In contrast to the recent rather insipid Beta brochure, I can present a thoroughly aspirational 1975 Lancia HPE brochure such as this.
It shows how the product is intended to be used and the kinds of people who might be attracted to it. Shooting, diving, sitting down, gardening, conversing outside a hotel late at night: Lancia did not want for ideas to show how this rather fabulous vehicle could be used. What the brochure made you want to do was to
get out of your house, drive and enjoy life. It might be that I am especially vulnerable to escapist fantasies but I think with the HPE and the selected imagery, Lancia found something credible even if, in reality, people didn´t pursue these activities or live the dream. Some attempts to project a thrilling
lifestyle on a car obviously lack credibility. We discussed Sean´s Kangoo here recently. That would be an example: it’s a useful car for doing useful daily things. It won’t be until it’s 14 years old that owners will use it to take weekend trips for fatal cave diving expeditions or camping and binge-drinking trips near the dunes of San Baviano. When one looks at the HPE one gets the strong suggestion a few extra percent of the first owners did use the car to drive out to blast birds from the sky or to park it by the beach so as to water bathe. Certainly, a few HPEs made it to the garden centre.
While some might be very slightly sceptical of Lancia’s use of the Beta platform, I find Lancia’s creativity with the platform more credible. The variants are different in character in a way that some spin-offs aren’t. Take for example the Passat and Passat CC or the BMW 5 and Gran Coupe
(which I assume are related – aren’t they?). These aren’t really different cars, are they? Ford did it better with the Galaxy and S-Max, though. In contrast, if you are asked to choose from a single showroom a Beta saloon, a HPE, a coupe or a Montecarlo (and then a Trevi), you probably shouldn’t be properly challenged to pick a car and to feel it is offering something the others don’t, other things being equal. Each has its charms and up until the Trevi appeared, I’d probably have to take the HPE. If someone else wanted the coupe I’d fully understand. They aren’t the same cars despite sharing so much.
For the HPE, Lancia didn’t simply add a bit volume to the coupe. They kept the long wheel base of the saloon and the coupe doors to make it an estate and not simply a hatchback. It added utility to a range that was
firmly non-hatchback and stayed that way. It had more room than the coupé yet had a bit more rake and swash than the saloon. The Montecarlo is another proposition – so I’d argue that Lancia managed to use the same mechanicals to find several quite different markets which is more than Chrysler managed with a plethora of K-car variants.
While I am reflecting on the HPE, take a look at the C-pillar. While I think that it’s a recent thing for cars to have tricksy, non-functional C-pillar decorations, they were doing it in 1975 (but it didn’t look like glass). Thinking about it a bit more, the Trevi´s C-pillar makes a bit more sense if you see it as conceptually similar: a mock-louvred panel.
In 1976 John Bolster at Autosport took the coupe and HPE out for a test to see how the 2.0 litre suited the cars. Until then the 2.o litre had only
been found in the Montecarlo. Bolster wrote kindly when he tried to imply the 2.0 differed much from its Fiat base: it had 119 hp over the Fiat’s 112. The HPE 2000 had a cast-iron cylinder block and a light alloy head
and belt driven cam-shafts. The car had electronic ignition and twin Weber carburetors. I like this bit: “The primary shaft of the five speed gearbox is in line with the crankshaft, dispensing with the step down gears, and the final drive is by helical tooth spur gears”. That’s great to know; I’d rather Bolster had told me what he thought that meant. Where I can relate to Bolster is his view that the HPE “has a body that is practical as it is beautiful”.
Bolster test drove the coupe and then used it as a benchmark for the HPE. He considered the coupe noisier. Then he loses me: “Mine [the HPE] was quieter than the coupé, but whereas noise might be acceptable in a
sporting vehicle”. So, was the coupé supposed to be more luxurious? The HPE had lighter steering, the brakes too much servo and a stiffish gearlever. It had a softer suspension “but nevertheless a car
of sporting character”. The HPE had excellent lights and powerful heating and, said Bolster, it turned heads. To conclude, Bolster described the cars as hairy-chested as they put handling and performance as top priorities. Road and Track demurred: they thought the HPE a bit more “cumbersome” when they compared the same cars in 1976. They thought Lancia had aimed the HPE at the sophisticated, sedate owner and the coupe was for the sportier driver.
So, that puts the imagery of the brochure in perspective: a car for sophisticates. What else are the couple at the hotel, the lady out shopping and the chap ready to annihilate chaffinches? They are the target image of the intended buyer of the car and the message, for me, reverberates strongly after all these years.