The best Lancia racing and rally cars

18th January 2022
Henry Biggs

This year marks half a century since the Lancia Fulvia won the 1972 International Championship for Manufacturers. That was the competition’s final year before becoming the World Rally Championship. Lancia won that 10 times, making them still the most successful marque ever, despite having withdrawn in 1993. 

What better excuse then, to take a look back at some of the best competition cars from more than a century of Lancias in motorsport?


Lancia D24

Although he had been a keen racer during his career with Fiat, founder Vincenzo Lancia kept his eponymous company away from motorsport, focusing instead on the design excellence and meticulous engineering which made the firm’s reputation. After his passing, following a heart attack in 1937, control passed to his widow Adele and son Gianni and the latter was all for a little competition.

Buoyed by the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio success of the Aurelia B20GT in the early ‘50s, Lancia decided the time was right for an assault on both sportscar and Grand Prix racing with dedicated machines built for the purpose. The first fruits of Gianni’s ambition was the D20 sportscar; with its all-aluminium four-cam V8 and compact transaxle for perfect balance it won the 1952 Targa Florio. By 1953 the lessons of the D20 had been incorporated into another clean sheet design, the D24. An open two-seater styled by Pininfarina it had a tubular frame chassis, larger V8 and redesigned transaxle. These took it to a 1-2-3 at the Carrera Panamerica in 1953 and victories at the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio the following year, at which point Lancia switched its attentions to F1.


Lancia D50

That advanced, lightweight all-alloy V8 from the D24 made its way, in 2.5-litre guise, into the final Grand Prix of the 1954 season with none other than Alberto Ascari at the wheel, who promptly put it on pole position but retired from the race due to clutch problems. The car it sat in, the D50 was as innovative as the engine and the product of the engineering genius of Vittorio Jano. Offset in the car to allow a lower driving position for the driver, the V8 also formed a stressed member of the spaceframe chassis. With a transaxle at the rear, weight distribution was ideal, helped by the placement of the fuel in panniers either side of the cockpit where they also helped smooth the airflow between the front and rear wheels.

The following year, after wins in non-championship races in Turin and Naples, Ascari took the lead from Fangio and Moss’ Mercedes but crashed into the harbour. A few days later the double world champion would die testing a Ferrari at Monza. The shock of his death and financial troubles prompted Lancia to immediately withdraw from the championship. A deal was brokered whereby the cars and equipment were given to the then struggling Scuderia Ferrari. Re-badged as Lancia-Ferraris for 1956 the cars won Grands Prix in Argentina, Belgium, Britain and Germany and Juan Manuel Fangio another world title.


Lancia Fulvia

Having built its reputation on innovative engineering and elegant solutions, Lancia’s small family car of the mid-60s was suitably leftfield. The Fulvia was front-wheel drive (still a rarity then) with all-wheel disc brakes, independent front suspension and a narrow-angle V4 engine. So narrow in fact that one cylinder head was used for both banks and it sat under the bonnet at a 45-degree angle. 

Compact and wieldy, it was the Fulvia with which Lancia decided to return to factory-backed motorsport, taking over the existing semi-privateer HF Squadro Corse team and put it under the aegis of Cesare Florio who would later run Ferrari’s Formula 1 team. There followed a succession of ‘HF’ homologation specials which won the Italian Rally Championship eight times, the European Rally Championship twice and then in 1972 the International Championship for Manufacturers, including an epic Monte Carlo Rally win. Pat Moss, younger sister of Stirling, won the 1968 Sestriere Rally with co-driver Elizabeth Nyström, one of the first all-female teams to do so. As sports cars Fulvias also achieved class wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and Targa Florio.


Lancia Stratos

By the mid-70s the Fulvia had lost its competitive edge and was replaced in the nascent World Rally Championship by the even more radically engineered Stratos partway through the 1974 season. Knowing that Lancia was thinking about a replacement design and touting for business, Nuccio Bertone used a crashed Fulvia HF as the basis for the Strato Zero concept, designed by Marcello Gandini in 1970.

