Some cars stir the soul, leaving their owner weak in the knees in a lifelong love affair, always wanting more. Unless you're car obsessed, it's not something you're going to understand; it'll leave you scratching your head at how someone can become so attached to an inanimate object.
For those who don't know, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale series of road-rally cars are arguably the most successful rally racers of all time. Winning six World Rally Championships on the trot from 1987 to 1992, a record feat which remains unbroken to this day. Their status amongst aficionados is legendary.
Enter Roger Buratto, proud owner of a 1994 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione II.
Roger is one such aficionado, down to earth, laid back and approachable. We met Roger at a local Coffee and Cars event. Of Italian descent, Roger has a background in design, which he attributes as one of the reasons he's so passionate about cars. His demeanour is one of careful consideration and projects an aura of accomplishment and being.
His life is very busy running his packaging company and being with his family, to which he is devoted. It leaves him precious little time for his other love... cars.
It all started for him in his teens with his brother tinkering around with Mini Coopers and Mazda Rotaries, eking out additional performance by modding their much-loved rides. While their mates were out pubbing and clubbing, the brothers were twirling spanners to bring about their idea of automotive perfection.
It's around this period in the late 80's that the Lancia Delta Integrale popped up on Rogers radar. It was a case of love at first sight. With typical Italian flourish, Roger becomes animated when he talks of the Integrale, "I've always gravitated towards the quirky, oddball side of design ethos; mainstream has never really interested me. The Lancia Delta Integrale struck a chord in me; it's outlandish appearance, its Italian bravado, its giant slaying abilities, it's always been a dream of mine to own one".
Roger held onto that dream for twenty years when a once in a lifetime opportunity finally appeared for him to realise it. A moment in time where everything fell into place as if fate had destined that he and the Integrale should be together.
The car in question is the very last of the series, a limited edition special, consigned to the Japanese market where the car was a huge hit. The timing for the auction meant that Roger didn't have to compete with the typically aggressive European and North American bidders - they were all safely tucked away in bed. Unbelievably Roger was not only able to bid for the car well within his budget but won the car for what could only be called ridiculously cheap considering the car's provenance.
Liveried in Candy Red, the original one owner vehicle still retained the plastic film protecting the car's door cards! Such was the fastidiousness of the first owner, a testament to the respect shown for it.
Roger has been the custodian of the 1994 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione II for just over two years. In that time he's received offers of more than three times its purchase price. All offers thus far have been abjectly refused; the car is too dear to Roger. "What price do you put on a dream realised?", Says Roger. "The Integrale has exceeded my expectations and is truly deserving of the reputation it holds."
We were lucky enough to be invited to spend the day with the Integrale and it became evident very quickly that the Evo is indeed the credited giant slayer.
First off, its outlandish looks and Italian ergonomics add to its delicious quirkiness. With every iteration of Integrale, its track widened along with its guards which flex so brazenly they look like they're about to burst. The pumped up look we all see on WRX's and Mitsi EVO's started here, out of necessity rather than any cosmetic consideration... fabulous!
The compound curves on the bonnet of the car had nothing to do with styling but rather the front tower struts protruding above the engine cover. The story goes that with the new struts fitted an engineer slammed the bonnet shut causing two prominent dents. Said engineer instructed the coachbuilders to manufacture a new engine cover using the indentations as a guide - only in Italy!
As you take a tour around the vehicle, it becomes apparent that getting air in and out of the vehicle was a high priority. Any chance to add a vent or slot did not go unmissed, seen even in the headlight surrounds which are an open mesh grille. It looks raw and race ready.
For a car whose original design harks back to the late 70's, it's aged remarkably well. It still looks contemporary and its 16" alloys well fill the arches. The side-skirts, pumped guards and adjustable rear wing state the Integrale is competition ready.
The competition theme carries over into the interior where the Recaro buckets seats fit like a glove; covered in Alcantara, a first for a production car of the period. The race inspired instrument binnacle has a myriad of gauges and warning lights all to keep the driver and navigator informed of the vehicle's status and all gloriously analogue. Add the Momo sports steering wheel and drilled alloy race pedals and you know it's all about the driving.
The drive experience is where the all-wheel drive Integrale shines, despite its modest power output of 160kW @ 5750rpm, it could rocket to 100km/h in just 5.5 seconds - pretty much on par with the current Subaru WRX STi, which is Fantastic for a turbocharged 2.0-litre four that's now over twenty years old. At 1340kg it isn't a lightweight, but its ability to put the power down via the all-wheel drive system account for its excellent performance.
How does it feel today? The pervading experience is that you're in an old school WRX on steroids, albeit with wods of Italian flavour. Its lineage to today's all-wheel drive hot hatches is evident; what's more, the Integrales racing heritage is plainly visible. With a skilled driver behind the wheel, you're going to have a hard time losing an Integrale EVO II if you have one on your tail.
Roger is one such driver, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't yell the Lords name in vain on several occasions. Not that his driving had me worried, you're just not expecting a purely analogue car with old school tech to do what it does.
While Roger is well aware of the Integrale's value, he's not about to wrap it in cotton wool or let it sit idle on display. He wants to enjoy the Integrale as intended and take the opportunity to use it whilst still being a responsible caretaker before it's finally passed on to the next.
We're grateful to have shared time with Roger and the opportunity to enjoy the Integrale just like he does. I totally understand Roger's passion and why he's so keen to keep the Integrale as long as possible - I fell head over heels for it too!