Sixty this year, Lancia’s zenith gets the DTW spotlight.
There are in life, some affronts you can never quite forgive. For instance, the manner in which the Lancia name has been debased by its current owners remains a burning injustice. This germ of resentment about Lancia’s latterday fate can be traced to one car. Built to exacting standards, and engineered like little else, this purebred ammiraglia is an automotive old master.
Patrician and upstanding, the Lancia Flaminia was a car intended for the elite – wealthy industrialists, Pontiffs, the vestiges of nobility. Sombre, yet not stuffy, the big Lancia saloon conducted itself with surprising élan, courtesy of one of the finest chassis of its era. But the Flaminia, especially in more rakish coupé and convertible form was also the favoured transport of Europe’s glitterati – Brigette Bardot, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni all were owners.
That other contemporary club of high living – racing drivers – also favoured the big Lancia. Fangio drove one, as did Peter Collins and Paul Frère. Battista Pininfarina wouldn’t be seen in anything else. After all, a Ferrari may have been a more powerful symbol of social arrival, but the Lancia’s superior chassis made a mockery of Maranello’s brash upstart. Even Enzo allegedly owned one, although he probably didn’t like to publicise the fact.
The Flaminia’s direct ancestor was the post-war Aurelia model, a car which introduced a new sophistication to a slowly recovering Italian automotive landscape. Engineered under the watchful eye of the fêted Vittorio Jano, the car’s V6 power unit (a production car first), de-Dion rear suspension and transaxle gearbox marked a continuation of Lancia’s pre-war reputation for technical innovation.
As in the coachbuilt era, the Aurelia was rebodied by innumerable carrozzieri as a series of rakish looking coupés, convertibles or shooting brake estates. In 1955, marking a clear break with the previous era’s voluptuous style, Pininfarina prepared a striking Aurelia-based concept. The Florida took its influence from the pioneering themes emerging from Detroit’s styling studios, featuring broader, flatter surfaces, fuselage wing treatments and a more linear style.
Florida proved a stylistic landmark: gone was the upright shield grille, while at the rear, two vestigial tailfins ran from buttress-effect c-pillars. Pininfarina followed this up a year later with Florida II, ostensibly a more production ready coupé version, featuring two additional hidden rear hinged doors. It remains Battista’s personal masterpiece.
The Flaminia represented nothing less than a change of stylistic guard – in Europe at least. The impact of the car has diminished over time and familiarity owing to Pininfarina reusing the essential styling theme many times over, but an entire generation of cars from this period inherited the Flaminia’s inset grille, unadorned flank treatment and mere suggestion of tailfins.
Mechanically, the Flaminia embodied most of the engineering themes which defined its predecessor, but under the stewardship of Ing. Antonio Fessia, Lancia’s trademark (if shimmy-prone) sliding pillar front suspension was replaced by a pair of stout wishbones, coil spring and damper units. The De Virgilio V6 remained at 2.5 litres, receiving updates throughout the model’s lifespan, culminating in a 2.8 litre triple carburettor unit producing 152 bhp, a power unit of impressive flexibility, refinement, prodigious torque and character, coupled with an admirable lack of temperament.
Rear suspension followed Aurelia practice but with Dunlop disc brakes fitted all round (inboard at the rear), predating Maranello’s reluctant and much later conversion to modernity. Quality was a holy writ. Like Peugeot, Lancia elected to produce their own dampers. The rear transaxle was fitted with a separate oil pump and each assembly was said to have been individually tested at 2000 rpm for a duration of two hours. Those not silent in operation were rejected. Additionally, the front suspension castings were case hardened, each carrying the tester’s individual stamp.
Pininfarina was not the only coachbuilder appointed to the Flaminia programme. Lancia gave several of Battista’s rivals their patronage, with Carrozzeria Touring being responsible for the GT two-seater coupé and convertible, while Zagato created the most rarefied of all – the Sport and Supersport. This latter duo were serious exotica, built in tiny numbers and purchased by the the cognoscenti.
The berlina remained virtually unchanged throughout its lifespan, apart from mechanical refinements, but was longest lived of all, production (officially) ceasing in Lancia’s Borgo San Paolo works a year after the Fiat takeover. However, over a thirteen year production run, just under 4000 berlinas were essentially handbuilt – the coupé being made in larger numbers (and to less exacting standards) by Pininfarina themselves.
Total Flaminia production amounted to around 12,500 cars – a pathetic number given the car’s sales potential and documented excellence. Mercedes-Benz made their reputation on cars not dissimilar to this – they simply made more and exported them assiduously around the World. Had Lancia similar ambitions, could the story have been different?
