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.
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.
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.
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.