Speaking of Group B’s demise, we come to the Lancia ECV, or the aptly named “Experimental Composite Vehicle.” Lancia and Abarth were already working towards an update for the successful, championship-winning Delta S4 in the same year that Group B got the axe (1986), with the focus falling predominantly on an updated aerodynamic package, the most noticeable result of this work being a ground-effect-style skirting around the car’s lowermost edges—the car was basically an S4 with a more efficient cooling system and a trick bodykit. That’s putting it simply of course, but this isn’t about that car, it’s the one that came afterwards, the really interesting one: the ECV.
While the standard S4—what a weird term, “standard S4”—was constructed with a tube-frame chassis and composite panels, the ECV, while retaining much of the S4’s distinctive outward appearance, was based on a monocoque comprised of aluminum and carbon fiber, hence the name ECV. In addition to the overhauled underpinnings, the ECV’s other major advancement over the S4 was its new 1.8-liter inline four (mainly just the new head design) engineered by Claudio Lombardi and dubbed the “TriFlux” for its unique manifold system (one intake and two exhaust manifolds) that could shut off the feed to one turbo at lower RPM and feed all the spent air into one unit. Ditching the supercharger and turbocharger design of the S4, the twin-turbo TriFlux was said to be good for roughly 600 at the crank, but if it were ever to race this number would have to be greatly reduced, halved actually.
That’s because even before the death knell of Group B, the governing body of the sport had started plans for a replacement series called Group S. The intention was to slow the cars down in terms of raw power, which would force the manufacturers to spend their money and energy on novel chassis constructions and advancements in the way of aero and electronics rather than brutal speed bought on the backs of massive super- and turbochargers.
That series never saw the light of day though, and sadly neither did the ECV. Lancia kept on developing it anyway though, eventually taking the whole thing apart to build an even more focused Group S-style car, the ECV2. The 2 eschewed pretty much any semblance of the original S4 in terms of looks, with the only recognizable slice being the doors and roofline, though that too was modified. Though the same monocoque was underneath it all, the ECV2 was a much more compact design overall.
The prospect of cars sporting F1-level technology bumping against snow banks and clawing their way through deep gravel is something that could have become reality if it weren’t for Toivonen’s tragic accident, and if the slower but more technically advanced Group S series had been implemented beforehand, it’s likely that lives would have been saved. So while we’d love to see the ECV going up against the revised Ford RS200, Toyota’s 222D, and the the weird pug-like Audi prototype, that would just be a bonus to the fact that more people would have lived to drive and watch them.