The Flaminia perhaps represented Lancia at its best: the finest engineering ideals, build integrity that matched anything in production at the time, an unparalleled pedigree that made it the finest Italian car of its era and in the case of the coachbuilt variants, some of the most desirable.
Conversely, it also came to represent the worst: the lack of business nous, a fixation on the domestic market and the insistence on low volume and obsessive quality to the detriment of sales, because perhaps with a slightly lower standard of build coupled to higher production volumes, the Flaminia could potentially have earned Lancia serious revenue – money that was desperately required to maintain the business.
The Flaminia was Lancia’s final great act. But the ideals it embodied were out of touch with the harsh realities of the 1960s, so by the decade’s end, not only was there no money to replace it, but the entire operation had run out of time, credit and creative leadership. In retrospect, it would have been best for the marque to have died with it, given the cruel fate which has since befallen it.
From Italy’s finest to pale white hen, surely no more dolorous aria could be written.
39 thoughts on “The Pinnacle”
There’s currently a 43,000 km Coupe for sale for £35,000 and a Berlina for £25,000. Like everything Flaminia prices have risen significantly over the past few years and you can even find convertibles at six figure sums. But compare these with the sums that 60s Aston DBs attract (a ‘barn find’ DB4 needing massive restoration fetched £200K plus at auction recently) and it’s apparent that these remain underappreciated. The fact that the Lancia’s progress would be ‘gentlemanly’ rather than ‘Bondish’ doubtless affects perceptions. It’s a car that would be too much trouble for its owner to explain (‘Lancia? Aren’t they all Fiats underneath?), so will only ever be wanted by the informed and self-confident. The fact that I’d like one totally contradicts that last sentence
35,000 gets you an unremarkable BMW 5-series, doesn´t it? Of course the BMW does rather different things but it puts the price in perspective. While 35 k is a lot more than an immaculate Granada, for example, it is not so much more than people routinely pay for ordinary cars.
Eoin asks if Lancia could have cost cut their way a little to make the car more marketable. It could be that they did not know how to do this. Mercedes had advantages in manufacturing that meant it could reliably turn out cars like the W-123 (which is very well made) at comparatively reasonable prices. Design is part of the equation – manufacturing is the other. Lancia might have been weak in this area, despite their quality.
I think the Lancia does actually have a Bond connection. If I remember correctly Bond married a girl called Tracy who overtook him in his Bentley in a Zagato bodied Flaminia.
Call me childish Eoin, but I do have one criticism of this piece. None of your photos features the Flaminia’s rear wiper set up. One of those things that would (for me) be one of the harmless pleasures of Flaminia ownership (should I be able to search out a car with them fitted). See what I meant about Lancias being for the grown-up owner?
And to paraphrase Giugiaro, don’t say they’ve put them on the inside too? Yes!
Interior wipers?! Mind blown.
I know very little about this car, but now I want one. However, as I live in the UK and lack the required funds or place to store it, this is beyond me.
Delightful car, though.
In ’75 when looking for my next car I visited two Farina coupes, drove one. The one I drove was a delight, if not particularly quick. But both were badly rusted, the better one invisibly. I slapped its fenders lightly, could hear bits of rust sliding down it inside. And I poked a screwdriver gently at a sill’s underside. It went through easily. Both sills were effectively gone, front to rear, even though the paint was intact. Inexcusable in an eight year old car.
But lovely. I’ve always thought that the Flaminia Farina couple was the most attractive car of his Peugeot 404 phase.
Lancias of that era rotted. When we speak of build quality we should think of galvanizing as well as fit and finish.
I suppose we have to view rotting Lancias in the same way we view, say, sexist attitudes on 60s television. Oh well they were all at it then. When my Mum got rid of her Mark 2 Jaguar it was, I think, 6 years old. It had already had one respray, the bodywork was bubbling again, and the headlining around the leaking rear window was going mouldy. Rust back then was like The Plague in Medieval times. Just something you lived with – or didn’t.
All cars were suffering from the brown plague back in the Flaminia’s day – was it the Porsche 928 that was first to get over serious rust issues? Anyway, this problem certainly wasn’t exclusive to Italian automobiles, but an inevitable effect of technological limits at the time.
Everything rusted back then, apart from aluminium bodied cars which just corroded 😉 The Italians did get on top of the rust problem before many others, but the reputation stuck fast. Heck, we had certain Japanese maker’s cars here still rusting through within 18 months or less well in to the late ’80s, but pretty much everyone’s forgotten now. I think Audi and Porsche were amongst the first to seriously address the rust problem, but Alfa weren’t that far behind. Neither my HPE nor 75 V6 suffered from tin worm.
