Three Volumes in Three Parts: 2

In the first part I discussed the static qualities of the Lancia Trevi. In this part I will present my driving impressions.

1981 Lancia Trevi
1981 Lancia Trevi

Finally, it’s time to drive in the car. First off, we set off along some minor country roads, ones I have just driven in a modern car. Initially I am the passenger and from that position I realise that I can see nothing of the instruments from the passenger side. They are set in Bellini’s cylindrical recesses which are angled to the driver. This makes me look elsewhere – out, for example.

I can’t judge the seats as they come from another car (a Punto) but the originals will be re-instated pending re-upholstering. There’s plenty of room up front and a nice clear view out, courtesy of the slim pillars. As with other cars of the period, you hear more engine noise. I can´t say it’s disagreeable. Doubtless the engineers would have liked less – as it is and in contrast to today’s overly insulated cars, one can appreciate the acoustic feedback. It is not loud, but there at a volume you can tune out if you wish.

1981 Lancia Trevi interior
1981 Lancia Trevi interior

Then it’s my turn to drive. Surprise number one: all the controls are easy and straightforward to operate. Normally one expects at least a minute or two of haptic adjustment such as finding the pedals, feeling how the gear change operates, how the steering wheel is positioned relative to your body. I had a little of that when driving a Peugeot 604 in June, chiefly in the steering (more lock required) and in the throttle (more of that required).

With the Trevi it all feels light and direct, transparent and easy to learn. Is this car really 35 years old? Many motor testers criticized the Trevi’s gearchange (and some liked it). Driven to write’s view is that the gear change is as anyone would expect, or better, and a heck of a lot easier than my XM. It was even smoother than the acceptable-but-characterless Focus I had driven on the same day. I didn’t notice any of the overspringing some writers mentioned.

One thing I really enjoyed was the throttle response: the car moves to the extent you step on the gas. And it’s brisk. Lancia claimed 10 seconds for nought to sixty and it feels faster. Out of respect for a rare car I didn’t actually own, I didn’t get to do any on-the-limit testing so I can’t corroborate period tests in terms of handling. What Car (March 1982) said this: “….the Trevi´s smaller size, greater power, lower-profile tyres and more sporting suspension set-up make it much the most responsive and entertaining of three”. (They tested it against that Saab 900GL and Citroen CX Reflex. What Car noted crisp steering from the “subtle” ZF power assistance.

1981 Lancia Trevi alloy wheel
1981 Lancia Trevi alloy wheel

I have to concur that the Trevi is a delight to drive – LJK Setright held it in high esteem and I think I see why. What is worth focusing on is that Lancia gave the Trevi had a sporting set-up with remarkable compliance.

The suspension dealt easily with the pretty uneven and coarsely surfaced roads of south-eastern Ireland where I tested this car. I had driven down from Dublin in a Ford Focus and the comparison with the Trevi astonished me. I wish I could have driven home in the Trevi, so smooth and cossetting was the ride.

1981 Lancia Trevi
1981 Lancia Trevi

Car in November 1981 said the Trevi rode well (they were comparing to a Citroen CX too). In comparison to modern cars it turns out to be a bit of a limousine in that regard.  Adding to the pleasure of conducting the car is the great view over the bonnet: it’s a big expanse of metal whose corners you can see. The waistline is low by modern standards. In combination with the excellent controls, smooth ride and agile handling the clearly defined “rim” of the passenger tub gives you the feeling of being in a kind of low-flying aeroplane. I can’t put it in any other way.

My conclusion, from a personal standpoint, is that I had no idea the Trevi would exceed my expectations on the driving front. The car’s mechanical concept is a revision of one from 1972; the actual car was 35 years old. Despite this I found it not only a drive that satisfied my curiosity. It also struck me as good enough to live with. The reviews of the car tended to approve of the Trevi’s dynamics while scorning the appearance. I would be able to bear witness to the Trevi’s impressive driving manners.

However, I would strongly contend that Bellini’s interior deserves recognition for its vision and usability. The exterior design provides a lot of entertainment and optical interest too. It´s a car I would want to keep looking at, trying to catch the shapes out but never succeeding.

I’ll boil it down to this: great to drive and fascinating to behold.

[Thanks to F. Kemple for providing the car.]

Author: richard herriott

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

12 thoughts on “Three Volumes in Three Parts: 2”

  1. At the time, I viewed the Trevi’s styling as rather too conservative, with a bit of willful zaniness thrown in rather arbitrarily. This was at a time when I felt (correctly) that styling should move forward. From the point of view of 2017, where so much styling seems to have lost its way in an incestuous world of futile body creases, mock aero venting and funnyface grilles, the Trevi seems a delight. And the driving experience – not vintage, but not skewed by too many aids – sounds delightful too.

