The Road to Dalmatia

The Driven to Write’s predilection for all things Lancia is known and quantified. Today’s offering however is unquestionably topshelf material. 

(c) Servizo Stampa Lancia

Amid the many series-production outliers the fabled Torinese shield and flag emblem has adorned over many decades, the Flavia Sport from carrozzeria Zagato is perhaps the most visually outré and certainly amongst the most scarce, with only 629 built in total.

First introduced in prototype form in 1962, it was the final and most exotic flowering of the coachbuilt Flavia line, following the 1960 in-house berlina, the Vignale-bodied convertible and Pininfarina’s four-seater coupé – all of whom bore some passing resemblance to one another. But not only did the Flavia Sport depart dramatically from the familial line, it bore scant resemblance to just about anything else in production at the time.

Ercole Spada’s design defied description, both then and now, marrying stylistic features seemingly plucked at random with little concern for harmony or accepted notions of symmetry. This perception is deceptive however – Spada’s intention from the outset being to create a purely aerodynamic shape, and it’s obvious when viewing the car in plan form that the sleek panoramica canopy, tapered rear quarters, rear buttress-style c-pillar fairings and abrupt Kamm tail were all intentional drag-resisting features.

Lancia themselves stated the matter as follows: “The original lines designed for better aerodynamic penetration, the compactness of a sports car, the aesthetic solutions adopted, make this car an example of functionality and class.”

The Flavia Sport was mechanically identical to the higher performance versions of the more regular models, employing a twin (Solex) carburetted version of the water-cooled horizontally opposed unit. The later 1.8 litre version, as seen in the sales brochure (leaflet might be a more accurate term) here, developed 100 bhp and was redlined at 5800 rpm, with a 9 : 1 compression ratio.

Front suspension was by double wishbones, a transverse leaf spring and a stabiliser bar, while at the rear, a rigid axle was suspended by leaf springs and a Panhard Rod. De Carbon oleopneumatic dampers were specified. Brakes were discs all round. All outer body panels were aluminium alloy, meaning the car was light – 1060 kg allegedly.

(c) Servizo Stampa Lancia

The Flavia Sport owner was unlikely to have been an individual terribly bothered with convention, nor indeed with the idea of maintaining a low profile. Certainly driving one of these cars would have got you noticed in 1962. And with so few built, one was unlikely to bump into another all that readily for that matter.

Many were raced, and with some considerable success. The factory Flavia Sports were further lightened and breathed upon to produce over 140hp. In 1966 two of them dominated the Turismo 2000 class of the Italian championship, while the previous year, René Trautmann achieved victory in the Coupe des Alpes rally in a privately entered car.

By 1967, production had ceased at Zagato’s Terrazzano facility and in the years that followed the Flavia Sport remained something of a Cinderella car amid Lancisti, largely owing to its uncompromised appearance, to say nothing of the costs of renovation. Admittedly, it’s a car which requires protracted study to fully appreciate, but having viewed an example in the flesh, (Retromobile 2011 since you asked) I don’t think I would ever tire of discerning fresh nuance within the visual richness of its forms and surfaces. After all, there is simply so much there to be read.

Its shape isn’t without influence either. There are perhaps faint reflections in aspects of the 1970 Citroën SM, and it would be surprising indeed if Jaguar Aerodynamicist and racing car designer, Malcolm Sayer hadn’t taken a good hard look at Spada’s opus as he was forming the outlines for Jaguar’s next generation of sporting cars during the latter 1960s.

While one could never accuse the Flavia Sport of adherence to accepted nostrums of aesthetic beauty, to dismiss it as ugly is an over-simplification. What Zagato created was a vehicle of tremendous presence, abundant charm, serious purpose, and yes, a certain awkward elegance. That it is finally being appreciated for these qualities is gratifying. That this belated recognition will ensure it remains the rarest of sightings, is perhaps a less thrilling, if entirely understandable consequence.

Grateful thanks to SP for the Lancia brochure(s)

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “The Road to Dalmatia”

  1. I see lightly altered Fulvia Zagato doors there – also shared with the Rover 2000TCZ.

    More pertinently, did the Flavia Super Sport inspire Oliver Winterbottom’s work for Lotus?

    1. It seems that Zagato had a door design of their own and adapted this for their cars by changing the length of the door frame. That wasn’t so much of a problem because these doors were individually taylored to a specific car anyway and then stamped with the body’s build number – these doors can’t be swapped between cars without modifications. This hand crafted approach even saw some Alfa Junior Z leave Zagato’s premises with one door made from steel and the other from aluminium. Zagato also used their own door handle design but door locks and window winders from the base car. So you get Zagato’s curved side windows combinec with Alfa’s window winder designed for a flat screen resulting in crunching noises and a short lived mechanism.

  2. The Flavia Super Sport is just lovely, and well ahead of its time. With a shallower front grille and higher bumper, it could easily be a late 70’s or early 80’s design.

    1. I was thinking a bit higher Dave, so it sat directly beneath the headlamps, with the indicators relocated below the bumper, like the Gamma coupé.

