You Could Have it So Much Better

That difficult second album syndrome.

Neither fish nor fowl.   All images (c) by the author

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 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.

Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week.

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 older 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.

Second Coming.

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

27 thoughts on “You Could Have it So Much Better”

  1. It’s early, though the alarm was late and turning to DTW I initially thought this was a Vauxhall Astra! Eyes adjusted, piece now read and enjoyed. What an anonymous looking car though I do like the bands once huge, now lacklustre analogy

  2. More nice holiday photos, thank you, Eoin. The application of the HPE suffix to what was nothing more than a three-door version of the Mk2 Delta had more than a whiff of desperation about it. It reminds me of the Marina “Coupé”, although at least that car had a different rear profile to that of its four-door counterpart.

    I was intrigued as to why the Mk2 Delta, a car that was never sold in the UK, is so familiar looking. Then the penny dropped:

  3. A “proper” Lancia HPE, together with its pretty coupé sister, from a better era for the company (substandard Russian steel issue apart):

  4. If DTW was still into themes, this might be labelled Ercole Spada Week.

    The Delta II was Ercole’s work, not just allegedly so. It was directly based on the Dedra saloon, which had been created alongside the Fiat Tipo/Tempra, as part of Vittorio Ghidella’s platform sharing onslaught. Spada is said to be immensely proud of that project – which encompassed the two Fiats, the two Lancias and the Alfa 155 – due to the many challenges they overcame during the development. The Delta II is the one design he’s the least satisfied with, as he didn’t agree with the design approach.

    The history of these models is a rather interesting one, in general. Not only did they mark a stab at (European) platform sharing on a huge scale a decade before VAG under Piech instigated a similar programme, but the motivations behind it are intriguing too. Allegedly, Fiat’s purchasing department preferred to keep the net of suppliers as widespread as possible and introduce as many new components as possible, as this entailed the opportunity to request some bribe money. Ghidella therefore didn’t simply want to slash development costs, but put an end to this modus operandi. One can assume that this didn’t make many friends among some parts of Fiat management, which probably didn’t help Ghidella when he and Cesare Romiti eventually had to face one another.

    1. In fairness, having to make do with the Dedra doors didn’t make this the easiest of tasks, but that c-pillar is rather unfortunate indeed.

      Our friend Matteo posted a picture on Twitter recently, depicting the Delta II’s rather misbegotten derrière in all its dowdiness. I wish I could find the respective link.

    2. Thank you Christopher for the interesting insights.
      As to the rear end styling, yes, the C-pillar doesn’t look right and the ill-fitting Dedra doors are partly responsible for that. It’s a pity. An angular tail profile, with horizontal two-dimensional tail lights and a swooping roofline could have had overtones of Alfa GTV6, Citroen XM or even Datsun while keeping to hatchback proportions. In reality, the design of the Delta II didn’t even acknowledge the Delta I. And it came out at a time when truncated tails were being abandoned (Volvo 480, Honda CRX, Toyota Corolla).
      Also, I could never tell whether those Lancia front ends were trying to elicit memories of 1970s wedge shapes. In any case Citroen was back then more recognisable for its wedgy designs than Lancia could even aspire to be.

    3. The Delta II originally had black A pillars which went body colour after three years. For the last year of manufacture the large black trim in the C pillar became body coloured, too.

    4. Certainly, that plastic “ear” extending the DLO into the C-pillar is egregious, particularly in the way it meets the horizontal line at the base of the windows, abruptly imposing an upward curve onto the straight line of the latter.

      It puts me in mind of the previous generation (XV50) Toyota Camry. This previously inoffensive car was facelifted in 2015, when it gained a huge gob of a grille and a really awkward looking trim panel on the C-pillar. This comprised a glossy black plastic insert edged with brightwork. It attempted and failed to look like an additional third light in the C-pillar.

      Pre-facelift:

      Facelift:

      I saw lots of these in the US recently and this detail doesn’t get any less jarring with familiarity.

