Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta

The Lancia Delta nameplate deserved better than this.


The first Lancia Delta (1979 to 1994) was two things. It was an neatly uninteresting, Italdesign five door, front-drive car of little obvious merit. And later in life the same car was a high-performance sporting hatch. From 1993 to 1999 Lancia tried to cash in on the Lancia Delta name with this iteration, sold (if it sold at all) in three and five door guise. The second version was a badly considered blend of the predecessor so it had moderately sporting capability and almost, but not quite totally bland styling.

It was a design which probably never had a strong theme, no inventive schtick or conceit to make it hang together. The iteration shown here was a more comfort orientated car than the sometimes rather sporty Delta that preceded it. But then again the Delta was initially just another modestly comfortable small car and this one is too. The thing is that Lancia didn’t know if they stood for performance or comfort or some mix of the two.

This car was hard for buyers to get and sold poorly. Yet it had little direct opposition. 1993 was long before Ford’s Focus, an easily digestible great car. The early 90s Ford Escort exuded indifference; the Astra was a little dull though far better styled* and the Golf very obvious and also rather boring. Alfa’s 146 and 145 seemed controversially styled. Only Google knows what Toyota and Mazda were offering. Perhaps the Peugeot 306 was the most compelling mid-sized hatch. So, you’d think Lancia could find a gap in such a market place.

But they were confused. And if Lancia was confused about the Delta (launched as a 3-door in 1995), so too is the vendor of this car who has it listed as a Lancia Dedra estate. And they have decided to photograph it at such close range that I suspect they couldn’t be bothered to move the vehicle out of the thicket of cars it was jammed in. They are not trying very hard to sell this one but are not, by Danish standards, asking very much either, just £4490, sir.

It has driven 160,000 km and is in superficially nice condition. However, the undercarriage will need a thorough inspection. This version is the 16V 2.0 litre turbo so it’s a quick little vehicle. If you can live with the strained design of the c-pillar and the odd reference to the Lancia Kappa’s rear light cluster you will have something more appealing than a Golf of similar vintage and engine size. Here’s the interior:

1998 Lancia Delta interior
Lancia Delta interior: not bad.

Thinking about this a bit more, the 1993 Delta was just one generation removed from the cars of the late 60s, the Fulvia saloons which were on sale until 1976. The Delta of 1979 replaced those and they were sold until 1994. So, the Lancia loyalist could buy a Fulvia in 1976, keep it until 1979 and get a Delta which they could than hang onto until 1993 when the second Delta was launched.

The more you think about it the more clearly you can see Lancia has had a very erratic product development history. Models have lingered too long, with the Delta having a 15-year life and the Dedra an 11-year run. That last one is astonishing as the car was out-paced from the year of its launch. And still, despite it all, we like Lancia.

*something of an understatement. Of the mainstream hatches, the Astra F (91-99) was far the most carefully styled and today wears its period style well. The detail design is very neatly resolved in a manner that simply needed better PR to sell it to journalists.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

38 thoughts on “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta”

  1. It has the look of an Astra that someone reasonably skilled has tried to make look a bit like an Integrale, working on his parent’s drive with a large tub of body filler. Looking at, I could probably pick a similar one up in Germany for less than half that (though I wouldn’t). Are used cars really so pricey in Denmark, and why?

  2. Only ten minutes ago I wondered how a very large company decided to entrust the investment of millions and millions of money to people who thought the Delta 2 was a good idea. It is neither austerely conservative nor daringly modern nor anything carefully positioned in between. Why are cars so pricey in Denmark? Because like Ireland, this country has very, very high import duties or registration taxes. That high initial cost means that even at a late stage in a car´s life, the owner is trying to recoup part of that high original price.

  3. Lancia died because of cars like this. No better or worse than they had to be. Just about broadly competent, poorly finished, shoddily assembled and supported by an apathetic dealer body, who had ceased to care. Unremarkable, unreliable and poorly finished. Who would be brave enough to take this one on? Is there anyone in Denmark that foolish? And yet, I’m oddly attracted to it.