The following year the Lancia Stratos HF Prototype appeared at the Turin Motor Show powered by a mid-mounted Dino V6 from fellow Fiat owned marque Ferrari. The Stratos was the first car designed and engineered expressly for rallying and – helped by some early season points accrued by the Fulvia – won Lancia its first WRC title in 1974 in the hands of Sandro Munari and Björn Waldegård. Then it did the same the following year. And the year after that. The Stratos may well have gone on to win more titles had internal group politics not switched to favour the Fiat 131 Abarths. The Stratos was still winning as late as 1981 when it took the Tour de Corse driven by privateer Bernard Darniche.


Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo

A replacement for the Fulvia, the Lancia Beta was the first car designed entirely under the aegis of new owners Fiat, which had taken control in 1969. Introduced in 1972 it was, like the Fulvia, front-engined and front-wheel-drive with a variety of available body styles including a conventional coupe and targa-style convertible. Lastly, and rather oddly, Lancia also released a mid-engined, two-seater variant, available as either a coupe or convertible. Originally designed by Pininfarina as a replacement for the Fiat 124 coupe, the parent company declined to pick it up and it instead became the Beta range’s flagship even though it shared few components beyond the engine, gearbox and transaxle.

However, its mid-engined layout made the Beta Montecarlo ideal for the then current iteration of FIA’s Group 5 sportscar rules which had effectively created a silhouette class where only the bonnet, roof, doors and rails needed to remain as production. Powered by a 1.4-litre Abarth engine with an enormous KKK turbocharger helping it to produce close to 500PS, the Montecarlo Turbo won the sub 2.0-litre class of the 1979 World Championship for Makes. It won it overall the following year with victories in ten of the 11 rounds with a class win at Le Mans. In 1981 the Montecarlo did one better by winning all six rounds of the World Endurance Championship for Makes including another Le Mans class win. But of course, the Turbo wasn’t the only winner based on the Montecarlo…


Lancia Rally 037

Like the silhouette racer, the Rally 037 shared just its centre section with the Montecarlo, the rest being purpose-designed for the new Group B rallying regulations of the early 1980s. A collaboration between Lancia, Abarth, Pininfarina and Dallara it was radically different from the road car and its predecessor the Stratos. Its 2.0-litre, four cylinder engine was mounted longitudinally for better weight distribution and supercharged, eventually producing 325PS and propelling a car weighing less than a tonne.

Introduced in 1982, the 037 failed to win any championship rounds in a season plagued with retirements but did show its pace and racked up some victories in non-WRC scoring events. The 1983 season was very different however, despite the fact that the rear-wheel drive 037 was now up against the game changing all-wheel drive Audi Quattro. Walter Röhrl and Markku Alén took five victories between them, handing Lancia the constructors’ title – the last for a rear-wheel-drive car. Röhrl was narrowly beaten to the drivers’ title by Audi’s Hannu Mikkola after missing the last round of the season.


Lancia Delta Integrale

Had Group B not been suddenly discontinued due to concerns over driver and spectator safety, this entry would no doubt be about the 037’s replacement, the incredible engineering effort that was the turbocharged and supercharged, kevlar-bodied Lancia Delta S4. However, the abrupt cancellation of its class left Lancia in a stronger position than many of its rivals. The HF 4WD version of its Delta family hatchback could be easily homologated for the 1987 World Rally Championship’s new Group A regulations.

The driver line up for the Delta’s first season was Miki Biasion, Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén. Making its debut at the 55th running of the Monte Carlo Rally the Delta promptly won it for Biasion who would take two more wins at Argentina and Sanremo. However the season came down to a fight between the other two team drivers with Alén winning in Portugal, Greece and Finland but Kankunnen just edging him with numerous podiums and victories in America and at the RAC Rally. 

In 1988 Lancia won ten of the 11 rounds and Biasion the championship, a feat he repeated the following year. Another manufacturers’ title went to Lancia in 1990 with the now 16-valve Delta although no drivers’ award. Normal service was resumed in 1991 with Kankunnen winning a title as well as his team before a final manufacturer victory in 1992, making the Delta the most successful WRC car ever and Lancia the greatest constructor.

  • Lancia

  • WRC

  • Montecarlo

  • Fulvia

  • Delta Integrale

  • 037

  • Stratos

  • D50

  • D24

  • Grand Prix

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