Regulations of one sort or another have fostered the best and worst of automobiles. Take the 1974 Ford Pinto. Please. At the other extreme, look to racing regulations that tend to generate wondrous road cars—cheaters in a sense, but delightful cheaters all the same.
Our subject car, the Lancia Rally, is an excellent case in point. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s Sporting Code includes Group B, a class roughly midway between A (modified production cars) and C (bizarre Formula 1 technology in full bodywork). Group B cars are 2-seaters of which at least 200 have been produced in a 12-month period. Lancia’s response to these regulations is precisely 200 Rallys, 150 destined for touring use and 50 set aside for additional preparation within the scope of Group B. The regulations don’t allow much modification, though, so the basic concept had better be of a high order indeed.
This story originally appeared in the 1983 Exotic Cars issue of Road & Track.
SIGN UP FOR THE TRACK CLUB BY R&T FOR MORE EXCLUSIVE STORIES
Lancia, you may recall, is no stranger to competition. Its founder, Vincenzo Lancia, drove for the Fiat factory team in the first decade of this century. And though the company’s chief output has always been tourers of innovative design (the Lambda, for instance, had a unit steel chassis as early as 1923), enthusiasts recognized the marque’s sporting appeal. Through the Fifties, Lancias scored numerous victories (in class or overall) in the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio (1-2-3 in 1953), the Carrera Panamericana (1-2-3 this same year), Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rally. Lancia went Formula 1 racing during this period as well, though success eluded the cars until they were sold to Ferrari and Fangio won his fourth of five World Driving Championships aboard a Lancia-Ferrari D50 in 1956.
Not that our subject car’s competition pedigree requires such a long memory. The company based its Group 5 Turbo on the Beta Montecarlo (our Scorpion during its brief U.S. availability in the mid-Seventies). Lancia won the under-2.0-liter division in the 1979 World Makes Championship and scored an overall win the next year. (See Road & Track’s road test of the factory racer in June 1981.) And it is the Beta Montecarlo that provided the starting point for development of the Rally.
To say the Lancia Rally is a supercharged mid-engine sports car only hints at its technical fascination, but certainly its supercharger sets it apart from any other car in current production. The engine is a dohc 4-cylinder of 1995 cc, located longitudinally ahead of the rear wheels. This is unlike the Montecarlo’s transverse layout, but more amenable to the rally car’s 4-wheel-drive conversion potential. Its supercharger is a twin-lobe Roots-type developed jointly with Abarth. This blower is set to provide boost even at low engine speeds, evidently a plus in tight off-road rally stages and as we’ve already noted (see “Supercharging & Turbocharging,” R&T April 1981) just the thing for terrorizing taxis in midtown Manhattan.
LOVE RALLY? JOIN US AT OUR NEXT ROAD & TRACK EXPERIENCE, RALLY-U
Not that the Rally isn’t a revver: Its 205 bhp DIN comes at 7000 rpm and in 3rd-stage tuning the power exceeds 300 bhp at 8000. The light alloy cylinder head contains a total of 16 busy little valves. 18.5 gallons are split between twin fuel cells and, like any proper competition car, lubrication relies on a dry-sump system that won’t starve at high lateral g’s. Succinctly, this is no ordinary boy racer.
Power is transmitted to a ZF 5-speed and limited-slip differential with rally-short 5.25:1 final drive. This gearing gives no lack of top end, though: 7000 rpm offering 85, 115 and 137 mph in 3rd, 4th and 5th. respectively. And revving through said gears doesn’t take very long with a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds and quarter mile in the mid-15s.
Rally routes are rarely straight for very long, of course, so you’d expect the Lancia’s suspension to be equally exemplary of high performance practice. Indeed, it’s more akin to out-and-out racing technology. Up front, progressive-rate coil-over-shock units mount to a subframe extension of the main chassis. Upper A-arms, lower lateral arms and compliance struts locate the hubs, an anti-roll bar adds roll stiffness and the suspension components are adjustable for ride height. At the rear, progressive-rate coil struts are flanked by a pair of shocks per side and the mounting points of upper and lower arms again have ride height adjustment. In fact, the Rally’s ride height can be varied over a range of 7.5 in. with no compromise of suspension geometry. Set up for the road, wheel travel is a generous, well damped 3.2 in. front and 3.3 in. rear; set for rough roads or gravel, these increase to 3.5 and 4.1 in., respectively.
Needless to say, consistent braking is another desirable in international rallying and the Lancia depends on 11.8-in. vented discs front and rear. The handbrake is mechanical on the road version, but a hydraulic handbrake is part of stage-2 preparation. And if you’ve ever noted the strange directions that rally cars often point, you can appreciate the purpose of this modification.
The factory terms the Rally’s chassis a “ mixed design,” but we’ll call it typical racing practice. A central sheet steel box with integral roll cage defines the passenger compartment, forward and rearward of which are tubular space frames supporting suspension and powertrain mounts. The doors are steel but the rest of the Pininfarina bodywork is fiberglass, in any color you want as long as it’s Italian Racing Red. Front and rear sections lift off racer-fashion to expose the car’s mechanicals; and if you peer through the Rally’s large rear window, you’ll see its engine compartment in full glory. Fortunately, driver and passenger are separated from this snarling fury by double glass at the rear of the cockpit.
In the road version, this cockpit is completely finished in a tour de force of lightweight materials developed by Pininfarina. It’s done up in black with subtle red piping, stark though esthetically pleasing in its efficiency. The floors are fully carpeted, seat material and door trim are corduroy, the dashboard frame is fiberglass covered in neoprene (of divers’ wet suit fame) and polyurethane foam. Full instrumentation resides in an anodized panel of light alloy and the driver enjoys an adjustable thick-rim steering wheel, a large shifter growing from a vinyl puffball and oversize no-nonsense pedals of knurled aluminum. The roof’s double bubbles bear no Zagato ancestry; Pininfarina put these bumps there to provide helmet clearance. Reinforcing bars extend across the lower fourth of the door openings (though these are removable for ordinary road use). In total, Pininfarina has combined high style with the Rally’s avowed purpose. The road car’s electric window lift controls, for example, contrast wonderfully with the rally-heritage resettable circuit breakers on the center console.
The Rally is a completely practical sports car, yet only three short steps from a factory racer. Stage 1 brings the engine to full Group B specifications, swaps shocks, brake pads, exhaust system and clutch for competition counterparts and puts a skidplate beneath the engine compartment. Go to Stage 2 and there’s a quicker steering gear, shorter final drive and the hydraulic handbrake already noted. Stage 3, as rallied by the factory, is a constantly evolving process within the scope of the Group B rulebook. Prices are constantly evolving as well, but figure around $35,000 for a road-going Rally in Italy and it’s also noted that the top-level competition version can be had for a relatively modest amount beyond this.
The Rally is a unique exotic, extremely rare yet practical. Like only a handful of production GTs in the world, it’s a car that traces its genesis to the FIA rulebook, not a shelf of marketing studies. And therein lies its immense appeal to enthusiasts.