Rumours of a turbocharged version of the Lancia flagship proved to be more than hot air, but the Gamma Turbo failed to enter production. Well, not quite…
Even following the car’s announcement, it appears that debate over the wisdom of employing the Tipo 830 boxer engine continued to rage; especially once the powerplant’s frailty in service became apparent. This schism was alluded to by Car magazine’s Italian correspondent, Giancarlo Perini in June 1979, writing; “At Lancia they are developing a new 6-cylinder engine that could be fitted into the Gamma. But a big struggle is going on between the directors who supported the flat-four project (who will not recognise they were wrong) and the other directors who support a change to a six cylinder engine.” It’s likely Perini was getting his timelines muddled, since Fiat were by then firmly in retrenchment mode and would never countenance such expense having already invested in the existing powerplant. Nevertheless, it does suggest a measure of hand-wringing was taking place over the Gamma’s fortunes in Turin.
Not to be outdone, Perini had his soothsayer’s hat on again in Car‘s March 1981 issue, reporting that Lancia was testing a turbocharged Gamma for launch the following year. Now here Giancarlo was on slightly firmer ground, since Lancia did appear to have developed a turbocharged Gamma; reports suggesting at least one prototype was fitted with 16-valve heads, although it remains unclear as to how these would have been actuated. This was borne out by enthusiast website, Lancia Central, who state the Gamma’s 16-valve turbo engine produced 170 bhp, some 30 horses up on the naturally aspirated model. A prototype was also reportedly catalysed for the US market. Could Lancia have seriously considered selling the Gamma in the US?
Additionally, rumours suggested this unit would also find its way into the mid-engined Monte Carlo, a car that was certainly crying out for more power – not to mention decent brakes. Nevertheless, no turbocharged Gamma was officially introduced, the model’s stalling sales figures putting paid to any but the most pressing investment to shore up its rapidly shrinking market.
However, UK customers (those who were feeling particularly lucky anyway) could get their hands on a turbocharged Gamma. London-based Lancia dealer Waterloo Carriage commissioned the conversion, carried out by ex-Janspeed consultant engineer, Malcolm Cole using a Garrett Rotomaster T04B turbocharger with boost pressure of 7psi. The compression ratio was lowered from 9.0 to one to 7.8 to one by skimming the combustion chambers and the use of short-reach plugs. No alteration was deemed necessary to the cooling system, but heat shielding was widely employed in the under-bonnet area.
The converted cars were sold direct from Waterloo Carriage in South London, the Gamma Coupe being the sole recipient of forced induction. However, also available was the Gamma Six-Nine special edition, an unofficial Brougham version of the Berlina, which came with duo- tone paintwork, a unique front air-dam, special alloy wheels, front & rear foglights, electronic ignition, and a radio cassette player. RRP £8348 – price £6900. So while they weren’t exactly giving them away, certain UK dealers certainly were flinging a whole lot of incentives towards customers brave enough to take the plunge.
In the November 1981 issue of Car, Roger Bell tested Waterloo Carriage’s development Gamma Coupe turbo. Bell writing; “Unfortunately, engineering purity doesn’t necessarily attract paying customers, as Lancia have discovered. Despite the Gamma coupe’s stunning looks – Pininfarina at their best – and its marvellous manners (the product of sharp, perfectly weighted power steering and a firm footed agility that belies the car’s size), Lancia’s flagship has yet to hit a winning streak.” No power or torque figures were quoted, but performance figures for the development car were impressive. The turbocar shaving 2 seconds off the standard model’s 0-60 time and 6 seconds off 0-100. Through each of the standard increments, the turbo car was notably faster, the recorded figures proving remarkably close to those offered by the six cylinder BMW 635 CSi.
Bell observed; “The boxer engine, in perfect primary and secondary balance, is marvelously sweet running and refined, from its steady, even idle, right up to the ignition cutout at 6200 rpm. There’s little effective turbo boost below 2000 rpm, but the 2.5 litre engine’s inherently good lugging ability, still strong despite the lower compression ratio, masks that disability. As the revs rise, there’s a progressive increase in output rather than a sudden surge, which produces splendidly vigourous and effortless mid-range acceleration. At 100 mph, engine noise is no more than a murmur and an mpg range of 18 to 24 – about the same the standard [model] and marginally better than the BMW’s – underlines that economy hasn’t been sacrificed for increased urge.” The development car was an earlier carburettor model, but its creator was confident fuel injected Series 2 model would be even better suited to turbo treatment. Bell described the Gamma Turbo as; “a fine car, a real drivers car which turbocharging has made inspiring.”
He did however add to the chorus questioning the coupe’s “questionable torsional rigidity”, pointing out, “the way the car shudders and shakes on the rough suggest further reinforcements are necessary in the scuttle region”.
Accurate numbers for turbo conversions are difficult to ascertain, but suggestions of between six and ten cars seem to be the accepted number. At least one is known to survive.