Lancia produced some of the greatest rally and race cars of the 1970s and ’80s. We drive three on closed US roads
This is absolutely not rallying country. It’s not San Morini, Monte Carlo or even Kielder. This is Florida. And the locals’ jaws are collectively dropping as their ears are assaulted with a blast of pure Lancia. This is absolutely one of the best days I’ve ever had with cars and car enthusiasts.
So we’re with Irish-born Florida resident John Campion, a go-getting rally nut whose formative years were spent spectating on the infamous rally stages of Killarney, Ireland. The cars we’ve chosen from his collection – and you’ll see the full extent of the choice a few pages on – were the 1988 World Rally Championship-winning Delta Integrale
, 1983 Group B 037 and 1981 Le Mans class-winning Beta Montecarlo
. Fire them up together, and I swear that waves form on the nearby keys.
First up, the Integrale. Even in this company it looks hard as nails. It sits high over its OZ wheels, Martini stripes part-disguising the bumps and bulges of its rally-bred additions, eye-popping light pod and huge mudflaps adding rally style – though being an early example it does without a spoiler on the tailgate.
Inside, it’s still clearly Integrale but stripped of what little luxury the road cars had, and added to with a mind-boggling arrays of switches and tripmeters. The rev-counter dominates the instrument panel but over to the right the boost gauge is similarly huge. The scuffed steering wheel is still as wrestled by works driver Miki Biasion, and the digital tripmeter, resplendent in brown plastic, is the original as operated by Tiziano Siviero.
Biasion and Siviero? Ah yes, this is the real deal. It’s one of the four Abarth-built WRC Group A Integrales that the pair campaigned in the 1988 World Rally Championship, and the actual car in which they won the 1988 Portugal and Olympus/USA rallies. Seeing as more points were won in this car than in any other of the Integrales, it counts as the 1988 WRC championship-winning car.
Job done, Fiat sold the Integrale to Australian Rally Services, to be run by Fiatorque, with Greg Carr and co-driver Iain Stewart achieving strong results throughout 1989 and ’90 (with several first places, including the Rally Tasmania). Fiatorque advertised the car during 1991, ’92 and ’93 for $40,000 but it remained in storage, unsold, and was gradually buried under old spares.
‘We just rolled it out of that shed in Sydney,’ says John. ‘It was covered in Fosters cans and copies of the Sydney Morning Herald! Inspecting the car was difficult to say the least, but it’s got all the paperwork. It’s the real deal.’
With that, John invites us to try the real deal. It’s no big deal to ease over the cage and down into the bucket seats, though the cut-down doors need a good slam. No carpets of course, but there’s a certain pleasure in the incongruity of the once-chic stripes in the Alcantara doortrims.
Turn the battery isolator to ‘on’, flick on the fuel pumps, press the starter button and it fires instantly, vibrations coursing through the structure. It’s loud but not deafening, daunting but not terrifying. The clutch is heavy but not stupidly so (not like, say, a Countach’s) and the action of the gearlever tight and metallic. Clutch down, release bearing whirring, it slots into first and the revs soar as I dab the accelerator and bring up the clutch. We’re off!
The soundtrack is pure rally, all transmission whirr and stone clatter through the bare floors, almost drowning out the exhaust – until it hits boost of course, at which time the note changes and the Integrale surges forward, perfectly planted on those super-firm adjustable coilovers. There’s only 300bhp but, boy, does it make the best possible use of every single horse.
The transmission is four-wheel-drive, naturally, with a viscous-coupling centre differential and a six-speed, close-ratio dog ’box. Go all limp-wristed on it and you’ll miss a gear, but with the adrenaline flowing it’s easy to monster every change, the ’box selecting with a satisfying clack.
And, you know what? After just a few minutes of acclimatisation it feels almost easy, and hugely exhilarating. A quick session on gravel shows that it drifts, tucks in, understeers or oversteers according to throttle input – only that’s at low speed. How Biasion did it at high speed with trees, sheer drops and spectators all around is still a mystery to me.
Now it would be perfectly reasonable to point out that we’re working backwards here – for good reason – but let’s divert into a brief (forwards) history lesson anyway.
Lancia’s already illustrious rally history went to another level in the 1970s with the successes of the purpose-built Stratos – which we’ve featured several times recently. Gradually it became less competitive, though there were works entries as late as the 1979 RAC Rally.
It took a couple more years before Lancia replaced the Stratos with the even more extreme (though still two-wheel-drive) 037. The Integrale you’ve just been reading about didn’t appear until the 037 had become obsolete.
So for us, on the day, it made more sense to start with the less extreme Integrale, which was fantastically exciting but driveable by mere mortals. The 037 is a Group B car… And this 037 is, of course, one of the best. Roughly speaking, the first 037s are on chassis numbers 001 to 220, the Evo 1s are 301 to 320 and the Evo 2s are 400 to 420. This is chassis number 411, so it’s one of the last, registered in November 1983.
