centre, and a mechanical Hewland unit at the front. The front Hewland unit was preferred by Alén as it made the car easier to drive. The rear differential was the previously proven mechanical Hewland unit. For the Algarve event, the engine had been further enhanced and was producing so much power the team were experiencing a new issue with the transmission shaft, a problem which was cured for future events. Another area that Lancia were focussing on was the tyres, working with Pirelli the team were experimenting with a twin-compound tyre. The outer section, which received less wear, was a softer compound than the inner edge, where the majority of the wear occurred.
It was ten o-clock in the morning on Thursday October 31st when this Delta S4 crossed the starting platform, leaving the walls of the historic fourteenth-century castle that dominates the town of Silves and plunges into the first kilometres of its first rally with official validity. 1,170 kilometres of competition lay ahead with thirty special stages. Alén was immediately on form and claimed victory in every stage on the first day!
Day two started at eight o’clock with some grey clouds threatening, but not for long. The rally left the mountains, but the Lancia continued to dominate with Alén having nothing to complain about, apart from dust entering the cockpit.
Trouble struck on the first stage of the final day, the transmission shaft connecting the centre differential to the rear failed. Alén limped to the end of the stage, losing over eight minutes, before deciding he could go no further without rectifying. Sadly, with this being a new issue, the team experienced difficulty in replacing the shaft, with the car arriving late to the next check point, incurring further time penalties. Stage two on the final day was very famous and was over 53 kilometres in length. Over thirty minutes had been lost and the Lancia was not allowed to compete in the afternoon stages competitively. However, after lunch the event organisers allowed Alén to drive the final stages wearing number ‘0’, starting each stage five minutes before the first competitive car, effectively allowing Lancia further testing. Although the win had slipped away, at the end of the event, this Delta S4 had dominated, claiming and astonishing 22 stage victories and never looking in danger.
Less than two weeks later this car was used at the Nardo test track for chassis evaluation and endurance testing in preparation for rough gravel events. The track, which lies inside the high-speed oval, is normally used by the military for vehicle testing, and features a long straight with numerous large bumps, really testing the mechanical strengths.
In February 1986, 205, again was called into development action at Nardo where it was subjected to a 1,000 km test. The course simulated the Acropolis and Safari rallies, with the test allowing the team to improve the design of the S4 for these rallies. The Abarth test driver, Valter Rostagno was present, along with Fabrizio Tabaton and Michele Rayner. At this test, engineer Giorgio Gatti used 205 to perform biomedical research regarding the drivers’ seats and helmets, which had been prompted by Fiat consultant, prof. Antonio Dal Monte (director of the Institute for Sports Science at CONI – Physiology and Biomechanics Department). Stress gauges were fitted to the upper joints of the shock absorbers, to the edge of the front platform and rear chassis. Additionally, each wheel hub is equipped with accelerometers, along with the driver’s helmet, and the roll bar close to the driver’s head. The data then provided information about the movements of car and driver over a typical lap.
Later, in March 1986 this car was used again in the Fiat wind tunnel for aerodynamic testing before Giorgio Painta used it at Mandria in June to test Michelin’s new gravel tyres against the official tyres supplied by Pirelli. In May, 205 returned once more to the wind tunnel where it was developing new aerodynamic solutions for the ‘Evo 2’. As we can see, the Martini Lancia team were developing the S4 at every opportunity, constantly refining its performance, with 205 playing a major role in the cars development.
For preparation ahead the 1000 lakes rally in September, Alén used 205 in Karkkila as a test car in June, focusing on car setup and tyres. Then, for the rally itself, 205 was assigned as a spare car for Kalle Grundel and his co-driver Benny Melander.
Subsequently, Fiat Auto Spa kept the car in one piece, never disassembling it, selling it in March 1991 to the Jolly Club, before it was bought by Rasini Leasing Spa in July that year. The next owner, Michele Papaleo bought 205 in June 1996 and brought the car to the UK where it was registered with license ‘C742 EUW’. At no point in this cars history did it compete in rally cross, as so many S4’s did. It was stored by the Lancia factory until being sold to subsequent owners.
In more recent years, 205 has returned to Italy with Massimiliano ‘Marco’ de Marco, where it has been seen participating in various high-profile rally events including Rallylegend and the Bologna Motorshow. In 2012, this car was bought by its current UK owner, joining a large collection of significant competition cars. Prior to purchase, 205 was serviced and inspected by renowned Lancia rally specialist, the Baldi twins in Turin, who are ex-works mechanics from the Group B era. In 2012, these works included an engine service, new Ferguson differential, gearbox and compressor service amongst other mechanical checks. Once the works were complete, the engine was tested with a dyno sheet confirming over 480 bhp and 516 nm of toque!
Due to its significance, this car was invited to only the highest profile events in the UK, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed on several occasions, 2014 Goodwood Members Meeting, and in 2016, the Shelsley Walsh Classic Nostalgia event, which paid special tribute to Group B rally cars.
Today, the Lancia Delta S4 is undoubtedly the most admired and technologically advanced Group B rally car. This car, chassis 205, was the first Delta S4 to enter a European Championship Rally and played a pivotal role in the development of the ultimate rally monster, a car so fast the human body could not compete.
The Delta S4 is the concluding chapter in the incredible story that is Group B, an era of which we will never see again. Quite simply, it is the ultimate Group B rally car.
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