Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)

Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.

Lancia Kappa seen in the Black Forest, Easter 2014

About once a year I visit a relative in a very small village on the south fringe of the Black Forest. Every time I do, I see a different Lancia Kappa coupé. But they only made about 3000 of these cars and production ceased 14 years ago. I assume then that the region in which the car was seen has an unusual density of the vehicles.

This should not be a surprise if you understand that it’s a prosperous area. It is hilly and the local people (all of them very welcoming and civil) have a cultural affinity for Italy. So, if Lancia was ever to find a customer base outside Italy, it was in places like this.

This car, along with a certain saloon from a certain conservative French manufacturer, long cast a hypnotic spell on me. Usually as years go by the fascination only increases. In this case my admiration and ability to overlook the car’s flaws, has waned somewhat. I would still enjoy owning one (I like the interior a lot). But the exterior only throws up more odd infelicities the harder I look at it.

Some years ago in the same village I saw how the vehicle was a bit too tall and a bit too short. It was like seeing a good friend secretly take back a tip when they thought no-one was looking. They are diminished. And now I am drawn to the way Maggiora failed to copy across the perfectly good a-pillar solution on the door of the saloon and instead invented a poorer one of their own that was more third-year design student than maestro.

There is a crease on the boot that diverges from the crease above it that need not do so. The flare of the front wing makes the most indecisive of highlights. The angle of the main photo is the rare one that hides this. And lastly, there was a simple chrome trim design that Maggiore did not think of. Instead they added a three-sided frame that cut across shut-lines and emphasized height not width. I have offered my own simple sketch alternative.

I should also note that that Lancia used the lamps from the Delta not the Lancia Kappa saloon. This car had a perfectly handled full-width design which only needed some more embellishment to give it some extra panache.

The A-pillar. Could they not have done better?
The A-pillar. Could they not have done better?

What is the lesson to be drawn from this? I suppose it is to show how ones taste alters over the years. One sees more, understands more. And I am told that cognitive psychologists say the visual analytical capacities of younger people are measurably different from older folks. Apparently, as one ages one sees in a more unified way. It is a level of affection for Lancia and perhaps a fondness for the idea of the comfortable coupe that still prevents me from rejecting the Kappa outright.

I would never wear a suit with this level of inattention to detail. The car nonetheless stands a nice example of a long line of missed opportunities for Lancia. We will probably never know how Maggiora were permitted to manufacture a design as flawed as this but we may be thankful for the mistakes from which we may yet learn.

The actual rear of the car, inspired by the Florida
The actual rear of the car, inspired by the Florida
This is a simpler version, roughly sketched
This is a simpler version, roughly sketched

Here is what Wikipedia had to say about the coupe. I wrote most of this, by the way.

“The Coupé was designed by Centro Stile Lancia and built by Maggiora and technically quite different from the saloon, having a shorter wheelbase (by 120mm), wider rear track and a distinctive profile with frameless doors. The front, from bumper to the window screen, was identical to the other Kappas. It was Lancia’s first coupé since 1984, when the Beta and Gamma coupés were discontinued, and remains the last Lancia to feature this body style to this day.

The small building capacities at the Maggiora factory for this essentially hand-made car, and the relatively high price, destined it to be a rare vehicle. As a money saver the rear lights came from Delta. Only 3263 coupes were manufactured from April 1997 to March 2000, making this model a true rarity. Car magazine[10] described the car as looking “top heavy, like a Bentley Continental that’s been heated up and squeezed at both ends.”

However, the car’s engine range was praised for matching the vehicle’s dynamics, the 2.4 litre five cylinder and the 3.0 Alfa-derived V6 coming closest to “infusing the K Coupe with the classy character its styling tries to suggest. It’s the spiky turbo four that asks the hardest questions of the chassis and the all-strut suspension doesn’t flounder. It shines. A viscous coupling helps the front wheels cope with the onslaught of the engine’s old school, big-bang turbo delivery, and it feels remarkably untroubled.”

About the refinement and ride, John Barker (of Car Magazine) reported that the occupants “are completely isolated from any vibration while the ride is smooth at moderate speeds, parrying bumps quietly and unobtrusively.” The interior was described as “appealing” and having “curvy, attractive door casings, plump supportive Recaro seats and choice plastics.” The 1997 price was estimated at £24,000.

