Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Three

If there was a single over-riding theme to the Gamma’s gestation, it can be summed up in one word. Politics.

An undisguised Gamma prototype. Image via lanciagamma.altervista1
A disguised Tipo 830 prototype. Image: lanciagamma.altervista1

As Fiat management began the process of ingesting their new acquisition, they found they were being thwarted by Lancia’s core of loyalist engineers. Like most grand marques, Lancia was engineering / manufacturing-led, so naturally all resistance to Fiat’s integration was centred here. Camuffo one imagines, must have been viewed with suspicion; seen as Agnelli’s man and schooled in what was probably viewed as an inferior tradition.

Furthermore, Lancia’s workforce (previously accustomed to viewing themselves as an elite) found life as reluctant Fiat employees a somewhat downgraded reality. For a marque historically synonymous with the Italian aristocracy to be taken over by Fiat, a company with a populist, some might say socialist outlook, tensions were inevitable.

Coupled to this was a political situation within Italy during the early 1970s that would ultimately degenerate into kidnap and murder. Lancia were not alone in being affected. The ‘years of lead’ saw Italy’s entire social, political and economic landscape torn apart by this political and ideological power struggle.

Politics notwithstanding, in 1972 work began on a new car (Tipo-830) taking elements from a shelved concept, dubbed Ammiraglia (or flagship); a concept that had originally been twinned with Citroën’s nascent CX programme, featuring the French manufacturer’s signature oleopneumatic suspension amidst its technical specification. Fiat had been exploring a tie-up with Citroën at the time and given both company’s backgrounds, a Citroën–Lancia marriage would have made a good deal of sense, not least from a technical perspective.

This Franco-Italian hybrid however was allegedly shelved owing to objections of French President, Charles De Gaulle, who reportedly opposed the use of French technology in an Italian car. It should not be forgotten that this came at a time when serious national rivalries continued to fester despite the post-war era of collaboration; De Gaulle having also vetoed Britain’s entry to the EEC in 1961.

As serious development of Tipo-830 got under way, the automotive industry was hammered flat by the aftermath of the 1973 oil-shock. Italy’s economy was probably more fragile than most, and certainly the massive contraction of domestic demand caused outright panic in Fiat’s Turin headquarters. Forward programmes were either cancelled or radically downgraded as the Italian car giant tried to take stock of a fundamentally altered reality.

By 1974, the climate within Italy and most especially within Fiat had become hostile to the development of an expensive, luxury flagship. As auto journalist, Richard Hughes wrote in a 1978 article for Car magazine; “The social scene convinced Fiat that, in their vital home market, large cars were dead… and in Italy, large cars start further down the scale than elsewhere in Europe”. In fact, the situation became so dire, Fiat’s management, believing the car business was finished, began to diversify into public transport and commercial arenas outside of the auto industry.

The car the Gamma was to replace - the dignified and well regarded 2000 Berlina
The car the Gamma was to replace – the dignified and well regarded 2000 Berlina. Image: classics.honestjohn

In some respects then, it’s surprising the Tipo-830 project wasn’t cancelled entirely, but two years into its development, perhaps it was felt too much had been invested to stop it. Outlining the Gamma’s gestation to journalists some years later, Sergio Camuffo confirmed that initially at least, Tipo-830 was intended to replace the venerable mid-range Flavia model, by then in its third series and very dated in appearance against domestic and European opposition, saying; “At Lancia, we never imagined the Gamma as a replacement for the Flaminia – [Lancia’s Sixties flagship]. The specification of the 830 project was on the contrary to give a succession to the Flavia. The ambiguity explains the choice of a 4-cylinder, in the tradition of the marque”.

Prior to the oil crisis, Fiat’s plans for Lancia had been quite ambitious as demonstrated by massive investment in the Beta family – a model range that spanned saloon, 2+2 coupé, a shooting brake estate, Spider and a mid-engined two seater. Clearly, some of these variations were aimed at the North American market, but it does appear in retrospect that there was considerable product overlap.

This proliferation of model variants also presented Camuffo’s engineers with a formidable workload. In addition, some early Beta models began to manifest a structural corrosion problem that would later prove fatal to the marque’s prospects in certain Northern European markets. In addition, initial versions of the mid-engine Monte Carlo model proved so wayward, the model was withdrawn from production until serious braking deficiencies could be addressed.