  4. I do rather like oddball cars (see my obsession with the Lancia Trevi). But this car in, in the cold light of day, is one that I would not lift a finger to save even if my finger was weightless and assisted by hydraulic assistance which itself was actuated by the power of the tiniest thought.

  5. Having owned a Dedra ( a car which the Delta II was based upon ) I would like to offer an opinion for what it’s worth. Compared to the mass market dross of the time, the Dedra had a far nicer interior which was a pleasant place to while away the hours waiting for the AA man. Driving controls were generally tauter and of a shorter travel than the sloppy controls found in contemporary Fords and Vauxhalls. Then there was the Lampredi engine. As for the styling, well it grows on you in the right environment (like mildew, I know). I lived in a Sapnish city where it was moderately popular and it looked “right” on the street.
    Yes, quality wasn’t great, for example, the “climate control” seemed to have had the controls installed upside down and various ancillaries such as headlight connectors and the sunroof surround succumbed to rust, although the bodywork was immaculate. I liked the direction Lancia had tried to take of building plush cars with a sporty character. It’s a shame it was poorly executed and there is no room in the market now that priorities have changed towards cuphoders, Isofix points and sitting up high.

    1. The Dedra´s appearance never bothered me. The description that sticks in my mind was that some in the press called it “jokey” styling. I never fathomed what they meant or could have meant.
      It´s very good to hear from people who have driven these cars. All I have to go on the most part is hearsay and what I read or can look at. I could imagine that the car felt more substantial that the mass market cars. But didn´t Lancia think BMW drivers might be tempted? I suppose the real competitor for this cars were top spec Opels, Fords and Peugeots of the same size rather than people from the lower end of the BMW pecking order.
      As I menttioned in the article there was an open space in the market for a much nicer middle market car. Lancia failed to assemble their offering to a high enough standard and that´s just sad. I wonder what the management and staff were thinking as they collectively sank the enterprise.
      These days I read that four out five Kugas are specced to Titanium level, Ford are selling enough Vignales to call it a success and Renault´s Initiale line of cars is popular with customers. People seemingly are paying to go “Brougham” with their cars. And that´s where Lancia could come in: instread of a specced-up version of an existing car, why not have a brand-unique body to go with it. Lancia could have taken that market as their brand values fit with that style of “affordable luxury”.

    2. The main stylistic issue with the Dedra I see – one in common with a great deal of Fiat-sourced Lancia’s is the insufficient length of its wheelbase. Because it was intended to replace the Prisma – itself on the Ritmo platform – it was pegged to the base Tipo floorpan, when a slightly longer car might have been more appealing.

      The actual styling of the Dedra was neat and fairly well executed in the ultra-conservative Mario Maioli ethos of the time. With a couple of extra milimetres in the wheelbase and perhaps a wider track, pulling the wheels out slightly, the proportions and stance of the car could have been enhanced enormously.

      But then it probably would have trodden on Alfa Romeo’s toes, which even then seemed to be the priority case. Of course, none of the above could excuse the manner in which they were assembled or the quality of the componentry therein.

      Oddly enough, the one Fiat-developed Lancia which would have benefited visually from a slightly shorter wheelbase was the recently deceased Delta.

      Until 2008 Lancia was one of Sergio’s priorities, so he clearly saw some potential in the brand. There’s still a decent business case for Lancia, which Marchionne appears to have developed a blindness to. All he sees now is the Scudetto.

    3. “Until 2008 Lancia was one of Sergio’s priorities, so he clearly saw some potential in the brand.”

      I really don’t think that’s true. At the end of the day Marchionne is all about spreadsheet numbers – brands, as such, are meaningless to him beyond their effectiveness in attaining those numbers. Bearing in mind he took the reins in mid-2004, and also the following points:

      * Fiat couldn’t afford to lose any volume at that time
      * There was no desire for expensive, drawn-out court cases with lots of Lancia franchised dealers, especially in Italy
      * New Y was doing quite well at that time, and Musa was beating expectations (partially offsetting the relative flop of the Idea)

      …my personal belief is that he signed the Delta off on the basis that it could potentially ‘do a Musa’ for the Stilo/Bravo platform. Which would have been one thing. But of course, they couldn’t leave it at that. It also had to do double-duty as a Lybra replacement, so it became an in-between-sized car, which history has shown almost never works (Octavia is the exception that proves the rule, mostly because everyone perceives it as a more-for-less value deal from VAG). And then they crimped the development budget to make sure that if it did bomb, they didn’t lose too much.

