Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Seven

The Gamma Berlina’s appearance would divide opinion. In this part, we examine the concept that inspired it.

1967 Pininfarina Berlina Aerodynamica. Image: banovsky
1967 Pininfarina Berlina Aerodynamica. Image: banovsky

The styling of both Gamma variants was the responsibility of Pininfarina, a design house with a lengthy and distinguished association with the Lancia marque. While the Gamma coupé would reference themes from Lancia’s stylistic past, the scheme for the Berlina would prove a complete departure; echoing, particularly in the canopy area, the carrozzeria’s 1967 Berlina Aerodynamica, possibly the most influential saloon concept since their Lancia Florida series a decade earlier.

Like Bertone’s Lamborghini Miura, the Berlina Aerodynamica has been attributed to more than one designer over the years and given Pininfarina’s reluctance to credit individual stylists, the facts have been left for historians to puzzle over. The concept seems to originate with Leonardo Fioravanti’s student days at the Politecnico di Milano. Studying design and aerodynamic theory, the young man was tutored by none other than Lancia engineering supremo, Professor Antonio Fessia. Reputedly encouraged by the redoubtable engineer in his studies, Fioravanti is said to have created a design for a low-drag, Kamm-tailed fastback saloon, elements of which in retrospect resemble Tipo 830.

Following his 1964 appointment at Pininfarina, Fioravanti revisited the concept in conjunction with fellow stylist, Paulo Martin, who according to Fioravanti contributed a number of stylistic elements to the substantially revised 1967 design, which was based on the platform and mechanical layout of BMC’s ADO17 saloon. (Interestingly, retaining a British connection, Fioravanti’s original concept was to be powered by Daimler’s compact 2.5 litre V8 unit).

Berlina Aerodynamica or nascent Gamma? Image: motori.corriere
Berlina Aerodynamica or nascent Gamma? Image: motori.corriere

Upon release, Autocar magazine described Berlina Aerodynamica as “a demonstration that so far as styling for the 1970s is concerned, this is the kind of shape we shall all be driving”. They were only half wrong: It was to have a profound effect on saloon car envelopes during the early years of the 1970’s, inspiring many of the Gamma’s contemporaries. Ironic then that the car most closely related to Pininfarina’s original concept would in fact be the very last to appear.

As Tipo 830 was being created under the direction of Sergio Camuffo at Lancia and Fioravanti at Pininfarina, early proposals by Aldo Brovarone bore a close resemblance to Berlina Aerodynamica, but without the prototype’s glazed rear three-quarter light treatment. The most significant departure from the finished design was the lower, more penetrating nose and semi-enclosed headlights, which was altered on the instructions of Camuffo, who requested a more formal arrangement. The addition of a body swage line appears a direct lift from the smaller 1100 Aerodynamica prototype from the same period. Interior design for both models was also carried out by Pininfarina – Lancia adopting the proposed treatments largely unaltered.

Gamma. Photo: leroux.andre
Gamma. Photo: leroux.andre

Bucking contemporary luxury car convention, the Berlina was a fastback shape, with a separate boot. To some eyes at least, the styling looked bulky and under-resolved. Certainly from some angles, the car appears slightly overwhelmed by its canopy. Viewed in profile, the shortness of the wheelbase is notable and one has to wonder whether a few additional centimeters between the wheels would have allowed the designers create a slightly more balanced shape. Damningly too, the Gamma’s silhouette reprised that of cheaper cars like the Alfasud, Citroen GS and Lancia’s own Beta model. So despite the fact that the Gamma appeared both modish and intriguing, there was a degree of stylistic resistance to the car within its target market, especially from customers of a more traditional bent.

Certainly, from quite early in its career, Pininfarina appeared to distance itself from the Berlina design, concentrating efforts on the more conservative and better received coupé. It’s possible that owing to the lateness of the Gamma’s arrival to market, it was felt to be a dated design theme within the carrozzeria; certainly, as the decade wore towards its close, the fashion for fastback styles had faded, heralding a return to either more traditional three-volume or more overt hatchback shapes.

Lancia Gamma 3 Volume
Lancia Centro Stile’s effort at a three-volume variant of the Gamma.

Lancia’s own centro stile appeared to acknowledge this trend, creating a tre-volumi Gamma variant in a similar vein to the 1980 Trevi – a car incidentally, designed with assistance from Pininfarina. If anything, the resulting proposal was less of a visual success than that of its more compact sibling, so it’s perhaps a mercy it never saw the light of day.


Read more on the Gamma Coupe’s styling here

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

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

  1. Really nice article, thanks Eoin. I find that decade from 65 to 75 absolutely fascinating for the amount of experimentation in style and engineering that came through in production cars. There were some quite glorious failures …

  2. The three box version of the Gamma looks very fine to me. I like the tension between the formality of the roofline and the car´s implied speed. This is something I try to get at when I draw a saloon. The Trevi had this as did the last boxy 3-series. The shape of the rear window on the Centro Stile is also a good detail. Why is this so awful?

