Although the Group B era was known as the fastest and most furious era of rallying, something even more spectacular was lying just around the corner.
The Lancia Delta S4 ECV (Experimental Composite Vehicle) was intended as the replacement for the S4 in 1987 and would have run under the then new Group S regulations.
These plans were shelved after Group B was banned at the end of 1986 on safety grounds, and rally cars returned to being production-derived vehicles.
With its two turbos and power output in excess of 600 horsepower (although this would have been trimmed to 300 under the proposed Group S rules) the Lancia Delta S4 ECV was probably the most extreme rally car ever built.
It also showcased the new red Martini livery with which the all-conquering Lancia factory team planned to tackle the 1987 season. Look to the right of the photograph, and you can see the car that was actually rushed into service instead under the new Group A rules: the Delta HF, which was practically indistinguishable from a road car with stickers on it.
The ECV was the star attraction of a recent Group B demonstration organised by tyre firm Pirelli (which has been continuously involved in the WRC since 1973) to launch the new P7 Corsa Classic tyre: a tyre designed for historic rallying, which nonetheless contains modern technology.
As well as some star cars from the Group B era and other periods - the Lancia Delta S4, Lancia 037, Fiat 131 Abarth, Lancia Stratos and Subaru Impreza WRC - there were some star names to drive them: Markku Alen and Juha Kankkunen.
Alen drove practically every car to emerge from the Fiat and Lancia factories in Turin during his 15-year career with the Italian giants - as a result of which he is accorded hero status in Italy now.
“It was fantastic to drive all the cars again, but my favourites have to be the 037 and Stratos: both fantastic cars to drive, and the two most beautiful,” says Alen, who also tried out the Subaru Impreza WRC with which Richard Burns won the Acropolis Rally and Rally Australia in 1999.
Kankkunen once drove a similar Impreza WRC in competition (his last rally win came with it in Finland, in 1999) but his favourite car of the day was the ‘standard’ Delta S4: an example of which he owns as part of his impressive car collection in Finland.
“Every time I drive it, I still have a special feeling,” says Kankkunen. “It was so far ahead of its time. Yes, it was dangerous, but the Group B era was still fantastic. And that’s why it was such fun to drive those cars again.”
As for the ECV - neither Alen nor Kankkunen felt quite brave enough to take that leviathan out. Having been assembled from prototype parts by an enthusiast, it is the world’s only working example and worth a small fortune.