Theme: Evolution – Lancia and Others

For a decade and a bit, Lancia’s principal cars evolved, if you want to be generous about it.

1963 Lancia Fulvia GT:
1963 Lancia Fulvia GT:

The midsized Flavia saloon debuted in 1961 and soldiered on until 1975 (though renamed 2000 in 1971). The compact Fulvia saloon appeared 1963 and hung about until 1972. Fiat took over Lancia in 1969 and by 1972 the Beta had appeared. There was a quiet interregnum after which the old guard were put out to pasture and shot with silencers.

The Flavia had to evolve to stay competitive over its 14 year run and I expect consumers in the early ’70s noticed the elderly underlying style of the car in comparison with the newer models from Lancia’s competitors in Germany and Great Britain. The Flavia’s design began in the late 1950s and featured a 1.5 litre aluminium boxer engine, disc brakes and front-wheel drive. Unequal length wishbones were at the front.

The 1.5 litre engine became a 1.8 litre and then a 2.0 (at the time of the name change). Mechanical fuel injection was added along with an extra cog for the gearbox (making five in all). For the 2000, the exterior was revised and rather neat grille added along with revised lights.

1961-1971 Lancia Flavia saloon
1961-1971 Lancia Flavia saloon

A similar set of revisions applied to the Fulvia saloon: engine capacity enlargements, uprated brakes (Girling replaced Dunlop on the Fulvia and Flavia), five speed ‘boxes and small visual changes which will keep Lancia enthusiasts interested for years to come. The Flavia also had a revised body, with the wheelbase being lengthened 20 mm.

Too good to ignore. 1972 Lancia Fulvia Berlina 1.3: (what the hell is that?)
Too good to ignore. 1972 Lancia Fulvia Berlina 1.3: (what the hell is that?)

Both cars ended as they started, very thoroughly engineered money losers for Lancia. Anyone who has ever seen one of these cars up close can attest to the other-worldly quality of the finish and assembly. They look precisely how you expect a mint-condition 60s Mercedes to look. You have simply no doubt that if you drove the car it would perform confidently.

All this evolution, this gradual change, was not a sign that the automotive world was standing still but that Lancia had not the resources to bring out newer models in the late ’60s so instead the cars with ’50s roots survived into the mid-70s. They were probably simultaneously dismissed as outdated and also hailed as cars from the old school. The Beta ended that nonsense and from then on Lancia was pretty much a zombie brand.

You can see something similar with Humber’s Snipe, Super Snipe and Imperial range. These fundamentally sound cars got revised. And revised. And revised. And then the axe fell. Bristol drew out the evolution game for several decades and they too went extinct, despite a late final revolution in the form of the Fighter of which about five were sold.

Citroen’s CX ran for fifteen years, through three series while Peugeot figured out what do with the firm. Poisoned slowly, I think. Unusually, the Citroen CX was not the last of the line. There was the 10-year career of the XM, another slowly evolving car that was competitive for about four years and then let wither. Rover: facelifts of Honda-based cars and then death.

Aston Martin must be feeling threatened as they have become something of a coelacanth among sports car makers. Their basic theme is at least fifteen years old now and don’t force me to go and read Wikipedia on the topic. We know this stuff: Aston Martin are doomed. Their ancient and oft-revised range tells us as much.

A Toyota. Don´t misunderstand me. Toyota make cars people want and make money doing this. That makes them good. But not lovely. Lancia were lovely. Image:
A Toyota. Don´t misunderstand me. Toyota make cars people want and make money doing this. That makes them good. But not lovely. Lancia were lovely.

Contrast that with Toyota who, with a few really unexpected exceptions, kill their models on three year cycles. No matter how nice or sweet a particular car might be, Toyota will not let it survive and they never evolve. There is no “Toyota look” and no classic heritage. Toyota shows that cars that evolve are cars that are doomed.

A healthy company renews its models whether it’s needed or not. That way they are a moving target. Failures are replaced as well as successes meaning people seldom get to jeer at Toyota for having a short-lived model. They all die at set intervals. Bullet in the head at 36 months and the next one is launched to take its place as if Toyota had never sold a car before that day.

