Meet your heroes

There has long been a hashtag in the automotive world that is #makelanciagreatagain. It appears with startling regularity and is usually accompanied by pictures of their great rallying past. Rally cars have always given us the worlds best drivers and their machines have typically been poster cars for a generation. Walter Rohl with his Audi Quattro through to Colin MacRae and his Subaru Impreza.

But the saying that is “never meet your heroes” can also apply with the passage of time. This Lancia Delta Integrale HF though, has matured. I wasn’t too sure how one of these great cars might have aged but having been given the keys by a very trusting owner to his Integrale, I could at least try and find out what made them special.

The morning started in ominous fashion. The sky was a sunken bank of cloud and the drizzle was that particularly wet kind that seems so innocuous until you realise you should have worn a wetsuit. Still, the owners smile is contagious and looking up from his phone he declared the weather would pass.

The car had just been cleaned at a detailers so we headed over the road to get some shots of it being driven before I would then head back to the owners house and be given the keys for a countryside drive. It would turn out to be a day that I’m unlikely to forget.

This homologation special was not only a great road car, the rally car was phenomenal. In the WRC competition, it won 46 times, clinched six constructors championships and four driver championships, two each for Mark Biasion and Juha Kankkunen. It is clearly a drivers car.

With the keys now in my hand, the first thing I need to do is remind myself; this has no power steering. With so many cars having powered steering these days, it took a few moments before my muscle memory returned and I remembered that to lighten the steering you need these wheels to move. Sawing away at a stationary steering wheel is not only going to wear you out, but also risks damaging the tyres. Embarrassingly, at this point, I’m at the end of the owners driveway. Luckily, it is a long driveway and I’m out of view. As I head out towards the dual-carriageway and the countryside beyond, the rain has stopped and there is dappled sunlight in the direction I’m headed.

In a couple of miles, I’m getting all the feedback that you miss from cars that don’t have this perfectly balanced chassis. The steering feel is immediate and just so talkative compared to a modern car. The steering wheel is exactly that; for steering. It isn’t also an interactive interface for the modern paraphernalia of phones, entertainment system and volume control. There is a stereo system but why put that on when you have the delightful soundtrack whoosh of that turbocharger.

This is a very charismatic car. It has those aggressive wheel arches and a four wheel drive system that isn’t going to rip your face off but it is certainly giving you enough speed and agility to keep up with more modern motors. But it is that steering, the feel, the drivability of this car that is just so impressive. How can a car that is over 30 years old deliver something so fresh and exciting?

This car is just so right. So, so very right.

I’ve now left the dual carriageway and the A-roads sweeping me in towards the Cotswolds are bathed in sunshine. White puffy clouds have replaced the grey drizzle of the morning and the drive is just getting better and better. This particular car has been rather well looked after and the interior still has some original plastic covering on it. The exterior has some minor sun blemishes from a previous owner but the car has a healthy mileage on it and for the next few hours, I’ve been instructed to put some more on it too.

I’ve got a circular route planned to drive around before I head back to the city of Coventry for some night shots if time permits.

The dips and bends around the Cotswolds allow you to really learn how to lean on this car. It has less turbo lag than others of the age and that twin-cam engine isn’t a booming soundtrack so overall, it is impressive. The driving position is a little quirky but as I’m not that tall and a weird shape, it seemed fine to me. Heading down the A-roads and flitting across some B-roads, it gives you a lot of confidence in a relatively short time.

While there are a few variations of Integrale available, you cannot seemingly go wrong with them. That heritage, that racing history, you can feel it. Those dials in the binnacle tell you all you need to know. Yes, there are a few angles that belie that it was a 1970s design but then again, so am I! I didn’t want the driving to stop. But it had to. I needed to not only take some pictures but I also needed to return it unscathed in case I ran out of talent.

Retuning the car that day was a wrench. This little car has a pedigree of simple driving pleasure that is so often missing from a modern car. Yes, you can go faster, quicker, have more modern conveniences, but to finish your drive, no matter how long or short and want to go again? And again?

I’m not sure that we need to #makelanciagreatagain. But we do definitely need to #makegreatdrivingcarsforever.

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