When you test drive a car, most of the time you never experience luxury features like windscreen washers and wipers. Most of the time you drive on clean tarmac roads with a bright sunlight. How many of you have tested such features on collector’s car? We could argue that wipers could be the most original and well-preserved part of a car. I consider ourselves privileged, having experienced the thrill of the Delta S4 wipers after some speed runs on dirty and wet roads! When was the last time you saw a rare Delta S4 Stradale behaving like its Group B counterpart? Before this Escape, I never saw one driven on narrow mountain roads with some dirt on the precious bodywork. The dreams are made of the same matter as a dirty Delta S4: drive one properly and you’ll understand.
The full Group B spec S4 is not for common mortals: if you think faster than this car accelerates you might have a strong credential to attempt to competing in it, without having the chance to embarrass yourself. If you have average thinking speeds, just do not worry: there’s always a Stradale you can drive, if you’re lucky enough to get your butt on one of the 35 left in the World. We’re that kind of lucky.
The S4 Stradale is a car that is a myth rather than another “collector’s” car. If you want to have a taste of a real competition Lancia, you should drive one. It’s nothing you’ll ever experience and it will sure make you forget about the “Ferrari-frenzy” of these years. I’d take one over any Prancing Horse any time, no questions asked. Lancia is important: everyone should know its history.
The S4 is a time capsule and it is a very personal journey inside the minds of men the Squadra Corse Lancia. I wasn’t born to see Lancia dominating yet driving such a car you feel to have lived that era. It’s a thing of exceptional beauty. Making a proper escape through the Dolomites with it on a sunny morning is dreamlike. We came to the point we had to stop pinching ourselves pretending to wake up because we were seriously hurting ourselves. It was pure joy and happiness.
The engine is what made the S4 an outstanding performer. It is a fantastic road engine, smooth and very consistent in the power delivery yet it can produce serious amounts of horsepower with little tweaking. Its unique forced induction system designed by Eng. Lombardi is one of the most interesting and effective power plants ever to be produced in the history of the Automobile as we know it. It pulls strongly from as low as 1000 rpm and the transition between the volumex and the turbocharger is seamless and it provides the distinctly smooth power delivery: in fewer words “torque and then the Power”. The transition happens at 4000 rpm: you can also tell this from the outside as the sound changes from the distinct noise of the supercharger to the pronounced growl of the 1,750 cc l-4.
The gearing allows you to be cruising down the road at 3000 rpm, which puts the car always 1000 rpm below the “turbo-zone”. This means you always have the car ready to unleash its full potential and you hardly need to shift down one gear when overtaking on long stretchy roads. Low end power means that in tight corners, you just floor the pedal in third and the car goes. What a masterpiece! The engine noise still retains the same high pitched sound of the 037, yet it is dominated by the volumex whine at low rpm. The exhaust note radically changes when the car hits the turbo it becomes one of the angriest and most energizing l-4 sounds you’ll ever hear. It revs up to 8.000 rpm and you feel like competing on the Tour the Corse. When driving, this car wraps around you and transports you to another dimension.
Before going on to describe other features of the car and the adventure we had with it, allow me to describe in non-engineering terms how the S4 engine works. The idea is simple: a volumex compressor that “helps” the engine reach the turbo rpm threshold, at 4,000 rpm. How this system works and how the car manages to change the fluxes of air and fuel to the combustion chambers is truly fascinating.
At low rpm, the air is sucked from the air filter by the turbocharger, then it is cooled in the first intercooler, then it proceeds to the volumex compressor, which is connected to the engine via the timing belt. Then it goes into a second intercooler to be finally abducted into the engine. At this stage the forced induction comes exclusively by the supercharger as the turbo puts out very low pressure.
As the car accelerates to medium rpms, both the volumex and the turbo work together to feed the engine. When high rpms are reached a valve bypasses the supercharger in order to allow only the turbo to boost the power and torque up to the redline.
When the throttle is released and the engine slows down, a bypass valve passes the fresh air into the induction system in order to avoid the turbocharger losing any rpms. When the S4 was in race trim, it emitted a signature “lament-like” sound that made the car instantly recognizable from distance.
The 1,750cc all aluminum engine produces up to 250 hp in the Stradale and nearly 500 hp in Group B specification, according to the boost setting. The engine is equipped with Magneti Marelli electronic fuel injection and it will wipe away any Quattro in the range of kms.
The permanent four-wheel drive of the Stradale gives the car a slight understeer in the middle of the corners, yet the handling is remarkably neutral, with a perfect weight distribution front to rear. The steering is precise yet it requires more turns than expected. The ride is well damped, not too harsh and the weight transfer is seamless with minimum roll and yaw and it is very accurate in quick direction changes. Experienced drivers will find in the S one of the most amazing and precise handling cars ever made, combining constant power delivery with a stunning neutrality. It’s a driving machine and it is not meant to be admired inside heated garages.
The transmission is precise in and very pleasing to use. The dogleg gearbox allows for fast shifting with classic “click-click” sound. The throttle pedal is quite heavy and it takes some time to get used to, same to the clutch which is moderately light and it takes the whole travel of the pedal to fully release the disks. As you might guess, starting the car is a bit tricky.
The interior is typical Lancia, very well-built and less spartan than the 037. It is surprisingly elegant with the wonderful tan-colored Alcantara interior, air conditioning, heater and enough leg room for taller individuals. It’s the quality you should expect from a proper Lancia.
The Delta S4 finds itself at ease on both fast, two lane roads and narrow mountain passes. The gearing is not too short and allows for pleasant touring. After all, it is a road car and it is a very real-wordly full spec performance machine. I could hardly believe this was only built to allow Lancia go racing.
Our Escape with this remarkable car begun in the hills of Garda lake. Taking advantage of lunchtime we eased out on the wonderful roads on the Lake Garda and we headed north, into the closest mountains
We drove the S4 through the thick fog of Lago d’Idro up towards the Adamello Brenta Park. We just went higher to fight the fog: astonishingly we found warm temperatures, a clean sky and some awesome gravel roads. Of course we didn’t try to go fast on it: we sure didn’t want to risk too much with such a valuable car. Yet the fun was guaranteed.
We sure will tell our grandchildren that we had driven one of the most epic Lancias on the surface for which it was designed and on super fun mountain roads.
In the end, how does the S4 make you feel? My answer would be “on top of the world”! The level of involvement in so intense that everything you have driven is just another boring machine. It makes you feel alive and the sound is so intoxicating that you’ll want to become your week-end canyon carver.
It’s one of the best cars Escape on Wheels has driven in 2015 and we won’t forget easily our time in the driver seat of this mighty machine.