Author: richard herriott

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

25 thoughts on “Theme: Evolution – Lancia and Others”

  1. That’s so interesting and true about Toyota! They have something that works and they take a turn for the worst every single time.

    1. Hi: more that they change on a consistent basis. I don’t like much of their design but you can assume that there’s a fifty fifty chance the next versions will be better or not as bad.

    2. That’s true. Let see what happens with their next generation models.

  2. I would say in Toyota’s defense that the new Camry is the first one that isn’t a complete yawn or eyesore. The new Corolla also seems a bit more daring in its design.

    1. Hi and welcome Buzzyrpm-
      My comments on Toyota seem harsh but weren’t meant to sound so. Toyota is a case by case basis. If some brands evolve, Toyota seems closer to random mutation. Closer, not exactly. They change their cars over on a case by case basis, it appears. The MR2 suddenly became a fun, light roadster. The Corolla got funky light in the 90s. The Avensis went from bland to geometric. The Supra was deleted. The Yaris appeared from nowhere. The Camry in the US never changes, I would say. The one thing that is constant is alteration from model to model with no deadweight heritage such as burdened Jaguar (so they never had an estate for years) and also as a corollary, no character other than ease of use.
      We look forward to seeing you back in future!

  3. An exception to your rule on Toyota that comes to mind is the 70-series Landcruiser, which arrived in 1984. But I see what you mean in general. Japanese carmakers have been good at ensuring their cars are ‘all new’ every 3-4 years, at least in appearance.

    This won’t help with my Lancisti credentials but although you could see the cost-cutting taking place on the Fulvia, I quite like the look of the 2000 versus the Flavia, inside and out.

    1. But the 2000 looked really smart in Lancia dark blue and had that cool dashboard with the square dials and two-tone wood inlays…

      Hopefully I will not get a call from Mr Toyoda demanding I return my waku-doki badge as well.

  4. Mark: that’s an acceptable defense. I’d prefer the earlier cars for their cost-no-object approach; the later cars appeared nicer to look at. I really ought to drive one someday.

  5. I think the 2000’s design was more or less complete by the time Fiat took over Lancia, so they didn’t have much chance to cost-cut. They are supposed to have vetoed using the Flavia name, thinking it had accumulated associations with unreliability.

    To think that, for the price of my Cube, I could have bought this instead.

    1. A very nice example indeed! I’ve never driven an old Lancia, but I can imagibe that it’s a very smooth and enjoyable experience. Maybe I should once try to diversify in this direction.

    2. Thanks Sean for illustrating my earlier point about the 2000 berlina’s styling. Although you’d certainly be continuing with a cubic theme if you bought a 2000 instead of a Cube, I dare say that the fuel economy wouldn’t be much of an improvement over the S6.

  6. Speaking from the time, Lancias had their own distinctive design furrow and, if not as svelte as the Citroen DS, they had the same exemption from following design trends. So, although unfashionably upright, I don’t remember the 2000 seeming too archaic in 1971.

  7. The Flavia is a bit generic if you only look at the geometry. It has a touch of Mercedes about the glass house and very little visual excitement. The real value lay in the concept of a well-made and enjoyable car to conduct. It wasn´t mean to be looked at. It´s a bit of an anti-statment, a very intellectual car from a country not known for the rule of head over heart. That´s a sweeping generalisation but the Italians I have known have even been passionately rational. The Lancia Flavia is a passionately rational car. I hope the use of the word passionate does not summon images of politicians´claims about being passionate. That´s false.

    1. I think Italian rationality was pragmatic enough not to lose sight of the fact that the people who used the car were the most important – therefore it was most important that it was good to drive and comfortable. German rationality (by which I mean what we now see in much of the industry, as exemplified by German car firms, not some general stereotype) sometimes forgets to factor in the end-user.

