Scintillating restomod recreates Lancia’s 037 rally icon for the modern era, with help from some of the original WRC cast

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This is the new Kimera Evo37, and on acquaintance I can’t remember another car that possessed quite so much... sass.

Even on this 7000-kilometre development car – whose compact cockpit, if I’m being honest, still smells a little gluey and whose chassis is being used to fine-tune the dynamics – the details are delicious and cheeky, yet it’s the form that really takes your breath away. The silhouette is pure apex-predator but also crisp and elegant and the kind of shape that makes you puff your cheeks out involuntarily.

Kimera plans to build – you guessed it – 37 examples. It has sold 24 already, with the first car going to the Netherlands. What’s next isn’t certain: it might involve Lancia, but Kimera isn’t solely about the marque.

But none of this should come as a surprise. The inspiration for the Evo37 is nothing less than the Pininfarina-styled, mid-engined Group B Lancia 037 of the 1980s. And frankly, it doesn’t get cooler.

Then come the words of Luca Betti, the 43-year-old for whom this machine is essentially an extremely committed lockdown project, and who is on hand during our first go in the Evo37 at the Busca International kart circuit in Piedmont: “We wanted to create the Lancia 037 as though it were built today, with the same passion and the same characteristics.” And clearly the same ability to stop anyone, anywhere, dead in their tracks.

So the Evo37 is another restomod, the template being the last rear-wheel-drive machine to win the World Rally Championship, in the series’ most fearsome era. However, in reality there’s barely any ‘resto’ in here, other than the core bodyshell, which is sourced from an old Beta Montecarlo, just as it was for the 037 rally car. There’s not much ‘mod’, either. We’re mostly dealing with clean-sheet manufacturing, albeit manufacturing that quite closely follows the original 037 playbook.

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The car therefore features double-wishbone suspension at each end, with the links hung from tubular subframes wrought in chromoly steel. The engine is mounted behind the cockpit and spun 90deg lengthways compared with how it lay in the Beta Montecarlo, because that’s what the 037 engineers did back in the day to give them easier access to the gearbox for modifications and repairs.

Given the original bodyshell, the Evo37’s dimensions are also roughly the same as the car it pays tribute to. Subtle but at the same time unmistakable box arches give away the fact the tracks are slightly wider than what you will find on an 037 and the wheelbase is a little longer, but overall length is an exact match. In terms of footprint, it means the car is as long as the Mazda MX-5 but about as wide as the BMW 5 Series, with the roofline lower than that of the Alpine A110. There’s not much else like it.

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Prise open the rear clamshell, with its exhibition window, and the real excitement begins. As a road car, which is how Betti describes the Evo37, the use of double dampers is total overkill, but it’s a set-up that Lancia pioneered with the 037, so it’s recreated here. And overkill or not, it’s all damned easy on the eye. While the front axle uses coilovers, the back is controlled by two Öhlins dampers that sit either side of a spring neatly threaded through beautiful forged wishbones. Kimera will offer two suspension options, one based on Öhlins’ Road and Track set-up or another, for very serious track or stage driving, based on the same firm’s TTX set-up, which comes replete with remote reservoirs. Both are manually adjustable in terms of damping force and ride height.

Tucked between the suspension and the rear bumper you will then find the car’s meaty, heat-stained exhaust silencer. It takes one big-gauge pipe from the engine’s turbocharger and spits out four smaller pipes that exit the rear bumper individually via fantastic conical tips. All inspired, of course, by the 037.

Ultimately, the engine is the star of the show, ahead of the chassis or even the aesthetic of the Evo37. The individual of interest here is Claudio Lombardi. He’s the man who led the powertrain development on the Group B 037 while head of engineering at Lancia. He then moved to Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation in 1991, where he masterminded the 3.5-litre Tipo 043 V12 – arguably the sweetest-singing engine ever to leave Maranello. Two decades later, he was invited by Betti to help Kimera reimagine the 2.2-litre four-cylinder steel block of the 037, ensuring that it was done right. That challenge overcome, Lombardi was on hand to help fettle the final set-up. This involves the same Volumex supercharger that gave the 037 usefully sharp throttle response on the stages (although now electrically driven, instead of mechanically) but pairs it with the turbocharger, which comes on song only when the engine is really puffing and, ahem, somewhat advances the whole ‘reborn 037’ proposition.

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For those who need it spelled out: the Evo37 is essentially running the same twin-charged powertrain as the 037’s Group B replacement, the infamously, unforgettably unhinged Delta S4, with the same circa-500bhp output. And that’s with the turbo providing only 1.5 bar. Betti says 2.0 bar and 700bhp would quite easily be possible, but 20,000km of bench testing suggests the current calibration is not only adequately powerful, given the car’s 1050kg weight, but also very reliable.

Today, the Evo37 is putting out around 415bhp, which is still roughly what the BMW M2 CS delivers, and we have half a tonne less mass working against us. I strap into the passenger seat to watch Betti drive some demonstration laps, and as soon as he fires the car up, it sounds and smells like the real deal. Even at idle, the engine is brutally loud, the timbre guttural, metallic, vaguely dirt bike-esque, and not in any way woofly, as you find with modern turbo engines. Your nostrils also pick up the unambiguously old- world aroma of engine oil, although whether that will be a feature of the fully finished customer cars, I don’t know. I rather hope it will.

