For a decade and a bit, Lancia’s principal cars evolved, if you want to be generous about it.
The Flavia saloon debuted in 1961 and soldiered on until 1975 (though renamed 2000 in 1971). The 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.
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.
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 They were probably simultaneously dismissed as outdated and also hailed as cars from the old school.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.
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.