That difficult second album syndrome.
Music history has frequently been littered with the broken wreckage of bands who blasted into the public consciousness with an precocious debut, only to lose it with the follow-up. Artists such as the Stone Roses, The Sugarcubes, Franz Ferdinand and perhaps most notoriously, 80’s pop sensation, Terence Trent D’Arby all followed their well-reviewed debuts with what were varying degrees of disappointing to disastrous.
Of course the pressure upon new bands is often immense – the record company is clamouring for another hit, fans are salivating over the prospect and the artists themselves require more material to play live – everybody wants more and fast. As in music, so too perhaps with the auto business.
One can logically draw a line in Lancia’s history between pre and post-Fiat eras, but within the latter, there are further subdivisions to be established: the immediate post-acquisition Camuffo period, the post-1978 era under Ghidella, the decline under Canterella and of course the final act which took place under Marchionne.
The original 1979 Lancia Delta was created during the first of these epochs and while it imbibed heavily from the Fiat Auto parts bin, there was enough bespoke Lancia engineering within to salve offended Lancistas. What it may have lacked in engineering purity however, it made up for in design – Giugiaro’s tailoring being of a very high standard indeed, doing much of the heavy lifting to ensure its commercial success.
But equal to its appearance was the fact that it was a well realised product, one which proved eminently suitable both in Italy and other congested European centres. Furthermore, its well publicised motorsport successes did much to lend it a more athletic mien than it might otherwise have enjoyed.
It was this latter success and the all-conquering road-going Integrale which it inspired which saw Fiat retain the Delta in production well past its putative sell-by date. By the time it was finally phased out in 1993 (the ‘holy Grale’ left the stage the following year), it had been on sale for almost 15 years – nothing unusual back in the Presenti era, but highly so for a Fiat Auto product. After all, the later generation (Tipo Due) Dedra had been introduced as far back as 1989.
The second generation Delta was naturally linked to the Fiat Tipo programme, sharing much of that car’s platform and underpinnings. There would be no bespoke Lancia suspension design this time, the major point of differentiation being under the bonnet, where balance-shaft twin-cam engines were fitted across the board – in petrol form at least.
Styling was attributed, like almost all Type Two cars, to the IDEA Institute, allegedly under the supervision of Ercole Spada, but it’s unlikely he played much of a direct role in its creation. A neat, if rather uninspired design, it might have seemed a logical progression had it debuted in 1988/89 as it ought to have done, but by 1993, it appeared, let’s just say tepid – especially as its predecessor had not only been lauded for its style, but had also stood the test of time so well.
Under the Fiat Auto leadership of Paolo Canterella, Lancia’s mission was ‘repurposed’ for the ’90s. No more motorsport – the shield and flag would be aimed at more sedate buyers. It was a decision which would doom the marque, which had by the late ’80s been on a sales high.
The tardy arrival of the nuova Delta, coupled with its somewhat underwhelming (seen it already) appearance, ensured that it would never come close to matching its predecessor’s sales figures, or lend its masters much of a return on the sizeable investment incurred. Even the later provision of a three-door HPE version did little. After six short years, it was discontinued. It would be almost another decade before we had another, equally ill-judged effort.
Difficult second albums are tough to recover from – The Stone Roses split, as did the Sugarcubes (both lead singers forging more successful solo careers) – Trent D’Arby’s career imploded entirely.
The nouva Delta didn’t sink Lancia exactly, but its lack of success halted a period of success and expansion. A cogent argument could be made to suggest they, like Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand, never quite recovered from the reversal it precipitated. Their second album wasn’t so much bad, just lacking the sparkle and wit of their debut. Both of course are still going, but neither are anything like they were. In 1994, Lancia owners too could have had it so much better – had the new Delta perhaps looked and felt something a little more like the outgoing one.