      Which is the core reason you wind up with the car that Richard assessed a couple of days ago. A stylistically interesting car, with some neat touches, all ruthlessly engineered to lowest-common-denominator specifications because they were trying to do a new car on what was basically a facelift budget. Everything that was pointed out as a demerit in that article was basically a direct result of not having quite enough money to do it properly. You can blame Marchionne for that, and I do, but you can also blame the brand head (Olivier Francois) for failing to stand his ground on that front and accepting the poor quality outcomes. Francois is, like a lot of Marchionne’s underlings, basically a yes-man from a marketing background, promoted beyond what his record really would suggest he should have been, and has continued to exist in his role because he does the boss’ bidding. He’s head of the Fiat brand nowadays. The existence of the Tipo (and seemingly not much else) speaks to this quite succinctly, I feel. The one guy I thought had real talent and vision, Luca de Meo, decamped to VAG a bit before before the Chrysler merger blew up. I always thought he must have known what was coming, or at the least that he understood that Marchionne would never allow him to operate in the way that he wanted.

    4. Out of curiosity I found some owners reviews (yes, they are biased). One hated the car and the rest liked it. Nobody spotted the gimcrack detailing or crummy rear seats.
      Stradale’s point about Marchionne and spreadsheets reminds me that product must come first. SM doesn’t seem to grasp the concrete reality of perceived quality and driving enjoyment. He’s like a parody GM executive who doesn’t respect his customers and allows second-rate vehicles to slither into the showrooms. Yes, there’s a car at a pricepoint and so what if it’s only a placeholder.

    5. I found it nice to drive.
      Mind you it was Fiat’s DOHC 1.8 with VVT (130bhp). The seats were actually cloth and plastic, so easy to clean. Anyone in the back seat was probably on the edge of it as we saw off assorted German stuff (but not the 323i until you get toa bend).
      Quality paint job. Tinted glass. Steering not pin sharp but handling lovely. Belt needs changing every 20k km as it works hard. Had its v low drag coefficient etched into a rear window, 0.29, another result of clean lines.

    6. Looking forward to your opinion of the Lybra you’re going to see. Have myself suddenly been tempted by a cheap 2.0 petrol automatic not far away — “Comfortronic”, so has a sequential option alongside: “comfort” because it’s designed for smoothness (and economy), whereas my Kappa has a Sport button which is v useful for making progress on country roads littered with real tractors. K has an Ice button, too, putting everything up one ratio to deter wheelspin. Lybra has ASR for that. This Lybra isn’t very economical at all, little better than a Kappa, but I can live with it.

      Main snag for my plan is that the cambelt change is due, for 160k km, can set you back €1,000 at a dealer, which does the factory-recommended engine-out job. Skilful — and fit — DIY owners have managed by sliding the engine sideways, but I’m not confident I could do it. This is probably only a snag on the wider 5-cyl engine.

      The belt should really be changed by 120k km; some owners on Viva Italia forum do it even at 80k to be safe.

      Would like an Owners Manual to work out how to check the many on-board options, but all the online ones omit the auto box, which surely makes the Integrated Control System different. Prefer English but can manage French easily, Italian, German at a pinch. Not Dutch, Polish, nor, I’m afraid, Danish. Any ideas?

      I’ve proably nearly sold myself this Lybra, to be honest. Trying now to sell it to Mrs Vic: the boot’s 420L is not far short of K’s 500, and she gets her own heating system to play with. Less bumpy ride. Just has to learn the extensive music controls.

      Car is traditional deep Lancia Blue, a welcome change from most Lybras sold in France in boring grey, which dates them too easily and Mrs Vic would reject anyway.