20 Kimera evo037 2021 first drive review engine 0

Betti lets the Evo37 warm up but thereafter doesn’t spare it. It seems happy to move around and is eager to rotate with a trailing brake, but it isn’t hard to imagine that Betti, as someone with tier-two WRC entries on his CV, could get almost any mid-engined device with a reasonably short wheelbase behaving like this.

It’s quick, though, the Evo37. Even on this pretty serious kart track, there aren’t many opportunities to fully pull the pin from that twin-charged 2.2-litre engine, but short bursts hint at something with breathtaking straight-line speed. Betti says the Evo37 is “the most extreme car in restomod philosophy”. The new Singer DLS may have something to say about that, but it’s obvious the tall Italian isn’t dreaming.

Now it’s my turn. What I couldn’t appreciate from the passenger seat is just how Italian the driving position is, with the Momo steering wheel almost nestling in your lap. It isn’t a disaster, but the layout is shorter of leg and longer of arm than you would want in something this serious. Given the Evo37 must possess more or less the exact same compromised ergonomics as the original rally car, the level of commitment and bravery required to get the thing airborne – as the likes of Walter Röhrl and Markku Alén often did – and generally drive the wheels off it in the heat of WRC competition now seems even more absurdly impressive.

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The cabin is otherwise an immersive place, especially with this prototype’s banks of toggle switches, which will be swapped out for something more sophisticated in customer cars but right now don’t half add to the ambience. Emulating Lancia’s preferred style for the era, the dashboard is nothing more than an elongated shoebox turned sideways and studded with simple but effective red-on-black dials.

The quality of the copious matt- carbonfibre finishing is excellent, though, and almost everything else you touch is Alcantara, including the trim for the carbonfibre-shell seats, which in livid red perfectly suit the flamboyance of the ’80s. The gearlever for the six-speed transaxle (manual and paddleshift-sequential versions are offered) is another showstopper, the mechanism left partially exposed and topped with a sphere of solid aluminium.

14 Kimera evo037 2021 first drive review cabin 0

Getting the Evo37 off the mark requires revs, lest the engine stutters and stalls as the reasonably light clutch is fed in. Thereafter it’s perfectly drivable, despite the whine of straight-cut gears and the vicious whoosh-hiss of the engine’s respiratory tract providing the audio cues of something that should be much more tetchy, even when it comes to simply mooching about.

The gearshift is also light and, although a little rubbery, precise enough. Forward visibility is excellent, and the steering, which uses a rack sourced from the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, only with the gearing increased and assistance very much dialled back, has a delicate and slick action.

Overall, you wouldn’t have much difficulty using the Evo37 on the road. Think S3 Lotus Exige but with lighter controls and without the need to contort yourself in humiliating fashion while climbing in and out.

We don’t mooch for long, not on an empty circuit. What’s striking is how authentic the powertrain feels when you properly let it rip. Even with the electric supercharger, its responsiveness in the lower rev range is only on par with what you get from modern turbo engines, but that slight bagginess just adds to the drama. And torque still arrives early, the Evo37 bolting then surging forward as the engine is augmented by the turbo.

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At this point, the delivery hardens up, things get a little manic, but at Busca you must lift. Whoosh-hiss. For crisp induction noise and stunningly linear delivery, there are better restomods, mostly with flat sixes; but for sheer drama, the historically faithful heart of the Evo37 is utterly compelling. Under its influence you will sprout aviators, a floppy side-parting and the ability to look unfeasibly good in Martini overalls.

However, if the engine is an energetic old romantic, handling is what defines the Evo37. Compared with mass-produced performance cars, there’s amazingly little understeer in the blend. Direction changes feel immediate, the nose swinging with so little resistance that you wonder why Kimera hasn’t gone for entirely unassisted steering.

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Mid-corner, the combination of lightness and balance allows the car to claw plenty of grip from its relatively sensible Pirelli P Zero tyres (semi-slick Trofeo Rs will also be offered), but this car is so evidently more about how it works beyond the limits of the rubber. With the help of a plated limited-slip differential, you can put the tail of the Evo37 exactly where you want it when you want it there. And with all that power, you can keep it there almost indefinitely.

What’s so striking is the softness, progression and predictability of the movements. Slower corners are tricky, the chassis sometimes threatening to come round on itself at an unexpected pace that even the quick steering can’t always help you recover, but in a fast flow, it wants only to indulge you with controlled oversteer. It’s the kind of poised handling set-up that makes a rally car fast and safe, but show the Evo37 an Alpine pass and I’ve no doubt that it would give you one of the greatest four-wheeled experiences of your life.

It’s almost a relief to find that something that looks the part and sounds the part also drives the part. Betti’s revelation that Miki Biasion – original 037 pilot, two-time WRC champion with the Delta Integrale, and fun-loving extrovert both at the wheel and away from the world of cars – has helped fine-tune the Evo37’s dynamic personality is the least surprising thing I hear all day.

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What’s also unsurprising is the price. So often with restomods it can seem as though the companies involved choose whatever price they feel they can get away with, and this Kimera is undeniably expensive. But given the sheer togetherness of the package, and the people involved, €480,000 isn’t outrageous.

The Evo37 is clearly a special project, merging history and modern technology to intoxicating effect, and if its USP is the fiery reimagination of the Delta S4’s engine, the real magic would seem to reside in the handling. I’ve never been lucky enough to drive an actual 037, but it’s not difficult to imagine that, apart from the EPAS steering and the general ease of use, this Kimera gets pretty damn close to the heart of the matter.

I suspect that for the 37 lucky Evo37 owners, this fact alone will be priceless.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.