Lancia Rally 037 - the last rear-wheel drive world champion
Lancia is one of the most successful manufacturers in the history of World Rally Championship and rallying in general. Unfortunately for all Lancia lovers, the story of Lancia is just a story about times that have passed a long time ago, because Lancia isn’t a part of WRC for more than twenty years. We have already written about Lancia Stratos and Lancia Delta HF Integrale; this story is about one more legendary Italian car – the Lancia Rally 037.
One of the mythical Group B models
As the successor of the Lancia Stratos and the Fiat 131 Abarth, which brought six world titles to the Italian manufacturer (Stratos – 1974, 1975 and 1976; Fiat 131 – 1977, 1978 and 1980), Lancia Rally 037 was one of the mythical Group B models, together with Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16, Renault 5 Turbo and others.
The biggest and the most important difference between Lancia Rally 037 and its rival cars was that this Lancia used rear-wheel configuration. Although it was a handicap in comparison with other 4WD cars, Lancia Rally 037 was the most successful car in the 1983 WRC season and Lancia Martini Racing team won the championship. In the drivers’ standings, Lancia’s Walter Röhrl and Markku Alen were second and third respectively, behind Audi’s Hannu Mikkola.
Turbo engine and four-wheel-drive were rejected
Project 037 started in 1980 when the new Group B regulations were introduced. The final product was the result of Lancia, Abarth and Pininfarina’s close cooperation and was finalized with a premiere at the Turin International Motorshow in May 1982.
The decisions that resulted in the 037 outcome were not easy. The final objective was to replace the very successful Fiat 131 Abarth. Inside the Fiat Group, there were people who wanted to maintain the image of the Fiat 131 as a rally car coming from the great production series. At the same time, there were others who wanted to build a real race car, made specially for racing as was the case with the glorious Lancia Stratos.
The new Group B rules required a road car to be produced in 200 samples with technical-stylistic characteristics very close to the race version. The project leader and development engineer Sergio Limone rejected the solution with a turbo engine, because Lancia was not able to make that kind of engine in such short time. Also, the suggestion to make it four wheel-drive was refused, because Limone didn’t want to test the complicated technical solutions and risk failure.
Pininfarina was responsible for its design
With regards to the car, because of time reasons, it was decided to use the frame cell chassis of an already existing model. Three cars were taken into consideration: Fiat Ritmo, Lancia Delta and Lancia Beta Montecarlo. Ritmo was immediately discarded because Lancia had a better image. Delta was discarded because it was very similar to the Ritmo; eventually all attention was concentrated on the Beta Montecarlo.
Limone was a great supporter of the little sportscar. He thought that it could be a correct point of departure, thanks to the best mechanical solutions and to the frame cell stiffness. After many studies, on July 1980 the sketches of the project named “SE037” were realized and only six months later, during December 1980, the first working prototype was already racing along the runway of the ex-airfield in Corso Marche in Turin.
The job to study the 037 design was given to the famous company Pininfarina. The first prototype was still a rough draft of the Montecarlo and was rejected by Leonardo Fioravanti, who was responsible for design. After that, Pininfarina technicians got new ideas and the final result was really excellent. They made a sporty and aggressive looking car with large and aerodynamic spoilers, a swelling bonnet, widened track and mid-mounted engine. All these were perfect elements for an aggressive car with a strong personality andbecause of that the LanciaRally 037 is still today one of the most beautiful and the most recognizable sporting cars in the world.
Numbers for success: 265 hp on 980 kg
In keeping up with the design, the Abarth technicians worked on the chassis and engine project. They tried to shorten the project time so they avoided great innovations and concentrated the efforts using elements already known and experimented in the preceding years. The adopted solution, although simple from a mechanical point of view, proved to be optimal indeed.