Almost production-ready. A lurid prototype on Italian streets shortly prior to launch. Image via lanciagamma.altervista-1
Almost production-ready. A luridly finished prototype takes to the streets prior to launch. Image: lanciagamma.altervista-1

The level of disruption caused by these crises can only be guessed at, but certainly by the time the Gamma was introduced to the press at the Geneva motor show in the spring of 1976 it was already significantly late and worse, still wasn’t ready. In fact, it would be a another year before the first cars were delivered to European customers. The reasons for this further delay is unclear, but suggests that problems already existed with Lancia’s new flagship. Similarly affected was the elegant Gamma coupé, based on a shortened Berlina platform, to be produced at Pininfarina’s Grugliasco facility in Turin.

The car’s Geneva show unveiling reportedly ended in farce as Lancia’s PR, in an attempt to create an aura of mystique around the car, initially refused to remove the dust shrouds covering both models. With press day fading, impatient journalists and photographers took it upon themselves to rip the covers off and in the ensuing melee, the show’s organisers compelled Lancia’s PR to keep them uncovered or risk being asked to leave.

Mel Nichols reported on the unveiling for Car, describing the Gammas as “two cars of elegance and bearing”. He went on to add with chilling prescience; “No-one would dare dispute Lancia’s ability to get the mechanicals right.” That would soon change.

Part 4 here
©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.
Sources, quotations & acknowledgements: see part one.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Three”

    1. Looking at the Fiat/Lancia takeover dispassionately, it could be argued that the Beta was a bit more thorough than merely a front-drive Fiat and was in fact a rather sophisticated design thanks to a degree of autonomy given to Camuffo and his minions. It is worth remembering the Beta was a very well regarded car – especially during the early portion of its career. It’s biggest problem was that it was a Lancia built to Fiat standards of material, build quality and paint finish.

      Fiat’s initial strategy for Lancia appears to have provided a large degree of autonomy, but suffocating cost control. Like Ford in the 1990’s, who believed they could get away with half-baked Jaguars, Fiat’s fundamental misunderstanding of the luxury car market blinded them to the reputational fallout of using a non-Lancia power plant in the Beta; a move that was guaranteed to alienate existing Lancia owners and potential buyers alike.

      The rust scandal was largely confined to the UK, which unfortunately for Lancia, was one of the Beta’s largest export markets. It does appear to have been mishandled by Lancia, but was apparently blown out of proportion by the UK media.

    2. Surely Lancia’s major appeal was as a manufacturer of rather unworldly, quixotic motor cars. Until the rust ‘scandal’, the Beta did well, but then it was basically a front wheel drive Fiat and could have had similar success under that badge, It was really a successor to the Autobianchi A111 at a time when Fiat didn’t want to commit to fwd itself on a car of that size. Then there was the Delta Integrale, which again would probably have done just as well as a Fiat. Even had Fiat produced exemplary and competent ‘Lancias’ using their conventional concepts, would the old customer base have been interested? It was a bit like an old Savile Row tailor being taken over by Matalan (a warehouse fashion retailer for those not based in the UK).

      So we’re back on the Lancia thing again, but my theory to offer up this month is that a non-independent Lancia was doomed, however sympathetic its custodian.

  1. Talking about politics having avoided the success of a big Lancia in the 70ies we should remember the italian luxury tax on cars with an engine size of more than two litres.
    This tax ( i remember it was nearly 40 percent additional tax to the normal price) was killing this car sector in italy in the 70ies.

    As a general rule paying taxes was not very popular in meditteranean countries (and still is).
    And especially no italian business man was willing to pay this luxury tax for a car in this light luxury class,
    And second reason – it was a very difficult task in the 70ies to built a big car providing sufficient power with a small 2-litre -engine. And especially italian drivers were not willing to drive a huge sluggish car risking to be overtaken by all those cheaper cars.

    So the italian government was killing the sector of big business cars nearly completely and we all know that is is very difficult for an italian car to be successful without having success at the home market.
    So i am sure this tax was demotivating the engineers too.

    So i briefly regret that there was no chance to realise the very beautiful estate concept car but i am still enjoying the fantastic interior of a Gamma Coupé

  2. I must contribute a correction here. The article states, echoing an erroneous claim by Martin Buckley, that French president Charles De Gaulle vetoed the Lancia-Citroën joint venture. This could not have been the case, merely for chronological reasons: De Gaulle’s last presidency ended on 28 April 1969, long before the Lancia-Citroën joint venture had started (in 1972, as the article states). Furthermore, he died in 1970. So, since De Gaulle was no longer in office and was very much dead indeed, I highly doubt he would be in any position to influence any automaker’s product development decisions – at least in ways that do not involve an ouija board.