      Nice Alfa, by the way. A Zagato design, I presume?

    2. It’s Zagato’s (Ercole Spada’s) Junior Z. They made about 1,000 in 1,300 cc form and about 600 with 1,600cc.
      They couldn’t make more because their production facilities were fully tasked with building 7,000 Fulvia Zagato coupés and Alfa stopped production of the Z because of customer complained about bad quality.

      It’s easily the most sporting feeling member of the Giulia family.

      Fer me there’s a clear evolutionary chain from the Flavia Z to Flavia Super Sports to Fulvia Z and Alfa Z.
      For me the Alfa looks best because it has the lowest nose and the cleanest lines and its interior looks as if it was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. In the early Eighties I very nearly bought one that was offered dead cheap as the former car of Nino de Angelo – I just couldn’t stand its pearlescent white aftermarket colour and the typically Eighties cheap flip open sunroof.

  3. Was this a case of “titled car wishes to dispose of owner” as Peter Sellers (if I remember correctly) put it?

  4. Does the step at the top of the rear side window serve some purpose, or is it pure styling? I can’t think of another car with a similar feature. It reminded me of the recent discussions about the DLO on the Savvy and Matrix.

    1. Purpose: Taking shooting breaks, of course. Happens to have been constructed by Pininfarina (nod to Eurocentricity). Never officially produced but replicated here and there, mostly there.

      Pure Styling? you decide. Also winner of the pointless rain gutter award.

    2. Richard: The rear three quarter glass arrangement is, I believe a reference to the Panoramica Zagato bodies from the late ’40s/early ’50s, which encompassed vehicles as diverse as Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati and apparently an MG Y-Type. The Flavia Sport would perhaps have looked more cohesive if the door glass followed the rest of the glazing’s upward flow, although that would have made for some difficulties at a practical level. Not that this ever got in the way of Zagato design…

    3. Wartburg got there first in 1958 – possibly earlier – with the 311-5 Camping Limousine:

  5. Hard to believe this Flavia Sport came out in 1962. I’m reminded of a 1954 Panhard Dyna or the even earlier “bathtub” Packards from the late ’40s. A bit overly rounded. The semi- wrap-around windscreen was already passe as well. How long was the design in the oven?

    The standard Flavia saloon looks so much better to me.

    I was a schoolboy in those days of 1962, and much preferred the look of the standard Aston Martin DB4GT to the light alloy Zagato version as well. Doesn’t really matter a whit if I was right or wrong in the judgement of design professionals, you know instinctively if you like something or not no matter what anyone else thinks. Nor would any amount of protracted study help me appreciate the Sport’s wonderfulness because I couldn’t be bothered to spend the time to concentrate in the first place. A tin of tomato soup held the interest of only Andy Warhol. First impressions count to people; only 629 forked over their cash for the Sport in five years.

    And at the time, the Studebaker Avanti was just appearing in that company’s last gasp for recognition and survival. I couldn’t get enough photos of that, it really appealed to me in those far off days – the first car with an overt wasp-waist; fair took me breath away. It looked modern. Not everyone agreed it looked great, especially the conservative American buying public, but to each their own.

    1. Yes I suppose I asked for that, but I am not prepared to casually dismiss the Flavia Sport simply on the basis that I find its looks to be odd. However, I will concede that it is a lot more 1950s in its styling than that of the decade of its birth. Perhaps it was something Spada had in the cupboard, awaiting a suitable recipient. I do wonder if RWD proportions might have improved the stance – a question which could be asked of all Flavia models for that matter.

      There is, by the way, a curious coincidence regarding the Studebaker Avanti. In 1960, Raymond Loewy previewed a concept called the Loraymo, which was based on the floorpan of the Lancia Flaminia. Stylistically, (nose treatment apart), it proved to be something of a dry run for the Avanti. Certainly, I am not alone in seeing a very strong similarity. The Loraymo was latterly restored and now resides in the FCA Heritage Hub in Mirafiori. You’ll find an abundance of photos on the web, if interested.

      The Avanti is a design I do not particularly care for myself, but I readily acknowledge its significance, and would happily accord it as much protracted study as any other interesting and historically important automotive artefact. But as the good Mr. Malcolm points out, each to their own.

  6. I think it is not much of a stretch to imagine certain elements of the Flavia Sport influencing the Saab 99, especially that C-pillar and rear window.

  7. Having recently disposed of a Flavia Sport belonging to my late Father – sadly I might add, it was interesting observing peoples reactions to it when viewed for the first time. I was expecting the usual ‘what an odd/strange/ugly car’ etc, but more often the reverse was true. Women in particular were taken by it, and am left wondering that having reached peak blandness in modern car design which one is surrounded by on a daily basis, a car such as the Flavia Sport comes across as a refreshing antidote – or am I just kidding myself…?

  8. Thank you Rob, That story of GM’s wariness to produce a niche model contrasts with how Fiat-owned Lancia proudly carried this tradition into the 1980s (Beta Spyder).

    CR-X Gen 2, yes, aspects borrowed from both E. Spada and the Espada.

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