The first Delta was a five-door hatchback designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and released in 1979. For a period of time, it was 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. 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.
While the majority of Delta models were ordinary small family cars, the most famous model was the Delta HF Integrale, a four-wheel drive hot hatch with a powerful turbocharged petrol engine. A tweaked version of the HF dominated the World Rally Championship, scoring 46 WRC victories overall and winning the Constructors Championship a record six times in a row from 1987 to 1992, in addition to Drivers' Championship titles for Juha Kankkunen (1987 and 1991) and Miki Biasion (1988 and 1989).
The Lancia Delta S4, which the works team ran immediately prior to the HF 4WD and Integrale models' world championship careers from the season-ending 1985 RAC Rally until the end of the 1986 season, while sharing the same name and appearance, was a Group B race car designed specifically for rallying, and was entirely different from the commercial Delta in terms of construction and performance.
In 1986 the World Rally Championship governing body, FISA decided to scrap plans for a proposed Group S as well as cancelling Group B. It ruled that Group B cars were too fast and, as a consequence, too dangerous. It is arguable that Lancia was one of the more far-sighted manufacturers at the time, as it was already developing the Delta HF 4X4 production car using experience gained from the development of the S4 rally car.
Superseding the Delta HF Turbo as the flagship of the Delta range — S4 excepted — the HF 4WD had a lot to live up to. The HF Turbo was no slouch and its handling was praiseworthy for a front-wheel drive car.