    Second, it was during De Gaulle’s last tenure as president of France that Citroën took over Maserati in 1968. I don’t recall any objections from him. Besides, Citroën (itself owned then by Michelin), was, and is, a privately-owned corporation and such projects were well outside the sphere of French national interests, so I don’t think Mr. De Gaulle’s role as French head of state gave him the competence to have any kind of say in such decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Martin Buckley’s articles, but here he got his history just plain wrong.

  3. And furthermore, the Citroën-Maserati merger did bring French technology to Italian cars, much like Citroën’s licensing of the hydropneumatic suspension to Rolls-Royce (for the Silver Shadow and its spin-offs) and Mercedes-Benz (for the 450SEL 6.9) brought French technology to British and German cars.

    1. Tzoannop: Thanks for your comments, I hope you’re enjoying the site regardless. I can see the timelines are troubling here and perhaps in retrospect I should not have stated this as fact, more as conjecture. I will revisit and amend accordingly.

      There is some evidence to suggest Fiat and Citroen had begun work on a joint model prior to the instigation of Tipo 830 – journalist and marque chronicler, John Simister stating that this car later became the Beta model. Perhaps it is this to which Buckley is referring. If he is incorrect, it’s a curious error to have made – he’s clearly done some considerable reading on the subject. However, there are comparatively few Lancia histories in English, which may have led to some lost in translation inconsistencies. Admittedly he could equally have fallen prey to the journalistic disease of adding 2 + 2 and getting 5.

      I have to say, finding reliable sources for this piece was rather difficult, so I have every confidence it’s riddled with errors, but it wasn’t for the want of trying…

    2. Ah, I remember Simister’s feature on the 3rd-generation Delta. He even wrote it had sliding rear doors, which were featured on the version of the car that was modified for people with disabilities. I never saw him post any correction in the magazine afterwards for this error. But oh well. For the record: I own a 3rd-generation Delta.

      At any rate, I do enjoy your blog. Your views coincide with most of mine, and I have a few things to point out, as I happen to be a production engineer. These things all have a lot to do with rationalization, commonality, economies of scale, etc. – things that Lancia only in recent years benefitted from, but it was already much, much too late.


      Konstantinos Tzoannopoulos

  4. The genesis of all this is is a bit complicated, and goes back to Fiat’s initial interest in Citroen in the late 1960s. The Italians bought 15 percent of Citroen in 1968 – and this amount was indeed capped by de Gaulle (as related by Jeffrey Hart and Jonathan Mantle amongst others).

    “Citroën (itself owned then by Michelin), was, and is, a privately-owned corporation and such projects were well outside the sphere of French national interests”

    Hmn. I think anyone who has studied the post-war political economy of France will understand that the distinction between the public and private sectors, especially in the case of major industrial enterprises, was, shall we say, blurred somewhat. Especially so when it proved politically expedient – indeed, the government ‘helping’ Citroen into the arms of Peugeot is a classic case in point.

    Going on memory, Fiat tried to expand their stake in Citroen in 1969, but the full extent of this was resisted by the French Government. De Gaulle was, of course, out of office by this point, but depending on how close you consider de Gaulle and Pompidou to have been both personally and philosophically, it can be argued that Charlie’s preferences still loomed large at this time. The result was that Fiat were restricted to a 49 percent stake in PARDEVI, the holding company set up to control Citroen, although with an implied expectation on the Italian side that sooner or later this would result in direct control, since Michelin were known to be keen to get out. As we know, of course, that takeover did not occur, and Fiat sold its stake in 1973. This was not before the Beta received the CX’s gearbox (modified to include a fifth gear), but various other projects – like a small Citroen based on the 127 – never materialised.

    So how does all of this impact the Gamma? Clearly, the realities of historical timelines mean that it was not de Gaulle who personally vetoed the use of oleopneumatics in the Lancia. But contingent on how broadly one interprets the legacy of Gaullism, I do not think it is at all far-fetched to believe that the French Government under Pompidou was unhappy about the technological sharing involved, and by effectively limiting the degree to which Fiat was able to control Citroen, de facto forced a change of plan for Tipo 830.

