Tilting the Scales : (2)

As the crisis-torn Lybra programme came under microscopic scrutiny, longstanding Lancia engineer Bruno Cena took responsibility for its salvation. 

(c) bozhdynsky

Cena, a talented engineer who came to mainstream attention for his work on the dynamic setup of the Alfa Romeo 156, was a self-described ‘Uomo Lancia’ from way back. Joining Fiat in the early 1970s, he had moved to Lancia in 1978, working under Ing. Camuffo on the initial stages of the Type Four project.

Appointed head of four-wheel drive development for the marque in 1984, he was promoted to head of Lancia development two years later, and given responsibility for vehicle testing across Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo in 1991. In October 1996, he was made Fiat Auto’s ‘D-platform’ director – just in time to be handed the task of rescuing Lancia’s new sedan from market oblivion.

Initially, Lancia had planned for the car to take advantage of the suspension development already undertaken for the 156, on a third-generation development of the Tipo platform dubbed ‘Type 2 revision 3’. However, part of the car’s development pause saw the decision taken to develop an all-new rear suspension in just 14 months, aimed at providing superior ride comfort.

Engineers devised what was termed a ‘bracci longitudinali guidati’ (BLG), or guided longitudinal arm, rear suspension. This consisted of a transverse beam fixed to the floor, to which attached jointed transverse arms. These were mounted near the car’s longitudinal axis, reducing camber change compared to a traditional strut setup. Forward of these were broad trailing arms made of aluminium, connecting fore and aft to the floorplan and hub carriers. Non-co-axial spring and damper units and an anti-roll bar completed the expensively-developed picture.

(c) carsfromitaly

Characterised by Lancia as a new-generation multi-link system, its geometry allowed for an element of (then-in-vogue) passive steering, while carefully-calibrated bushings enabled an enhanced element of compliance. It also provided the additional benefit of compactness. Unlike the related 156, the Lybra’s front suspension employed struts, but again, the use of more elaborate bushings and mountings allowed for a more sophisticated, more compliant setup.

However, there was a problem. Unlike in the case of the Alfa GTV/Spider, which had seen the basic Tipo trailing arms ditched in development in favour of an alternative multi-link arrangement, there was no simple way to mount the new rear setup (the axle in the Alfa sporties’ case had been designed to fix to the chassis via an aluminium subframe, attached via expedient use of the existing Tipo suspension pick-up points).

Said Cena: “[The new rear suspension impacted] the entire structural part of the car, forcing us to redesign the floor and body in the rear area and also the front end, which was to house modified MacPherson [struts] to put them in tune with the rear BLGs.

Why struts for the front end, rather than the Alfa’s double-A-arms? “The front suspension with [wishbones] is the most suitable for a model of sporting vocation and particularly aggressive steering like the 156,” Cena observed. “For the Lybra, characterised by a higher balance between performance and comfort, the MacPherson is certainly better.

(c) savelancia.it

We have also perfected this scheme in the specific implementation for the Lancia. As in the rear suspension, we also took care of the comfort in the front by giving the wheel a controlled backward movement when the tyre hits [a bump] and, let’s say, ‘climbs’ on a rough road: [in so doing it] softens the jolt and the vertical forces transmitted to the body are attenuated. The slight retreat of the wheel is permitted by the lower arm of the MacPherson, thanks to its articulation on a bush that is not only elastic but also hydraulically damped, as if it were a tiny spring-shock absorber accessory itself. We have also moved the wheel centre forward, thus increasing the angle of incidence, or castor, up to a value of 3.5 degrees: in this way the entire multi-shock absorber system, inclined forward in-line with the upright, helps to dampen the wheel back on the obstacle.

Cena emphasised that the Lybra was developed to focus on ‘balanced’ performance in the Lancia tradition, not the overtly-soft character it was sometimes portrayed as retaining.

Due to the very characteristics of the MacPherson, the steering of the Lybra certainly has a not-so-immediate response to small steering wheel inputs as the ‘sporty’ one of the 156: it is deliberately more traditional, progressive, for less challenging and more comfortable driving. However, it is still ready, precise, and compared to the competition, it is more direct: it has a ratio of 60 mm / revolution, against an average of 50, and the system is 2.5 turns lock-to-lock (compared to 2.25 for the 156).”

(In the third and final part, we examine the stylistic somersaults the Lybra underwent en route to production, and surmise upon its commercial fate.)

Credits and sources – see part 3.

15 thoughts on “Tilting the Scales : (2)”

  1. Maybe I’m missing something here (since there are not a lot of photos of this rear suspension) but doesn’t pure trailing arm have a lot of camber gain (+ve camber, outside wheel ) with body roll ? Won’t that promote oversteer ?

    In addition it has passive rear steering which is an understeer biased setup (? usually). Is that the point, that the one counters the other ?

