The Second Act

Lancia hits the marque.

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It is tempting to characterise the 1960s as a period of wild hedonism, artistic abandon, sexual freedom and social progress, but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Not in Italy at least, still firmly under the heel of the Vatican, whose tentacles encroached into all areas of domestic life. Strict social and societal mores were observed. Matters of appearance remained of the utmost importance. Yes of course, in the ateliers of Milan, fashions were of a most flamboyant, provocative nature, but the garments one actually wore, even to the local tabaccheria, were well chosen, decorous – demure even.

This sensibility pervaded Italian life, product design included. Because even if the most prosaic piece of household equipment was designed to please (or at least satisfy) the eye, it was nonetheless a function-first device. So too the automobile. Throughout the ‘Sixties, the Italian aesthetic for the berlina was highly formalised, upright, rectilinear. Regardless of whether it hailed from Portello, Mirafiori or Borgo San Paolo, there was little for the unschooled eye to distinguish their respective offerings, the devil very much dwelling amid the detail.[1]

Lancia’s initial 815-series Flavia cleaved to this rather formal orthodoxy, yet by the same token, diverged from it rather markedly, presenting a somewhat eccentric face to the world. Certainly, it can be said that its appearance was something of an acquired taste – a consequence of both its architecture and perhaps also, the creative preferences of its creative lead – technical director, Dottore Antonio Fessia.

A lack of meaningful domestic opposition in the immediate years which followed its 1960 debut undoubtedly favoured the Flavia’s early life, but its slightly fussy, mannered appearance did mean that its style was liable to date rather quickly. Furthermore, amid the Italian car design studios, where in particular, canopy shapes were becoming considerably more rakish by mid-decade, the speed and direction of change was obvious. Furthermore, domestic (and foreign) competitors in the upper-medium market where Lancia’s midliner was positioned, were massing.

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Under the stewardship of industrialist, Carlo Presenti, Lancia was transitioning from specialist to a more volume-focussed business. The Flavia opened Lancia up to an entirely new market, that of a rising educated, professional class. However, these new customers were equally attracted by less expensive, more regularly updated and more lively-performing rivals from a more confident and expansionist FIAT Auto and the house of Portello, lending further imperative to enliven its appeal.

Sales figures are at best something of a blunt tool, especially when it comes to Lancia, but allowing for this, let us consider what information there is to hand. From 1961 to 1963, around 10-11,000 first-series Flavias (per annum) left Chivasso. This falls to around 8,000 in 1964, dropping precipitously the following year to about 1,000 and a mere 650 or so in 1966. What sits behind such matters remains open to conjecture, but a wholesale collapse in demand is probably a little too simplistic a reading.[2]

But aside from the external pressures facing the first-series Flavia by mid-decade, there was also the time-honoured Lancia tradition of carrying out more than simple face-lifting operations. Therefore, the second-series model would amount to no less than a full reskin. While the centre section of the revised car (internally dubbed 819-series) would appear largely unaltered, just about every external pressing would be renewed. The bulk of the visual changes were directed to the extremities, but in fact, not a single skin panel was shared.[3]

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At the nose, the wingline was lower, and while the headlamps of the first-series car were situated in raised pods flanking the grille, the new layout grouped both headlamps and grille (which was similarly sized, but now inset) into a single indented pressing, intended to be viewed as a single visual entity. The bonnet now featured a central depression, which not only helped draw the eye downwards, but also housed the ventilation air intake. Along the flanks, the previously unadorned bodysides were now bisected by a prominent beltline crease, running nose to tail.

Aft, the bootline was slightly taller and abruptly truncated in a Kamm-tail arrangement. Reflecting the frontal styling somewhat, light units and number plate were now situated within an indented panel. The tail lamps were sited at the base of this recess, just above bumper level – the units themselves visually joined by a central plate bearing the Lancia script. A little busy-looking perhaps, but a highly distinctive arrangement, one which lent the design the requisite visual oddity to signify its identity to owners and observers alike.

While the canopy remained upright and distinctly formal in appearance, two changes in particular wrought considerable visual benefits. The first and most obvious was the larger, more panoramic and raked windscreen, which did wonders for its profile. The rear screen too was larger; the trailing edge of the roof pressing also losing its slight peak, gaining a more flush appearance. According to Lancia’s publicity material, window area was increased by 20%. A further change saw the reprofiling of the storm gutter, now flush with the rear quarterlight rather than interrupting the flow of the C-pillar. Meanwhile, more liberal use of stainless steel brightwork added richness and embellishment.