    1. Just to add for clarification – de Gaulle and acolytes were not at all bothered about French companies taking over foreign firms. Why would they be? Their concern was investment – and in particular, technology transfer – going the other way, benefiting non-French interests. The genesis of the story of de Gaulle and the oleopneumatic restriction is possibly due to the fact that the President always valued it highly for saving his life. It is also generally accepted that the Gamma project started out with a plan to use that technology. One imagines that somewhere along the way, those two narratives became intertwined, hence Buckley’s version. My guess is that the truth is more prosaic and that Citroen simply rescinded the right to use it as soon as Fiat sold its stake. To what extent the government looked favourably upon this is a matter of conjecture.

    2. I’m actually quite inclined to opt for your take, Stradale. It seems that somewhere along the way something didn’t quite work in the collaboration and Citroën decided to leave the project. However, from the stories I’ve read (Simister, Buckley et al), it seems that the plan was for the two cars (the Gamma and the CX) sharing the powertrain and the suspension. Citroën pulling out of the project would leave Lancia with no suspension, therefore having to develop its own (as far as I know, its suspension ended up being an adaptation of the Beta’s highly successful set-up), therefore diverting resources (personnel and funds) from the development of the powertrain, which led to the reliability problems we all know. On the other hand, Citroën was left with no engine, so the CX had to make do with the rather archaic and agricultural unit found in the DS.

      Now, in my view, this crippled both cars. The CX was a car that desperately needed a better, more refined, engine. The Gamma was a car that was saddled with a powertrain that was not quite ready (in software terms, I’d be more inclined to call it an alpha version – not even a Release Candidate), and this is what sealed its fate, repeating the Jensen-Healey story. Let’s face it, customers might nag about things like shoddy paintwork, iffy electrics, cheap plastics in the interior and the like, but they tend to eventually overlook them if the rest of the package pleases them. What they never forgive is an unreliable powertrain/driveline, a Look-Me-The-Wrong-Way-And-I’ll-Rust bodywork and murderous handling – OK, scratch that last one if we’re talking about the fanatics of such contraptions as the early (first 25 years) Porsche 911, the AC Cobra, the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing and BMW’s ’02 and E21 series.

      But here’s the catch: Citroën had an engine of adequate displacement to use. Lancia didn’t. De Virgilio’s venerable V6 was getting long in the tooth with its OHV architecture and I’m not sure its jigs were still available. The Flavia’s engine needed to be bored out and gain overhead camshafts – as it did. The Fulvia’s V4 was out of the question, and rightly so, because of its ridiculously complex structure that increased production and maintenance costs unreasonably.

      Were there any other options? I’d have entertained the Lampredi bialbero unit that was adapted for use in the Beta; Bored out to 2 liters and maybe more, it would have made the Gamma a great alternative to the Fiat 132 and the still-in-production BMW ’02 series. But, as we saw in the articles, the decision was made for the Gamma to eventually replace the Flaminia rather than the Flavia – a baffling decision, to say the least. Suddenly, the Gamma was indeed pitted against Rover’s SD1, Citroën’s CX, BMW’s then-new 5-series, Mercedes-Benz’s W123, and minor players like Talbot’s Tagora and the Renault 30. It. Was. Doomed. It didn’t have the engines, it didn’t have the size, and it didn’t have the build. Frankly, I’d have fired the person who made that decision right there, and then and I’d have sent them to a mental asylum, just to be sure.

      But still, I just can’t get two things through my head: How on Earth can you make a car destroy its gearbox if it’s nudged from front or rear while parked in gear? And how was the hare-brained decision to drive the power steering from one of the camshafts instead of the crankshaft?

      Let’s hit “rewind” on my comment a little. I’m getting back to the decision to throw a D-segment car in an E-segment arena. Maybe this had to do with corporate politics and a desire to not allow Lancia to steal sales from Fiat’s E-segment offering (the 130)? I don’t know. What do you all think?

      Konstantinos Tzoannopoulos

    3. Let’s not forget that, as well as dallying with Fiat, From 1967 Citroen were involved with NSU in the Comotor project. So they expected that they’d have a lovely smooth Wankel engine to put into the CX. Was the idea that the Gamma might benefit from this too?

