Denied : 2003 Lancia Fulvietta

We’re not huge fans of retro styling here at Driven to Write, but every once in a while, a concept’s essential rightness overcomes our reservations.

Image: mad4wheels
Image: mad4wheels

Over four decades it has been possible to gain a shorthand on the health and vigour of Fiat’s finances by how much (if any) development resources were drip-fed towards their impoverished Lancia division. At the beginning of the new millennium, despite being heavily indebted and messily extracting itself from the failed tie-up with General Motors, Fiat seemed primed to make another attempt at re-establishing Lancia’s position in the market, now shorn of its sporting heritage and projecting an unabashed offer in the luxury arena.

Following the Mike Robinson-led Dialogos concept which influenced the 2002 Thesis saloon, Lancia’s design was to cleave to a resolutely retro style. Even so, the appearance at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show of the Fulvietta concept was a pleasing bolt from the ether. Based upon the styling of the illustrious 1965 Fulvia Coupé, the compact two-seater both looked the part and pointed to the kind of high-end couture appeal Lancia was aiming for. The original of course is a monument from an era when the marque was producing some of the finest cars available at any price and remains one of the most recognisable Lancia silhouettes of all.

The Fulvietta was built on Fiat Barchetta underpinnings – (itself based on the second series Punto) – powered by the 140 ps 1.8litre VVT unit from Fiat’s comely little boat. The bodyshell, designed at Centro Stile under the guidance of Flavio Mazoni, remained faithful to the original car’s proportions and basic style; while giving it a more contemporary, more muscular stance.

Only the frontal treatment differed markedly, showing similarities to the Grandturismo Stilnovo concept of the same year. The show car, painted in avorio and with an interior upholstered in testa di moro leather; with tanganika wood adorning it’s traditional looking dashboard looked suitably chic and was universally hailed by press and public, both clamouring for Fiat to build it. Fiat reportedly did look seriously at doing so, Italiaspeed reporting Fiat worked closely with Zagato on having it assembled at their facility.

Fulvietta interior harked back to the original. (c) mad4wheels

But with Fiat’s financial crisis worsening, Lancia’s reinvention fell victim – even core models like the the Delta being delayed until the parent could be removed from life-support. By Autumn 2006 and with the worst seemingly over, auto-journalist John Simister quizzed Sergio Marchionne about his plans for Lancia and the now renamed Fulvia concept, the be-jumpered one proclaiming; “We never said we would not make it. The next likely project after the HPE (New Delta) is a model that will appear like the Fulvia. Stay tuned, you will be pleasantly surprised.”

But two years later, there were few surprises and no Fulvia. Autocar‘s Hilton Holloway reported in June 2008 that work on the little coupé was being revived, this time on the Alfa Romeo MiTo platform – itself a variant of the Grande Punto. By now, the intention seemed to produce something different, and with Mazoni gone, his centro stile deputy Marco Tencone was in charge, telling Autocar; “When you start in a new segment, you need a new design. We will be evolving the (Lancia) design language.” Later that year, world financial markets collapsed and all thoughts of reviving Lancia evaporated in the ensuing carnage.

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Of course when one is confronted with a well executed concept such as this it’s tempting to imagine the what if’s. Certainly, had something resembling it been launched in the mid-2000’s, there would have been a market for it – coupés and cabriolets were selling in far larger numbers than they do now.

It could have been a terrific halo model; appealing to the fashion conscious who were lapping up the retro vibe and those with longer memories of Lancia’s heyday. With talk of reintroducing Lancia back into RHD markets and an absence of halo models to offer, Lancia certainly needed something special to win over hearts and minds and a pretty upmarket coupé could have been just the thing to put them back in the game against upstarts like Audi’s TT.

But realistically, would it have made any difference? Lancia’s fate was sealed by Fiat’s post-crunch collapse and subsequent merger with Chrysler. Furthermore, its unlikely any resultant Fulvia production model would have looked as pert as the 2003 concept. Certainly the translation of Lancia concepts to production during the last decade left a great deal to be desired, so perhaps one shouldn’t shed too many tears. So, a victim of circumstance, economics or procrastination? You choose, but either way its our loss.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Denied : 2003 Lancia Fulvietta”

  1. The Fulvia Coupe was one of those rare cars that was truly pretty, yet avoided Clarksonesque sneers of being a ‘hairdresser’s car’ – the rally victories will obviously have helped. There are actually very few cars like that.

    The front of the Fulvietta is disappointing to my eyes but the rest shows an understanding of the original and successfully recreates a modern day iteration without being slavishly retro. I find it far more pleasant that the new 124.

    1. Full agreement to your words. Such a car would be much more desireable than the new Fiat 124 Spider – and would find more additional buyers than the Fiat.

    2. For ease of reference when considering the original.

      The various Fulvia fronts would have been a good topic for our Facelift theme of a while back.

    1. Spot on and that’s the only week point that I can see (and I’m really not a fan of retro styling normally).

    1. As a kind of Fiat Barchetta successor? Why not?
      Did Fiat fear this car would steal too many customers from the Alfa GT? Like the Fiat Coupe did with the Alfa GTV.
      Perhaps, but why Fiat is doing now the same thing? Offering a 124 Spider which is not very different to the MX-5.
      Ok, the risk with the Fiat 124 is not very high, but i am convinced there would be a market for a coupé like the Fulvia. So why not offering a 124 Spider and a Coupé?
      And if Fiat does not want a revival of Lancia, then the Alfa Giulia Sprint also cries to be reanimated:

  2. The front lamp design is a very rational one based on the usual allignment of the bumper, bonnet and wing. Ford and Opel used a similar theme at the same time, a matter of convergent evolution. I think is sufficiently accented in this application not to look the same whereas the Ford Fusion and Vauxhall Vectra B and Suzuki Ignis all had quite similar geometry.
    With a design like this in the back catalogue you´d wonder why they didn´t use it more readily. As it is retro it will hardly have dated as it was “dated” to begin with.
    Is the a manufacturer with a store cupboard more full of unused, good concepts than Lancia? Actually, yes but I suppose the fact the company needed to use them and, say,GM or Nissan didn´t makes it more poignant. You could chart an alternative history of Lancia using these unused designs. Some of them would have been succesful too, in design and commercial terms. Look how well the Barchetta fared – also based on Punto underpinnings.

  3. Wasn’t aware of this concept but I love it. Agree the grille and lights are the weak link but it’s not a terrible pastiche of the original (beetle, mini etc) but more a design that seems inspired by the Fulvia-they even slightly changed the name. Maybe like the way the 480 looked like the P1800ES? Really like the rear light cluster.

  4. Not sure of the rear circle lights or the numberplate below the bumper though Lancia should have definitely made more use of this retro styling language in place of what donned the likes of the Lybra and Thesis.

    The Lancia Fulvietta should have appeared earlier in retrospect derived from the Punto platform and makes one wonder whether Fiat ever considered a saloon version of the Punto for Western markets (akin to the Fiat Palio-based Fiat Siena), since it could have served as a suitable base for a revived 1990s Lancia Fulvia.

    Going back further while the Beta replaced the original Fulvia, it was a much bigger car compared to the latter and makes one wish a smaller pre-Delta model was considered. Envision the latter using an upscaled Fiat 128 platform and Fiat Twin-Cam engines from 1.3-1.6 at the mid/top end of the range to an entry-level short-stroke version of the Twin-Cam displacing around 994-1052cc (via a bore of 76-76.1 mm or up to at most 1047-1162cc via a bore of 78-80 mm).

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