Inside, the Flavia too saw fundamental change, with finer materials; a new mahogany finished dashboard and revised instrumentation, now set into brushed metal-effect inserts lending a contemporary approach to classical materials. Less starkly modernist than the first series, but elegant, and in time-honoured Lancia fashion, well wrought. A revised heating/ 2-speed ventilation system was quieter and more efficient, Lancia claimed, while redesigned seats aided cabin comfort.[4]

Introduced in the Spring of 1967 and dubbed the Milleotto, the second-series addressed a great many of the original Flavia’s weaknesses, especially in the stylistic realm. While the first-series comported itself with an air of almost wilful oddness, the 819-series revisions ensured the Flavia was now almost wholly harmonious in appearance. Not only that, the new model cleaved the air more cleanly, aiding cruising speeds on the autostrada.

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Notably however, while second-series Flavias were further refined from a technical perspective, there were no significant power upgrades over outgoing models.[5] So, coupled with the already weighty Flavia bodyshell, not to mention the stout, if finely engineered front subframe, this made for a car that when compared to rivals from Milan, Turin and increasingly, Bavaria, felt a little heavier on its feet.

Which brings into sharper focus a further aspect of Lancia tradition: a longstanding tension between the quest for light weight and lively performance over refinement and durability. A potential factor here is the possibility that Lancia’s eminent technical director may have been blindsided by previous decade’s notions pertaining to power-to-weight; there being a highly plausible body of thought suggesting that Dr. Fessia had failed to anticipate the performance requirements of the latter 1960s.[6]

Coinciding with the debut of the 819-series Flavia was the demise of both the Vignale-bodied convertible and Zagato Sport models. The reasons for this are not entirely obvious, but both were built in such miniscule numbers that neither was likely to have been economically viable.[7] The 815-series Pininfarina-built Coupé however remained in production until 1968.

That same year, the terminally ill Dr. Fessia passed away, making the 819-series Flavia (and second-series Fulvia) to all intents and purposes his last will and testament. So while his final years with Lancia were not entirely unfruitful, his passing left the engineering department with no succession plan, either in personnel or automotive terms.

1969 would prove to be annus horribilis at Borgo San Paolo, but while chaos reigned behind the scenes, March 1969 saw the rebodied 820-series Pininfarina Coupé make its Geneva debut, gaining substantial body and cabin modifications. Technical changes too, in that a further enlarged 1991 cc version of the Flavia engine would be standard fitment for the Coupé and would later that year top out the berlina range.[8]

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While it seems at first glance rather tempting to view the Milleotto as simply a heavily revised version of the first-series Flavia, not only was it an almost entirely new car, but because the changes wrought were so overwhelmingly positive and so well executed, they combined to make for a far richer, more desirable one. Stylistically the most resolved of the three distinct Flavia series, with a subtlety and balance lacking in preceding and successive models.[9] Retaining the Flavia’s spacious cabin, handy size and wieldiness, the sweetspot Milleotto not only became an intrinsic part of Italy’s street furniture, but what many rightfully believe to be the definitive Flavia derivative.

The Autumn of 1969 would witness the financial collapse of the business and its subsequent acquisition by FIAT Auto. The changes enacted upon Lancia by Mirafiori would be profound. Change too would come one last time for the Flavia, the curtain falling definitively upon the second act in 1971.[10]

 

[1] This style was also exported widely by the Italian carrozzeiri – to Germany, Japan and Britain, amongst others.

[2] While it’s plausible to suggest that the Flavia lost impetus against more up to date rivals by mid-decade, there was also the fact that production of the Fulvia model line began at Chivasso in 1963 and may have gained priority over the larger car. Production data sources: Franco Amatori / Guido Rosani

[3] The principal stylistic inspiration for the 819-series Flavia was the Fulvia berlina, also created in-house under Piero Castagnero; a more rigorously pared-back design to that of its larger sibling.

[4] Factory options in 1967 included a floor-mounted gearshift, individual front seats, a heated rear screen, moquette carpeting and rubber-faced bumper over-riders. Source: Servizo Stampa Lancia.

[5] The 819 Milleotto was introduced with three power unit choices. The 1.5 litre version, developed 80 hp (81 lbs/ft @ 3500 rpm) and remained on the price lists until 1970. The larger 1.8 model was offered both in carburettor (92 hp and 107.7 lbs/ft @ 3000 rpm) and Kugelfischer mechanical fuel-injected form (102 hp and 112.8 lbs/ft @ 3500 rpm). ZF Power steering was available as an option. Source: Servizo Stampa Lancia.