    4. It is indeed a fascinating series of what-ifs. But I am not sold on the idea that the Gamma wound up being pitched at the wrong segment of the market. When one talks about ‘replacing’ the Flaminia, I think it’s important to recognise it was, basically, an irrelevant anachronism by 1970. I love the Flaminia, but it was the car of a different era – most especially in terms of styling and production methods. Nigel Trow notes that every single Flaminia transaxle assembly was run on a test bed for two hours before being installed in a car. If it was not totally silent, it was scrapped. I suppose when you sell 600 sedans in eight years, you have time for indulgences like that.

      I personally view the Gamma as the Flaminia’s successor, but only in the sense that it was presented as the marque’s flagship. In every other sense, I think it is more useful to view it as representative of the new reality – the product of a company that had not yet been meaningfully integrated into its parent, but was trying to adjust to some of the realities that life as a subsidiary entailed, including the pressures of management and the market. I think the case can be made that it was the early 1970s when notions of homogenisation and efficiency really started to take hold of the industry at large, driven by various factors (many of which are described in Eóin’s excellent series). In some way, it might be helpful to view the 130 – the de facto group flagship between the Flaminia and Gamma – as a sort of ‘bridging step’ between the two. The fundamental depth of engineering in a 130 is high, if not quite as meticulous and unfettered as that in a Flaminia, but the realities of mass production and profit drive meant certain shortcuts in the production process. By the early-to-mid 1970s, political and economic circumstances, both throughout Italy and globally, meant something as extravagant as a ‘new 130’ was not really appropriate.

      Moreover, I also don’t buy the argument that the Gamma was too small. It was indeed a touch shorter than the average for the newly-emergent ‘executive’ class (although not significantly so compared to, say, the contemporary 5-Series), but the reality is that Gammas are impressively space-efficient inside. Lancia’s product ‘planning’ was, frankly, a mess throughout the 1960s, due partly to a lack of money and partly on account of path-dependent restrictions that had left them with a pretty incoherent range. The Fiat takeover represented an excellent opportunity to hit reset and craft a coherent range that reflected the emerging reality of the era. One of those aspects – reflecting the increased homogenisation I noted above – was more clearly-defined market segments. As such, the notion of an executive E-segment car for Fiat’s newly-acquired upscale mass-market brand, to compete against every other multinational playing in that sector, seems reasonable to me. A ‘true’ Flaminia successor would have been a cost-no-object W116 rival, and given the factors discussed above and in this series, it should be self-evident why such a project was never even considered.

      All of which is to say – I don’t think the Gamma was fundamentally misconceived. The concept was sound. The execution was less so, but the problems are, in my opinion, ones evident only in hindsight, not ones that could have been caught at the product-planning phase. Short of buying in an engine, the only serious alternative to the Gamma’s boxer was the 130’s V6, since in practice, increasing the capacity of the Lampredi twin-cam was a non-starter. (Abarth found it ran up against the physical limit of the block to accept additional capacity when it overbored the motor out to 2.1 litres for the final evolution of the 037). Perhaps, with hindsight, that would have been a better choice. But that’s the bottom line – we know this, with hindsight. And it would have made the Gamma a different sort of car. Differently appealing, perhaps, but different nevertheless. I have had the pleasure of a short drive in a 130 Coupe and it is a lovely car, but for better or worse, it is nothing like a Gamma.

      As it happens, I have a Beta HPE (what is it about this site that draws Lancia and Citroen pervs?), and have spent a fair spread of time thinking about the circumstances of Lancia’s decline. It is a real shame because I think the Beta was an excellent piece of product planning, especially considering what a mess Lancia’s range was in the late 1960s, and the right car at the right time. It sold well, and catered to the increasingly-affluent middle class that later helped launch the compact executive class into orbit. My own feeling is that the point of no return was not the rust scandal or the Gamma’s problems (although of course they hardly helped), but internal developments within the company throughout the 1980s. Lancia still had meaningful independence throughout the 1970s, with its own, clearly delineated, styling and engineering teams. In 1981, Lancia’s engineering activities were folded into Fiat’s own; by 1989, any remaining separation was abolished. You can see this in the differentiation exhibited by the cars of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The Beta and Mk1 Delta are both clearly more sophisticated in engineering terms than their Fiat counterparts. To some extent this remained true throughout the 1980s (Thema vs Croma, some of the technology on various specialist models), but by the time you hit the Tipo-derived models, the differentiation is superficial.