The big Coupe is sublime, nicer in the flesh than the photos, and there’s something rather lovely about its presence. It has a real feel of quality – real quality engineered in, rather than something cynically applied at the end.
small editing glitch, “them”, not “it”
That´s very upsetting. Like reading “I met Nelson Mandela once. He stayed with us for a weekend. He spat on the floor and I saw him pilfering the cutlery. He would sit up late at night smoking and watching sports and he never flushed the toilet. But as soon as a visitor, journalist maybe, came in he´d switch on the gracious style and saintly manner. Right after they were gone he´d mutter loudly what a *********** they were and spit on the floor again.”
In fairness though, who galvanised cars in the 1960’s? I don’t recall any cars from that era didn’t rust in damp climates. I remember seeing decade old Jaguar’s in 1970’s Ireland which were essentially scrap and we didn’t salt the roads in winter back then. During the 1960’s an 8-year old Ferrari would require a full engine and body rebuild. It’s known that Pininfarina did not build to the same standards as Lancia themselves – in fact there was something of a sliding scale quality-wise starting with Borgo San Paulo and ending with Zagato. So the most expensive Flaminia’s were in fact the least well made. Does this diminish the model’s significance or the obvious care in its design and construction? Not in my opinion.
Carlo Presenti was Lancia’s boss from 1955 to its collapse in 1969. During that period he appeared to make no real attempt to streamline the business, introduce cost savings or rationalise Lancia’s sprawling model range. Instead, Dr. Fessia appears to have been allowed to do pretty much as he pleased. It is said that the San Paulo plant operated six days a week, 24 hours a day yet produced less than 200 cars a week. Lancia had something to learn from Stuttgart when it came to productivity it would seem. The Flaminia was to all intents and purposes a hand built car and the costs of altering that were possibly beyond them.
Nevertheless, when you look at the Flaminia’s Sindelfingen rival, the larger-engined Mercedes W111/112 Heckflosse series, (which was produced over a similar lifespan), and while it’s unclear whether the 370,000 reputedly made represents just the six-cylinder models, they certainly were made in vastly greater numbers. Given the level of Fintail sales, there was clearly a much bigger market to be had if Lancia could have provided a viable competitor in key markets. So yes, manufacturing was a weakness, (and possibly rustproofing) but it could be argued that Presenti had a decade to transform the business, which he didn’t avail of.
“Carlo Presenti was Lancia’s boss from 1955 to its collapse in 1969. During that period he appeared to make no real attempt to streamline the business, introduce cost savings or rationalise Lancia’s sprawling model range.”
I am not sure I would go entirely along with that. The Flaminia sold so slowly it was more or less dead on the vine and essentially abandoned in development terms by the time the Fulvia was introduced – production of the sedans ran to just 599 in total between 1964 and 1970. Pesenti understood that Lancia had a deeply polarised range, so the Flavia was supposed to bridge the gap between in the range between the Flaminia and Appia. It’s also worth noting that Fessia was not dealing with an entirely open chequebook – the Fulvia represented Lancia’s idea of cost rationalisation in that a lot of the underneath, excluding the drivetrain, amounts to a cut-and-shut Flavia (and never mind that the minutely-altered V-angles between the different engine capacities meant that hardly anything is interchangeable between the various capacity V4s). But probably the biggest thing Pesenti did was to invest in the brand-new factory at Chivasso – Borgo San Paolo was pretty old and extremely inefficient by the late 1950s. In any case, I doubt even Lancia considered the Flaminia particularly material to their fortunes by around 1965 onwards – by that date, it was the archetypal ‘available to special order’ product that was receiving no promotion, marketing or investment beyond the barest minimum necessary.
I didn’t want to simply write a hagiography for the Flaminia, even though its a car I admire greatly. But for me, its commercial failure is perplexing, given its excellence, obvious appeal and critical approbation. In fact, in 1958, the Flaminia presented perhaps the state of the large luxury saloon art, both stylistically and in engineering terms.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to Presenti. But if you look at the commercial arcs of Mercedes and Jaguar during the same period, both marques were making concerted efforts with larger, more luxurious saloons to appeal to the other markets – (particularly the US), something which worked rather well for them as businesses. Lancia seemed barely to consider any region outside of Italy’s borders, yet the market for a Flaminia type of car in Italy was always going to be tiny given the political and social position in the post-war landscape.
My question therefore is whether you think Presenti was working towards a more sustainable commercial position with the Chivasso cars but ran out of time and money, or whether a focus on more profitable lines and exporting to markets where demand existed would have yielded better results? Perhaps the result would have been the same either way?