[6] In ‘Performance and Character’ [Lanciana (2009:2), a specialist marque-specific publication], Geoffrey Goldberg carries out a learned dissertation of Lancia’s engineering methodology under technical directors, Vittorio Jano and Antonio Fessia, and lays out in detail the issue of power/weight in the Lancia technical ethos. 

[7] Another possible factor in the demise of the Zagato-bodied Flavia was the fact that its body style was not only something of an acquired taste, but had dated markedly by 1967. Zagato proposed a more modern looking Supersport derivative, but Lancia didn’t bite. 

[8] The 1969 Flavia berlina retained the existing power units – now upgraded to 84 bhp (1500), 96 bhp (1800 carburettor), and 107 bhp (1800 injection). The new 820-series 2.0 litre engine developed 131 bhp (with carburettor); Lancia finally catching up on the power stakes. The Flavia 2000 (and 2000 LX) gained further refinements, including redesigned seats and a shorter, remote gear lever. Source: Servizo Stampa Lancia.

[9] The third-Series Flavia, (the 1971 Lancia 2000) will be covered in a separate article.

[10] Production numbers for the second-series Flavia berlinas are difficult to pin down, but somewhere in the region of between 20-22,000 were said to have been built between 1967-71. (These figures include the Flavia 2000).

Source material: La Lancia/ Lancia Flavia – Vim Oude Weerninck/ Lancia Flavia – Angela Verschoor/ La Storia della Lancia – Franco Amatori/ Sebastien Faures.

Special thanks to historian, author and Lancista, Geoffrey Goldberg for guidance, much appreciated factual backup, documentation and advice for this piece.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “The Second Act”

  1. My attention turn to the aesthetics of the photography. The title picture has a much for saturated quality and a less sharp definition that we see today. There´s also a good sense of the depth of field (if that´s the right word) so that the background, the car and the figure have a three-dimensional quality. Considered as a whole, the image has atmosphere and is pleasantly evocative without even so much as suggesting any kind of narrative. The lower image of the car in the street reminds me again of the civilised and convivial conditions created by well-proportioned streets. The Lancia fits right in to that setting rather than being opposed to it or being an incursion. If I think about recent use of street imagery, I find I am recalling moving cars seen from the giraffe´s head height or cars set in an improbably underpopulated New York or, perhaps, some bland Franconian concrete. The unfortunate thing is that the entirety of the land surburbanised since 1955 is horrible and only gets more horrible with the passing of time: you would not want to photograph a car in such a setting. Lamps, wimples, plastic signs and one-storey boxes don´t make for much of a scenic setting – nobody likes it and it´s what we´re given by elected officials and qualified planning officers. I digress.

  2. “Window area increased by 20%” – When will we see the likes of it again?

    Thanks for this article! I don’t have many memories of Lancias of this time. They must have been ultra rare in Switzerland already, and the time I started to recognize individual cars probably starts ten years after the Milleotto’s launch. However I remember a few Fulvia and Flavia sightings from various trips to Italy.

    Being a fan of distinct FWD proportions, I don’t mind the somewhat odd stance of these cars at all. I think it gives them an unmistakeable character and sets them apart from almost everything else. The general shape may be upright an boxy on first sight, but the volumes are carefully considered and less simple than one first thinks, making a very elegant impression.

    1. I bet they were in even rarer in the rural Netherlands where I grew up. Not a Lancia to be discovered. Things are a bit different now, with a classic car dealer that’s specialized in Italian cars located not too far from where I grew up .

      I got the Lancia bug later in life, but never owned one. The first generation Flavia is an acquired taste for sure, but I agree with Eóin the second generation is the best of the lot.

    2. Interestingly, Lancias were not uncommon in Switzerland. Maybe this started only with the Beta and Gamma, or the earlier ones were just too short lived for me to be noticed.

  3. What a finely researched article – I felt transported both back to the era and also inside the culture of both the organisation and the culture. Bravissimo! A lovely car I knew little about, certainly in terms of its development and genesis.

    Before reading this, I was just skimming an article about the new Megane EV, which had me thinking that cars really are heading towards domestic appliance in terms of engineering interest … and styling conformity. Your description of rear lamp arrangement alone on the ‘Milleotto’ provided more interest than the new Megane in its entirety.

    Overall, thanks for an excellent piece.

  4. Look at the little crests on the rear wings. And the rear panel is like a radio facade. The sensitivity to detail is delightful. All of this was worked out by hand too. These are fascinating objects and it is perplexing that little we see now is able to provide such captivating effects. There are exceptions though, thankfully.

