Migratory Bird

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…

Lancia

Here at the gateway to the wilds of West Cork, we welcome more than our share of visitors from foreign lands. This mostly pleasant state of affairs affords us a degree of human variety which would be otherwise denied our pale, light averse, predominantly sandblasted natives. It also lends itself to a degree of automotive variety which to a dedicated driven to writer can prove something of a godsend.

However, not all such encounters are as timely or fortuitous as today’s. Having touched at some length earlier this week upon the lore of the Tychy White Hen, to encounter one in three dimensions proved something of a novelty. Although to be strictly accurate, what we’re looking at here is, if anything a grey hen – or in Lancia parlance, Elefantino Blu – a shade particularly redolent of the Shield and Flag’s Sixties heyday.

It would be foolish indeed to deny that the Ypsilon is very much a DTW kind of car. Comparatively rare, mostly derided by the mainstream press, and with rumours of its impending demise being its primary talking point, it is perhaps at least farmyard fowl as hobbyhorse. I will neither attempt to avoid the accusation, nor defend it to those who are impervious to the Ypsilon’s charms. One either appreciates these things or one does not.

Being my first encounter with a post-facelift non-Chrysler badged model, I was curious to see how the car stood up visually and to my surprise the answer is surprisingly well. It does help to try and filter out the Lancia badging (albeit, less of an affront that that of the Pentastar), but taken on its own terms, the Ypsilon has aged with a grace I would not have anticipated.

Instead of appearing hopelessly dated, the styling now seems almost timeless, but moreover, for a car of its size, it looks like little else. It’s comparatively easy from this perspective to see why people still buy them – there is a charm to the little Lancia’s appearance which has almost entirely been excised from cars of this size and purpose.

There are lessons to be learned here – lessons Mike Manley and his FCA cohorts would do well to study well. Why is this car still selling and outselling newer, more up to date, more contemporary cars? Maybe it has something to do with a combination of virtues which speak to a certain sensibility and are embodied in a design which eschews overt aggression, instead majoring on a more effortless sense of couture style.

Our German correspondent made a valid point earlier in the week. FCA potentially have within their grasp a sub-brand which could with little effort out DS, PSA’s underperforming upmarket offering – in select markets at least. Lancia must die – it’s beyond all hope of saving and like helpless relatives, impotent and bereft at the bedside of a terminally ill loved-one, we can only wish for the agony to cease, so that we can begin to mourn and in the fullness of time, heal.

But perhaps the Ypsilon deserves to live on – beyond the lifespan of the white, grey or indeed black hen at least. There is clearly a constituency for it and (incentives aside), these are volumes not to be given away lightly. Olivier François really ought to be looking forensically at this car’s numbers, and assuming the man has any market nous, he will be.

But in the absence of any positive moves in that direction, the sole consolation we can draw upon is the grim pleasure in tracking the White Hen’s continued durability in the face of almost insurmountable odds. And celebrating its infrequent appearances upon our doorstep.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

9 thoughts on “Migratory Bird”

  1. What a coincidence! Eoin, you should definitely buy a lottery ticket this week.

    I wonder what it was like to drive from Italy to Ireland, a distance of at least 2,000km? It’s a slight shame it is a post-facelift model with the rather bland (if neat) “Proton” front grille rather than the earlier shield item, but it is a nice design that looks interesting and unusual. The rear three-quarter view is especially appealing to me. I really like the way that the inboard edges of the rear lights run parallel to the rear window and number plate indent, creating a continuous sweep of bodywork from the C-pillars down and across the rear of the car, which connects with and nicely continues the lower edge of the DLO.

    As to it continuing as a stand alone sub-brand, there is an FCA precedent for this: didn’t the X1/9 continue for a few years with Bertone badging after Fiat disowned it?

    1. It’s true that the rear half of the car is the strongest point of its design. Although it contains everything I usually despise – up-sweeping window line, ‘hidden’ door handle, plastic fillet on the C-pillar – the overall effect of the ‘sail’ shaped pillar is so great that I’m inclined to excuse everything. I wonder when I last saw one of these cars – I really don’t remember. This generation is extremely rare in Switzerland, and I wonder if it was even sold here. Probably my last sighting goes back to my 2017 holidays in Tuscany.

    2. “Although it contains everything I usually despise – up-sweeping window line, ‘hidden’ door handle, plastic fillet on the C-pillar…”

      Good morning, Simon. It is strange, all those design tropes are often so jarring and ugly, yet here they seem to coalesce into a rather pleasing form. The only minor dissonant note for me is the way the tailgate and rear door trailing edge shut-lines cut across the “sail”. This is more obvious in Eóin’s photos above. Perhaps if they ran parallel to each other (like the Mk4 Golf) they would be less disruptive? A three-door Ypsilon would have been very pleasing indeed.

    3. Well, the shutlines… yes, they interfere somewhat with the shapes, but I still think they’re not too bad. They form two bow shapes and thus look kind like a boomerang which diminishes towards the top. Sheer parallelity might work on a rather rectangular car like the Golf (I like these lines there a lot!), but probably the ‘softer’ concept applied here is better suited to the overall shapes of the Ypsilon.
      Probably the least resolved part is the superposition of the rear light outline and the shutlines. If I look at either of them in connection with the C-pillar, it looks good. But both together… they just don’t want to match.

  2. The thing with the Ypsilon is that it derived some of its appeal and meaning from being a *Lancia* Ypsilon and not just an Yspilon by FCA.
    It is easy to force products into the straitjacket of marketing dogma. However, this could very well be a case where it might be sensible to be unconventional and let Lancia carry on with one model, an Ypsilon, inedefinitely. Maybe a space might open up one day for one more car eventually, but always majoring on the style and comfort people seem to keep on wanting from the Ypsilon. A continued Ypsilon fills an known niche and holds one open for a second car. Perhaps such a model would fit better with Lancia than Fiat who seem to be about small cars again.

    The facelifted grille is not pretty: the pointy corners are unsettling. I see one in Dublin sometimes, by the way. It is also white and badged as a Chrysler.

    1. Richard may be right here – after all, Lancia (for all its woes) is an established name and as we know the costs of establishing a new one are onerous. Fun fact: In the year to June, Ypsilon (European) sales leapt 27.7% over the same period last year, placing it ahead of the Nissan Juke, Suzuki Swift and Smart Fortwo. Incentives, you say. Perhaps, but the cold calculus of money is only one motivator for as emotive a purchase as a motor car.

      Incidentally Mr. Herriott, while the photos might suggest it, the pullet pictured above was not white, but a subtle, bluish-grey. Lancia call it Elefantino Blu. It does appear, from a quick look at Lancia’s website that it is not currently possible to order one’s hen in white…

    2. This must be the only corner of the internet where people openly fantasise about the replacement of the Ypsilon. I don´t see any great reason why a model plan and development would not be possible. The only thing arguing against it is the idea a brand has to have a full range of cars, an idea we inherited from the boom period of growth. While I am here, I could add that the Ypsilon could easily be electric and not petrol. Again, the Lancia brand might allow leeway for a more elevated price and Lancia has a heritage of innovation. Go on, Mr Manley, we know you are reading.

    3. I suspect Elefantino Blu works rather better in warm Mediterranean light than under a rather leaden Kinsale sky. Note the Italianate regard for local parking restrictions!

    4. Be under no illusions Daniel, the natives here are no better when it comes to observing parking restrictions, or any other form of traffic-related regulation for that matter. Ireland and Italy probably aren’t that different – in this regard at least…

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