Rather naive detailing for a car at any price
Rather naive detailing for a car at any price

Please feel free to comment on this article: you are one of a steady stream of people who visit this page. What do you think? Did you find what you wanted? Share your views with other people interested in the Lancia Kappa coupe!

Author: richard herriott

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

18 thoughts on “Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)”

  1. In my case, I’m not sure that my ability to view cohesively has improved with age, but bad details seem to irritate more than good details please, whereas once it might have been the other way round. Also, practical experience means that you can often see the thought patterns of a designer in a particular detail, and imagine the point where they said ‘sod it, that’ll do, the punters won’t notice anyway’; and that is profoundly irritating.

    Many years ago, I decided to buy a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I had an ideal notion of the breed, an animal that I found charming in its ugliness. Visiting kennels, none of the dogs I saw actually filled this brief and I became embarrassed for the owners, for the dogs and, particularly, for me – imagine applying such persnickety selection to people you were interviewing for a job. So I stopped looking and have never owned a dog. Of course pets come into the hinterland between the human and the inanimate but, still, if I had been as choosy with cars as dogs, I’d be taking the bus.

  2. I used to believe the coupé was also a Spada design. I’m somewhat relieved to learn it isn’t, even if that hardly makes Signore Spada’s CV a spotless one.

    As I think I mentioned at some point a while ago, there’s a Kappa Coupé “living” very nearby. It’s got larger aftermarket wheels, which really are a (visual) benefit. Somewhat similarly to Richard, I always try to like the car, but I can’t. Not quite. I should be able to appreciate its rarity, the intricateness of its manufacture, how harshly it contrasts pretty much every current automotive trend. But I can’t help but find it lacking, and only more so in contrast to similar-in-spirit greats such as the Fiat 130 coupé.

    Personally, I’d rather own a Thesis than the Kappa Coupé, despite the latter’s bespoke character. And if I was in the market for a sober ’90s four seat coupé, I’d choose the boring route and go for a C124 Mercedes, a car with no grating details whatsoever.

  3. To be clear, I still don´t dislike the Kappa. Rather I like it less. But this fluctuates. While I understand your preference for the C124, these cars strike me as being too inanimate. If forced to choose a Benz, it would be the predecessor that I would go for. It was more baroque (and actually not without design flaws) and available in a variety of rich colours that are in keeping with its role as travel trinket for those for whom comfort matters.
    I´d always thought the Kappa´s lamps were the same on the saloon and on the coupe. But I notice that the Delta´s lights were used on the coupe. This is yet another oddity. The saloons lamps were just fine. If they´d kept those lamps they´d have had a different boot aperture. I don´t think the offset, Florida-esque version was worth the trouble if it meant bodging those lamps and having that odd chrome frame.
    If you go looking you can find a YouTube video posted by a chap in Poland who notes that they only made about 300 of the 2.0 turbo models. This was the one that Car judged to be the pick of the crop.

  4. Kappa…for some reason, I am very fond of them myself. They are highly regarded in Poland, have almost classic status (probably due to being used as limousines for dignitaires), so they know Kappas there rather well.
    Although, I would choose station wagon,almost as rare as coupe, but visually much more sorted.
    And with preferably Alfa V6, with more linear power delivery. 2.0 turbo four would be fine, too, but not 2.0 turbo five, which is nightmare to work on!

    1. Kappas always attract my attention when I see them. The estate is put together in the oddest way. Have you seen the shape of the boot? Really all the Kappa variants have their appeal. Can I argue that the 5-cylinder suits the car very well? Lancia had form with unusual engines and a five is so right for the car.
      There are few English reviews which means I ought to add it to my list of must-drives. I expect a refined and quiet car. Having sat in one but not driven it I can reveal that you can’t see the bonnet from the driver’s seat. Rear passengers have masses of space.
      There must be some lovely Italian versions with lush interiors.
      Have you seen the Thesis review on these pages?

