Sergio Limone: “My first work as a frame designer was the 131. I joined Abarth in July 1972 after ending a senior thesis on a Formula Monza: so the seed of cars was already growing. Formula Monza which actually has never been finished because when I went to Abarth, I got married, I had a child and the car didn’t receive a body. It was a nice adventure with my friends though. From 1972 to 1975 I worked on the engines in the test bench: not so much mounting them, but working on the application of those accessories like the Kugelfischer pump on the Bialbero Fiat (“Fiat Twin Cam”). I’m an engineer but also a mechanical technician, so I’ve always drawn, I knew how to design and I had a really good time doing these things. It was the age of Group 2 and Group 4, so we had the total freedom to modify the intakes, we also made a few Group 5 cars with some weird transplants, I loved doing it: we made things like the 124 Spider with the Osella-Abarth engine, we made the S030 in 1974 before the launch of the Montecarlo, with the V6 engine from the Fiat 130. Very pleasant initiatives… In 1975 I moved from the engine department to the frame one… The 131 was being developed, I skipped the prototypes last stages and started working on it at the end of 1975: I remember there were already cars with the “Olio Fiat” livery. Back then many prototypes were made, above all to participate in the Giro d’Italia… As I was saying, I started working on frames thanks to the birth of the 131: first on the S031 which was a 131 with the V6 engine and the Pantera gearbox at the back where I first worked as an engine technician and then again as a frame technician. My first work as a frame designer was cooperating with the frame manager, Mario Colucci, ex “AOC” Abarth: he came from Alfa Romeo thanks to an Alfa-Abarth cooperation that didn’t work; despite that he moved to Turin. He was the department manager and I cooperated with him, I was a “shop boy” and with a young Giorgio Pianta, we went to the tests which took place in La Mandria but also around the world, Portugal for instance, I remember the tests done with the 131 which had been “sketched out” by Engineer Colucci and developed by me throughout its whole career until 1979-1980 when we moved to Lancia Rally”. Davide: “Let’s talk about Lancia Rally…” Limone: “Lancia Rally was my first big job, because in 1978 there had been a revolution: Colucci argued with the president who was Engineer Lampredi and resigned. So I find myself promoted on the spot from delivery boy to vehicle design manager and it wasn’t actually pretty bad since I stayed there until 2005. The rules were changing: from Group 2 and Group 4 to Group A, which was born the 1st January 1982. We needed to build a winning car for the rallies, there were many schools of thought: a solution could be building a rear-engine RWD Ritmo, like the Renault R5, then others said “let’s make a Delta sedan with the gearbox at the back so it’s well balanced”. What I thought could be more competitive and then became the winning choice was modifying a Montecarlo to turn it into a true racecar, using our knowledge: Abarth could make tubular frames, I paired the 131 engine to a supercharger (deeply wanted by Lampredi who didn’t believe in the turbo at all), the De Tomaso Pantera gearbox, mounted also on the GT40 and on industrial vehicles, it was very robust. We started drawing in July, the car was running at Christmas Eve: we all worked hard. I made a test car based on a Montecarlo by stretching and widening it: a prototype which went to auction last month, by the way. I discovered I was no good as a stylist: it couldn’t be called beautiful. 1982 was a terrible year for the car because of reliability problems; there was also Bettega’s accident, a horrible year… …followed by an incredible 1983, we won straight away with Walter Röhrl in Montecarlo and then in the end won the last 2WD World Championship, then everyone started using the 4WD”. Davide: “There’s a legend about the Audi team who looked underneath a 037…”
Limone: “Yeah” Davide: “Would you like to tell us”?
Limone: “Of course, it’s something very funny ’cause Röhrl thought no car could go that fast on dirt with just 2WD and a German guy, friend of some guy in Audi, Geistdörfer, told them: “Well, you know, these Abarth guys mounted a supplementary traction on the front axle” and all of a sudden, a helicopter appeared and landed, a person ran to the car and slid underneath the car to see how it was made… There was nothing, just a good tune-up, so the legend is true”. Davide: “What about the Stadale, the road-going version”? Limone: “Well, I thought of it as a “tax” to pay because you had to build 200 of them, so they could be displayed and counted. You can imagine the depraved things done to build 200 cars and place them on a yard: they were built, then disassembled to fix them and sold them to the customers. This shed a lot of sweat and tears because we built 200… 250 037s that would have been modified to race so they weren’t a problem the other 150 cars needed some modifications for the customers, so they wouldn’t have been exhausted after a trip because of the noise, the heat… many things they forgave because the car became a symbol, even the Stradale is still appreciated. Unlike the road-going Stratos, which was “softened”, my choice was this one: “The Stradale is a racecar for the streets”, so I kept the Tour de Corse specs and the car gained a precise and exciting drive experience: I think that was the quality that made them forgive its many sins. I remember that Messori, Abarth technical director, bragged about taking just 40 minutes from Piacenza to Torino with the Stradale, more than 200 km/h… he went to 11… but he also complained because the sleeve of his suit, placed in the front trunk, got out and waved on the car body like a flag: the depression caused it to get out. It was clearly a car aimed for races. Luckily Pininfarina did a great job and solved these problems, solving them on the prototype is one thing, solving them on 150 cars is quite another… Never again, Group B cars wouldn’t be possible nowadays because of homologation problems: that was an adventure in the adventure”. Davide: “You talked about Group B… what about the other car”? Limone: “The S4… The S4 wasn’t designed by me, it was conceived by Engineer Messori with totally different ideas from mine. He won against my project and, in retrospect, I have to say: luckily. I humbly say this because I would have made a “037-ish” car with a bit of traction on the front: it could have born before, and thus be more competitive, but it wouldn’t have taught us many things. The S4 had been a school, both for Messori and Lombardi, who became the technical director, but also for the whole team: we learned how to build a 4WD car. It luckily and unfortunately lasted just a year. Unfortunately, because a work like that deserved a development: the twin-turbo engine was being developed, there was the carbon fiber chassis… we could build a twin-turbo EVO. The ECV1 could give us an idea of what the S4 Evoluzione could have been: twin-turbo… something frightening. Luckily, because it costed many tears because of Toivonen crash etc… It was not a great year… Which was the positive aspect of the S4? The great experience it left in the team, that was used later in the Delta 4WD, that Lancia decided to build it without thinking about races. We had a good starting point to which we joined our racing experience and there started the golden era for the Delta with its 6 World Rally Championships: first with the 4WD, then the Integrale, the 16v Integrale and the HF Integrale, even though everyone knows it as “Deltona” (“Big Delta”). However that car was launched the same day Lancia decided to retire: I remember that the commissioners were stunned: “Why did you call us”? The news came only during the afternoon… It was… …a market choice: Fiat Group couldn’t sustain two brands full of history and charm like Lancia, which built incredible cars between the two world wars, but also after the Second World War, and Alfa Romeo, which had a blazon to defend. The choice was favoring Alfa Romeo. After 6 years of victories, Lancia could only… win more: when you win too much, you can just win again. You have to do something new and the choice was to stop and move the whole team to Alfa Romeo. Written and directed by Davide Cironi With Sergio Limone Special thanks to the National Automobile Museum Translated by Elia Pozzani Visit our website WWW.DRIVEEXPERIENCE.IT for more contents.