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.

7 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.

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