Examining the Gamma’s technical specification and its initial press reception.
Technically speaking, the Gamma was classic Lancia in that it mated an unconventional powerplant to a largely orthodox chassis layout. However, the big Lancia’s mix of conventional components came with an added dash of élan. The engine was a development of the proven Flavia unit, bored out to 2.5 litres. Sergio Camuffo outlined why he chose to enlarge the engine capacity saying, “In fact, this increase in capacity of 25% was guided by experience. The same one who pushed my predecessors from 1.5 liter to 2 liters to solve lubrication problems. As oil capacity were equivalent, it seemed more prudent.” While the Flavia engine family used pushrods for valve actuation and a chain-driven camshaft, the redesigned cast aluminium boxer unit used belt-driven overhead camshafts and a twin-choke Weber carburettor providing 140 bhp at 5400 rpm, with a hefty 153 lbs/ft of torque at a mere 3000 rpm.
Suspension was similar in concept to that of the Beta, but was unique to the Gamma – MacPherson struts at all four wheels with wide-based lower wishbones at the front and parallel transverse links at the rear. The front suspension was subframe-mounted. In fact, the rear suspension design was so accomplished that it was used in the later Thema model and is said to have been copied by other manufacturers after Camuffo neglected to patent it. Steering was by servo assisted rack and pinion with 3 turns from lock to lock, belt-driven from one of the twin camshafts. Brakes were discs all round, ventilated at the front.
So, engine layout aside, nothing terribly outlandish about the Gamma’s hardware, but Lancia engineers were past masters in the science of alchemy. It was the manner in which these prosaic components were honed that made the difference; and here the Gamma was to cleave to the marque archetype.
Keenly anticipated, and launched to a broadly enthusiastic reception from the gentlemen of the press, the Gamma got off to a good start. In look and feel, the Berlina (which was built to a high standard at the Via Vincenzo Lancia works), was a seen as a worthy successor to its forebears and was warmly welcomed by Lancistas from Turin to Tuam. Car magazine’s 1978 estimation was typical of the Gamma’s initial reception when they stated, “It is a driver’s car par excellence; it will please those who like the individuality and detailing that belong more to days gone by: for this is a car in the true Lancia tradition…”
Praise for the car continued: “Frankly we were amazed at the amount of attention this car attracts. People who stop to admire it suggest that it has an air of classic elegance, a sort of old fashioned quality appeal, despite its contemporary shape. Indeed there are features of the body design that reek of times long gone and make one wonder how on earth Lancia can afford to build them into the car… this impression of traditionalism and quality comes over, and the Gamma owner will be much envied wherever he goes…”
But it wasn’t just the car’s appearance and image that won them over. The driving experience was from the top drawer too: “There is a real liveliness about the Gamma as well as an obvious and quantifiable ability and there won’t be many interested drivers who won’t enjoy getting out on the road with it or even punting it around town: it feels and acts like a proper gentleman’s sporting saloon… So with the Lancia you have wonderfully accurate and sporting handling on one hand, and first class ride comfort on the other.” They concluded: “It’s an especially good car. The strange throb of its engine at low revs is somewhat difficult to accept but within minutes you’ll find that you’re enjoying the car for its character as well as its pure ability – and that character comes as much from the engine as anything else.”
UK weekly, Motor tested a Gamma Coupé against its rivals in 1979. Motor, traditionally the most critical of the UK weeklies, found much to admire in the Gamma, lauding the car’s road behaviour and handling finesse: “It is the way the Gamma combines stability and grip with sheer finesse that gives it the edge. Its steering is sharp and quick, has enough weight… and suffers little from tugging of the wheel when the car is powered out of a tight corner. It’s perfectly complimented by the behaviour of the chassis, which is agile without being twitchy and sure-footed without being ponderous.”
But despite the warm praise, the Gamma’s honeymoon would prove breathtakingly short.
Read part 5 here
Sources, quotations & acknowledgements: see part one.