Does This Cult Video Game Car Live Up to the Hype?
Alan Camacho works on the cars at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan in New York City.
He can drive whatever he wants from the club’s prestigious fleet: a 458 Spider Ferrari; a Lamborghini Huracan; a BMW i8; a McLaren 570S; a 1966 Ford GT40; or even a 1956 Porsche 550 Spyder, among other things.
But what excited Camacho most when he joined the car club staff—what he still wants to drive all the time—is the 1989 Lancia Delta Integrale.
“It’s the car I always loved growing up,” the twentysomething mechanic told me driving back from Brooklyn yesterday. “The torque is insane.”
It’s a discerning choice, informed just as much by the car’s four-decade legend as a world-dominant rally racer as by the very real, very modern, very potent thrust of its 16-valve engine. (It also didn’t hurt that a Lancia in one form or another has been in virtually every driving video game in the past 20 years.)
The Italian automaker Lancia designed the Delta Integrale specifically for rally cross. It evolved the model over three distinct generations—1979 to 1994; 1993 to 1999; and 2008 to 2014—but never sold the car in the U.S. The ’89 Lancias like the one Camacho likes to drive debuted at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show and then won the San Remo Rally that year. (The “Rallye Sanremo,” as it’s called in Europe, is a world-championship series competition held in Italy every year.) It was an impressive feat considering that hinted at the exceptional racing prowess for which the car would quickly gain notoriety.
Under the Hood
The ’89 Lancia Delta Integrale has a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder 215-horsepower engine that gets 232 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. It has a max speed of 137 mph and a zero-to-62-mph sprint of 5.7 seconds. (The relatively small engine’s whopping 16 valves are special because they allow it to “breathe” easier and quicker—to inhale air and exhale exhaust.) You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything of this size and weight that can match the sheer thrust of this five-speed, all-wheel-drive manual as it comes through first and second gear. In fact, I had been scheduled to drive a Datsun 240Z yesterday but went for the four-door, four-seat Lancia instead, because its four-wheel rally-cross constitution could better handle the torrential rain that obscured most of the morning.
The ’89 Lancias are definitely in the sweet spot in terms of Italian racing and handling. You could compare them to similar offerings like the Volkswagen GTI or Audi Sport Quattro. They come with plush sport seats inside and a dashboard filled with gauges, dials, and buttons that monitor and indicate the car’s most minute aspects. Their row of four perfectly round outboard lights along the grille, boxy body, and high spoiler on the hatchback rear make them instantly recognizable from afar.
Improvements the year the Delta came out included larger fuel injectors; a more responsive clutch and turbocharger (that torque, though!); a more efficient intercooler to keep everything moving; and the ability to use unleaded gas without modification. Lancia also bulged the hood to fit the larger engine and widened the wheels and tires.
Yesterday the Martini Racing Delta I drove turned the potholes, cobblestones, and endless construction zones of New York City streets into an obstacle course of the highest order. (Martini Racing has been famously associated with auto sports, especially Porsche, since 1968; its name comes from the Italian distillery Martini & Rossi, famous for its martini vermouth produced near Turin, that kitted out many Lancias.) Where other cars tiptoe delicately over the road, this one plowed through with gusto.
On the Rise
Lancia has made more than 44,000 Integrales over the course of its production, though of the 1989 16V Lancias, it’s sold just 7,967 of them, with 4,785 sold in foreign markets. They aren’t the easiest car to procure in the U.S. Other rally cars from VW, Audi, Subaru, and even Saab have gained higher prominence, and the taxes and fees required to import one here can reach prohibitive heights. (Classic Car Club bought its one directly from Lancia, which had used it as a show car for many years.)
But it’s relatively easy to locate one on another continent online. Classic Driver lists a white-with-racing stripes left-hand-drive version in Germany for a “price on request.” It lists a 1988 “HF Integrale” 8v version for $34,828—located in the Netherlands. There’s a slew listed on EBay in Europe. Other, more pristine and limited-edition versions can cost up to $165,000.
If you can find one in decent condition with modest miles, all signs point to it working as a healthy investment. Martini livery and a winning track record make it more desirable, too.
“In the past few years of the auction sales, the sell-through rate for Lancias is extremely high,” said Jonathan Klinger, the spokesman for Hagerty and a leading classics expert in his own right. “That suggests that they are still going up in demand and value—they haven’t hit their peak.”
At Hagerty, which insures and tracks the investment and collector car market, the number of Lancia vehicles quoted is up 300 percent in the last three years. The world record for one sold at auction was set in May at the RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba Sale, where a 1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale took $554,400.
The majority of interest, Klinger said, comes from the younger generations: 64 percent of the quotes requested for Lancias come from people who belong to Generation X; 19 percent come from millennials.
It’s in keeping with the broader trend auction experts have observed for years. So-called modern classic cars from the 1980s and ’90s are becoming increasingly popular, especially ’80s-era Ferrari 308/328s, Lamborghini Countaches and Diablos, and Ford GTs. The most popular 1980s-specific models, according to Hagerty data, are the Ford Mustang, Porsche Carrera Turbo and 930 Turbo, the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa, and the Chevrolet Corvette.
Lancia’s Delta isn’t on that list, yet. But if Camacho and a generation of car-obsessed drivers and video gamers have their way, it very well could be.