It was a different time. Racing was still relatively dangerous, sex was still relatively safe. However, within a decade this arrangement was soon to be flipped around. Group B was famous for rally drivers pushing their reflexes to the limit, in cars that could accelerate and corner faster than their brains could comprehend. FISA, the leading motorsport authority of the time, made sure all the world’s best manufacturers threw whatever they could, financially and technologically, at these fire breathing monsters, with little regard for drivers’, navigators’, spectators’ and officials’ safety. The Fiat motor group was at the forefront of the Group B movement, and this is the story of one of their cars: The Lancia 037.
Built as a replacement to the Group 4 Lancia Stratos, the 037 was designed to run in the newly formed Group B class of rally. The Fiat motor group had a healthy rally history, as well as the Stratos there was the Fiat 131 Abarth rallycars winning rally after rally. Lancia itself has had a long factory supported motorsport history, beginning with Cesare Fiorio producing the Fulvia HF in the mid-60s, to the Lancia Stratos, and now the Lancia 037. For Group 4 homologation five hundred Lancia Stratos cars had to be produced, giving Lancia the experience in limited run homologation specials, by the time the Group B rules came about. In 1980, FISA was in the process of bringing in a new set of class rules for its motorsport categories. The newly devised Group A, B and C regulations were slow to be published, leaving manufacturers unsure as to a direction in which to head. The two main issues which the manufacturers needed confirmed were the exact numbers required for homologation, and whether evolutions of the cars would be allowed. The lack of a final figure for production, mixed with the lack of surety of the possibility of evolution models, made manufacturers a bit wary of starting on building cars that might not even fit in with the guidelines FISA would come out with. Sergio Limone, outgoing Abarth Technical director of the time, had an idea of what his team’s rally car should look like and forwarded his ideas onto his replacement, Pier Paolo Messori.
Limone envisioned a Lancia Monte Carlo based car, using parts from the Abarth lineup, including a good number of parts from the hugely successful 131 Abarth rally cars. Interestingly, induction was to be supercharged, going against the grain in the Abarth workshop, as they nearly wholly dealt with turbocharging. Two of the factors in favour of supercharging were reliability, and to not have to worry about ‘turbo lag’. Another plus was that Abarth could build superchargers in their own workshop, whereas the turbocharger units were sourced from Ferrari. Supercharged Abarth engines were tested in a number of motorsport disciplines, and their viability was proven in the field. The initial aesthetic design was for a Monte Carlo based car, with large front wing and additional rear part, the initial mockup being produced by CBC of Turin. It was given the go-ahead, and chassis number 001 heading Dallara, with their work already been proven in the successful Monte Carlo Turbo racers. It was soon after this when FISA broke cover with the fully published Group A, B and C regulations. One of the points stipulated was that Group B cars were not to run in the WRC series, making the 037 obsolete, before it had even really begun.
Cesare Fiorio, who had initially started Lancia’s rally team, blasted FISA for changing the regulations to the opposite of what they had put forward six months earlier, that Group B cars would be able to run in WRC. Cesare pointed out that any manufacturer who had put money and time into building a Group B car would now be at a loss as to where they would be able to compete in it. Luckily for the Abarth team, FISA changed its mind in December 1981, to reverse their decision and allow Group B cars to run in the WRC. Chassis 001 was still under test at this time, its Rootes style supercharger giving trouble, so the engine was running in naturally aspirated form. The 1995cc engine block used in this car, and the first set of 037 cars sold, is the two litre mainstay of the Fiat group, the head being the same specification as a 131 Abarth. The big end bolts are 11mm, uprated from the 10mm factory specification. Lubrication is of a dry sump type, allowing for lower positioning of the engine in the frame, and better oil feed to suit rally conditions. With fuel injection systems still too far advanced, and time expensive to fit, the decision was made to run the first cars using a twin choke Weber. This would also help in the process to get the road cars registered, as the Weber allowed the car to pass the emissions regulations of the time.
Ignition was provided by a production Marelli unit in the road cars, the race cars getting a special ECU, to go with a proper distributor. To overcome the handling issues experienced in the 131 Abarth rally cars, a few engineering touches were made. Double wishbones were fitted all round, this would allow for flexibility in the setup of the car, depending upon the conditions faced in competition. Twin shocks on the rear axle made for longevity of service, reducing overheating issues by halving the workload each shock had to do. Front suspension is conventional independent wishbone style, the single shock a coiled Bilstein. Braking is taken care of by Brembo, two piston calipers both front and rear, boosted by a hydrovac unit. The 16” rims wrapped in Pirelli P7 tyres. All Lancia 037 cars were rear wheel drive, the first round of cars getting the ZF 5DS25/1, a transmission famous for its strength. This gearbox is used in supercars such as the Maserati Bora, and is still sought after today for use in different types of MR kit cars. The initial plan to use the Monte Carlo body was kept, however the car was sent to Pininfarina to test in their wind tunnel. Pininfarina’s engineers decided the car needed a different design to better it’s aerodynamics. The Monte Carlo cockpit section was kept, albeit flanked front and rear by subframes, these comprising of the suspension, radiator and cooler mounts. The Uberti produced fibreglass body is built for utility, with two large parts for easy access in rally service sessions. Snorkels mounted on the rear section, are adjustable to two positions, depending on the conditions faced. Our feature car comes from that first batch of 200 road going cars produced to meet homologation purposes.
