reason for the Fiat-Saab joint venture was due to the oil
crisis, which had started to choke European producers by the
mid-seventies as a result of higher production costs and
stiff competition from Japanese imports.
Delta was launched in September 1979 at the Frankfurt Motor
Show, and with Ermenegildo Zegna designer cloth upholstery
as standard, it soon won over the hearts of fashion
conscious people looking for an affordable car.
through Saab in Sweden as the Saab-Lancia 600 between 1980
and 1982 (yes, with Saab badges), the program
went on to spawn the ‘Type Four’ project, which resulted
in the Saab 9000, Lancia Thema, Fiat Croma and Alfa Romeo
164 (known during development as the 156!). Saab also marketed the Lancia A112 alongside.
Delta’s brilliant design soon paid off, with the hatchback
scooping up the prestigious European Car of the Year Award
in 1980. Fending off competition from the Opel Kadett and
Peugeot 505 (369 points versus 301 and 199 respectively),
the front-wheel drive Delta was a clever take on the
small-medium hatchback segment.
The Audi A3 was touted by its maker in 1996 as being
the first ‘prestige’ hatchback, but what was the Delta
if not exactly that? In
the same way that all luxury 4x4s can trace their ancestry
to the original Range Rover, the recent wave of hatches with
a prestige nameplate, such as the A3, BMW 1-Series,
Mercedes-Benz A-Class and even the Alfa 147, can all trace
their ancestry back to the original Delta.
Widely praised at launch as a very neat contender and
an integral part of the continuing turnaround of the marque
under Fiat ownership, the launch of the ‘littlest Lancia’
coincided with a Europe-wide trend for downsizing, a trend
set off by the oil crises of the seventies – people wanted
the comfort and refinement levels of a luxury car, but also
something that was easy to park in cities and economical at
the petrol pump.
on in its life, in 1982, a Delta also achieved a significant
milestone when it became the last car to roll off the
production line at Fiat’s world-famous Lingotto plant (of
‘The Italian Job’ fame).
Lancia’s fourth letter of the Greek alphabet may
have been based on humble Fiat Ritmo underpinnings, but the
Giugiaro-penned shape was elegant and the interior
appointments luxurious for the time.
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