A photo for Sunday: 1998 Lancia Lybra SW

Those were the days: Lybra (saloon and wagon), Z multipurpose vehicle, Kappa (coupe, saloon and wagon) and the Ypsilon. It’s 1998.

1998-2005 Lancia Lybra estate/wagon.
1998-2005 Lancia Lybra estate/wagon.

Lancia had a full line-up of vehicles, offering in most cases something distinctively different to what Fiat was selling. The Lybra had its basis in the Alfa 156 but you’d be hard pressed to tell. With the passage of time you can see a robust-looking car with a distinctive form language. Maybe it could have used some brightwork around the windows. Enrico Fumia started the development of the design in 1992 and Peter Robinson completed it. Where is he now? The rather pleasant interior is the work of Flavio Manzoni who is now at Ferrari, with a string of cars to his name. Some of them include the later Musa (not so good) and Ypsilon (treasurable).

2002 Lancia Lybra Emblema interior: www.lanciaclub.net
2002 Lancia Lybra Emblema interior: http://www.lanciaclub.net

While most Lybra interiors are quite lovely little kingdoms as standard, two special editions featured Poltrona Frau leather facings and were simply regal. Here is the 2002 Emblema interior with “tobacco” leather. I can only say it looks luscious. Not many people thought so in general about the Lybra which found 165,000 customers over its time on sale. How many were persuaded by the endorsement of none other than carpenter and sometime actor, Harrison Ford:

Are we supposed to believe Mr Ford drove one of these?: www.wykop.pl
Are we supposed to believe Mr Ford drove one of these?: http://www.wykop.pl

Nonetheless, even if the Lybra has none of the engineering originality of its forebears, it had a 2.4 litre, five-cylinder engine and plenty of poke (170 PS). For someone in search of discrete comfort and rapid progress, it was a pleasant alternative to a small Benz or large Ford or Opel for similar money.

Here is the rather baffling television advert which features Mr Ford rescuing a nice young lady from some nasty blokes in leather coats.

Author: richard herriott

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

23 thoughts on “A photo for Sunday: 1998 Lancia Lybra SW”

  1. The lack of comments on this article illustrates the problem with the Lybra’s exterior. There’s very little to say about it. A grey of no significance…

  2. The Fulvia and Flavia saloons were also very, very plain. And very well made. The Lybra can’t boast of the quality of its materials and construction by being quiet about its shapes. That said, it’s not much plainer than a Mondeo or Vectra; what’s there is correct. You would almost imagine Lancia were still trying to try to do the best they could.
    A counterfactual: what could Lancia have done if they were healthily independent? Would they have been any more innovative than BMW?
    Like Citroen, Lancia invites the imagination. Even the Lybra.

    1. The Lancia Lybra is no alfa Romeo 156 clone. The platform of the 156 was developed first for the Lancia Lybra and later On decided to launch the 156 first. Later On ( 1999-2000) the platform was enhanced ( and also came with a longer wheelbase then the 156) for the Lancia Lybra. The Lancia Lybra was styled retro in in fact way ahead of any competitor. The round headlights and fluent roof tail with flush fitted window is still attractive.

  3. The Lybra that went into production wasn’t styled as it was intended by Fumia. The Lybra was slated for launch sometime between 1995 and 1996, with a modern design approach for the exterior, similar to that of Fumia’s Lancia Y (a really great design even nowadays). But those were the times when Lancia was forced to stop making any concessions to sportiness or dynamism on its cars, so the original Lybra was delayed for 3 years (it was finally launched in September 1999, not 1998) and in the meantime it was redesigned with a retro style that nobody asked for. However, in the flesh the Lybra appears very well balanced and even charming.

  4. I never grew fond of the Lybra’s design. Too soft and rounded, and it made no exception to my dislike of round(ish) headlights on modern cars. That interior you showed us, though…
    Interestingly, I was very tempted to buy a Kappa for some time (estate, of course) which I liked very much on the outside, but the interior looked too ubiquitious for me – at least in pictures, as I never sat inside one.
    Yes, I’m also very interested to see the “original” Lybra. If it’s inspired by the Y, that sounds very promising.
    By the way, the line-up in 1998/9 was even more impressive than you mentioned, Richard, as the Delta (2nd generation) was still sold then.

    1. Don’t you think the round lamps look better than on other cars of the same period,
      The five cylinder engines are the main draw of both the Kappa and Lybra, technically.
      It’s a shame the Kappa’s dashboard is so plain. As with the Lybra exterior the material is not good enough to compensate; it isn’t Toyota dull though. It is very spacious feeling though and the interior actually *is* spacious. The Lybras I have seen appear to be a bit more durable.

    2. I just browsed some pictures of the Lybra. Besides some very beautiful blue and caramel coloured velour seats, I also found this:
      The pictures in the top row clearly show similarities to the Y. And they have nicely shaped headlights. Regarding those, they are too retro while the surroundings don’t follow that style. For example the straight bumper which is typical ’90s style. Also the front overhang is too long for this kind of frontal design which makes it look even longer. On the plus side, the grille and the round “eyes” make the car look friendly and deboid of all the aggressivity we’re faced with today. What other cars with round headlights do you have in mind? I can’t think of a good example right now.