My view is basically that Pesenti bit off more than he could chew with the Lancia investment and should’ve stuck with cement if he was interested in turning a quid – think David Brown at Aston. By the late 1950s, Lancia was really stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of strategic options. To some extent this all goes back to the immediate post-war era and Lancia being denied Marshall Plan funds because Gianni was a commie (according to the Yanks’ logic), and then the commercial failure of the Aurelia, and the ill-fated racing program, etc, etc. But the long and the short of it was that by the time Pesenti bought in, there was an established trend of the top of the range draining away any profit that was being made on the small stuff, and then some. (In this vein, it’s easy to suspect that, given the build processes associated with the Flaminia, there was more than a touch of “We’re losing money on every unit, but we’re making up for it with volume” going on.)
In a broad sense, I think Pesenti was well aware of Lancia’s problems and his strategy hinged on going after the emergent Italian and, I suppose, European upper-middle class – hence the investment in the Flavia, Fulvia and Chivasso, which was supposed to yield a major boost in production and thus profitability. The Fulvia did reasonably well (for a Lancia at least), so you could argue the strategy was not entirely without merit. But on the other hand, while the Fessia cars did enough to keep the lights on, it was only just enough – and nowhere near enough to finance development of their replacements, which is why Fiat money was needed for the Beta.
But then, the history of the industry post-war – market dominance through volume – shows that bankruptcy or takeover by a giant (inevitably, Fiat) was simply bound to occur. Every other small independent manufacturer wound up in one of those two positions. You could argue that BMW is an exception, but then, I would say they are the exception that proves the rule. And they only managed it by growing to become a volume manufacturer themselves, and not without a bit of luck and a few red alerts along the way.
For what it’s worth, I personally don’t see Mercedes as comparable to Lancia – the German political economy was and is different in myriad important ways to the Italian one, and Mercedes was important to Germany in a way that Lancia simply was not to Italy. Moreover, by the 1950s, Mercedes was already well-entrenched globally, not least in the US, with an established reputation and dealer network. I have seen a major M-B commercial vehicles dealer, with giant rotating three-pointed star, in the heart of Bujumbura. It is simply impossible, in my opinion, to conceive of a realistic alternate history where Lancia managed to establish this sort of global footprint. Sure, there were Aurelia exports to the US, but we are really talking about entirely nominal numbers and the company never had the sort of money needed to have a decent go at cracking the US market. Jaguar is a closer parallel, and really, but for a few slightly different turns of fate, they could easily have been consigned to the history books by now as well – in the same way that but for some different managerial decisions in the 1970s and 1980s, Lancia might well be the badge adorning the car we now know as the Giulia.
The Pininfarina coupe is my all-time favourite car. I dream of finding one in bad condition and restore it.
Why not dream of finding a nice one? Restoration would be a long project.
You’d better hurry Eduardo. Here’s a project car, off the road for 40 years. The sort of thing you might have picked up for a few thousand 15 years ago. Now $89,000.
You know, at one level, $89k is obviously a lot for that car. But I can see someone paying it, or something close to it. Notwithstanding the awful photos, it is a desirable specification with the right motor, it seems complete, and if the description is correct, it has an interesting history. I haven’t looked at Flaminia values lately, but assuming a full restoration ran to around $100,000 and the finished article was worth in the region of $200k (not impossible, the way values are going), it could be worth someone’s while. Certainly, I’ve seen an awful lot more money poured into more financially hopeless projects than this.
But Sean, that’s a Touring bodied car.
They rusted too. I ran a Touring bodied iron block two liter Alfa for a couple of years. Bought if from a friend for $400, sold it to another friend who hoped to restore it for $400. We’re still all on good terms. Anyway, my buyer put it in his garage, a tornado collapsed the garage on the car and by the time he uncovered it all that was left was rust.
I shouldn’t malign Italian cars in particular for rusting. In the late ’60s I looked at a number of 356s. All required at least new floor pans.
Yes, I was being lax …. again.
I am fortunate enough to know a few in the Flaminia community (one particularly, er, ‘committed’ individual has both a Touring hardtop and a convertible under restoration). They are wonderful cars but the parts and upkeep costs are every bit as ruinous as for any other piece of Italian exotica. Plenty of bits are unobtanium, and specialist vendors know what they have and charge accordingly. I suspect this has been a significant factor in keeping prices relatively low for what they are. The problem is that they are not quite as highly regarded as, say, a B24, which are now easily in the half-million-plus stratosphere and thus justify the sort of money (liberally) poured into restoring them. Some of the rarer coachbuilt Flaminias are starting to approach that sort of coin, but by no means all, especially the factory-built coupes and sedans. Yet the kind of investment needed to rebuild any Flaminia is lineball with that required for an Aurelia. To that end, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them jump relatively quickly to Aurelia-style money over a relatively short period – as it is, they’re in something of a no-man’s land with regard to value. (Disclaimer: As ever, predicting classic car prices is a fool’s game, and the quality of the advice above is worth exactly what you, dear reader, are paying for it.)
