Small Wonder

In 1989 the little Lancia Y10 looked like the runt of Lancia’s litter. What was it doing in the range?

1989 Lancia Y10 GTie: source
1989 Lancia Y10 GTie: source

At that time Lancia dealers stocked the ordinary Delta, the Delta HF, the Prisma 1600, the Thema and Thema Ferrari 8.32. Did any European manufacturer have such an inconsistent or heterogeneous range? Isuzu had a coupé and an SUV – (Piazza and Trooper), while Subaru had the tiny Justy, midsized 1800 4wd estate and the XT. Perhaps only Volvo’s odd mix of the 340, 480, 240 and 740/760 gets close in terms of antiquity/novelty and visual difference. No, the prize for incoherence must be Lancia’s.

By 1989 the Lancia Y10 had been on sale for four years, going on five. At this point Lancia offered some revisions and new variants to keep interest in the car alive.

1989 Lancia Y10 interior: source
1989 Lancia Y10 interior: source

For late 1989 Lancia launched the GTie version of the car, sold as an Autobianchi in France, Germany and Japan. On the credit side of the ledger customers got a usefully small car with appointments not usually seen in that class. Typical of Lancia, the interior evoked high-end Italian furniture design with its bold, clear and modernist forms. The doors skins seem to have gone from concept sketch to production unmolested. The dashboard featured dramatic expanses of cloth or Alcantara in minimalistic masses; the radio lived behind a small drawer under the instrument pack.

The exterior is a mixture of subtlety and simplicity: a reductionist take on the Lancia grille, a clam-shell type bonnet and a Kamm tail marked by its black satin finish. The bonnet shut-line and black tailgate do most to distinguish the Y from the 1983 Fiat Uno – perhaps that’s the main reason for justifying the colour choice. That detail counted when an Uno cost a little over £5300 and the base model Y another £300 rising to nearly £2000 of a difference for the GTie model.

The GTie had a 1.3 litre engine with multi-point fuel injection, revised suspension and standard Alcantara trim. The cheaper versions had either a 1.0 or 1.1 litre engine. Its enemies in the showroom included the Citroen AX, Suzuki Swift, Nissan Micra and Renault 5 Prima GTS.

The little 1.3 engine was unusual in being normally aspirated and fuel-injected (most engines this size did not feature this pairing). It produced 76 bhp and 74 lb ft of torque (accessed low down in Italian style). Nought to sixty arrived just under 12 seconds (only slightly slower than a 2.0 litre Citroen XM). Testers criticised the buzzy, frenetic engine, the spongy brakes and firm springing of the suspension. The same rear suspension saw service in the agricultural and admittedly dirt cheap Panda. To its credit it seemed to be stable and able to deal with motorway surfaces commendably. Light steering, yes, but also blighted by kickback and lack of feel. It’s worth noting that the Y10 GTie was outperformed by its predecessor, the Y10 Turbo which cracked 0-60 in nine-and-bit seconds.

The Lancia Y10’s package cleaves to a formula we are familiar with today: room for two upfront, lots of shopping in the boot and not much space in between. Essentially, the Y10 was geared for an urban setting due to its lively pick-up, good visibility and narrowness. Lancia did not follow through this refinement brief with the switchgear, seating comfort or gearchange. The GTie lost the USP of the Turbo which also meant it became an even worse fit in a range of cars characterised by luxury and sometimes absurdly high-performance.

Amazingly, the Y found 85,000 customers a year and soldiered on until 1995.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Small Wonder”

  1. I don’t think that Lancia’s range was that unusual for a mainstream manufacturer (which it still was) at the time. Other offered a similar bandwidth – take for example Ford, from the simplest Fiesta to plush Ghia versions or Cosworth engines. Also stylistically, I think it was quite coherent – straight, but refined lines everywhere.

    As for the Y10’s charms, it offered luxury and distinction without being expensive, complicated or impractical. With this, it scored big with ladies in Italy, but also outside. It sold well in Switzerland, especially when a 4×4 version was added.

    I wonder how many of them are still around – I don’t think I have seen one in the last half year or so.

    1. The 4×4 version is news to me.
      I stand by my assertion that Lancia’s range could be characterised as mixed. Most makers offered a gradually varying range of the same thing. The Y10, Delta HF and Thema-Ferrari were cut from different cloth, each.
      Still – that makes Lancia interesting and maybe the idea of a set of hollow dolls is restrictive.

    2. I think the 4×4 was a giveaway from sharing a lot of components with the equivalent Panda.

      You can imagine that for someone who was familiar with a car maker whose range encompassed things like a 2CV, a BX and a CX at the same time, Lancia’s offer seemed quite homogeneous. And yes, I’m a strong believer in cars that have their own personality, and not just the one of their brand in a slightly varying flavour or quantity. Insofar, I admire companies who are able to unite different concepts under one umbrella, credibly. Lancia, at that time, was one of them.

  2. They are starting to thin out in a big way, it’s true, but you still see final-series Y10s around Italy not altogether infrequently. I can’t remember the last time I saw one that was earlier than that, though.

    I agree that Lancia’s range wasn’t as schizophrenic back then as is insinuated here. What I see from that list is, largely, a generally coherent range, at least in theory – positioned somewhere between the Ford/Renault/Fiat mainstream and Mercedes/BMW, with a leaning towards sportiness over luxury. Alfa being in the same space under the same roof marked the real beginning of the end; the demise of the gap between the mainstream and the upmarket brands led us to where we are now.

    In any case, I have always had a soft spot for the Y10, and not just because it and I are exactly the same age (down to the day!) The styling is extremely clean; they look more contemporary than they really are and I am, at the end of the day, a sucker for fabric dash panels.

  3. I remember being at a loss in the late eighties as to what my next purchase would be when I happened into a lancia dealership and was shown a Y10 fire in mettalic beigh with brown and beigh alcantar trim.
    I was most impressed with the interior styling, electric windows plus driver controlled electric rear side window vents. Such luxury in a small economy car where every item was hidden behind drop down panels trimed in fake suede that continued round into door panels of the same.
    Lancia had done an exemplary style job both inside and out and the sub 1 litre fire engine was the epitome of efficiency at the time so this became my next steed.
    I found in use the car was quiet, refined and economical at mid fifties to the gallon but somewhat bobby in the rear suspension over rough surfaces. As a family we went on to have another when our daughter started driving and as she pointed out if it was trendy enough for Joanna Lumley to own it was good enough for her.

    1. That’s an eyebrow-raiser. Imagine. I didn’t we would have an ex-owner here. The interior was pleasing with that unified look. Today’s interiors are way too busy. Where’s that going to end? Whoever conceives of an acceptable new paradigm will do well.

  4. If anywhere on the web will know what the story is with these, I figure someone here will. Can anyone shed any light on these brochures? A friend passed them on recently – neither he nor I have seen any reference to a Y10 Abarth in official literature before. My suspicion is that these were printed before the launch, before a last-minute change-of-heart to leave the Abarth badge off – certainly, they look official and formal, but minus the badges, the car looks like an entirely normal Turbo…

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