The sporting success of the hotter Lancia Delta models means the regular model has been forgotten by many
The Lancia Delta is European Car of the Year
The HF and Integrale sporting versions of the Lancia Delta have earned such a cult following that the everyday hatchback has been virtually forgotten about, despite being good enough to be voted the European Car of the Year for 1980.
That summer, we fully evaluated the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed, front-driven family five-door in 1.5-litre form, its 85bhp petrol fourpot coming from the Fiat Ritmo.
We said: “The abiding impression given by the engine is of a delightful smoothness with an eagerness.
“The Delta is very nearly among the top in its class in steering (having ‘excellent feel’), falling short only because of too slow gearing: 3.8 turns lock to lock.
“This is offset by the car’s marked reluctance to roll much. It corners very tautly for a normal car.
“Married to the performance, the ultimate handling invites exhilarating cross-country driving.
“The ride is an unusual mixture. It copes well with low-frequency bumps, but most of the time you’re aware of a high-frequency shake.”
Gloomy forecast for UK
The future of UK car production was looking gloomy in 1980. The nation was set to make just 950,000 cars in the year – the first time the total would fail to hit a million since 1957. Only British Leyland and Ford were major contributors (they had made 500,000 and 400,000 in 1979). And this came despite global production being predicted to expand from 32m to 43m by the end of the decade.
Mazda goes European
With the new 323 hatchback, Mazda left behind the Japanese tradition of “dull” rear-driven hatchbacks for a “really interesting front-driver, fun to drive in the European manner”. Not only was the layout new; so too were the engines. Influence from the contemporary Ford Fiesta was almost a certainty, considering that the American brand had recently purchased a 25% stake in Mazda.