The annual RM Sotheby’s London auction, taking place at Marlborough House on November 5, is held for the 16th year in conjunction with the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, of which RM Sotheby’s is a title sponsor. The world’s longest-running motoring event was launched in 1896 and has been held almost every year since its revival in 1927. Only automobiles built before 1905 can participate, and watching these ancestors of our modern cars chug along at 20 mph on their 54-mile journey is like taking a trip back in time. It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast than between one of these horseless carriages and the high-strung rally cars from the 1980s, especially one like the Lancia 037 that will be offered as part of the RM Sotheby’s sale.
In 1982, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) established the Group B category in motorsport, which, despite only lasting until 1986—due in large part to numerous fatalities—saw the development of some of the most exciting, anything-goes road racers.
During the 1970s, Lancia was under the wing of Fiat, and for all practical purposes, Lancia’s new Beta series was an attractive, albeit rebadged and somewhat anemic Fiat. The most novel car in the Beta lineup was the Montecarlo, sold as the Scorpion in North America due to Chevrolet’s use of “Monte Carlo” as a moniker. Designed by Pininfarina, the little Lancia was a beautiful, mid-engine design that looked for all the word like a miniature Ferrari 365 bbi.
A unibody chassis and lots of room in the rear made the Scorpion a perfect platform for a new Group B rally car, which required that the machine be loosely based on a production model. The Lancia Rally project was designated Abarth SE037. Powered by a Fiat Abarth twin-cam, inline-four engine equipped with a Volumex supercharger, it was capable of making more than 300 hp. For those, like this writer, who owned a 1977 Scorpion when new, that amount of power and performance must have been staggering, insofar as the US-spec production car—with a bark and appearance far more ferocious than its bite—made a whopping 81 hp from the detuned inline-four Fiat engine.
Meeting the minimum 960 kg (2,116.4 pounds) weight requirement for its class, and with an aerodynamic body developed in Pininfarina’s advanced wind tunnel, the Lancia 037 was an impressive performer thanks to it being light weight and possessing a slippery shape and high power. But it featured a rear-wheel-drive configuration at a time when Audi was raising the stakes with its quattro rally cars during the 1982 season, where all-wheel-drive technology proved its supremacy on rough terrain and in inclement weather.
It’s a testament to the grit and talent of Lancia team drivers that, the following year, the Lancia model took five World Rally Championship victories and the World Championship. Throughout its racing life, the Lancia 037 garnered 13 international and national Group B Championships.
Chassis No. 319, the car for sale, is one of a trio of Works cars, and the first 037 to rally in Evolution 1 specification. During its competitive career, it was adorned in three liveries, including the famous Works Martini sponsorship colors, which it wears today. This Lancia was driven by Markku Alén at the model’s debut in 1982, and significantly, was driven to victory by Walter Röhrl in the 1983 ADAC Rallye Deutschland, where the great rally champion finished over 14 minutes ahead of his fastest rival.
Röhrl’s victory was the final Works race for the car, which went on to various privateers who campaigned it through the end of 1987. Finally retired from competition, it had a number of French owners until being acquired by the Gran Turismo Collection in 2019. Exuding provenance and panache, this Lancia 037 is one of the most significant Group B cars ever made, and the last rear-wheel-drive World Rally Champion. Highly original and with “a wonderful patina,” according to the RM Sotheby’s catalog, this Lancia is estimated to fetch between $1,065,000 to $1,345,000.
Click here for more photos of the 1982 Lancia 037 Group B Works Evolution 1 race car offered through RM Sotheby’s.