    1. Because the Scala concept looked so much better

  3. This series is always a delight. I’m taken with the Tre Volumi Gamma too, although it does look like a mash-up of several other cars – Opel Rekord E, peugeot 505, Ro80, XJ40. It would look at its best with velvet curtains in the rear compartment, and an ‘SCV’ prefixed registration.

    I’m aready envisaging a longer wheelbase version (nothing ridiculous – about 100mm), and a reduced size rear window and heavier D-pillars. Or is that a bit too Brougham?

    1. That’s quite brougham. Lancia really ought not to be about added trim but deep down quality like the W-123.
      I’m glad you agree about the notchback version.
      Is there a reason Lancia didn’t “just” update their V6 for this car?

  4. I’m trying to pinpoint a date for the Fioravanti thesis project. He joined Pininfarina in 1964 at the age of 26, so possibly a couple of years before, allowing for a rather languid studentship, or more likely national service.

    Most accounts say that the Daimler engine envisaged was an in-line four derived from the V8, mounted transversely and canted rearwards. Half of the 2.5 litre would have been a bit weedy to move a 4780mm (15′ 8″) long car with a 2800mm (110.3″) wheelbase – bigger than the Gamma. I think the young Leonardo would have envisaged halving the 4.5 litre V8. All entirely academic – in the proper sense – as the two engines have more in common than the gulf in capacities suggests. The smaller engine has a different block casting, with a lower deck height, but shared tooling dictated the same bore centres, camshaft location and main bearing positions.

    A generously proportioned aerodynamic fastback with an oversquare, hemi-head. pushrod, in-line four installed transversely – it’s the CX development hack!

    1. Wonder whether the (110 + hp?) Daimler Slant-4 was a 2.25-litre or rounded off at 2-litres, since as you have mentioned half a 140 hp 2.5-litre Daimler V8 being roughly s 70 hp 1274cc Slant-4 would be underpowered for such a large car.

  5. Richard – ‘just updating’ the Lancia V6. It was virtually hand-made. Fiat had one V6 intended for far bigger numbers than the 19,600 or so 130s produced in the eight years before the Gamma. There was also the smaller, lighter, Dino V6, probably not right for a luxury saloon – wrong angle, too revvy.

    My inner Camuffo would have campaigned for building the Gamma superstructure on a 130 platform – it was his ‘baby’ after all. Lancia didn’t have FWD in their DNA in the way that DKW (or whatever they’re called these days), Saab, and Citroën have – it arrived with Fessia.

    The 130’s wheelbase is 2720mm, the Gamma Berlina’s is 2670mm, the Berlinetta’s 2555mm.

    The notional engine range would start with the fiscally attractive Lampredi four, with natural and forced induction (122bhp and 135bhp). An injected 2.8 V6 (160bhp) would be the core Gamma engine. The 3.2 (180bhp i.e, 230bhp Volumex) would be reserved for a LWB (say 2800-2900mm) Tre Volumi version – a true Ammiraglia.

    1. So- the Fiat V6 might have worked and it could have been put in a RWD body derived from the Fiat. Or, they could designed a new RWD body and used it on a later Fiat.
      Let’s not get too revisionist: wasn’t front wheel drive the futuristic choice in the 70s? Going FWD made sense in those days.

    2. I’ve maintained for years that Fiat should have built a Lancia flagship model on the 130 platform and engine. It was a blindingly obvious solution and one that could have been achieved before the oil crisis hit. That way the Gamma could have been what it was supposed to have been. A replacement to the Flavia.

    1. In that case Richard, you probably have Mario Maioli to thank. He was Lancia’s styling chief from 1977 until his departure about a decade later. Allow me to say there is nothing incorrect about the centro stile Gamma’s form, merely a lack of visual richness, which say what you will, Brovarone’s berlina has in abundance. The Trevi followed a similar theme – (I imagine it came first) – but maintained more complexity in its detailing. To my eyes it looked more expensive. The centro stile Gamma is just a little too self-effacing. And the Pininfarina Scala makes the case for Lancia’s own version very thin indeed – apart from that of cost.

      Fiat made several mis-steps in their management of Lancia during this period but in my (clearly biased) opinion, the decision to pursue a very formal styling theme was one factor which hastened its eventual demise.

      Anorak alert: Those rear lenses are a straight lift from the Trevi, yes? They’re also very similar (but annoyingly not identical) to those employed on the XJ40 SDV prototypes.

  6. On the RWD / FWD matter, in the ’70s there seemed to be an acceptance of either in the Gamma’s class, curiously without – in Europe anyway – any national particularity.