    5. I’ll insist that the Gamma needed to be at least 5cm longer in wheelbase to be on par with its E-segment rivals on rear passenger legroom, and we need to keep in mind the statement that it was initially planned to replace the Flavia (to whose dimensions it was pegged) rather than the Flaminia, which will be my focus in this comment.

      The Flaminia was indeed irrelevant and anachronistic by 1970. Its engines were woefully underpowered and thus incapable of keeping up with their German equivalents (mostly Mercedes-Benz; I tend to think that BMW is more of an Alfa Romeo rival). Transmission-wise, it only offered a choice between a 4-speed manual and a 3-speed Saxomat semi-auto, of all things. And, frankly, who would pay a price higher than that of a Daimler Sovereign S1 for a slow ’50s car when they could get a Jaguar XJ6 (or its Daimler badge-engineered sister) or a Mercedes W114/115?

      So, what was there to work with? I believe the engine block was a good place to start. An upgrade to DOHC (or at least SOHC) per bank, with displacements ranging from 2.5 to 3.0 liters, and with the addition of electronic fuel injection, I sincerely believe it would have easily rivaled, if not bested, Mercedes-Benz’s 2.8 affair of the W123. And the 2-liter market could have been catered for by the 2-liter DOHC engine that powered the top-flight Betas. Then, a nicely-sorted five-speed manual box could be had as standard equipment, with a ZF auto being offered as an alternative. And all this could be combined in a “traditional” FR layout, even if that would mean a divorce from Lancia tradition.

      Remember: Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg are not examples of good engineers; by this I mean good engineering does not mean overly complex solutions that raise production, maintenance and repair costs. If a solution works equally well as the “traditional” and is easier and cheaper to produce, improve and maintain, it always wins – at least in my book. This driveline could have been mated to the Beta’s suspension architecture (Camuffo did a fantastic job there), perhaps with the front McPherson struts being replaced by double wishbones.

      Seeing that the Fiat/Citroën joint venture had fallen through, perhaps this proposed successor to the Flaminia could not have benefitted from a height-adjustable Citroën-derived suspension, unless it was used under license, as was the case in the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9. This would, of course, depend on the Gruppo’s finances. But here’s another nagging question: Would Fiat allow such a Lancia to have the build quality and reliability to rival its German competition and maintain Lancia’s fame?

    6. Some interesting thoughts. In reality, though, I doubt the idea of using the Flaminia block was feasible. It goes without saying that both the Aurelia and Flaminia lost a fortune and nothing about them, including/especially the mechanicals, would have been designed with an eye to reining in production costs. If a longitudinal V6 had been settled upon, I simply cannot see why they would have bothered to re-engineer the Lancia six, and then spend a considerable additional sum refitting Borgo San Paolo to bring them up to a semblance of efficiency. There was, after all, absolutely nothing wrong with the 130’s powertrain – it wasn’t some lump of lead like the Essex.

      I suppose in the end it hardly matters whether the Gamma served as the ‘real’ replacement for the Flavia or Flaminia. I still think targeting the executive class with it was, conceptually, the right decision. In today’s conception of the market, the Beta would be considered a D-segment saloon, and the Gamma an E-segment car. It goes without saying that pushing the Gamma down a sector would have made absolutely no sense. The Flavia was a reasonably large car for its time (at least in European terms) – effectively an executive E-segment car by 1960s standards, even if some of its powertrains didn’t necessarily reflect that positioning. In terms of size and price, the Flaminia would have been the equivalent of an F-segment contender (A8, S-Class, 7-Series) in its day.

      By the early 1970s, a clear notion of what is now commonly understood to be E-segment was beginning to take shape, and the basics were pretty much set in stone by 1976. Pretty much everyone in the European industry had planted a flag in the ground, with varying degrees of commitment. Fiat management were surely aware of the way the market was heading, and were also surely aware that a shield and flag emblem was significantly more likely to succeed in that sector than a blue parallelogram. We can argue over a few dozen millimetres here or there, but the Gamma was basically in the ballpark in terms of segment size. It lacked the requisite number of cylinders, a point made by some at the time. It’s possible to argue the toss on whether it could have overcome this handicap without other events interfering. Of course, as events demonstrated, it’s a moot point – which partially speaks to your hypothetical closing question.

