Lancia 037: How rallying’s David took on Goliath

Much was expected from the 037, but its debut season didn’t go to plan. Now it had to prove itself against Audi’s more advanced and battle-proven Quattro

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Group B rallying at its height resembled near-unrestricted warfare, with teams engineering some of the most extreme, fire-breathing four-wheelers ever seen. The aim was to gain a competitive advantage that could lead to championship domination – and that’s exactly what Audi did when it introduced the concept of all-wheel drive with the Quattro. However, there’s one car that bucked the trend and beat the Germans with what was quickly becoming inferior technology — the Lancia 037.

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Project 037 began in the 1980s, with Lancia wanting to take full advantage of the laissez-faire Group B regulations. Abarth, which was also owned by the Fiat Group, was responsible for much of the 037’s development. The aim was to marry a tubular chassis with a supercharged 2.0-litre engine in order to create the greatest power-to-weight ratio possible. A polyester-reinforced fibreglass body contributed to a kerbweight of just 980kg. Undoubtedly, 265bhp went a long way in such a light car.

One of the very few cast-iron rules Group B had was that every manufacturer had to produce 200 road-legal examples to homologate the rally car. In the case of the 037, that requirement was met by the 037 Stradale, which was effectively a de-tuned 205bhp version of the competition car.

The Lancia 037 was a force to be reckoned with right from its debut in 1982, but the highly strung Italian machine was also fragile. It claimed its first victory in the UK on the Pace Rally, but was plagued by mechanical issues throughout the season. It was a bad start for the all-new car that promised to relive past Lancia glories.

Its debut season might not have gone to plan, but Lancia knew it was onto something with the 037 and so turned up the wick for 1983. The 037 Evolution’s power was increased to 300bhp and the bodywork was made more aerodynamic to help tame the beast. Audi had claimed the title in ’82 thanks to its new all-wheel-drive layout that allowed for increased traction. It was the future of top-tier rallying. Armed with the Evo and the driving talents of Walter Röhrl, Lancia marched into battle with what many perceived to be last-generation equipment.

The battle between Audi and Lancia was intense, but the 037 Evo danced to Röhrl’s every command and dominated the first half of the season. The Quattro fought back in later events, but it wasn’t enough to catch Lancia in the standings. The Italian brand’s reputation was restored, with the 037 delivering its first title since its hat-trick of championships in the 1970s. David had beaten Goliath.

The 1984 season would mark the real beginning of the all-wheel-drive era, with many manufacturers unlocking the secrets Audi had originally discovered some years earlier. Even the 350bhp 037 Evo 2 could do little in the face of a changing world. 1985 would be the last year the Lancia works team ran the 037, before switching to the all-wheel-drive Delta S4.

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