Ashtrays: 1958 Lancia Appia, Series 3

Normally DTW finds itself taking an ironic look at what passes for engineering and styling excellence: Lybras, saggy Renaults and small ad detritus. Today we look from our place in the sewer up at the stars. 

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And in so doing we look at a Lancia. Quite apart from the exquisite quality of the car, the engineering principles are pure pleasure to consider. The rear-wheel drive Appia has a monococque body, a one litre V4 engine and sliding pillar front suspension. All of this is there to help the driver to smoke while conducting a neat, refined and understated saloon of considerable capability.

The ashtray is of the fixed-tray, flip-under lid type. It’s a small car so the off-centre placement is not a disadvantage to the driver. On reflection, its placement is probably meant as a courtesy to the passenger and perhaps a chance to flirt with her. There’s another tray in the back, affixed to the backrest. All four occupants of the Appia could smoke in comfort.

The whole car is fitted together with a palpable sense of robustness. It’s a quality hard to discern in today’s automotive aristocracy, no matter how fine the materials nor complex the electronics or multitudinous the features. The manufacturers are choking cars with content. A really interesting exercise would be to make a medium-sized saloon with nearly no money spent on toys but the cost directed towards discernable, unrelentingly tasteful durability.

Minimalist architecture is the preserve of the ultra-rich. Their cars and all our cars are like Wimpey homes filled with DFS furniture by comparison. Isn’t this odd?

A modern Appia would be devoloped not on paper nor on the screen but in the way Apple developed the iPhone: by making perfect prototypes. I keep coming back to David Pye’s notions on the art and aesthetics of craftsmanship which stress that much of what we call design is the province of the craftsman and not captured on paper. In this light, the manufacturer who spends some money researching through prototyping a bomb-proof, beautiful-through-simplicity car might find for themselves a way out of the features/complexity/size impasse.

As a drawing the Appia is nice, sure; the beauty of it was in Lancia’s conception and execution, right down to the details such as the smooth-gliding action of the front ashtray.

[Editor’s note: The original text has been amended to correct an erroneous reference to front-wheel drive and independent suspension].

Author: richard herriott

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

16 thoughts on “Ashtrays: 1958 Lancia Appia, Series 3”

  1. Richard,

    A pleasing evocation of a delightful and undersevedly overlooked car.


    If you’d spent a little longer in the sewer before looking up at the stars, you may have spotted a propshaft, a live rear axle, and a pair of longitudinal leaf springs.

    Front wheel drive didn’t come to the smallest Lancias until the arrival of Antonio Fessia’s Fulvia in 1963. Even then IRS wasn’t in the mix – both the Fulvia and Flavia made do with a simple dead tube axle on longitudinal leaf springs with a Panhard Rod assisting location. Perhaps the philandering braggart Fessia had spent all the money on fancy engines and transaxles, and there was nothing left for a more sophisticated suspension…

    1. Ah…I ought to have read the accompanying panel a little more carefully! I assumed Lancia had done FWD with the Aurelia and carried it to the Appia. Well, that’s wrong.

  2. Not even transverse leaf springs. The front suspension uses sliding pillars. Michelotti did the styling at Vignale.
    I’ll amend the text when I get to a PC and note the edits.

  3. The Aurelia was RWD with a rear mounted transaxle incorporating inboard drum brakes. The first ones had proper IRS with semi-trailing arms and coil springs, probably a simplified version of the Aprilia set-up which used a leaf spring and torsion bars, and inboard brakes – but with a front mouted gearbox. The final series Aurelia changed over to a De Dion axle and leaf springs, the Flaminia used a similar arrangement.

    In the pre-Fiat era, there were three distinct Lancia engineering ‘streams’:

    Narrow angle V4 / RWD / FWD. Originated with Vincezo Lancia himself, carried on through Aprilia, Ardea, Appia, Jolly, Fulvia, the last being a Vincenzo / Fessia hybrid with the V4 in a longitudinal FWD configuration.

    V6 with rear mounted transaxle (János Viktor): Aurelia, Flaminia.

    Flat four longitudinal FWD (Antonio Fessia): Originated with Fessia’s CEMSA Caproni, which never went into series production. Flavia, Super Jolly, and much later, Gamma.

    Which is probably enough ‘garage talk’. Basically the rule with pre-Fiat Lancia engineering is that whatever you think it is, it’s probably not.