    2. Having driven Kappa 2.4 td, I can agree that 5 cylinders suit them just fine. 🙂
      However…having driven a Thesis 2.4 petrol manual for a month, I have to admit that there was a lack of low-down torque, in 1900kg car is apparent. ( I bought Mazda 3 2.0 diesel few months after and really got to know true “power” of torque:) )
      As for Thesis test, I had opened that page few seconds before an email about your post arrived 🙂 . Looking forward to read it in few minutes and compare my mental notes with your impressions 🙂

  5. As far as I can tell the article is the most comprehensive English review available. Your view would be interesting to hear.
    I imagine the petrol five would be quite powerful in the lighter Kappa. Having looked for Kappas for sale in Denmark I found two, both in Copenhagen and that’s too far to go for a trial drive.

    1. I agree. Le moniteur had rather long review in French and came to more or less similar conclusions.
      I still believe that turbo 2.0 petrol, both 4 or 5 cylinder, or V6 Alfa, is only way to go for future Kappa owner.
      I would love to have a V6, but annual registration fee for car over 2 litre is simply immoral…

  6. Dear author,

    I am a proud owner of mercury grey Lancia k coupe 2.4, with lovely blue Poltrona Frau interior. I enjoyed your review on the design and even suggestions. However, what I must say, I love just the way she is, I like to think of her as slightly decadent old lady. By the way, 2.4 petrol is perfect for her, it is settle and it can still go when so desired.

    Regards,
    T

    1. Hi T:
      I’m glad you liked the article. Lucky you with a 2.4 petrol Kappa. You know, if I didn’t deep down like the car I’d never write about it. I have an idea how it could have been nicer, just like the Jaguar XJ-S, but as it is it’s still fascinating and strangely appealing. Not all car design is about rational perfection. Sometimes character and emotion over-rule reason. A Golf is perfect but it’s a Kappa I’d want to drive and to look at.

    2. Might I ask if had a Lancia prior to the Kappa?
      I enjoyed the description of the car as a “decadent old lady”. That´s rather lovely.
      So many of the Kappa coupes I have seen have been near or in Switzerland. Is there a reason the car is so “popular” there?
      You might be interested to know I am making valiant attempts to see and test a Beta in the near future.

  7. That is my first Lancia. But my father-in-law had at least 25 of them in span of 25 years. He had 3 of Lancia Beta Coupes too.
    I bet that Lancia k Coupes are most commonly seen on holiday or “Sunday” spots. I would say that Lancia encourages you to drive her to superior places. (I always drive with her to some castle and go for good dinner or nice place).
    The reason is that Lancia k Coupe is not an everyday car. For that I have Golf 🙂 As you nicely put it, it is not about reason, it is about emotions. I would say that life full of Golfs and other perfected German machines would be rather dull.

    1. For me a Lancia k coupe is about leisurely tours and stops at pleasant auberges: coffee and mountains of cake. Obviously a bike is needed at some point to manage the calories. Lancia sends out an image of gemutlichkeit rather than excess. I don’t feel it is aggressive at all.
      Did your father-in-law have a Trevi at any point?

    2. I concur on written. No, I believe not. He had 3 Fulvia coupes, sedans, Beta Coupes, Appias (few gens), Deltas…
      Among sedans, for me, Thema is the most appealing. I would say it is rather beautiful.

  8. When I was younger, I was somewhat impressed by the Kappa Coupé, although it seemed to be a bit too short and too tall. Nowadays, I tend to reject its styling altogether. I wish no diktat had been issued, prohibiting Lancia from ever having Integrale versions of its cars again: a Q-car Integrale version of the sedan and the station-wagon, along with a more carefully-styled airbag-equipped steering wheel and passenger-side airbag would have made a world of difference for the Kappa. And I do believe that the sedan and the station wagon were – from an aesthetic point of view – much more balanced cars.

  9. Somebody here made the observation in another thread that the Kappa coupe was really the last of its kind, in terms of its up-yours approach to vulgar concepts such as ‘profitability’ and ‘production efficiencies’ as well as its largely hand-built nature. I would add that it was also the holdover of another era in the level of customisation of trim on offer (excluding the cost-no-object options on offer like Land Rover’s Autobiography program). I really wonder how many of these colours were ever specified on any car that wasn’t a factory demonstrator:

    1. Good point! Mine has a Viola 472 and that is already rare. I would love to see Turchese 492, though.

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