  5. An excellent piece on a delightful subject, thank you Eóin. Here’s an image of the original 1961 Flavia for comparison with the updated car above:

    I’m already looking forward to the follow-up piece on the 2000, my favourite iteration of this series, and one of my favourite cars of all. Here’s a nice photo to keep me going until then:

    1. Very well positioned the 2 Flavias, Daniel! Thanks a lot.
      It really facilitates the comparison study!

    2. You’re welcome, Constantinos. I never need much of an excuse to post pictures of beautiful cars!

    3. OK, now it hit me: I think the 2000’s rear end would have looked better with the tail-lights of the later Fulvia Berlina. What do you think, Daniel?

    4. Hi Konstantinos. I don’t dislike the tail lights on the 2000 Berlina, even if they are a little generic:

      But the tail lights on the Series 2 Fulvia Berlina are, I suppose, more characterful and could have worked well on the larger car:

  6. To celebrate 60 years of Lancia, and to publicise Agip motor oil, they drove a Flavia and a Fulvia to the Artic North Cape.*

    *And back, it should be said.

  7. Congratulations. Strong writing. I enjoyed reading the article, really. This is a car I have never seen live in the metal. The picture is great, real and atmospheric. This is what you see walking in Milan, 8 in the morning when you go to your work place.

  8. Ah, sixties Italian style… Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo): sharp black suit, sharply slicked back hair, sharp sunglasses and one of my favourite breeds of car (along with the kei cars featured here recently) – a boxy sedan. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Flavia in the flesh, they’re before my time. By the time I did start to notice cars, Alfa Giulias (which my mother insisted looked like a Lada) and Giulia GTs were pretty much the only Italian cars one encountered. Except a huge Maserati Quattroporte III I passed on the way to school, but that was almost contemporaneous at the time. An acquaintance from my university days did own a Fulvia Coupé, though. Also wonderful. As you mention the continuing influence of the Vatican in Italy: if I remember correctly, said film (Otto e mezzo) also contains a lengthy dream sequence where the protagonist wrestles with his attachment to the Church in a series of surreal images featuring his priest.

    The second series Flavia is a remarkably effective reskin from the somewhat gawky first generation, although all of them retain the somewhat awkward stance that’s most visible in the last picture (what movie is that from, by the way?). Overall, though, they’re very pleasing shapes – to me at least.

    And you’re right, Daniel, any excuse is good enough to post pictures of such wonderful cars, so here’s a Fulvia (HF) Coupé…

  9. Well done, nicely written and researched. Glad to assist, and provide some working materials for Eoin to craft into a thoughtful and insightful argument. The analysis of the bodywork of the Milleotto is just fascinating.
    Also like Eoin, I have been captivated by these cars, so long overlooked. A Flavia 2000 is a recent addition to the stable, very original and quite charming in looks and sublime to drive.
    http://www.lanciaaurelia.info/flavia-2000.html

    1. I read this:
      http://www.lanciaaurelia.info/build-quality.html
      The attention to detail in an old Lancia is astonishing. Maybe some other marques have got close but I´ve never read about it. I suspect Bristol have some of the same thinking but the cars are not beautiful. A Lancia is to me more than a car; Lancia at its best is an unusual mix of the romantic and the rational. You have have some higher, emotional value to drive the intensely rational focus on factors like refinement, longevity and delight-to-use. Pretentious as it will sound I am forced to note that Lancia embodies the 3 Vitruvian principles. I recommend Geoff Goldberg´s site for further perusal. Perhaps the one snag is that it puts in perspective the fondness I have for the later cars such as Trevi, Dedra, Thema and Kappa. They are still charming but they fall a long way short of what was achieved before Fiat´s dead hand took a hold.

    2. Thanks for sharing, Richard. It surely makes for a solid case for Lancia. I want an Aurelia now.

    1. Glad you both found the site, and something to enjoy. The issue of build quality in Lancia has long fascinated – I have been lucky to spend a lot of time in the archives, looking at factory drawings, on cars from 1908 to the late ’70s, and Lancia’s commitment to drawing their solutions is quite extensive. For a smaller-medium manufacturer, they are quite detailed, and done with big-league standards. Benefit of a family owned business….

  10. Great article Eóin, and it reminded me of an idea that’s been circling around my head and could serve as a thought experiment: wouldn’t it have been interesting if the Flavia Berlina was actually a four-door version of the Pininfarina Coupé?

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