Just to add – it seems there is a B24 America (not even the preferred variant) up for auction next week, price guide $1.4-1.8m. Even at $200k, a Flaminia is an absolute bargain in comparison.
Why do I share the fascination with Lancia? It’s rooted initially in the Trevi I saw in 1990; the Thema 8.32 drew my attention in the magazines; in real life I saw Lybras and then a Fulvia saloon (the quality was astonishing); a work colleague had a 2000 coupe and explained the level of attention paid to details; then it is about the Kappa coupe and Thesis saloon combined with a growing awareness of the glorious back catalogue of cars like the one Eoin has described. Readers might like to review the visit to the Somers museum documented at this site: a good bit of part 1 is Lancia orientated.
“Moreover, by the 1950s, Mercedes was already well-entrenched globally, not least in the US, with an established reputation and dealer network.”
Let’s not rewrite history. Mercedes had no US national dealer network until 1958, and it was started at Studebaker dealers through a corporate agreement shortly after Packard bought Studebaker. That Hoffman fellow from New York sold the 300SL before that, and afterwards when BMW actually made a real car again, he was the importer for them, bringing the 2002 to the American masses in 1968. Mercedes’ terminated their Studebaker agreement only in 1964 when the latter went broke and went on to found MBNA.
The provost of my university had a 1962 220SE, and boy was that an unusual beast to see in 1963 when I first attended the place. Volvos were far ahead in the sales distribution race, as were Saab, Renault, VW and Peugeot, let alone BMC. Studebakers weren’t exactly top quality, so a person had to be in the know to trudge into that dealership to find a solitary Benz. Lancias were literally nowhere to be seen and 850 cc Fiats screamed their lives out in two years.
Having had a boss with a 1953 B24 Lancia when I worked in Blighty in 1971, I had a few rides in the Huntingdonshire/Cambridgeshire area as we tried to develop an early cassette-based equivalent to today’s nav units. Any excuse for a quick bop around the countryside as he was in love with the thing and spent all his spare time and money on it. Reminded me of the Reliant Scimitar another acquaintance owned the following year, the loping V6. Anyway, if he sold the B24 recently, he’s probably a millionaire.
No question these Flaminias are lovely looking cars, elegant even now. Somewhere along the way, somebody forgot to price them properly, or forgot to get out and sell them. As an engineer myself, I am all too aware that brilliant engineers tend to believe if you build a great product, the world will beat a path to your door. Sadly not true most of the time. The propaganda machine has to be revved up unfortunately to at least provide an aspirational story. When the masses are impressed, the elite will buy to show off.
I realize DTW is Lancia Central in many ways, where deep-seated longing for times past have elevated these machines to high status. None of it really tells me if these older models were really amazing cars to drive or not, deserving of the almost unlimited praise they receive here. Fangio also owned a 1938 Chev which he eventually sold to the American car writer David E Davis Jr, who ran Car and Driver for years and hired LJKS when he retreated to live in Texas. Should I regard a Flaminia, no doubt sold at a knock-down price for promotional purposes, as a car Fangio picked above all others? Famousness by big name association is the shallowest of reasons to praise any product in my humble opinion.
As part of our 3rd Birthday celebrations we recently estimated the work put into DTW over the time and applied a not unreasonable hourly rate. The Prosecco suddenly went flat. We at DTW are, then, no strangers to the quixotic, so it is the very fact that Lancias were such commercially unviable products that attracts us so.
As for big name associations, I certainly hold by that as a mark of approval. Idi Amin owned two Citroen SMs. Enough said.
I’m fortunate to have a PF coupe and we have rebuilt it’s gearbox, engine, brakes and worth a mention, it’s throttle linkage. The linkage is a lovely array of pivots, quadrants and bushes. Like most things on this car it’s possible to dismantle and clean, if a repair is necessary then a bit of thought will find a solution, rarely more than a bearing replacement.
The quality of components is so high that you don’t see actual wear as you’d expect.
Great things and certainly in the UK very undervalued, they may still be capable of cruising at 100mph on motorways but I couldn’t say for sure….
Sam: Thanks for stopping by – I hope you enjoyed the article. Needless to say, I’m consumed with admiration for your efforts in preserving these fine cars. Incidentally, should you summon up the interest, you’ll find a wealth of Lancia-related material in our archive, here.
Thank you, I should say that’s an excellent read. I’ve just been out for a 60 mile trip to the Welsh borders on this cold and sunny day. The lancia was great of course. I’ll follow that link.