    5. Here’s one from the last production year with everything painted in body colour that was black on older cars.

  5. The design choices on the Delta II really puzzles me. Giugiaro likes to emphase a purposeful stance, seen both with the Golf and the Delta. And also a strong design theme that can pass the “squint your eyes” test. Squint your eyes/imagine the car in your head, and the overall theme should still be visible as a cohesive whole even though all details aren’t seen. On the original Delta, the strongest theme is that of horizontality, with the canted origami-style C-pillar/sail panel pushing the car forward, like it was a giant hand pushing a toy car. It gives the car a very purposeful sense of speed, even standing still. If Spada wanted to capture that sense, it is totally and completely negated by the black plastic panel making a large part of the C-pillar a visual extension of the window-line. This makes for a very confused and puzzled whole, and it totally negates the cars entire raison d’être.

  6. A close-up of that C-pillar trim an the Delta:

    Note also the unsatisfactory panel gap below the tail light and the slightly awkward shape of the filler flap as it cuts into the concave body section above the bumper.

    Compare with the much more assured treatment on the original model:

    1. God blind me. That shutline on the Delta 2´s hatch is really poor. If you follow the fillets of the rear surfaces to where they go to the side there is a lot of unwanted action too. The triangle around the lamp is not very neat at all. The graphics don´t harmonise with the sculpture. In sum, the back end of the car is a bit of a dog´s luncheon.
      As I said, I don´t care for this car. The alternatives in the class were mostly very ordinary and Lancia was kicking at an open goal but they shot wide anyway.

    2. Also I could be wrong but it seemed to be an italian thing of that era to have non-parallel bumpers or ones that broaden at their ends if that makes sense:

  7. I had one of those, a ’99 Delta TD LS bought in 2015 with 180.000 km. Sold it with 210.000 km two years later. Verde plutone with nocciola (brown) Alcantara upholstery, and every other optional available. It was a solid car on the road, the suspension setup was very accomplished, comfortable with composed manners and great steering and brakes. The engine was old school turbodiesel, a little noisy but frugal and reliable.

    Loved that car, very underrated. Mine was a latest one with all black plastic trim painted in body colour. I didn’t find the rear end so indigestible, and the interior was nicely designed and finished. After the Delta, I bought a new Civic (what was I thinking…) but could not stand it any more and now I drive a C4 Cactus with hydraulic cushions.

    1. It probably was a nice car to drive but that does not excuse the rather challenging detailing (said the man who likes the Thesis, Trevi and Prisma).

    2. The other half had one as a company car in NL at the start of the noughties I recall it as being quite pleasant, and it was very reliable. The only thing we had an issue with in four years was the dealer-fitted auto-folding mirrors option not being 100% from day one due to a poor connection. It rode reasonably well over the varied Dutch road surfaces, though I was never totally comfortable in the seats. A spirited drive in the Pyrenees did show the brakes were not quite as resistant to fade as I would have liked 😉

      Previously in NZ I had an early eighties HPE which was a fantastic touring car. Lovely ride, excellent handling and made quite a nice sound too. I sold it while looking at a BX – the future buyer saw it near the dealer and offered cash on the spot with no test drive necessary due to the lack of rust.

  8. When i saw the main picture, I originally thought ‘Renault 11’! Then that rear 3/4 view looks a little bit Alfasud. I quite liked the Dedra, but this looks like a late-thought lash-up.

  9. After the original Delta, the Delta II was a disappointment that should have built upon the success of the former in terms of styling, driving/handling and spawning a direct AWD successor to the Delta Integrale.

    Such a car could have easily coasted on the success of the previous Integrale / Evo models without even needing to compete in motorsport, the platform was certainly capable of utilizing AWD as demonstrated on the larger related Dedra.