In June 1984, Markku Alén achieved second place in it (on registration plate TO W7780) at the Rally New Zealand, and in the following year it achieved a series of strong European Rally Championship results including a first, sometimes as TO W7780, sometimes on its original plate of TO W67780. By 1986 it had been replaced by the Delta S4 and used by factory-supported privateers.
With Group B banned for 1987, the 037 was relegated to Italian events only – though it competed in at least nine of them that year, its last ever competitive outing being the Rally Ci’a de Prato. After that, it was sold to Giuseppe Zonca and then quickly on to Czech rally legend Beppe Volta. He kept it until the end of 2013, when John came along.
‘So I’d bought the Integrale,’ says John. ‘Then I say, hmm, I’ve got to get an 037 now. Volta had been running cars out of Czechoslovakia, and this car had won just about everything; it was very famous as a rent-a-racer.
‘The 037 is Group B personified for me. It’s such high compression, it needs a bit of go-go juice to get it going.’
A spray of said go-go juice down the intakes, a churn on the starter, a splutter, and the 037 bursts into life. The Integrale is feisty but this is an entirely different animal.
It was loosely based on Lancia’s Beta Montecarlo road car, but away from the silhouette and the central bodytub the 037 has little in common with the production car. There are tubular subframes front and rear, and – like the Integrale – it uses that same basic four-cylinder twin-cam, mid-engined as in the production Montecarlo but inline rather than transversely mounted. This allowed easier engine removal and more space for long-travel suspension.
Why 037? Because it was looked after by Abarth, and counted as the 37th such project that Abarth had built. And built to an absolute minimum it has to be said. The doors are Kevlar, flimsy in the extreme, and the interior as businesslike as you can imagine, with a crude sheet metal dashboard, littered with instruments, fuses and tripmeter. The whole lot vibrates as the engine idles noisily, the whine of the supercharger adding to the din. Supercharger? Oh yes. Lancia engineering genius Aurelio Lampredi was a great fan, for its lack of lag over a turbo.
The clutch is heavy, the gearshift short and mechanical, and initally it’s a fight to shove it into the dogleg first. A firmer push, a clonk, it’s in. A flick of the accelerator and the revs soar. It spins up like a two-stroke, and adds to the effect by sounding like a motocross bike. Or maybe a particularly violent chainsaw. Good grief.
Feed in the clutch, up the revs, but it bogs down. Try again, more gas, and it takes off. Suddenly the world gets frantic, everything happening at once. Rev-counter heading for the red, a scramble for the next gear, corner appearing frighteningly quickly, featherlight steering twitching as the front wheels follow every little imperfection in the road. Camber? Whoah, it’s heading into the kerb. White lines? It’s following them. I’m not convinced I’m in control. Come off the accelerator and it twitches some more, while the engine pops and splutters.
Another few runs and as I return to the race transporter, John’s engineer leans in, grins, and turns up the boost for the next run. Good grief! Now it’s ballistic, with bursts of acceleration so violent that it’s all I can do to hang on and hope. What an experience! The Integrale might seem possible to master to some extent, but there’s no such illusion with the 037. Wow!
After the 037 came the four-wheel-drive S4, for the final two years of Group B. Of course John has an S4. ‘It’s a supercharged, turbocharged, 1.7-litre death machine. It revs to 8500. It’s the most violent vehicle I’ve ever driven.’
Running it on the road would have been an even madder idea than taking out the 037, though one not without appeal – but we have another machine to try, which better explains the breadth of Lancia’s 1970s and ’80s motor sport ambitions: the Beta Montecarlo.
Now, this is absolutely not a rally car, and it has to be said it’s not much of a road car either. It’s pure track, built for Group 5 racing, and it paved the way for Lancia’s remarkable LC1 and LC2 Le Mans cars.
Back in the mid-1970s, Lancia had experimented with using the Stratos in circuit racing but without much success. So attention was switched to the production Beta Montecarlo. As with the 037 later, the central tub of the bodyshell was used but with subframes front and rear.
Once again, the twin-cam four-pot provided the basis of the race car’s engine, mounted transversely and much modified with a huge KKK turbocharger. There had been talk of using the Ferrari 308’s V8 but actually the four-cylinder was much lighter, and capable of producing over 400bhp with the boost wound up. Most ran as 1.4s, though some ran as 1.7s or even with 2001cc for the over-2-litre class, thus ramping up championship points.
John’s car is number 1009, which first emerged early in 1981 to contest the 24 Hours of Daytona, driven by Michele Alboreto, Beppe Gabbiano and Piercarlo Ghinzani. It achieved 14th in practice but retired from the race around midnight with a dropped valve.
Next came the Mugello 6 Hours, finishing third but disqualified for changing the gearbox casing. At the Monza 1000km, Alboreto and Andrea de Cesaris were leading when the fuel pump failed on lap 129, but at the Nürburgring 1000km Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever finished 11th overall.
