The Golden Age Of Rally
"The Golden Age Of Rally" is the title of a temporary exhibition hosted by Turin's National Automobile Museum between October 2022 and May 2023. And it's really something special.
It all started with a Fiat X1/9, albeit a rather unique one.
That's because it was the fortuitous discovery and subsequent restoration of the X1/9 Group 4 prototype he raced with Clay Regazzoni in the 1974 Giro D'Italia that spurred Gino Macaluso (European Rally Champion in 1972 with Raffaele Pinto and the Fiat 124 Abarth, later a successful entrepreneur in the horology sector) to build over the years an outstanding collection including the most important rally cars of all time.
Following his death in 2010, his family took care of the collection and, in 2018, established in his memory the "Fondazione Gino Macaluso Per L'Auto Storica" to spread the culture of vintage racing and sports cars and pay tribute to those who gave their contribution to motorsport.
All but one of the cars in the exhibition belong to the Foundation and are genuine racers painstakingly restored to their "works" specification. The display is a passionate, loving tribute to three decades of rallying history starting from the mid-60s, when the discipline saw its popularity spike following the Mini Cooper's successes, up until the early 1990s and the end of Lancia's involvement in the sport.
And it's indeed a Mini Cooper, the car that greets us at the start of the exhibition, but not any old Mini. This example is the one famously driven to victory by Timo Makinen in the 1967 1000 Lakes Rally with its bonnet wide open following the failure of the catches due to the frequent jumps typical of the Finnish race.
Although the Lotus Cortina is usually associated with touring car racing, this example proved a good enough rally car to finish in fourth place behind the Mini Coopers at the 1966 Monte Carlo, only to suffer the same fate: disqualification for using iodine single-filament bulbs in the headlights.
Then there's the quintessential "Fast Ford," the all-time rally icon and fan favorite, the Escort RS 1600 Cosworth with its trademark bulging wheel arches and BDA twin-cam engine. No collection of rally cars could be considered complete without one.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there's a Porsche 911 S driven by Bjorn Waldegard in 1971, which shows the sheer diversity in the kinds of cars that were competing for rally supremacy at the beginning of the Seventies.
Given Lancia's record of eleven world manufacturers' titles, it shouldn't be surprising that the Turinese brand features quite heavily in this exhibition, starting from the Fulvia HF 1600 that took part in the 1970 Safari Rally. The grueling African marathon required a unique car set-up, which included a prominent tubular bull-bar able to withstand accidental impacts with large wild animals.
Right beside it, a lovely Fiat 124 Spider is sporting the classic 1960s "rally look," with a matte black bonnet to reduce reflections on the windscreen, big supplementary lights, and plastic wheel arch extensions. Yet, despite these elements, the elegance of its Pininfarina lines still manages to shine through.
The World Rally Championship for manufacturers, as we know it today, was first established in 1973. The car that won it was the legendary "Berlinette," the Alpine Renault A110S that, thanks to its agility and favorable power-to-weight ratio, set a new standard for the discipline and led Lancia to realize it needed to up its game.
What Lancia came up with was the Stratos, the first car purposely designed for rally domination and a real turning point in the evolution of the sport. Interestingly, the Stratos on display started life as a Turbo Gr.5 for the 1976 Giro D'Italia and only later became a rally car, driven by Raffaele Pinto in the 1977 Montecarlo and Sanremo rallies. The Stratos won Lancia three consecutive world titles and could have won even more hadn't it been sidelined in favor of the Fiat 131 Abarth for commercial reasons.
It is a testament to Abarth's engineering prowess that the humble 131 became a force to be reckoned with in rallying, winning three world championships for Fiat despite its rather pedestrian family car roots.
The example on display wears the iconic Alitalia livery the 131 inherited from the Stratos in 1978, and raced mainly in the British rally championship, driven by Markku Alén and Maurizio Verini.
Due to its prestige and glamour, victory at Monte Carlo has often been considered to be worth as much as an entire season. What you see here is the actual Renault 5 Turbo that Jean Ragnotti drove to victory in 1981, the first time a turbocharged car won in the Principality. Fresh from a painstaking restoration, it sure looks ready to do it all over again.
Lancia's against-the-odds triumph versus Audi in the 1983 championship is undoubtedly one of motorsports history's most extraordinary tales. It's here represented by a gorgeous Lancia 037 Evo 2 driven by the late Attilio Bettega, who sadly died at the wheel of a similar car at the 1985 Tour De Corse, pitted against the Audi Quattro that won the 1982 Sanremo rally with Stig Blomqvist at the wheel. By introducing permanent four-wheel-drive, Audi changed the face of rallying forever, and Lancia's 1983 title remains the last ever won by a two-wheel-drive car to date.
1982 was the first year of the infamous "Group B" regulations which, by requiring a mere 200 road cars to be built for homologation, opened the door for cars much more sophisticated and extreme than ever before.
If the Lancia 037 looked almost pretty while it danced on the rally stage, its successor, the mighty Delta S4, looks every bit as deadly as it would sadly prove to be. Even standing still in the museum, it commands respect and makes its period nemesis, the Peugeot 205 T16 that narrowly beat it in the 1986 championship, look almost tame by comparison.
But that's far from the case, of course. The 205 T16 on display is an Evo 2 model, and it's the only vehicle in the exhibition that doesn't belong to the Macaluso collection: it comes straight from Peugeot's museum in Sochaux, and I admit it's the first time I see one up close.
Following a string of deadly accidents, the FIA banned the Group B monsters from the 1987 season, which marked the beginning of Group A and the legend of the Lancia Delta Integrale. As it's right and proper, there are two examples on display, of which my favorite is the Delta Evoluzione from the 1992 Safari because of its stunning originality. Apart from a few bodywork repairs following a racing accident, its livery and fittings remain just as they were when it crossed the finish line in Nairobi thirty years ago.
The other Delta Integrale on display is no less of a treat, though, as it's the 16v driven to victory by Didier Auriol in the 1990 Sanremo rally. It's parked right next to its nemesis, Carlos Sainz Sr.'s Toyota Celica GT-Four. Toyota proved a formidable adversary for Lancia, who lost the drivers' championship battle that year but managed to retain the all-important manufacturers' crown precisely thanks to Auriol's victory at Sanremo.
Turin's National Automobile Museum has hosted some excellent temporary exhibitions over the last few years. Still, I would say "The Golden Age Of Rally" stands head and shoulders above all previous efforts. The care that went into each vehicle's presentation, from the graphics to the lighting, clearly shows the first-hand involvement of the Macaluso family, their genuine love for the cars and what they represent.