The Gamma Coupé evolved to become the model’s stylistic True North, but was this Pininfarina’s tacit admission of failure?
Over the course of our ongoing examination into the Gamma, I’ve focused primarily upon the Berlina, styled at Pininfarina by Aldo Brovorone, under the supervision of Leonardo Fioravanti. The origins of the saloon’s styling we will return to, but today I want to examine the version that captivated the pundits at the 1976 launch – the Pininfarina Coupé.
The initial brief for the Coupé was complicated by the fact that not only was it intended to replace three distinct models, it also was to serve as flagship for the entire Fiat Auto group. The first large Lancia Coupé since the demise of the Flaminia in 1968, it also superseded the mid-sized Flavia 2000 Coupé. In addition, it would be tasked with succeeding the acclaimed, if slow selling Fiat 130 Coupé. Quite a lot for one car.
Both Gammas were styled by Brovarone’s team at Pininfarina, but the Coupé was also assembled and finished at Pininfarina’s Grugliasco factory on the outskirts of Turin. The styling theme for the Coupé turned latter-day convention on its head by adopting a three volume envelope, a treatment more associated with that of a saloon. Looking more closely at the Gamma Coupé, we can see how Pininfarina married themes from Lancia’s back catalogue with trademark styling features synonymous with the fabled Torinese carrozzeria.
While the frontal aspect refers to the Gamma Berlina in overall form and formality, the roofline and canopy is similar to the contemporary Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2. The C-pillar also references that of the Flaminia, while the treatment of the flanks features a horizontal scallop running front to rear, (encompassing the tail lamp units) seemingly lifted from the 1961 Cadillac Brougham Jacqueline concept. The tail lamps themselves bear a close resemblance to those used for Paulo Martin’s Fiat 130 Coupé. The rear deck and bootlid shape refer to the 1966 Flaminia 2800 Speciale concept, which itself inspired the Flavia 2000 Coupé. So if the Gamma Coupé was something of an amalgam, it was quite a handsome one – the excessive front overhang being the most glaring visual bum note – albeit one dictated by the Gamma’s mechanicals.
The car was almost universally hailed as a styling classic, appealing more to Lancia’s conservative customer base than that of the more visually daring Berlina variant. Due perhaps to favourable reaction to the Coupé styling, Pininfarina subsequent efforts to propose additional variants focused on that bodystyle during the course of the Gamma’s troubled lifespan, offering three distinct concepts from 1978 through to 1982.
When Pininfarina showed the Gamma Spider concept in 1978, there was still an outside chance Fiat would develop the car further, even if the Targa roof wasn’t really all that convincing a solution. Two years later and with the model in trouble, the four-door Scala concept was a far more convincing attempt to convince Fiat that a reskin of the existing Berlina along coupé-esque lines would underscore the improvements embodied within the series 2 models.
A dignified and elegant car, it’s obvious it would have appealed to Lancia’s customer base, but by then Fiat were in no mood to indulge them, especially with the Gamma itself already dead in the water. 1982’s Olgiata however could never have been a serious proposal – the Gamma being on its very last legs by then. An attractive shooting brake in the style of the earlier Fiat 130 Maremma, it appeared to serve merely as a proposal for a last-gasp facelift for the model, the redesigned bumpers and re-profiled headlamps lending it a more contemporary appearance. Different, rather than better is perhaps the best description, but pointless is perhaps more apt.
Pininfarina was responsible for the styling, production engineering and assembly of the Coupé at their Grugliasco facility. However, aficionados of the Gamma will tend to rate the Berlina as the better car. Journalist and marque expert, Martin Buckley alluded to this in January 2007’s Classic & Sportscar, lauding the Berlina’s “high levels of fit and finish that aspired to Lancia’s old reputation for quality. While coupes were constructed to a rather unremarkable standard at Pininfarina, saloons were built separately from lesser Beta variants in Lancia’s smaller, lower-volume facility on the Via Vincenzo.” Furthermore, the Coupé also body suffered from body rigidity issues, most contemporary UK road tests criticising pronounced scuttle shake over rough surfaces, which can only be laid at Pininfarina’s door. Just as well they didn’t build that Spider.
Apart from some minor consultancy work during the 1980’s, Pininfarina’s long-standing association with Lancia – (one that dated back to the pre-war era) – largely ceased with the Gamma. With it, Lancia’s design roots were stripped out, replaced by increasingly corporate designs from the houses of Italdesign, IDEA and Centro Stile Fiat. Lancia’s styling continuity and an evolutionary visual code was abandoned for no better reason other than (by appearance at least), the exercise of corporate control.