Concerning the engine, the Abarth technicians didn’t leave anything to chance. The classical Fiat 4-cylinder engine with 1995ccm had four valves for each cylinder. These technical solutions had already been adopted previously with good success. The four-valve head had already been tested on the victorious Fiat 131 Abarth. The engine power was increased by the Volumex volumetric compressor. Initially, 037’s power was quoted at 265 hp but later, it was increased up to 300 hp with the introduction of the Evolution 1.
In that period, the car companies had contrary opinions about the use of forced induction in rallies. Even inside Abarth, there were opposite opinions and doubts, but in the end a decision was made to have a car without a turbo. To get a good engine-chassis-performance combination, other aspects were taken into consideration. Dry oil sump, ZF gearbox, self-ventilated brake discs and adjustable suspension are just some of the details present on the 037. The weight of the car was just 980 kg. The final step was the production at the Borgo San Paolo assembly line. Each sample of 222 cars from the first series was mounted by hand, then set out for the painting and finally re-assembled.
Lancia Rally 037 debuted at 1982 Tour de Corse
The rallying debut of the Lancia Rally 037 was at Costa Smeralda Rally (European Rally Championship) on April 1st 1982. Both Markku Alen and Attilio Bettega retired. Its WRC debut was on Tour de Corse in May, where Bettega had an accident and Alen finished 9th. The 1982 WRC season was plagued with retirements for the 037, but the car did manage to achieve several wins at minor national rallies.
The 1983 WRC season was the most successful for 037. The beginning was fierce with 1-2 victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo. The winner of the rally was the new member of Lancia Martini Racing team, 1982 World champion Walter Röhrl and the second was Markku Alen. Three more 1-2 victories were achieved that year (Tour de Corse, Acropolis Rally and Rally Sanremo). With a total of five victories (3 for Röhrl, 2 for Alen) Lancia Martini Racing won the world championship title. Lancia’s drivers missed the final two rounds of the championship and lost the battle for the drivers’ title – the new champion was Audi’s Hannu Mikkola.
In 1984, Evolution 2 was introduced
In 1984,Walter Röhrl moved to Audi, Lancia Martini kept Markku Alen as their primary driver and also featured Miki Biasion and Attilio Bettega. Lancia boss Cesare Fiorio had also signed Henri Toivonen for three rallies. Lancia introduced the Evolution 2 version of the 037 with bigger and stronger engine (2111 ccm, 325hp), but this was not enough to fight the 4WD competition.
During 1984 Stig Blomqvist and Hannu Mikkola dominated the season in the Audi Quattro A2. The championship finished with Blomqvist as the driver’s champion and Audi as the best manufacturer. Lancia was second, with just one victory for 037 at Tour de Corse. Markku Alen achieved his sixth and last WRC win for 037, ahead of the second-placed Miki Biasion.
The 1985 WRC season was dissapointing and tragic. The rear-wheel drive of the Lancia Rally 037 was beaten by Audi Quattro and the new Peugeot 205 T16. Peugeot took the manufacturer’s title and their driver Timo Salonen was the drivers’ champion.
Attilio Bettega was killed in a crash with Lancia Rally 037
Tour de Corse, the rally on which Lancia was victorious over the two previous years, was the venue of fatal accident of Attilio Bettega. He crashed his 037 into a tree and was killed instantly. His co-driver Maurizio Perissinot survived the crash uninjured. The crash raised questions about the safety aspects of Group B cars. Ironically, exactly one year later at the same event Henri Toivonen suffered a similar fatal accident in Lancia Delta S4, forcing FIA to ban Group B.
Lancia Delta S4 debuted in WRC at the last round of 1985 season and replaced the 037 in 1986 season. The last WRC event for Lancia Rally 037 was Safari Rally in March 1986. Markku Alen was third and got the final WRC podium for this legendary car.
Lancia Rally 037, as is the case with the other Lancia rally cars, is the guest of honor on many historic rallies and show events so the fans can enjoy looking and hearing one of the living legends of the forbidden Group B.
Video: Tribute to Lancia Rally 037