As a jaded, Lancia Delta III-owning industrial engineer, I concur with the opinion that Pesenti didn’t do much to streamline Lancia and make it sustainable. Wikipedia says Pesenti ran the shop from 1957 to 1969, the article says he became boss in 1955. Whatever the case, the #1 boffin, the man whose signature is all over Lancia’s cars from that time was Antonio Fessia. Other lancisti swear by his name; I’m in the business-minded minority that considers him a man who used the brand as a platform for his own ego, eventually causing it to lose ridiculous amounts of money. Allow me to elaborate:
Pre-Fessia, Lancia had essentially two engine families: the V4 for the small cars, and De Virgilio’s V6 for the big ones – and these engines combined covered a displacement range from 1.1 liter to 2.5. A sane industrial engineer would develop these two engine families so that the V4 could cover the 1.1-2.0 liter displacement range, with the über-smooth V6 covering the 2.5-3.5 liter displacement range, with the option for overboring the engine further, perhaps to 4 liters, open. All this while making sure to have as many interchangeable parts between the various versions of each engine as possible and meaningful. Remember, the various versions of the V6, as used in the Aurelia, didn’t have too many interchangeable bits. What did Fessia do? Why, he wedged his flat-4 right between the Fulvia’s V4 and the Flaminia’s V6, adding extra costs for R&D, tooling, and – yes – more stocks of parts that can’t be used in other Lancia engines, just so he could pursue his dream of putting the CEMSA Caproni F.11 in production, although Jowett beat him to it with the Javelin. What could possibly go wrong?
Also, what did Fessia do to get Lancia to kick the handbuilt, “coachbuilt” approach in favor of standardized, ready-to-fit, interchangeable body parts like everybody not living in la-la-land? Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. Nichts. But the problem wasn’t Fessia per se. It was Pesenti. Like it or not, Lancia was Pesenti’s; he held the purse strings, and he was the man to whom everyone answered – even Fessia. Had Pesenti given a serious look at what Fessia was up to, he’d have given him the boot. Hell, the guy didn’t even bother to use different colors for the insulations for the cables in the cars’ wiring looms, resulting in many cars leaving the factory or the carozzeria wired all wrong.
I’m going to rain on everyone’s parade regarding the Flaminia. The car was never allowed to live up to its potential, no matter the body style. I’ll agree with Eóin: Pininfarina overused the styling template of the Flaminia berlina to such an extent that the Flaminia berlina ended up looking too common, too stale, and – get your torches and pitchforks ready – rather plump, gawky and ponderous. For the role of the berlina, I’d have prefered a faithful four-door adaptation of the Florida II; such a shape would have done a far better job. But still, the drivetrain wasn’t worthy of this chassis and this role. Not that the engine was archaic or badly-designed. The problem is that it was too small for a car of this size and weight. Also, it was underspecified; in fact, if I was Fessia, instead of chasing the Caproni F.11 pipe dream, I’d have developed De Virgilio’s V6 further, with two SOHC heads and fuel injection as soon as possible, and I’d have mated it to a five-speed manual gearbox, with the option of a proper automatic thrown in for good measure, to make the car more desirable in certain markets. And you could tune the engine for outright power or smoothness, depending on the version, all the while keeping the car fast enough to be relevant for years to come.
As for some other features of the Flaminia, like the wipers on the inside and the outside of the rear windscreen… Well, this particular feature should never have made it. It’s cool to look at, cool to know someone was nuts enough to do it, but, when you’re trying to make money, you want to be efficient. You want to do the trick. When you’re designing products and are out to make a profit to keep your people employed, you want to be Tim Renwick, not Michael Angelo Batio. So, a heated rear ‘screen would have been much a much better option. The same goes for the pneumatically-operated windows behind the rear doors: besides the fact that, if I could have my way, the berlina would have been a straight adaptation of the Florida II, therefore they wouldn’t exist, I’d have favored the electric option. And, of course, the car would benefit from a properly-studied and implemented air conditioning option.
Sadly, the Flaminia was a gorgeous folly, with money having been diverted from aspects that really mattered to aspects that you’d have to be more decadent than Jay Gatsby’s parties to care about, with Pesenti’s tolerance, if not outright blessing, and Fessia having been given free rein to squander Lancia’s chance to build the foundation on which a real, formidable opponent for the Mercedes-Benz W108 would be based.
Konstantinos: I must admit, on the basis of the subsequent reading I have undertaken, were I to write this piece again, I would probably not have given Antonio Fessia the relatively easy ride he received here some two years ago.
I don’t think I’d necessarily disagree with most of the the points you raise – certainly the Flavia programme (fine car that it became notwithstanding) – was an error in judgement and one which failed to sufficiently bolster the business at a crucial time.