    7. Stradale, you mentioned the Tipo-derived models. To be honest, I have a soft spot for the Dedra. I’d always liked its clean, uncluttered lines and the tasteful restraint of its interior, where the use of matt-finished bubinga veneers (in the pre-facelift cars) was an exercise in avoiding using the wood for the sake of making the car’s interior look like an Edwardian boardroom. Given that most UK-based contributors express their dislike for the Dedra’s lines, I must be a bit of an oddball here (then again, I’ve always hated the “styling” of British ’50s glassfiber-bodied Ford Pop-based specials with a passion and think the Daimler SP250 looks like a monkfish). And the alcantara upholsteries were really nice, too. And handling-wise, the car was no slouch at all, but the best versions I could experience were the 1.8 and 2-liter ones. The early 1.6-liter was a bit sluggish, but its position in the Dedra range was that of flooring inspector or something similar.

    8. I actually quite like the Tipo-derived stuff too, and think they get an undeservedly bad rap. I thought the Mk2 Delta was rather plain at launch, for instance, but looking at it now, it has dated better than either the Bravo/a or the 145/6. My point was only that compared to their predecessors, they are unmistakably less differentiated from both the norm and their group bretheren, and that necessarily had an impact on Lancia’s image and reputation amongst buyers. I personally think Fiat could have ridden out the rust scandal by doubling down on both customer service and committing to maintaining Lancia as a semi-autonomous entity within the group, but that was never going to happen once the engineering side was folded in to Fiat’s. The other factor in the 1980s was, of course, Fiat’s takeover of AR, and its chronic inability to decide what to do with Lancia ever since.

  5. I have no stomach for politics, but an odd fixation with gearboxes.

    Is it possible that the purest offspring of the PARDEVI era was the front wheel drive longitudinal engined Citroën C35 / Fiat 242? As far as I can work out they used the Citroën SM transaxle. If so, those decomposing into the soils of rural France and Italy could be useful parts donors for SMs, Meraks and Esprits.

    Since the Beta came to market two years before the CX, its end-on gearbox with the elegant intermediate shaft could be said to have been lent to the Citroën. I’m struggling to work out where it was made . One source suggests Verrone, a Lancia outpost in northen Piedmont from pre-Fiat days, now producing the C635 dual clutch transmission as part of FCA.

  6. Stradale, thanks for confirming that. Verrone is proof that you can’t keep Lancia down.

    Konstantinos, I enjoyed your treatise, but would suggest that the CX’s engine was not as ancient nor as agricultural as you imply. It was a mere eight years in production when the CX arrived in August 1974, having quietly replaced Sainturat’s three bearing long-stroke unit in the DS in 1966. Its cleveress is discreet too, for example Citroën chose not to go for the fashionable overhead camshaft, instead opting for a chain driven camshaft mounted so high in the block that the geometry allowed crossover pushrods to operate opposed valves set in a 60 degree vee angle, and a hemispherical combustion chamber.

    At the time most of the new breed of ohc engines used a simpler arrangement of in-line parallel valves, gaining minimal advantage from direct valve operation. Unlike its predecessor, the Citroën high-cam four had loads of space to expand laterally; the 1985cc engine at 86.0 x 85.5 was mildly oversquare. The same stroke served the 2347cc version with a 93.5mm bore, and it only stretched upwards for the 2500cc engines.

    It’s a magnificently over-engineered engine, which might make it ‘agricultural’. I wouldn’t regard that as an insult – there’s a strong case for claiming Harry Ferguson to be the best automotive engineer the British Isles ever produced.

    Going for something as superficially simple as a big capacity in-line four may seem contrary to Citroën’s reputation as innovators, but the company always had a rational and pragmatic side (does Linda know?) and their choice seems to have been deliberate rather than expedient.

    Stories abounded in CAR, and no doubt other sources, about Citroën being offered the PRV V6 for the CX, and always finding excuses not to use it, preferring to expand their own four and employ forced induction. I don’t recall the adoption of the PRV four for the low-end CXs, which did happen, being particularly welcomed by Citroënistes either.

    1. The PRV was not well received, and still has a mixed reputation, but not deservedly so, I’d say. I remember problems with leaking and vapour bubbles (are they called like this), but also a smoother running than the bigger units. And the car felt less front-heavy and more light-footed with this engine. Too bad the injected and turbocharged units used in Renaults (and Peugeots?) never came into the CX.

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