  6. I had a Dedra, but the v rare SW 4WD. Delicious. Got it for black ice, where it worked well. Firm ride on old-fashioned suspension, notchy gearchange (OK), demisting primitive (so had to use cloth on screen). Expensive; imported it from Germany to England (suspect Fiat no longer supports the necessary Type Approval certificate).
    Decent 2-litre engine, but needed revving and interior soundproofing a bit lacking, so conversation hard!

    Had to sell in a hurry,and some blokes came down from Birmingham just wanting it to put the rear transaxle into their Fiat Coupé (or was it a Barchetta? I forget now.) Pity, but I had little choice.

    Lancia’s last 4WD, excluding all those Evo 2/3 fabrications.

    Buy again? No. Now I’m looking for your Lybra reports: suits my age better now.

    1. Hi:
      The Dedra didn’t live up to expectations. The appearance inside and out is smart. They even offered a suitable engine range. It was neither a nor b, though, as far as the market went. Without Googling anything, it didn’t *seem* to offer more than a Tempra or Croma. And I suppose it wasn’t allowed to outsport Alfa Romeo We’re back to the quality thing again. For decades Fiat have not managed to implement the required quality standards consistently. I will blame the executives for this.

    2. All going well, I will see a Lybra on Friday: 2.4 diesel. The comparison with the Delta will be instructive. I have been in a Lybra before and they seem well-made, like the Kappa and Thesis were.

    3. They do seem well-made.
      Amazingly cheap in France – where most cars’ depreciation is very low compared to UK.

      I don’t do diesels: if I wanted a tractor engine, I’d buy a tractor.
      The French do love to buy a shapely, svelte car, and wreck it with the sound of a can of nails being thrown around under the bonnet. Just to save on fuel consumption.

    4. “The French do love to buy a shapely, svelte car, and wreck it with the sound of a can of nails being thrown around under the bonnet. Just to save on fuel consumption.”

      Cheaper diesel than petrol is the main reason. Also I suspect a lot of people have fairly higher annual mileage than in the UK.

    5. Yes, of course it’s cheaper.
      And yes, they do far higher mileages than most Brits (unless in Highlands), or Danes.
      S/H cars often with 1/4 million km, and well serviced — as they need to be. Yet their roadworthiness test is every two years, not annual like UK. And I do see overworn tyres sometimes.

    6. Lybras are quite well put-together, yes. In Fiat terms a handy rule of thumb is that quality generally improves the further north you go. Lybras, Kappas and Theses were all built in Turin on, let’s say, underworked lines, so the quality is quite good. Final-generation Deltas were built at Cassino, about halfway between Rome and Naples – this is also where the Giulietta, Giulia and Stelvio come from. Most contemporary Alfas (147s, 156s, GTs, 159s) came from the Pomigliano plant (famous as the home of the Sud), which partly explains why quality is so, um, variable. The 500s and second-generation Pandas that have a pretty good reputation came, of course, from Tychy. So, the rule holds.

    7. How interesting. I’ve been lucky the with my choices then.

      The 159 is a gorgeous-looking car; harking back to the wonderful 1900. A pity to wreck it with poor build quality.

  7. Oh, I should have added, if you like the SW’s shape, the torsional stiffness is far worse than the berlina’s, which makes its clever modern suspension a waste of time.

  8. Superficially, I rather liked this Delta and the Dedra it sired. The interior was pretty good. There was one (Dedra) that was put on display in the Design Museum in London just after it was launched, so Stephen Bailey must have thought something of it. What they all lacked was production and mechanical engineering integrity and better marketing and dealer support. I may have my memory out of sync, but in my mind they fitted well as junior models of the face-lifted Thema.

    1. Clean lines.
      Even fewer than on a 2000ie Berlina, of which Autocar said, in 1972: “Some will not find it the prettiest of designs — it does not attract undue attention — but it is that rare thing today, a car completely devoid of any tasteless vulgarity.” And even that had some (v fragile) chrome trim strips for windows and sills.
      The whole road test is worth finding: it was perfectly true about my own example, probably the nicest car I’ve ever owned.

      Alas, the steel had all sat outside in Eastern Europe for years so they rusted away before your eyes.

    2. Vic: the remark about tasteless vulgarity should make those of us (i.e. me) who worry about flashy shapes remember we (i.e. I) sound like my parents complaining about the Rolling Beatles or Roxy Bowie. Sometimes anyway.