This Stradale model car was delivered to the UK, the initial deal to buy the car falling through, and the car was moved onto motorshow display duties. At the Ulster motor show, two of the people glancing upon the 037 liked it enough to buy it on the spot. Two brothers who dabbled in motorsport, Ronnie and Dessie Mccartney, snapped up the Stradale and took it straight to Martin Birney’s workshop. Here it was given a right hand drive conversion, doing so has made it the only RHD Stradale in the 037’s history. In 1983 the car was given it’s baptism of fire, the McCartney brothers entering it in the international Circuit of Ireland rally. Being so new, the car had to have i’s 1000 mile service during the rally. Preparations seem to be hasty, the car still being worked on at 8am on the morning of the start of the rally, the rolling stock a set of borrowed Lancia Stratos wheels.
Although only packing the Stradale’s factory 210bhp, versus 310bhp of the full competition 037 driven by Pentti Airikala, the car still made an impact, albeit not in the sense of a podium place. After the race, Dessie McCartney was quoted as saying, “Although it was not as quick in a straight line, it was a hit with the fans. We’re actually trying to get some bits and pieces together, to put another engine into the car.” Their plan to put another engine into the car never happened, and the car found its way into the hands of John Gray, a renowned hillclimb racer. After using the car as his everyday transport, the car was given a freshen up. Performance was improved by fitting different camshafts, and the cylinder head being replaced with a more competition based design, along the lines of an Evo 2 engine configuration. On top of this, a smaller pulley was fitted to the supercharger, to increase the boost in the induction system. This translated to a healthy 300 horsepower at the wheels, up 90 from the factory setup. Motor Magazine took John Gray’s 037 out for a test drive, remarking that, “the 0-60 time is down to 6.7 seconds, and that was sideways most of the time … but it was always comfortable and stable’”. The reviewer took quite a shine to the car, going so far as to say, ‘”The sort of car whose squat presence urges you to pick your day, plan a route and get on with it … it’s road car description is not really meant to be taken seriously. Road legal rally car would be more to the point, and occupants should adjust their outlook accordingly”. Using the car in one of his favourite motorsport disciplines, John took the trophy at the 1984 Scottish Hillclimb championship.
This achievement was made even more notable, as the field he was up against in the Rally car class was full of quite competitively strong cars, which he beat easily. After Mr Gray the car found itself under the owner ship of Ludovic Lindsay. By now it had acquired it’s Martini livery, the front and rear clips being changed over to the Evo 2 type. Ludovic put the power at 300 to 350 horsepower, which made the car a hot Stradale spec. Stopping power had also been upgraded at this point, with Lancia Delta S4 spec brakes fitted to the car. To allow for more driveability on the road, the factory tarmac springs were swapped out for those to allow for a more kerb friendly ride height. In 1989 the car was advertised for sale, from there it made its way to France where a serious collector placed it amongst some other heavy Group B artillery. Eventually, the car was brought to Australia by the current owners. Almost immediately, it was put to good use, entering in Speed on Tweed, the Bega Rally, and the Alpine Rally in Victoria. However, tragedy struck at the Alpine rally, a blocked oil feed line starving the bearings in the supercharger, causing them to fail during the rally. This was seen as a good chance to strip down and rebuild the engine. Using the correct componentry, and working the engine, meant the motor sported Evolution 2 specifications. The addition of a Evo 2 supercharger, and Evo 2 spec manifold assured the powerplant’s reliability at 300+bhp. Right now, the car is ready for competition again; it has not turned a wheel in anger yet, but the owners are eager to get it back out there and competing.
An amazing car, with an amazing history. Well-travelled, this car has not been hidden away, it has been used as a rally car, every day driver, hillclimb racer, and has spent a good part of its existence registered for use on the road. Its existence today is a testament to the ability of the manufacturers of the era to make sure their homologation models were of a high quality, and not just thrown together to appease the regulation makers. The team at Lancia, the team at Abarth, all need to be commended on their work on these magnificent machines. From here this 037 is ready and raring to go again, keep an eye out because it may be coming to your area, and a piece of art like this needs to be shared.
This article was published in Race Magazine’s May-July 2013 edition.
With thanks to the owner of the car, the owner of the storage space and my new friend Paolo for his artistic photographic direction.