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  • Writer's pictureMatteo Licata

Too Fast To Race: The Awesome Lancia ECV Prototypes

Presented in 1988, the unique Lancia ECV2 prototype represents a tantalizing glimpse into what could have been the evolution of rallies if the mighty Group B cars had been allowed to continue racing. And here's its story.


Early into the 1986 season, while Lancia's fearsome Delta S4 battled with the Peugeot 205 T16 for the World Championship, work at Abarth's HQ was already well underway on the cars for the 1987 season and beyond.


The 1.8-liter inline-four engine that powered the Delta S4 is famous for using a supercharger in conjunction with a turbocharger to ensure explosive acceleration regardless of engine speed, but what Lancia had in store for the future was no less exciting.

Enter the Triflux.

The brainchild of engineer Claudio Lombardi, the so-called Triflux engine had the same block and displacement as the Delta S4's motor but used two turbochargers and a double cross-flow cylinder head design.

Contrary to a traditional cylinder head design, where there's an intake and an exhaust side, on the Triflux engine the intake and exhaust valves were placed in an alternating pattern, resulting in more uniform heat dissipation.


This called for a tall inlet plenum that split at the bottom around the spark plug to feed the two opposed intake valves plus two separate exhaust manifolds, while each of the two overhead camshafts had to be designed to actuate one intake valve and one exhaust valve for each cylinder.


It's believed the Triflux could produce up to 600 HP in race spec and was to be mounted on an innovative body structure made from Kevlar and carbon fiber, significantly stiffer than the Delta S4 yet 20% lighter.

But it was not to be.

The tragic accidents in Portugal and Corsica during the 1986 season prompted motorsport's international governing body to ban the Group B cars from the World Rally Championship by the year's end.


Lancia's now-redundant rally monster went on to wow the crowds of the Bologna Motor Show in December 1986 and the Geneva Motor Show in March of '87 under the acronym ECV, which stood for Experimental Composite Vehicle, yet didn't last much longer in its original form.


The final encore

Once its show car duty was over, the Lancia ECV prototype was dismantled to reuse its carbon fiber chassis and sophisticated running gear for a further developed model presented in 1988 as the ECV 2.

The Triflux engine gained new intercoolers and revised intake and exhaust manifolds, but the most significant change was the car's exterior design, which did away with the tall vertical air intakes on the roof pillars in favor of a wraparound transparent engine cover and a huge spoiler placed across it at half-height.

In general, the ECV 2 lost the rough-and-ready race car looks in favor of a more polished design developed in the wind tunnel, more befitting of the vehicle's new role as a technology demonstrator for the Fiat Group's know-how.

Epilogue

Although the first ECV prototype was sacrificed to make the ECV 2, Giuseppe Volta, who through his firm Volta Racing had been deeply involved in Abarth's projects during the 1970s and 80s, managed to create a faithful replica of the ECV's first iteration in 2010.

First shown at that year's Rally Legend event, it was built from a Delta S4 chassis and priceless original period parts from Abarth, including a Triflux engine, while integrating newer, improved componentry for the suspensions, electronics, and engine cooling.


While Volta's ECV recreation remains in private hands, the ECV 2 was retained and preserved in Lancia's heritage collection, currently on display in Turin at the Stellantis Heritage Hub.

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