    3. I’m sticking to my view.
      It’s surely like this: neophytes see a fun design — once — then they want a different — newer — one. When I saw the MB CLS, I thought, that’s a good joke. But the next time? And if you bought one on the strength of the giggle, you’d have to live with reduced allround vision and an arched back ever after.
      Much the same as stand-up comedians.

      Similar goes for BMW’s pre-crashed front end, Nissan Juke’s bravado (and all its Renault and Citroen cloned giggleboxes) and so it goes, as each tries to bend sense with ever more ridiculous “styling”. They’ll soon be having headlamps coming out of the windscreen.
      As for the amount of work needed to make an strongly elliptical headlamp reflector produce an optically acceptable beam. Another reason to love the 159.
      Note how cautious BMW are with the 5 Series — their basic money earner.

      And youngsters have to put up with such appalling music anyway. At least they admit that the Beatling Rollers and David Music are still worth listening to. Oasis? nice, but little more than Beatles cover versions.

    4. Vic: yes, the music is a little hard to take. I am very, very bad at playing the piano (to all intents I can’t play it all). Recently I heard a song where the piano line was precisely at my level. There are loads of gifted musicians out there; they aren’t being played much on the radio.
      There are also a fair few neat, tidy and attractive cars on sale. Some Renaults, Kias, Audis and Opels are serious (as in done thoughtfully) bits of work.

  9. The car has been seen; a report is being drafted. What I will probably do is put the more objective records into a road test and then do a more op-ed item comparing both Delta and Lybra.

    Vic: is the cambelt change for the 2.4 diesel also an engine out job?

    1. Don’t know; you can find out here.

      I read it all onscreen, but of course it’s long, and might not cover what is probably in a workshop manual instead.
      To download you get asked for a donation via Paypal which I try to avoid, and in sterling just when I’d want Euros….
      I do have a Marea Workshop manual onscreen, but luckily they all have a removable wheel-arch liner. Presumably that would have compromised the remarkable soundproofing on Lybras.

      Look forward to your report soonest.


    2. Richard, I repled about the belt change, but my post is not here. Can you see if you can find it somewhere, and let me know.
      Then I’ll try to reconstitute it.

  10. Ah, I think it’s engine out for the 5-cyl engines, of which the 2.0 and 2.4JTD are the only ones.

    1. That is a suicide pill for a car, like the Xantia where the heater matrix is buried in the dashboard. I will be ‘phoning a Fiat dealer to confirm this.
      If true then it’s bad news from a car purchasing point of view.

  11. Just noticed that Lybra also available in “trim level” called Protecta. I deduce it’s with bullet-proof windows, possibly other stuff.
    Yet they’re never listed. Presumably statesmen and captains of industry knew about these things. As would that other section of the Italian “community” who’d have reason to order one.
    Kappa and Thesis Protectas were also available.
    Wonder if Chrysler are on top of this obligation.

    1. Yes, bulletproof windows, armour plating, run-flat tyres, self-sealing fuel tanks, special locks, and at least on the Thesis, a nifty 007-esque trick to blow out the rear doors in case of an accident.

      The 2.4 petrol five was used in the Lybra Protecta, which makes you wonder why they never put it in the non-armoured versions. Could be a nifty project for an enterprising Lybra fan(atic).

  12. Looking forward to hearing what your Fiat dealer says. Yes, it certainly adds to the cost of a Lybra. Am awaiting reply on Viva-Lancia forum to see if some fit mechanic can help with swinging the engine to the side manouvre. But then I’d have to pay their travel to N France!

  13. Replying to Stradale.
    Thanks for that. I wonder if the bullet-proof glass fits standard doors, or is too thick. The self-sealing fuel tank would be useful too. If they’re available as spare parts.
    Yes, the 2.4 would be a great asset in what is a slowish car because it’s a bit heavy. What other cars have it — I’ve lost track? Used ones might be around.

    1. Doubtless there are some in scrappies. It also went in the Kappa, Thesis and Stilo Abarth (plus the Lat-Am Marea, not that that is terribly useful in this context).

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