Wednesday December 18, 2019
The 1979 Frankfurt Motor Show saw the launch of a crucial new Lancia. It was the belated heir to the Fulvia and an upmarket compact town car to complement the Beta and the Gamma.
The Delta was declared Car of The Year 1980, but 40 years ago, there were considerable mutterings about the Delta’s relationship with the 1978 Ritmo/Strada; Fiat acquired Lancia in 1969.
The advertisements claimed it was car ‘in the tradition of our Aprilia, Appia and Fulvia’ but Motor Sport grumbled that despite the Delta being a ‘ nice little car’ it was ‘no more entitled, in my opinion, to carry the Lancia-of-Turin insignia than is a Beta’ Yet, the relationship between the Ritmo and Project V5 was not entirely straightforward.
The two cars did share floorplans, but the 1.3 and 1.5-litre engines benefitted from new intake manifolds and modified ignition, exhaust system and carburettors.
As Graham Robson points out in his book Lancia Delta 4X4/Integrale the Delta also ‘had an entirely different strut-type rear suspension and a totally disparate pressed steel superstructure’.
Equally importantly, the Lancia featured styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design studio. The Delta’s appearance was a complete triumph – understated yet purposeful and well-proportioned without being overly heavy – was a major selling point as was an interior with the ambience of a modern office.
Saab devised the heating system and corrosion proofing (the two firms had been collaborating since 1976) and in Sweden, Norway and Finland the Delta was sold as the “SAAB-Lancia 600”.
The range consisted of the 1300 4-speed, the 1300 5-speed and the 1500 5-speed and in Italy, the Delta targeted Alfasud owners.
As this was also the first Lancia since the “Rust Scandal” UK buyers were offered a six-year anti-corrosion warranty - and, if they placed an order before October 1980, a two year or 20,000 miles "Delta Deal" free servicing.
Only the 1500 5-speed was initially sold in the UK and the television advertisements make a naked appeal to the ambitious and the dedicated social climber- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAzR9vF6Jqc
£4,995 was no small sum in 1980. However, the 1500, although nearly £500 more expensive than the VW Golf 1.3 GLS, was still competitively priced as compared with the Talbot Horizon GLS and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6. It was also very well appointed – alloy wheels, tinted glass, rake adjustable steering and that distinctive check velour upholstery.
Autocar thought the Delta ‘a remarkably pleasing car in so many important respects, which endear it to any discriminating drive and Motor suggested that anyone: tempted to label it an upmarket Fiat Strada should think again, for while certain aspects of its performance do betray its humble origins (engine characteristics/gearchange) its character belongs more to the traditional Lancia stable with fine handling, a good ride, impressive refinement, plush trim and excellent finish.
The scribe also noted that the Delta required a comparison with the Opel Kadett D, the car that took second place in the 1980 COTY contest for a true measure of its abilities.
Meanwhile, Car evaluated the Lancia opposite the Horizon 1.5SX and the slightly odd choice of Volvo 345DL and considered that it was ‘a good car but not a great one’ with ‘an appealing character of its own, which counts for quite a lot’.
Lancia facelifted the Delta in 1982, and the new 1600GT variant anticipated the HF, the HF Turbo, the HF 4WD and, of course, the Integrale. Production of the original generation ceased in 1999 and although the high-performance versions naturally take the limelight, it is important to remember those first models. As the sales copy put it ‘the Lancia legend lives on’.