Lancia HIT (and Ford Tempo untruths)

Car of the Day #9: 1988 Lancia HIT 

Lancia HIT (and Ford Tempo untruths)
1988 Lancia HIT by Pininfarina • via Lancia

HIT. What a fantastic name. Consider what it might mean and I will get back to it in a minute…

One of my favourite automakers, Lancia was founded in Italy at the turn of the 20th century and was never shy about deviating from the norm with its engineering. The first Lancia in 1907 had, in part, a tubular steel frame. Just a few years later, in 1922, the Lambda was introduced with revolutionary features for the time, such as an independent front suspension, 4-cylinder engine arranged in a compact “V”, and a body low enough to require a transmission tunnel.

I can never figure out if Lancia went racing to hone road car engineering or if it created engineering solutions to win at racing, but by the 1980s, management shuffles, declining sales, and reliability woes conspired to leave the Delta Integrale hatchback as the last great Lancia.

Lancia was on its way downhill. But, at least in 1988, its decline wasn’t yet steep. 

Lancia was one of the first manufacturers to figure out that putting a turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive into a 5-door hatchback made for an ideal rally weapon—and enthusiast pin-up. The Delta was on sale from 1979, with the early 4WD HF models introduced in 1986 and its successor, the Integrale, living on until 1993. 

Being a successful Italian sports car, it was only a matter of time before the styling houses and carrozzeria created their own interpretation of the Delta, which is where the Pininfarina-designed HIT comes in.

1988 Lancia HIT by Pininfarina • via Lancia

HIT stands for High Italian Technology and was intended as a look at the future of sports cars. It incorporated mechanicals from the Delta Integrale, except for the chassis.

Because the chassis was carbon fibre.

Just two years after Horacio Pagani’s seminal Lamborghini Countach Evoluzione, Pininfarina and Lancia took a production-minded approach to building their own carbon fibre-based prototype.

Sure, Lancia’s racing department had been working on the ECV series, race cars largely built from carbon fibre and kevlar, but HIT was one of the first drivable, “could be a road car” concepts to adopt a similar construction.

Introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1988, it wowed enthusiasts with its advanced design and engineering, but probably went unnoticed to the masses given its squishmallow styling.

1988 Lancia HIT by Pininfarina interior • via Lancia

Unless, that is, you’d bothered to look inside at its stylish interior: a carbon fibre dashboard, four red Nomex seats, and a flat dashboard loaded with buttons would have been difficult to forget!

Weighing 980 kg (2160 lbs), it was as much as 230 kg (500 lbs) lighter than a standard 5-door Delta Integrale. 

It was not to be.

The closest the Delta Integrale came to aping Audi’s Quattro Coupe and becoming a 2-door GT car came in 1992. A few years after the HIT was shown, a limited-production Zagato-designed coupe called Hyena made its debut.

Interestingly—and I won’t say too much else about it in case I feature the Hyena eventually—but the quoted weight for Zagato’s composite and alloy Hyena coupe was within about 20 kg (45 lbs) of the HIT. 

Here in 2024, it’s clear that Lancia was on to something with an affordable carbon fibre sports car—the Alfa Romeo 4C sports car and BMW i family are perfect examples of how long it may take haute technology to come down to earth.

Lancia is currently on its own redemption arc — time will tell if we’re talking about the once-great marque in the next 35 years.

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“The Ford Tempo is a real driver’s car.”
– Jackie Stewart