    1. I’d put the Trevi right next to the CX as a reference car with respect to controls and ride quality. It must be noted that the Beta enjoyed a strong reputation for its steering. The Trevi carries that over.
      I can’t say what the Trevi ought to have been in 1981 – I remember finding it strange in 1991. A long time later I get it. Which view is ultimately right? I think today I see what the designers wanted onlookers to see – and I find it appealing. Compact, well-proportioned with enough novelty to give it an identity.

    2. The Trevi has matured quite gracefully really. It appeared odd in 1981, seeming less appealing than the Beta then, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer the three volume version now. I always loved the dash design.

      It’s heartening to learn that it doesn’t disappoint from a driving perspective – I somehow doubt a Prisma would offer as pleasing an experience, then or indeed now.

  2. More of this sort of thing!

    How about seeking out a Thema while the memory of the Trevi is still fresh? It’s very much a next generation Beta, bigger – but not by as much as most imagine, and with the eccentricity suppressed by the leavening of the Tipo Quattro project.

    Incidentally, I’ve just been checking some numbers in carsalesbase.com (f.k.a leftlanenews). Lancia European sales Jan-Nov 2016: 62,597. In the same period Alfa Romeo managed 60,010.

    So which is the problem brand?

    1. That’s a staggering statistic: FCA would do well to retain Lancia. Are they nurturing the wrong brand? I expect the Giulia to make a difference when it goes on sale. Still, couldn’t you see a larger, genuine Lancia adding another 80,0000 units if it existed? I’d suggest taking the next Giulietta platform and doing a Lancia version, with equal weight to the needs of both cars so as to avoid the feeling that the Lancia was a variant of the Alfa. Ford managed this with Mk2 Focus and Volvo
      V40.

  3. Italian cars of that period were rather plain looking, but this was by design. Being in a flashy looking car in that period was not good for you!

    I was always impressed with the ride and handling balance of the few Lancia I rode in or the HPE I owned. Steering was good too once on the move, but quite heavy at low speed.

    1. Thanks. The style appeals to me: compact, purposeful but neat and I like the mix of formal and agillty. The drive stood out as a benchmark. It seemed so transparent: the controls were so clear. I can see why testers raved about it. The Trevi deserves a wider audience and it shows up later cars in many ways. It was fascinating to get a chance to experience it.

  4. Coming back to the steering, is that an assisted one?
    Compared to today’s over-assisted and often too neutral (or even artificial-feeling) steerings, a good setup from the seventies or eighties is always preferable. The directness we had then can’t be seen today. Usually there is also a degree of lightness which today, with our heavy cars and monster tyres, would be impossible.

    The comparison with the Thema would also be interesting for me. I’ve driven neither of them (or any other Lancia, shame on me…), but the Thema was an stays an all-time favourite of mine. As Robertas points out, it’s not actually a big car, and surprisingly light. So I imagine it a delight to drive. We still see them around here from time to time, and there are always some to have in ads. However, normally it’s something like seven out of eight with the Ferrari engine. Seems they were the only ones worth keeping in their owners’ eyes.

  5. I have owned and driven the Trevi for 15 Years. It is a pleasure to drive on long journeys. Ive often driven 250 Klms without stopping for a break. It has a ZF Power assisted steering rack, electronic ignition and front electric windows. These refinements were only common on luxury models in the early eighties and certainly elevate the enjoyment of the driving experience.

    1. The ZF rack solved a criticism of the Beta, which was heaviness at low speeds. The electronic ignition is another handy item as it gets rid of the choke problem. I reviewed some of the road tests since writing this. I think the gearbox could be good or less good depending on the example. In the case of the test car gearchanges were pleasant and problem free. I´d be curious as to how a Saab 900 compares. In advance, I expect it not to feel so nimble. I´ll have to arrange a test at some point and see if the record is correct.

  6. I’ve mentioned before the HPE of a friend that I drove several times and, despite looking forward to it, was dreadfully disappointing. It wasn’t that old when he bought it (4 years?) though it had done a reasonably high mileage. It sounded suspiciously cheap, but had looked very tempting on the lot of a North London used car dealer. In hindsight it was, for whatever reason, a tired example. The gearchange was notchy and ponderous and the steering awfully heavy – this was 30 or so years ago, so that isn’t in comparison with today’s moderns but to, say, the Peugeot 305 I had at that time. I imagine the gearchange might have responded to some work to the linkage but looking back, it’s noticeable how soon one might expect a well-used car to get knackered back then.

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