Dateline: Thuringia, summer 2038. Internal combustion engines have been phased out across the EU for almost a decade now. However, their use has not been eliminated entirely and much as one can still ride a pony and trap or a stream train, one can still enjoy the petrol-driven experience.
Thuringia is one of Germany’s many attractive regions, famous for the Thuringian Forest, JS Bach’s birthplace, fine mustard and sausages. Another reason to go is the possibility to enjoy five days of driving classic cars from the Eisenach Automobile Museum hire fleet.
Visitors can book one of 2400 cars from the museum’s collection which naturally has a wide variety of German cars but also an excellent range of marques from across Europe (except Britain, alas). Prices are reasonable and compare well to the cost of hiring a standard electrically-powered saloon, MPV or movular-50 from the main hire companies though, naturally the petrol, adds somewhat to the bill.
We arrived on a bright and sunny July morning and were greeted by the friendly staff at the reception centre where we had a breakfast buffet and watched an information film about how to drive an ICE car. Older readers will find much of the guidance superfluous but for many younger visitors it’s essential to be acquainted with the methods required to engage gears, how to refuel and how to interpret the vintage road signs concerning recommended speeds and so on.
For me the biggest challenge lay in choosing the car. For various reasons, guests are only allowed one car for their five-day visit (and one must not leave the Thuringia vintage car reserve). Some of the collection are used infrequently so preparations are time-consuming. It makes less sense to prepare, say, three cars for a five-day tour than one. That means one is forced to carefully pick for a visit. In our household the debate raged for days.
Ideally, I’d have picked an Opel Speedster (later series) for one day, a Citroen XM for the second day and a Volvo 760 GLE for the rest of the time. However, both practicality and the museum’s finite collection led me to choose a Lancia Flavia berlina and I have to say the choice proved to be very satisfying indeed. The Thuringian Forest has hills and winding, winding roads. What better car than a 1960s Lancia, surely a child of the mountains?
It has a delicious flat-four engine of considerable engineering merit, yes, but one with plenty of low-down torque. All the better to manage the 0-40 kmph corners that abound hereabouts. The stopping abilities derive from all-round disc-brakes and here the comparison with modern regenerative brakes is very favourable. These ones have feel and bite effectively. Not for a long time has stopping been so much fun. The Flavia’s front-wheel drive, in tandem with superbly communicative steering, make the low-to-medium speed touring a pleasure. With only five-speeds, the ratios are easy to remember if you are accustomed only to automatic transmission.
For this writer, the Lancia’s interior and exterior style are a delight and even if the car wasn’t the engineering landmark it plainly is, the refinement and attention to detail manifested throughout would more than compensate. That’s why it came first in my final, final list of cars (Fiat 130 saloon, Mercedes 220 and Mazda Luce). At the time the car competed with the upper-middle offerings: the BMW Neue Klasse cars, the Triumph 2000 and the Alfa Romeo 1750/2000 Berlina, for example. All of them have their own appeal but the Lancia is simply a delightful blend of roadholding, tactile pleasure and aesthetic stimulation – no mean feat when compared to its excellent peers.
All in all, we covered 600 kilometres in the five days we spent in Thuringia, finishing back in Eisenach to reluctantly return the Flavia (booked solidly until September, note). Reflecting on the experience, it is has reminded me that even if current cars are safe and efficient, they are incredibly lacking in terms of identity and you can’t actually do anything but sit in them.
I happened to choose a front-wheel drive, four-cylinder boxer-engined car but the other potential drives from the Lancia’s cohort differ so wildly that I would have found these also to be rewarding and distinctive cars to experience. The Flavia also performed very well on the reliability and comfort front – not bad for a car into its eighth decade. So, for visitors used to fail-free electric cars they need not worry about break-downs. Just remember to refuel when that orange light starts flashing!
As we sat back in the comfortable cabin of the night-train to Madrid, we looked forward to next year’s visit. What car will we choose? What car will we choose?
[Note: the museum accepts petrol allowance credits from the EU member states, Scotland and Wales. Visitors from England and N. Ireland must pay for fuel in advance via bank transfer, must deposit passports and must carry a full international ICE level six driver’s licence.]
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10 thoughts on ““Duermete niño, duermete ya, que viene el coco y te comerá””
Great choice, although your pix show different models in the Flavia line. First is probably a Milleotto, next a 2000ie (820), last also a Milleotto ( or similar 819).
The 820 largely wasted for your Thuringia circuit as it’s a fast cruiser, made, I always told myself, like a miniature Rolls; and I have driven quite a few of both. What I really liked was that 1st is opposite Reverse, making parking far easier. Have any other cars done this?
The 819s were the last pre-Fiat cars, and true delights.
To repeat an often used term in today’s media there were ” millions and millions” of three speed American cars with first and reverse opposite each other but will have to pass when considering four or five speeds.
It’s incredible how what is essentially just a plain three-box shape can be so elegant and attractive. I love the way that the front wheel arch just kisses the feature-line which bisects the side elevation three quarters of the way up – I recall Bangle being pleased with himself for creating the same effect on the E46 3-Series, albeit his attempt was far less appealing overall. I know that someone is going to come in now and tell me that the E46 was not really one of his designs as he had only recently arrived in seat at BMW and so had missed the show, but I recall that he did claim some influence, also stating somewhat mysteriously that he hoped that people couldn’t tell which had been his first BMW design … and then revealed ‘his’ 7 Series!
E46 was among the first BMW production designs Bangle supervised. Particularly obvious is the influence Wolfgang Reitzle had on its styling though.
That profile pic gives me a lot of first gen Audi 100 and neue klass BMW vibes. And it’s interesting how either of those two was known entities att the time. The picture we have of BMW and Audi today wasn’t set in stone at the time of the Flavia. If things had been different, and so on. We Always seem to go there, doesn’t we? If not…
Ingvar: yes, in 1961 BMW and Audi/DKW were re-establishing thenselves. I think that outside their home markets these brands were for feinschmeckers. In 2038 the Lancia will have an even more delightful character. I’ve got to find a good museum to inspect these objects close up.
Yes, this car is very beautiful indeed! And this in spite of its FWD layout which gives it a slightly short wheelbase. In return, we get very interesting proportions, especially around the rear wheel / C-pillar area.
I like how its slightly forward leaning pavilion gives it a dynamic stance. Incredible how little it takes to go from plain boring to this. I wish we could see this degree of attention to detail more in today’s designs.
SV and Simon: agreed, a lot has been made of apparently simple gross forms. The wheel arch/feature line and c-pillar details flourish on the plain canvas.
Vic: surely the car would also work well on Thuringian local roads – it is quite compact.
Yes, Richard, a 2000 would work fine, but the Flavia 1800 would be even more suitable — and was even better made.
The article was a delight until the final, parenthesised, paragraph.
Should I seek out my Thuringian bolthole without delay? House prices seem eminently reasonable at the moment.
Otherwise, if I’m spared and well in 2038, I fear my groats, merks, or unicorns will only run to an afternoon with a modest local delicacy – perhaps an Opel Adam or a Wartburg 353 pick-up.