    2. “Passionately rational” – I like this concept, and it probably comes very close to what I aim to be.
      As for the Italian rationality, I think one point of it is that it never tries to be rational on the expense of elegance and beauty. It even draws its beauty from the fact that every line is rationally placed where it should be.

  8. That´s certainly a discussion point leading to how people conceive of themselves. My view is tha the German car is designed around the idea that the user values static as well as dynamic properties and trades of emotional and rational values. The Swedes are like this only even more so. You could say the German end-user often discounts the pleasure of driving for the pleasure of knowing the car won´t break.

  9. Toyota are masters at turning leftovers into new dishes. Most “new” models involve a significant proportion of carry over parts, or parts that have been mildly reworked. But hey! It has reworked sheet metal so it’s !!!ALL NEW!!! *fires glitter cannons*

    1. *turns around startled by noise of glitter cannons, grumbles as showers of glittery confetti fall on him, mutters ‘chrisward1978 has a point, bloody Toyota and their bloody glitter’, wanders over to Mazda dealership next door*

  10. Oops, that’s the kind of thing that happens when you try to comment on the phone while travelling in a shaky train. So, another try:

    Richard, your article brought these nice old Lancias back to my mind – thanks for this.
    But it also made me think a lot about the other example you mentioned: the CX/XM case.
    Indeed, the CX has been evolved for a too long time without adding important bits like a hatch or substantially improving build quality. But what is it about the XM? PSA was really on top of technology in the ’80s, they hat great diesel engines, the designs were carefully executed and well differentiated between the brands, they sucessfully conquered the ’70s rust issues, and they were financially sound after the 205’s success. So finally they were able to present a big Citroën that was true to its heritage and still not as quirky as to put off customers coming from other manufacturers. It presented the first major step in the development of Hydropneumatics after two decades. And it finally got the 6-cylinder engine the public was longing for. And it proved very successful in its very first time.

    So, what went wrong from there? Some say it’s unreliability of the sophisticated electronic systems that killed it. Or was it simply the fact that the segment of non-German large cars was vanishing? Could we imagine an universe where the XM could have made it among the survivors in this market? I think it would have necessitated a mature launch. And after this – not less, but rather more evolution. A more profound facelift, more economical and powerful engines, you name it. What else? What could the marketing department have done?

  11. Ah. Sucks teeth. I’ve been pondering that for quite some time.
    A few years ago I invested heavily in period car magazines to see how the press viewed the XM. And I have owned two, the 2.0 litre Si and SEi models.
    Broadly, the XM had two sets of problems. One, the famous connectors. Citroen fluffed that in a big way and only an industrial forensic examination of PSA records would reveal who knew what about their reliability. Someone panicked in PSA and felt the car had to launch in 1989 and took a chance.
    Second, though the car beat the CX on a score of parameters it didn’t beat the opposition decisively. It had Tagora syndrome: good but never decisively so. It never came first in any group test. At the same time it cost much more than the CX and lost Citroen customers while not convincing conservative Opel/Ford/Renault buyers or quality conscious BMW and Mercedes buyers.
    Detail failures were the refinement (engine noise) and gear-shift quality (for RHD). The appearance of the car might have been polarising but it needed advances styling. For me it is visually near flawless and I don’t think that is something that needed revision.
    The car stayed around for too long. Six years was all it was good for so a decade was excessive. It needed to be replaced in 1996 at the latest. The last four years were a disaster.
    We discussed engines here last year as a monthly theme and I suggest you read Sean’s item on French engines. The XM had rough four cylinder units and a suspect V6 of ancient lineage. The light pressure turbos came too late and by 1995 few wanted the costly 24valve V6. The XM should have had smoother, more powerful 4s from the start as well as an economic base model.
    Finally, Citroen never addressed the low-speed ride or low-frequency bump problem. The XM just didn’t deal with pavement pocks and joints well. It’s the one thing about my car that grates. I can forget the relative lack of performance as I don’t drive with a virtual Jaguar in my mind but the pattery ride irritates. I’d also love a better gearshift. It’s very obstructive in 1 and 2 and 3.

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