There is a strong argument to be made to compare Fessia with Issigonis at BMC. Both men were fine theoretical engineers in their own right, but both did their best work under close supervision of other, more rational minds. Both men, it appears, were unable to corral their egos to a sufficient degree and both, when placed in positions of authority, could be said to have run amok. One could even posit the view that in Carlo Presenti, Lancia had their equivalent George Harriman.
Not that this alters my keen admiration for the Flaminia, or indeed the other Presenti-era cars. But certainly, a reassessment of Fessia is probably necessary – especially in the light of what Dante Giacosa put on record in his memoir.
I think you misunderstand Lancia in at least two important respects.
The berlinas were made first, and only when this was perfected was a coupé produced. The Flaminia berlina is typical of this, but they’d done it with the Aurelia too. It carried on to the Beta.
The engines weren’t really powerful enough to have full air con, unlike your hugely inefficient US gas guzzlers.
The Flavia flat four was a lovely car, again perfected as a berlina before a coupé (slightly underpowered) was launched. And there was a fuel-injected version later. The last 2000ies were like scaled-down Rolls-Royces in some ways. Everything had been thought about twice, which is obvious when you first sit in it. It also had 1st opposite Reverse, so handy for parking. Does any other car have this?
I’ve never come across a wrongly wired Lancia. And they kept the same colour codes through several models.
They were, true, remarkable insular, with England, not New England, their second-best market. But for the US they’d have had to have an expensive distribution set-up. MB had the money for that, as did Jaguar after the XK 120 put them on the map.
I know very well that the berlinas were designed first, and this is where I’d have introduced a change in approach: I’d have given Pininfarina the brief of producing three designs, all of them sharing as much as possible with each other. Frankly, in both the Flaminia’s and the Flavia’s case, the better-looking cars were the coupés.
I know the 1.5-liter and 1.8-liter versions were underpowered, and this is why I reckon air-conditioning should be an option on the more powerful versions. As for the Flavia, there’s no denying it was a great car, but the flat-four engine was a production mistake. It sucked money out of any further development of the V4 and the V6, and its own evolution was incomplete. It’d have been a lot better if Fessia ate his ego and proceeded to further develop the V4 for displacements up to 2 liters and the V6 for anything from 2.5 liters and above (and maybe all the way down to 2.3).
Regarding the “scaled-down Rolls-Royce” concept, I have to say a product can be extremely well-designed and made in such a way that it can be easily produced en masse, leaving the company a healthy profit, and maintained by a reasonably competent repairman. The Fender Stratocaster is a prime example: a fine musical instrument, with advanced ergonomics (especially given the era during which it was introduced), easy to repair and maintain, with standardized, ready-to-fit parts… No wonder it became the most-copied electric guitar design, spawning countless “superstrat” derivatives.
Mind you, I can think, right off the bat, of numerous lovely practical details on my dad’s 1990 Citroën BX, which was a perfectly affordable, mass-produced car that single-handedly saved the firm and, at least in our hands, turned out to be so reliable that it even put several Toyotas to shame.
Regarding wrongly-wired Lancias, the guys at Omicron have openly said they’ve encountered Flaminias (mostly GT/GTLs) whose wiring had been wrong from the construction facility, because all the cables in the loom were black and, therefore, could easily cause confusion to the workers tasked with the job of putting the car together or repairing it.
I’m glad you mentioned that England was Lancia’s second-best market. Lancia should have aspired to make itself a strong contender throughout Europe, to secure it had enough money in its coffers to expand to the US. But that would, of course, take not just money, but also determination and long-term thinking.
I’ll be to the Flavia tomorrow. Keep these words in mind: the Flavia and the Flaminia could have made Lancia a highly profitable prestige ca maker. They weren’t allowed to, because of Fessia’s ego and Pesenti’s lack of oversight and business nous.
Correction: ca = car
OK, yesterday I was commenting from a mobile device, and its autocorrect wreaked havoc, making my comment unintelligible. Anyway, I’ll get on the case of the Flavia right away. Eóin, you said the Flavia was an “error of judgment”. It was, but in part. The Flavia, as a general concept, was sound: a front-wheel drive car with a short engine (therefore, not protruding too much from the front axle) mounted longitudinally, bang in the middle of its width. So, it freed up a lot of space and it avoided the horror of torque steer with which most of us are all too familiar.
The problem is that Fessia was allowed to proceed with wedging his older work on the CEMSA Caproni F.11 into Lancia’s R&D budget and workflow, thus disrupting everything. It’s most unfortunate that Pesenti gave him free rein and didn’t tell him “look, buster: Lancia can’t afford to develop and produce three engine families. We have the V4 and the V6. You’ll have to work on either one, but I’ll never allocate any money for you to develop a brand-new engine”. I know it’d hurt his ego, but Lancia was (or at least one would expect as much) a for-profit company, not a cost-no-object, free-for-all playground for frustrated academics.