      You mention the 5-cylinder engine. This was one of the points that drew me to the Kappa. If I’d have bought one, it would have been with exactly this engine.

  5. Ford prefers to drive Lancia – this could be the idea for a very funny advertising strategy…
    But Lancia did choose to offer Harrison Ford this not very convincing role instead.
    It is the same mistake they were repeating by the engagement of Richard Gere for the Lancia Delta campaign – a man that was almost not able to switch the gears of his Lotus Esprit in the famous “Pretty Woman” movie.

    1. Anyway. The lancia lybra SW emblema in an exclusive color is a really nice car that came in with tons of charisma that rivals did not have at the time. Still in 2016 the special editions (Emblema versions) of the lybra SW look classy and timeless with a great looking interior and dasboard. Classic but not outdated. A car that you can still drive in 2016, pleasantly and with great comforts. Only the older Citroen models with air suspension gave the same pleasant driving experience.

  6. Manfred: thanks for that. So the sequence is that Lancia engineered a platform which Alfa used and then Lancia launched later. If you can find me a reference I’ll happily revise the post.
    My opinion of the Lybra is that is in itself a pleasant car. As I said in the text, some of the interiors had a lot of appeal. I have no problem with retro as such. The question is whether that was right for Lancia. Leaving that aside, I’d be very happy with a Lybra estate. I like its appearance even if it needs a bit of brightwork on the side-glass. The saloon had a delightfully formal style. Who do you think were the core customers?

    1. Lancia was never a sport brand. The Lancia Delta integrale and the legendary Lancia Stratos were so immens famous that people.thend to think that Lancia was a sports car brand. But that is not true. The Lybra was designed to tend towards luxury combined with performance.. No other Italian brand filled up that gap in the Italian market. Unfortunately from 2000 and in the Germans started to conquer market share with Audi Volkswagen and Seat in such numbers that many people started to believe that a confortable car is wrong. Cars should be harsh and stiff. Even the French cats were set aside. And thus… The characteristic Lybra was the wrong car in the wrong time. I have had several Lybra’s. To be honest. The only Lybra I think is good looking is the Lybra SW Emblema edition. A rare car that was sold in small numbers during the last 2 production years .
      It is nearly impossible to find a proper occasion with nice interior. But! I succeeded in finding a great model from 2005. I restored the cream interior and exterior. This
      car looks like it came right out of the showroom.
      You should post another image of the Lancia Lybra then the one posted here.

    2. The real retro is the Kappa SW, a masterpiece from Pininfarina. If only Thesis could have had a version like that. Oh, and a short-chassis coupé too.

    3. Lybra’s core customers were middle-aged and above. And women — which is an odd thing for Italy, but in the upper-middle segment (think what German Mittelstand did for BMW’s 2002) it was worth a punt. They didn’t sell many though.

  7. Hi: you are dead right about Lancia. They were not about sportiness. They sold restrained good taste, high quality and pleasing driving characteristics. Fiat Group did not understand that. It was a dreadful waste of a good brand.
    I like the car in the article so I’ll leave it but you could try posting your own car here or suggest a link and it can be put into the article as a counterpoint. I think it’s possible to post images into comments (but I have never managed).

  8. Manfred: Lancia rallies successfully in the 70s. It’s not an interest of mine so I don’t think about it much. I think someone in Fiat thought the sports success should mean sporty cars rather than good-to-drive cars. What a disaster for them.

    1. FIAT made mistakes but they succeeded in making Alfa Romeo and Lancia reliable cars. And that is – generally spoken- a fact. Since 1997 most cars from the fiat group are good and reliable.
      We must forgive mistakes but killing Lancia must not be forgiven. I’ll try to post an image here. It can be found at Wikipedia.com

    2. Lancia, from the first Lambdas, combined engineering of such quality it could take high revs (for the time) with limo-type luxury.
      Post-war, the Aurelia started as a carefully (largely handmade) put-together big saloon, with doors without a B post. The GT came later, and set the standard still followed today for souped-up two-doors. And still a superb driver’s car, with Nardi wheel and upgraded box — see classic rallying results, and also collectors’ astronomical prices.
      The Integrale was far less well-made (though the Beta was well-designed, and cooking Deltas also fine cars).

  9. Manfred: yes, that’s correct. The Alfas after the 155 are all solid. The Kappa is well made and I’ve never seen a rotting Lybra or Kappa. The Thesis is made well too.
    I’d like to hear your idea about Lancia’s latter-day customers. I notice a lot of them in Baden-Wuerttemburg and Switzerland. That tells me where they sold well but not who exactly bought them. There are at least two Kappa coupes in Jutland. They are probably personal imports.
    Lancia’s demise ticks me off.

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