Lancia's small hatchback, code-named Epsilon but renamed Delta after months of introduction delay due to the strikes that paralysed Italian industry, could well be regarded as a cousin to Fiat's Ritmo/Strada
. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Delta was, for a period of time, also sold in Sweden by Saab Automobile, badged as the Saab 600.
Saab assisted with some areas of the cars' design and as a result the Delta was better suited for colder climates and less prone to rust than other Lancias. It followed on from the discontinued and well-loved Fulvia
and was based on a chassis that had much in common with the Ritmo/Strada
, with 8.10 ft (2.47 metre) wheelbase. Front suspension was similar, by McPherson coil-struts (but featuring greater triangulation, and anti-roll bars on all models) but at the rear it was entirely different.
Rear suspension, also independent, relied on McPherson coil-struts but the wheel hubs were attached to two transverse links (per side), and the system was further located by single trailing arms (per side). Both front and rear suspension had torsional anti-roll bars.
The four-cylinder ohc engines used Ritmo/Strada
blocks and heads, a common bore of 86.4 mm being utilised in conjunction with a 55.5 mm stroke for the 1301 cc motor, and 63.9 mm stroke for the 1498 cc unit. Maximum power output was increased 10 per cent (over the Ritmo), developing 75 bhp (56 kW) and 85 bhp (63 kW) respectively.
The 85 bhp motor was virtually identical to the 1.5-liter engine to be found in the 1979 five-speed version of the mid-engined Fiat X1/9
. Torque of the reconstiituted engine was good, in the Lancia tradition, respective figures being 77.36 Ib ft (10.7 mkg/1 03.74 Nm) and 90.37 Ib ft (12.5 mkg/121 Nm), both at 3500 rpm.
Gearboxes were mounted 'Giacosa-style' at the end of the crankshaft, and there were two versions (three if final-drive ratio choice was included). The basic 1300 model had a four-speed box but there was a five-speed option, the unit having the first four speeds as identical ratios, then a stepped-up fifth for economy and quiet motorway cruising.
The 1500 model had five speeds as standard but closer ratios were employed to give a more sporting character. The rack and pinion steering was geared at 3.8 turns from lock to lock, but the braking layout abandoned the Lancia system of four-wheel discs, using instead front discs and rear drums. The braking system used independent but not duplicated circuits.
The rather chunky bodywork was shorter than the Ritmo/Strada
(12.76 ft/3.89 metres compared to 12.92 ft/3.94 metres), and styled by Giuugiaro. The four-door hatchback scored over the Ritmo
in that the rear aperture was devoid of a body-sill, making for easy baggage loading. The polyester bumpers blended into the lines of the car, and were finished in the same color as the body. Delta's elaborate heating and ventilation system was the first tangible evidence of the co-operation agreement between Lancia and SAAB of Sweden. The interior was well trimmed and had a very modern facia, while the front of the car marked a return to the traditional Lancia 'radiator'.
Key competitors were the Volkswagen Golf, Opel Astra/Kadett and Ford Escort. For a few years after its launch, the Delta was one of the most contemporarily styled cars of its class in Europe and was voted Car of the Year in 1980.