At any rate, here’s what I would have done – and please bear in mind that I’m business-minded, jaded, and have very little time for pipe dreams:
1. The Flavia would be a front-wheel drive affair, with the same suspension set-up that we know it had.
2. It would NOT use a flat-four engine. Instead, it would use the V4 of the Fulvia, but it’d start as a reasonably powerful 1.6 liter with two carbs and – optionally – fuel injection. 1.8- and 2-liter versions would follow in 1965 and 1967. All three displacement would remain on offer to satisfy the hierarchy pattern favored by corporate fleet buyers.
3. The berlina would be a four-door version of the really quite marvelous 1st-series coupé. And the convertible itself would be a topless version of the coupé as well.
4. Parts would be standardized and rationalized to maximize commonality and achieve meaningful economies of scale.
5. All versions would be offered with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, with an automatic (three- or four-speed) as an option. Other options would include power steering, power windows (front only, for the berlina, coupé & convertible, and front/rear, for the berlina) and air-conditioning.
6. When the time came for a facelift, the berlina and convertible would again follow the really rather sleek lines of the coupé, while maintaining the “Flavia” moniker.
That way, I believe the Flavia would offer a comprehensive engine displacement and trim level range for European executives of all echelons in the corporate food chain, with dashing, dynamic looks, Mercedes-like build quality, and, thanks to a rationalization of the entire production process, higher profit margins and a somewhat lower price. I believe it’d give cars like the BMW Neue Klasse (the “’02” cars) and the MkII-MkIII Cortinas a serious run for their money. Oh, and it’d have a quintessentially Lancia engine as an added bonus.
I really ought to qualify my comments on the Flavia. I would suggest that in the form in which it was introduced, it might be construed as being an error, especially bearing in mind that Antonio Fessia really should have been inculcated into Fiat’s rigorous methodologies around cost and needless complication from his time at Lingotto.
To my way of thinking, instead of attempting to technically rationalise with the Appia replacement (Fulvia), it might have been a more commercially expedient move to have maintained a RWD layout for the commercially vital Lancia midliner, perhaps sharing some technical hardware with that of the Flaminia – I seem to recall that the De Virgilio V6 began life in the Aurelia with a 1.8 litre capacity (or similar), so the potential for a development of it to have been employed for the Flavia was within the realms of possibility. As to whether the Appia’s V4 could have been enlarged is not something I can answer, but my feeling is that it could not.
However, a smaller capacity flat-four of 1.1 litres to say, 1.5 litres would have served both Fulvia and entry level Flavia models, using an in-line mounted gearbox. The Fulvia could then have served to have made Fessia’s CEMSA dreams flesh – in effect, a proto-Alfasud, employing FWD – where it could best be exploited, while the Flavia would have retained the more accepted RWD layout – and a potentially larger and more powerful engine choice.
Oh God, more counterfactuals. I’m so terribly sorry.
Eóin, the more I read into this, the more frustrated (to put it very mildly) I become in both Fessia and Lancia’s top brass. Your remark that Fiat’s methodologies regarding cost and efficiency really should have become some sort of religion for Fessia, just as they are for every industrial engineer who cares about the firm he works for.
I like your alternative proposal, a RWD, V6 Flavia – it could have been a mini-Flaminia of some sort. As for Appia’s V4, I don’t know how much it has in common with the one used in the Fulvia, which eventually grew to 1.6 liters. At any rate, given your present comment, we both agree on the following:
1. Lancia could not afford developing and producing three engine ranges at the same time. Proper business sense dictates two engines, one for small capacities (1.1-1.5 or 1.1-1.6 liters) and one for 1.8 liters and upwards.
2. Lancia already had developed a wonderful and successful RWD-V6 layout for the Aurelia, which could have been used to great effect both in the Flavia and in the Flaminia.
3. As you reminded us all, RWD was a more popular choice for large family cars and executive cars at the time, and perhaps it would have been a much more prudent (commercially) choice for the Flavia.
4. Fessia obviously was so interested in putting his CEMSA Caproni F.11 project in production that he blinkered himself to any kind of different implementation of the principles and concepts it embodied, even if they were more viable commercially. In my view, he was more of a jilted and frustrated academic who wanted to see his pet project come to fruition than a proper industrial engineer.
I still stand by my statement that, if I were Fessia, in order to save costs, I’d have asked Pininfarina to design a template for the Flavia that could be used for both the berlina and the coupé, and I’d have done the same for the Flaminia and the Fulvia as well. And of course, I’d have standardized the cars’ body parts for obvious reasons, ditching the “factory coachbuilt” approach.