Italian rallying royalty visits Jay Leno

A 1978 Fiat 131 Abarth and a 1986 Lancia Delta take turns roaring through Burbank with Jay at the wheel

Jay Leno’s Garage is no stranger to Italian exotics. Over the years, the comedian has featured a number of high-end models from automakers like Lamborghini and Ferrari, but even by Leno’s standards, the pair of Italian rally cars that rolled into his garage this week is exceedingly special.

Appearing this week in Leno’s garage are a couple of race cars from rallying’s golden age—a 1978 Fiat 131 Abarth and a 1986 Lancia Delta S4. Both cars are owned by Irish collector John Campion, who joins Jay to talk about his cars.

Jay Leno

The Fiat 131 rally car was raced by Jim Walker in Group 4

The Fiat 131 is a former Group 4 rally car that was raced in America by Jim Walker. Sometime after its rallying career the Alitalia-flagged Fiat made its way to Belgium, where Campion found the car in a sorry state. Campion bought the car and brought it back to America, where it was treated to a complete overhaul.

The car’s restoration included a rebuild of its 2.0-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. Thanks to an Abarth head and dual-overhead cams, the 131 made a healthy 275 horsepower in rally car guise.

Being a rally car from the 1970s, the Fiat 131 uses a straight-cut manual gearbox and a simplistic interior, but it does have some advanced tech, such as a dry sump oil system that ensures proper engine lubrication, even at extreme g-forces.

Jay Leno

The 1986 Lancia Delta S4 was one of the fiercest rally cars in Group B

The 1986 Lancia Delta S4 hails from the Group B rally era and is a spaceship in comparison to the Fiat. The Lancia is a bespoke race car with a custom chassis, lightweight kevlar bodywork, and a drivetrain that’s still impressive to this day.

In the middle of the Lancia Delta S4 is a twin-charged (supercharged and turbocharged) 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that makes a stratospheric 550 horsepower. More than just a powerhouse, the engine is cleverly engineered, with the supercharger designed to supply boost up to 3,500 rpm before the turbo spools up and kicks in at higher engine speeds. As a result, the twin-charged engine doesn’t suffer from turbo lag and provides incredibly linear acceleration. All of that power finds its way to the ground via a synchronized 5-speed manual gearbox and all-wheel drive.

Unfortunately, the Lancia Delta S4 marked the end of the road for Group B rallying as it was involved in a horrific accident. A least we have this pristine example to serve as a living record of a bygone era.

This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.

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