The pantheon of automotive history’s darkest corners are full of odd, unknown cars that were produced in very small quantities for a multitude of reasons. Their stories are rarely told and they mostly live on in the garages of the few who were lucky or careful enough to save one. A perfect example of this is the Lancia Hyena, designed by coachbuilder Zagato with input from a Dutch Lancia importer in the early 1990s.
The Hyena traces its origins to the late 1980s when Lancia was on a rally winning streak. At the time, Zagato had just kicked off production of the Alfa Romeo SZ, a coupe based on the V6-powered Alfa Romeo 75 / Milano. Its angular styling left no one indifferent but it was generally well-received by the public and the press.
A Zagato designer named Marco Pedracini started toying around with the idea of fitting the Lancia Delta with a sportier body and showed Lancia’s top brass several sketches in 1990. The project did not generate much interest and it was put on the backburner until Dutch importer Paul Koot caught wind of the car and contacted Zagato about producing it.
A Delta on a diet
A near production-ready prototype christened Lancia Hyena was presented to the public at the 1992 Brussels Motor Show. Underpinned by a nearly stock chassis sourced from a 1991 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v, the coupe used the same transversally-mounted turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that powered the Delta but its output was pushed to 250 horsepower. Power was sent to all four wheels via Lancia’s race-proven all-wheel drive system.
Visually, the Hyena resembled a mix between an Alfa Romeo SZ and a 1960s Lancia Fulvia Zagato. Helped by Zagato’s signature double-bubble roof, the Hyena was more aerodynamic than the Delta, which was introduced in 1979 when cars with boxy bodies were in full vogue.
Its design looks a little dated today but its construction was fairly advanced for the time: The body was made entirely out of aluminum and the dashboard, center console and door panels were crafted out of carbon fiber, two materials that are quickly becoming the norm in new high-dollar sports cars. When all was said and done, the coupe weighed almost 450 pounds (roughly 200 kilos) less than the Delta on which it was based.
The Hyena was also faster than the Delta, hitting 62 mph (100 km/h) from a stop in 5.4 seconds, a noticeable improvement over the Integrale’s time of 5.7 seconds. Both figures are still respectable today but they were downright impressive over twenty years ago when the Delta Integrale was hailed as one of the best rally cars ever built.
The public response generated by the Hyena at the Brussels show was positive and the coupe was given the metaphorical green light for production. Zagato and Koot initially planned to build a run of 500 cars but Lancia backed out at the last minute and said it wouldn’t supply Zagato with Delta chassis. Lancia’s decision was an odd one considering it had worked with Zagato since 1928, and many attributed the about-face to a management re-shuffle.
Zagato and Koot pushed forward with the project nonetheless but decided to only build 75 examples. Unsurprisingly, Lancia’s refusal to provide Delta chassis significantly complicated the production process: Deltas were purchased from Fiat and shipped to the Netherlands where they were completely stripped in Koot’s workshop. They were shipped to Zagato in Italy to be modified into Hyenas and shipped to Koot’s workshop once again before being finally dispatched to dealers.
The complex process made the Hyena very expensive, driving many potential buyers away. When all was said and done, only 24 examples of the Hyena were built and sold throughout Europe and Japan.