    1. Pure trailing arm suspensions are prone to snap oversteer because of the camber changes and their jack-up effect (the wheel on the outside of the corner is moving up less than the inside wheel is moving down, thereby lifting the rear of the car and increasing the tendency to oversteer due (amongst others) to the raise in the centre of gravity).
      Fiat had a long tradition in designing rear suspensions with long lateral arms combined with trailing arms – it started with the 124 Abarth rally Spider, the 130 had such a suspension and the most elaborate form was in the 131 rally Abarth whose chassis was able to compensate its lack of power on asphalt based competitions.

  2. Ah, the days when engineers talked about suspension and car magazines gave the issue space.
    To repeat, the Lybra I sampled had a very, very pleasing ride quality. This article shows that the car is a genuine cut above similarly sized-saloons from Ford, GM, VW and PSA. I have a perception question: is the Lybra not a halfsize between a Focus saloon and Mondeo saloon?

    1. The Lybra has similar dimensions to Ford Mondeo Mk1 and 10 cm smaller than a Mk2, roughly.
      Interesting – I always felt it looked like it was Jetta/Focus saloon sized.

    2. How did it compare with the Rover 75? I see a lot of similarity visually, on pictures at least.

    3. The Lybra was nearly exactly the same size as an Alfa 156 which looked much bigger/grown up in comparison. The Lybra – at least in saloon form – always looked very small which can’t have been too helpful outside Italy where people still buy cars that fit their narrow roads. I always thought this impression came from the round rear end and that the station wagon looked much better.

    4. In real terms, the Lybra is almost exactly the same size as a 156 – a fraction taller and longer but nothing you would pick up by eyeballing it. It was maybe a shade smaller externally than the average class size by 1999, but not dramatically so. The 75 on the other hand was definitely on the larger end of the class, closer to the Thesis in size.

    5. Isn´t that interesting. The Lybra is not such a small car after all. The rounded forms really do deceive. The Alfa 156 also seems very small today – at the time it seems logical enough to match it against a 3-series. The Lybra is an odd car in that is has no natural competitor on a like for like basis. It is Mondeo Mk1 sized but more classy; it´s not as “sporty” as a 3-series but doesn´t try; it´s sort of retro and yet in a way very distinctive in a market of more ordinarily styled cars. The suspension seems to be from a class above; the engine range sprawls across those fit for C-class (Focus) cars to D-class cars. In some ways, it ought to have scraped sales from all sorts of places.

    6. Today’s cars have grown to an absurd and often impractial size. A current BMW 3 is about the same size as the first 7…

      I think that a big factor working against the Lybra were its looks, it looked oddly tiny and bug-eyed.
      The early design sketches look much more attractive and I wonder what dealers would have had to complain about if CAR’s story is true at all.

      These designs have aged much better than the actual production car

    7. Isn’t this the Kappa pre-production facelift Fumia advocated, rather than the Lybra?

    8. No, it’s definitely a Lybra proposal from 1992 (more detail to come in part 3). Fumia was evidently rather fond of that particular theme.

    9. Dave: small as the images are I can see enough to say the production Lybra is better. The proposal has the same horrible rear light concept as the Mk1 Citroen C5 and the Lawson S-Type, and it has the same awkward bumper to body solution forced by those “croissant” forms.

    10. Going off on a tangent, this is the pre-production Kappa facelift, as envisaged by Enrico Fumia:

      View this post on Instagram

      When the Lancia k was launched in 1994, one major complaint was that it looked too bland. The k was a design by Lancia’s own Centro Stile in collaboration with IDEA, who kept the k clean and unadorned. Paolo Cantarella, Fiat Group top dog, was dragged out of his office to explain how Lancia had deliberately aimed for a design with a minimum of visual noise. That certainly was the case, but maybe the k was a bit too quiet for its own good. There could have been much more noise however. In 1991, Enrico Fumia became director of the Centro Stile Lancia. By then, the k had been approved for production, but Fumia wasn’t too pleased with it. He proposed a pre-launch facelift that would have postponed the k’s launch date, but to Fumia it was 'better to have a delay of six months, than a car that wouldn’t sell for six years'. Since the k was 2 years from its launch date, much had been decided already, and all Fumia could do was change the front and the rear. His proposal shows a lot of design cues shard with the 1996 Ypsilon, that was taking its definitive shape in early 1992. Fumia presented his k to Cantarella in july 1992, but it was rejected: the k would be launched as it was originally designed. In the end, 117,216 k’s would be built – hardly a success. Would Fumia’s k have fared better? We’ll never know… . Images from ‘Autoritratto’ by Enrico Fumia. Note to self: learn Italian. . . Lancia k 2.0 LS, 26 August 1997.

      A post shared by plankhond (@plankhond) on

    11. I like the idea of this facelift very much, but it’s probably just that. In the prototype it looks rather unconvincing. The headlights have a very strange shape, and the bottom of the grille is too round. At the back it’s similar: nice round shapes, but somehow the tension and a certain pointiness of the drawings is lost.

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