    I don’t think the customers (usually paying their company’s or nation’s money) were particularly bothered what end was driven, often drifting from Saab to Volvo, or Renault to big Peugeot, or BMW to Audi. As for the manufacturers, the decision was usually down to what was lying around; not just components and production facilities, but also the experience and mindset of their engineers.

    FWD was also seen as being inflexible in terms of ability to accommodate a variety of engines and transmissions, although Camuffo must have mislaid that particular memo by the time work started on the Thema.

    I’ve been looking at some numbers – I like these.

    Fiat 130 production 1969-77: 19,584 (including 4,491 coupes) (Liepedia)
    Lancia Gamma production 1976- 1984: 22,062 (including 6,790 coupes) (Liepedia)

    By comparison Thema production (1984-1994) was around 260,000. (Honest* John). It was a better, and more broadly acceptable car, but the real reason that twelve times as many were built as the Gamma was that people had far more money by the mid-’80s.

    Incidentall,y production of the 1968-71 Austin 3 Litre, often regarded as a benchmark of British Leyland White Elephantry, was 9,992 (AROnline), over a three and a half year production life, which puts the 130 and Gamma numbers into even grimmer perspective.

    1. There’s an essay: the transition from RWD to FWD in the 1970s. The American experience was in my mind: GM, Ford and Chrysler downsized and replaced their BOF and rear-drive cars with monococque FWD.
      In Europe GM went front drive with small cars first, as did Ford. Chrysler went bankrupt.
      The Escort in 1980-something; the second last Opel Kadett (?), and I think Talbot’s Horizon and Alpine were FWD by the late 70s.
      All of this is of zero interest to consumers concerned with Bluetooth, phone jacks and infotainment screens. They should place them ahead of the driver so they can stay safely parked while changing the hi-fi settings to MOR.

  7. The Horizon and (Chrysler) Alpine were always front wheel drive; they were the ‘children’ of Grundeler and Scales’ Simca 1100, a larger car than most people imagine.

    The inexorable rise of FWD in the technically conservative USA in the 1980s is the most surprising part of the ‘transition’ story. The GM X-cars were a huge sales success but soon earned an appalling reputation for unreliability, yet there was no going back. Cost was probably the biggest driver – by the late ’70s the automotive industry worldwide had worked out how to do FWD for usefully less money than RWD.

    The steps on the way, sometimes bold (GM -ado cars), sometimes timid (Ford 12M-15M ‘Cardinal’) are also fascinating. And who knew that Vauxhall considered FWD (both transverse and longitudinal) for the Viva HA? It’s in Palmer’s book. Opel’s will prevailed, or was imposed, and the 1963 Viva was Kadett underneath with British styling on top.

  8. Yes, the Horizon and Alpine were FWD though the predecessor Talbot… Chrysler … no, that was always FWD. Was there a rear drive Chrysler hatchback? The 180 was rear drive. As was the Tagora. I’m half aware of a Rootes-group RWD hatch. Its name eludes me.

    1. “Put a Chrysler Sunbeam in your life, it’ll put a smile on your face
      It’s the car that will give you the glow that’ll grow when go any place” As sung by Petula Clark.

      Who says jingles don’t work?

  9. Eoin: thanks for providing the name. Sunbeam. A rear drive hatchback that isn’t a Rover SD1. Now I have that name I can’t help wondering about the Horizon sold around the same time and which looked similar. Apologies – I’d assumed they were the same car. Goodness.
    Wikipedia says the Sunbeam was replaced by the little FWD Samba which is not true other than that Chrysler *said so*. If they did.
    The Horizon’s history is that of the Rootes Group in miniature: Simca 1100 replaced by the Chrysler Horizon which was replaced by the Peugeot 309.

    1. The bloody awful Sunbeam: A two door Avenger with three inches cut out of its wheelbase and a poor apology for a rear hatch. Paid for out of the Labour government’s rescue money to keep the worst car industry workforce in Europe – possibly the world – in their undeserved jobs. They ruined the Imp, and didn’t deserve a second chance.

      The Sunbeam was a supermini in intent, and pricing, if not in dimensions. There is a curious Samba parallel in that both had diecast all-alloy ohc four cylinder engines far more advanced than their competitors offered, although most Sunbeam purchasers went for the option of the bigger all-iron Avenger units.

      The Samba was smaller because PSA didn’t want it to compete directly with the 104, so reduced the wheelbase by just over… three inches. Would the customers have noticed; was it worth the bother of altering the platform to please the tidy thought processes of French product planners? Still, those in the know say the Samba was the best of that PSA family. It was certainly a good seller.

      Eóin, my recollection of that Petula Clark jingle is tainted by the school playground version: “Put a Chrysler Sunbeam up your a**e”.

      Anyway, such things have no place in our meditation on the noble Gamma…

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