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.
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].