    1. That’s a good summary of the situation, the kind of thing you can remember easily. Thanks for that.
      I don’t think the Appia’s ashtray was illuminated though.

  4. I looked up the CEMSA. It was from the same year as the Cisitalia 220 but was by Bertone: it has the same integrated bodyside. How is it that it gets no credit for this?

  5. Given the overall excellence of the Appia, in all its shapes, I think Richard can be excused his over-enthusiasm. It feels like it should have all those things, indeed possibly hybrid power and a cure for the common cold. Lancia is the company that made leaf springs respectable, though in any case I’d also make my repeated plea for acceptance of the concept of the transverse leaf spring, often the cause of unjust jibes in the case of the Corvette, as being no bad thing at all. Securely mounted at the centre, it can be seen as two separate springs, yet possessing a degree of inbuilt anti-roll, which is quite an elegant solution.

    The Appia, especially in Series 1 form, has always seemed a very desirable car. Various manufacturers still offer showcars with clap-hands doors and pilarless construction in a monocoque, then renege on their production versions, yet Lancia delivered that over 60 years ago. Having said that, it’s the reason I’d never actually want to own one since I would find it hard to ask someone to sit in the front of a car with me and not wear a seatbelt (yes, I know that the B pillars of many of the Appia’s contemporaries offer a pretty spindly fixing, but all the same…)

    1. That feature surprised me. At first I thought someone had cut away the b-pillar. It afforded me a great view of the interior and its ashtrays. I am still awaiting reaction to my paired-down but rock-solid car proposal. It deserves a prototyped and a set of focus groups to test the concept. It sidesteps the march towards complexity and offers a halo to the owner. That balance of expense and minimalism would be very tempting for people who want to spend yet find the things available are disgusting to behold. That´s me in a way. I would not know what sort of fabulous new car to buy if I had lots more money than I do.

  6. I have to admit to liking the 1939-53 Ardea even more than its successor. A near perfect Aprilia in miniature, with a 900cc V4, the sort of car only Italy in the ’30s and’ 40s, or possibly Japan rather later, could produce.

    On those doors, Marc Newson’s 1999 Ford 021C concept had the same arrangement, there’s definitely lot of Appia in the eclectic mix:

    I think the only mass produced vehicle of recent times to feature the ‘clap-hand’ pillarless door arrangement was the Honda Element SUV, which went on sale a couple of years after the Newson concept was shown. If it isn’t already, it ought to be a DTW favourite – it’s certainly in my Top 50.

    Rolls Royce’s present day Phantom and Ghost do ‘clap-hand’, but with absolutely massive B pillars. Either would earn a low place in my Bottom 50 list…

    1. There’s also the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which Richard also inexcusably missed off his list. And, if it’s lack of pillars and the sort of body flex that Lancia could only dream about, there is also the Nissan Prairie.

  7. Marc Newson borrowed a huge amount for that car. In retrospect it is even more clearly a Now That’s What I Call Car Design design than a synthesis. What did Ford want from Newson? It must have been at the detail level, at the level of radii and joins. Newson’s a product designer and that sort of thing is where ID excels.

  8. The 021C puts me in mind of the words often, but questionably, attributed to Samuel Johnson:

    “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

    From the Newson site I found this:

    “The entire interior ceiling is illuminated with optical fiber.”

    Rolls-Royce offer such a feature as an option in the aforementioned Phantom and Ghost. It’s not one that pleases me.

    1. That’s where Bayley got that line from.
      Newson’s car can be said to nicely re-use a lot of existing features and he reminded the world of orange. I can’t see any element that went on to change the way Ford did anything, for better or worse. Is there a molecule of 021C thinking in the Fiesta or Lincoln MKZ?
      The 021C is an Appia of some kind? Even if it has “front wheel drive technology” as Marc Newson’s site refers to it.
      Is the Appia fit for the DTW Top Fifty? No, the Prisma took its place. And next in line is the Dedra.

  9. I finally got round to opening the January issue of Boring Boring CAR this evening, and there’s the Dr. Johnson (maybe) quotation staring me in the face, beside an egregious Lexus SUV and the comic’s “favourite cultural commentator”.

    A timely reminder to cancel my subscription…

  10. The full page photo is deeply disturbing. Bayley looks like an old bum in an ill-fitting defendant’s suit from Primark, dead-eyed from sleeping the night in a doorway after being admonished on a vagrancy charge.

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