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