Lancia racing history endures in John Campion’s LC2

As a young racing fan in 1970s Ireland, John Campion developed an early affinity for the Lancia rally cars that periodically tore through his region. Memories of muddy Fulvias and Stratoses cranked sideways through the air, engines at full song, were still fresh on his mind three decades later when he started collecting race cars.

Today, Campion is known in the car world for owning a “greatest hits” lineage of Lancias, including race-winners and champions: a Fulvia HF, a Stratos, an 037, a Delta Integrale, and a Delta S4, with a Fiat Abarth 131 (a model with three manufacturers championships in World Rally competition to its own name) thrown in for good measure.

He also fondly recalls watching the Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo dominate Group 5 racing with the same flair that the team’s cars had owned the dirt. And after all, wasn’t the Beta Montecarlo Turbo the 037’s sister car? Better get a Beta for the collection, too.

With a toe on the slippery sports car slope, the Group C Lancia LC2, arguably Martini Lancia’s most audacious project, also appealed. But for a different reason. It was Lancia’s answer to Porsche’s iconic 956 sports racer. And it was a relative failure, in spite of the promise that it held.

When Cesare Fiorio—the man behind Lancia’s greatest early rally triumphs—and his Lancia colleagues decided to race Porsche in Group C sports car racing in the early ‘80s, the little Italian automaker was optimistic.

After all, they were coming off three straight championship years with its silhouette racer, that Group 5 Beta Montecarlo Turbo, a span that included victories against the mighty Porsche 935s. And then there were all those victories on rally circuits in the 1970s. Team Lancia had every right to be confident.

But Fiorio and company had also seen the Porsche 956.

Little did anyone know that the 956—and its tweaked successor, the Porsche 962—would eventually symbolize endurance racing in the ‘80s. Porsche built scads of these things, amortizing development costs across dozens of chassis and, ultimately, gobbling up trophies in Europe, Asia, and North America. In 1982, Fiorio knew only that, despite Lancia’s recent success, Porsche had every intention of reclaiming its dominance.

Lancia had had some early success against the 956s with its LC1 race car (essentially an open-top version of the Montecarlo), but rules changes rendered the LC1 obsolete and Fiorio knew that fighting against the behemoths from Stuttgart, he would need a better weapon. The Lancia LC2 prototype racer resulted.

The first thing Lancia did in developing the LC2 was ring up Ferrari—its Fiat stablemate—and inquire about an engine. With the exception of the Stratos (which ran a Dino V-6), Lancia’s racing heritage is built atop its famously well-tuned 4-cylinder powerplants—often turbo- or supercharged (or in the case of the Delta S4, both!) to terrifying extremes. For the LC2, however, a viable, in-house solution was lacking.

Into the LC2 went a twin-turbocharged Ferrari V-8, a variant of the engine that powered the Ferrari 288 GTO and 308 QV street cars. Longtime partners like Abarth and Dallara were retained to finesse the engine and chassis, respectively, and by 1983 the LC2 was ready to battle Porsche.

From the green flag, the car was most certainly fast—in fact, blisteringly so: In 1984, for instance, it famously took the pole at Le Mans by running 11 seconds faster than the next-quickest Porsche.

Trouble was, it couldn’t stay on the track. The problems began with the tires: The car had originally been developed around Pirelli radials, one of which exploded in its debut race, the 1983 1000 KM of Monza (a race in which Lancia had taken the pole above the Porsches). Then came news that Pirelli could not keep pace with demand for racing tires for Formula 1, World Rally, and the LC2—the latter would have to look elsewhere for rubber. The team experimented with Dunlops and Michelins in the following years but the car was not as competitive.

By the middle of the ‘83 season, the Ferrari engines had also proven prone to overheating due to leaking heads, adding another headache to the mix. The FIA’s fuel limit of 600 liters per 1,000 kilometers didn’t help matters either due to the LC2’s thirst. Lancia had to dial down the turbo boost, to consume less fuel in races’ later laps, lest the LC2 run out of gas.

The team spent the offseason fiddling with the car’s engine, suspension, and electronics. By the time the 1984 season launched, the LC2 sported a slightly larger engine and then produced more than 850 horsepower. Once again, speed certainly wasn’t a problem: The LC2 was capable of 240 MPH down the Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight. The car, however, was still hampered by problems everywhere from the turbos to the transmission.

While Porsche could spread its troubleshooting costs across dozens of cars—there were twenty-eight 956s and ninety-one “official” 962s built, to say nothing of the cars built by privateers—Lancia was trying to solve these problems with only seven works LC2 cars.

By mid-1986, with only three wins in fifty-one starts, the factory team quit. Most of the chassis that Lancia had were sold to privateers, who continued racing them with mixed results into the late ‘80s.

Which brings us to chassis #001, pictured here and owned by Campion. This car was among those raced at Monza and Le Mans in the 1983 and ‘84 seasons. In 1985, it was among those sold by Lancia and raced around the world, in this case in Japan. In three races at Fuji in 1985, its results ranged from did-not-start to did-not-finish.

When Campion acquired the car, he knew only of this racing history. Upon snooping through the car, however, he and his team discovered an FIA tech inspection sticker from the 1984 Kyalami (South Africa) 1000 KM race. Sure enough, chassis #001 had competed there in November 1984, when a pair of LC2s finished 1-2 (chassis #001, driven by Bob Wollek and Paolo Barilla, placed second), albeit against negligible opposition as most Porsche teams skipped the race.

Campion’s LC2 has not run in nearly 20 years and is thus in need of full restoration—no simple task on a car in which the engine is itself a structural member of the car. Once complete, Campion and his wife, Suzanne, plan on competing together as a racing team of their own with Suzanne in the Beta Montecarlo Turbo and John in the LC2.

As one must in these cars, they’ll be gunning for the Porsches.