  10. A possible explanation for introducing those tricky, irritating C-pillar plastic trims, could be his likely dissatisfaction of having to use the Dedra doors as a cost limitation. We can see that these doors did cause some proportion issues, and, what with the front overhang being somewhat longer than ideal, perhaps it was elected to use a thick C-pillar, as an obvious requirement to compensate (not unlike the 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback effect…). Then, perhaps, someone from the management
    said “Non e accettabile…”, and ‘politely’ asked the designer to slim
    that chunky C-pillar down…

    So it seems likely they could have been ‘management input’.
    I doubt they were there for beltline tensioning purposes.

    The C-pillar itself was deemed big enough to ‘swallow’ them. In some colours this simply didn’t work, and the net effect was just adding further visual complexity to an otherwise very complex, intellectually intensive design (I have to say, though, that I have always appreciated the Delta 2 for the obvious effort that went into the shape, although it does not flow easy to most people’s eyes, admittedly).

    The 3dr version, which is far more polarising due to the overly long (big?) doors, had less of an issue with the C-pillar, but is generally less well proportioned (which, somehow, makes it more appealing,
    as the design does emit a certain iconoclasticism).

    I think that the general unease with which the Delta 2 was (is) faced,
    is largely due to us being Giugiaro-spoiled. We are expecting a geometric, shocking simplicity and cohesiveness so as to consider a styling succesful (post-Golf 1), and even, unconsciously, categorising rich, complex solutions as ‘clumsy’ by default.

    Which I have certain reserves about.

    If we try to be less dismissive of complex, daring solutions, the Delta 2 could be defended as a very competent attempt at marrying an almost anachronic, laboured level of design narrative, with a dominantly modern detailing and “harmonised angularity”. Which is seldom seen.

    I particularly like the inimitable, surgically perfectionist way of how the front end is resolved, and the surfacing immediately below the C-pillar (undisputably complex work, but a small work of art to my eyes, nevertheless).

    The front end does not look pretty, no. But they definitely knew what kind of ‘facial expression’ they were after. It’s one of the most decisive, most singleminded front ends, and the discreet headlight curvature & shapes used do speak a really mature visual language.

    Whether the mental image it displayed was a hit or miss with
    the Lancia brand expectations (and whether this had its share
    at all in the demise that followed), is another story altogether.

  11. A handsome-at-first-glance machine that doesn’t reward repeated viewing.
    Two odd points, it’s relationship to the Dedra- a car I particularly like- is obvious but in the Delta II it just doesn’t work and secondly I’ve never seen one in Italy [Perhaps because it had a short lifespan relative to the original but despite being up to 40 years old I’ve seen a fair few Mk l Delta’s in Sicily].
    I don’t think it looks particularly Astra-esque, to me the five door reminds me of the Mk lll Golf, it’s just that bit too flabby which highlights how small the wheels are and how tall the glass house is, problems the original didn’t appear to have, thanks to sharper tailoring.
    The C-pillar “Ears” clearly imply ventilation [Did they serve this function or were they just “Decorative”] I thought of the Gamma Berlina straight away which used prominent C -pillar louvres to similar clumsy effect, well I think so anyway. It shows just how good the styling was on the 1979 Delta, in that it has vents in exactly the same place but they are barely noticeable; if I’d tried drawing a Delta from memory I’d have completely missed them out.
    Finally how about a 5 door Delta II estate? In dark metallic paint with those brushed alloy wheels, a simple C pillar and a slight rising waistline behind it [Think Rover 400 Tourer or Citroen Xantia estate] it’d look great.

    1. The Dedra estate did look good, yes, and if you prowl around the corners of Mobile.de you´ll prices for nice ones firming up. I consider the Dedra and a neat and elegant car and it´s curious how the Delta 2 didn´t build on it. The front wings work whilst aft of the B-pillar it goes wrong. Al is is very kind about it (see above) and his analysis must be one of the more extended and carefully considered ones on the web. Isn´t that just so DTW?

  12. Stop press! I see now that there was a Dedra estate; the SW. However the rear end looks too heavy, more finesse needed I think.

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