And then Le Mans, with Cheever, Alboreto and Carlo Facetti driving 1009. Three works cars were entered, all 1.4s, detuned to 400bhp for longevity. One crashed, one blew a gasket, and our car here finished fourth overall and first in class. What a result!
Lancia won the Group 5 championship that year, as it had the previous year, but the Beta Montecarlo’s work was done and 1009 was sold to privateer team Scuderia Sivama di Galliate for the 1982 season. It worked hard, survived Mark Thatcher at Monza and Silverstone, and achieved a few good results including Le Mans, where it finished 12th overall and second in Group 5. Its last race was in October 1982, the 1000km of Brands Hatch; sadly it retired on lap 56 with overheating problems.
When John bought it, the Martini strips were long gone, so John and his team set about recreating it in 1981 Le Mans livery. Decent period pictures are scarce but Bill Warner, chairman of the Amelia Island Concours, turned out to have photographed 1009 at Daytona in 1981 – and consequently invited John to show the car at the concours.
From this came another opportunity, from Tim Pendegast, director of operations at Amelia Island but also organiser of the Daytona Historics. Would John like to race the Beta Montecarlo on the famous banked circuit?
‘I’d never driven on a track before, I’m a dirt guy,’ says John. ‘The morning before the race I was up at 4am watching videos on how to drive Daytona. It was only when I was strapped in by the mechanics, HANS device on, that I realised I couldn’t see anything. No mirrors, no vision! But it was phenomenal.’
On these closed public roads, it’s similarly tricky to drive but for different reasons; the clutch is in-out, the gearshift even more clickety-clack than the 037’s, the engine flat-flat-flat as it waits for the turbo to kick in. When it does, it is indeed phenomenal. The soundtrack is as much transmission whine as engine racket, and the suspension is of course utterly unforgiving.
On a circuit it would be even more phenomenal, the mechanical grip and the aero putting it into another league. But here, on the road, it’s the 037 that sends my brain into overload, waking me up later that night as I replay the video in my head of that brute-force acceleration and pointability. For all the mess Lancia is in now, my goodness, it certainly produced some remarkable competition machines.
Thanks to John Campion, Andrew Schwab, Drac Conley, Ben Kruidbos and the Jacksonville Police Department (yes, really!).
The choice of a Campion
Irish-born entrepreneur and philanthropist John Campion has built up a remarkable car collection, inspired by a little-known rally driver
We first met John Campion at the Amelia Island Concours. If his Martini cars and rally-spec Mk1 Escort aren’t an unusual enough sight in Florida, his Irish accent and lively language certainly catch our attention.
John left school at 16, formed a company making portable generators for live events, and ended up touring as technical support with the likes of AC/DC, Motley Crüe and even Michael Jackson until his body cried ‘enough!’ and he settled in Florida to concentrate on building both business and car collection.
‘The entire business model is to turn everything into automobiles,’ he says as we spring from one iconic car to another, before he explains how it all started.
‘There was nothing in Ireland in the 1960s and ’70s – but we did have Billy Coleman. This was the start of my friggin’ madness: we went to Killarney to see the Circuit of Ireland rally; me, my father, mother, brother. I was 14 or 15.
‘We went out to the forest stages. It was really chilly, there was mist rising, real Lord of the Rings stuff. Then round the corner, sideways, in the air, comes Billy Coleman in the Chequered Flag Stratos. It was an amazing thing to see.
‘So years later I came to America, made a few dollars, bought a Lusso, a 275, a Daytona, an F40. All the cars you should own. They’re all very nice but they didn’t mean anything to me – just the big wow factor.
‘Then in 2008 I bought a Stratos. I couldn’t get an Alitalia Stratos, I couldn’t get a Markku Alén Stratos. So I got a privateer Stratos, a typical Italian job. Now bear in mind that I’d not even seen a Stratos since 1978 – I get in, prime the pumps, start it up. Wow!
‘So after buying a mental Stratos, I had to have a Delta Integrale. Then an 037. Then I had to have a Fulvia – this is a genuine Fanalone. So then I’m like, what are we missing? An S4!’
You get the idea then, that this is now a collection ruled by the heart, not the head, and there’s an Outlaw 356, a Mk1 Lotus Cortina and an Alfa Giulia and now even a Lancia LC2.
And the Escort? ‘I got a letter from Motorsport Ireland, starting Team Ireland for young drivers. It said the Irish government were paying a bit – and you’re paying the rest! So I build this Escort to show what Irish motor sport is all about, and give it Billy Coleman’s old registration, TIV 250. We did a fundraiser in New York and I flew-in Billy. Billy comes up to me and says, very quietly, “can I sit in it?” There’s a tear in his eye. “Can I start it?” “Of course you can, it was your feckin car!” Then we both start crying! It’s the curse of the Irish.’
‘The important thing in all this is that if you don’t drive them, and don’t show them, then you’re breaking Rule No1 – don’t be an asshole!’
Words: David Lillywhite // Photography: Mark Dixon