Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo

The 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo concept illustrated that size and proportion matters. 

Still credible. 2003 Lancia Stilnovo. Image: media.stellantis

Editor’s note: As a companion to this week’s Saab concept retrospective, we turn to a near-contemporary from Turin. This piece was first published on 4th October 2014 as part of the Concepts theme.

One of the last Lancias had a five year gestation from concept car to production. In this case there were two concepts, a real one and a pre-production model. One of them was not helpful.

Lancia showed the Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo at the 2003 Barcelona motor show as a genuine kite-flying concept car, one of quite a few quite credible studies they showed around this time. Three years later these ideas were translated into the production ready Lancia Delta HPE concept which was first revealed at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival. This then took a remarkable two years to get to an official launch, by which time the styling had staled somewhat.

You have to look at the 2006 and 2008 cars side by side to notice any difference, so we can conclude the 2006 car was not a real concept at all. The production Lancia Delta (Type 844) was unveiled at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. It was based on a long wheelbase version of the Fiat C-platform. The car had a decent choice of engines too: available at launch were 120 PS, and 150 PS 1.4 L Turbojet petrol engines, and 1.6 L 120 PS MultiJet diesel, 2.0 Multijet with 165 PS  and 1.9 Twinturbo Multijet with 190 PS. A new petrol unit was launched later: 1.8 Di Turbojet with 200 PS (147 kW)*.

All in all, it was a pretty fast and distinctive vehicle but about as popular as rabies. In 2008 Gavin Green at Car wrote: “It’s a huge improvement on the mostly rather anodyne Lancias that last corroded on UK shores. Its main appeal is that it is genuinely different from anything else in the class. Now being ‘different’, of course, can be good (think Apple computers) or bad (think Michael Jackson makeover).” 

The main points to note were the fact it was midway in size between Golf-class, C-sector cars and the segment above; that, and the rather charming upholstery options (don’t laugh – look at how monotonous car interior fabrics are these days). What survived the process going from concept to production were the details, but the proportions changed. I would argue that productionising the 2003 car would have been a better bet rather than trying to make an odd-package like the long wheelbase C-platform work.

* Those figures are from Wikipedia.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

27 thoughts on “Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo”

  1. Lancia Centro Stile was on a roll back then. The 2003 Ypsilon still looks good, the Fulvia concept has held up remarkably well, and this even more so. The front is a touch busy, but the rest still looks contemporary. Ditto the concept that heavily influenced this, the Carcerano Granturismo. Considering the nonexistent resources allocated to them, De Meo and Manzoni did a sterling job in maintaining a shred of relevance. It’s no surprise that both were recruited by VAG shortly afterwards. Even the 2005 Ypsilon Sport Zagato was nicely done.

    In any case, I do agree that producing a conventional C-segment hatch would have been the way to go. Fiat fairly obviously failed to heed one of the enduring lessons of Rover, which is that in-between-sized cars are no solution to an inadequate development budget. If you only have the money to develop one model rather than two, develop one conventionally-sized model rather than trying to steal sales from both sectors. Clearly-articulated market segments exist for a number of reasons – desperation does not make one more clever than the rest of the industry. But I suppose by this stage, Lancia was already well-entrenched as Fiat’s purveyor of ‘whatever Fiat and Alfa aren’t doing’ brand.

    The production Delta is one of those ‘if only’ cars, substantially compromised by the microscopic development budget and the need to cut costs. It is largely the detailing that lets it down – they look quite good on the street, but as you get close, you find the chrome detailing looks and feels very cheap. The same applies for the Bravo-derived interior and especially the spraycan-silver centre console, although the piano black console in certain up-spec versions does a lot to minimise that effect. The tan interior is indeed very nice and a distinct departure from the norm.

    In a way, though, the writing was on the wall for this car at its launch in Geneva in 2008. Somewhere on a hard drive I have photos of the show cars. The finish would have been unacceptable on any run-of-the-mill production hatchback delivered to a regular customer, let alone the examples supposed to relaunch an entire brand and destined to be crawled over by the entirety of the world’s motoring media. The most egregious example was terrible paint run at the bottom of the grille’s ‘V’ on every single one of the five showcars. In a way it said it all about the attention given to this car, and the competence of Fiat management in general.

    1. Good analysis, thank you. That said, there’s much to like about the Delta. It’s utterly unmistakeable and the work of good stylists. They’ll linger as oddball cars for quite some time to come as those who couldn’t buy them new look for them when they are affordable. I’d very much like to test one.

    2. Fiat/FCA’s styling department really suffered under Ramaciotti’s watch, didn’t it? The last truly successful Fiat was Roberto Giolito’s 500, which was designed before the reogarnisation of Centro Stile and Fiat styling in general. Since then, we haven’t seen anything remotely inspiring coming out of Turin.

    3. Yes, this is true. Especially if you think that the 500 really originated as the Trepiuno concept all the way back in 2004 – on that count, the design is now 12 years old. Remarkably, I still think it looks fresh, but there’s no way you’d trust Fiat to deliver a similar hit now.

      As you say, there has been very little of note in the last decade – though that is partially because there has been very little new product, full stop. But even what there has been, has largely been aesthetically disastrous (see further 500L, MiTo, etc).

      I will admit I thought the Grande Punto was quite smart when it came out, and I like the current Panda, especially in Cross spec – I wasn’t sure about it at launch, but seeing them on the street changed my mind. I even quite liked the Bravo. But all of these are pretty much the last remnants of the old guard. The Tipo really says it all about the current state of design-led initiative at Fiat. I do wonder how much of all this is Mr Spreadsheet’s fault.

  2. Good morning Richard and Eóin. This piece is indeed a good complement to the Saab piece, both being marques that should still be thriving, had they not been managed so ineptly.

    The 2003 Stilnovo, like the Saab concept earlier this week, is a delightful design, restrained and calm, but still characterful and distinctively Lancia, like the contemporary and equally lovely Fulvia concept:

    The proportions of the Stilnovo’s front grille are perfect, unlike the too tall and narrow item on the production Delta. I’ve never had the opportunity to look at the Delta up close, but Richard did and was not impressed:

    Swimming in the Bight

  3. Good morning, thanks indeed for this article once more, about an automobile that is very high on the list of almost-greats… Can i ask a (possibly ignorant) question: was this iteration of Delta the first production car to sport the particular C-pillar treatment in which the rear quarter light connects with the rear window (directly or via faux glass panels), creating the illusion of a floating roof? This detail struck me as fascinating from the first sighting onwards and to me it really makes the design work, as it breaks the massive surface there in a pretty elegant way.

    1. Hi Joost. That’s a good observation about the C-pillar. The only car that comes to mind is the Pegaso Z103. It’s handled in a different way, but the side window kind of meets the rear window here too.

      By the way: How is the ID? My E92 just had the wheel realigned and drives a lot better now. These cars are notorious for every little thing that is slightly out of tune having a big impact on the driving experience.

    2. I think it is. You might also want to consider the Renault Koleos concept car which has a C-pillar which looks like a triangle standing on its apex; the apex touches the shoulder line. The last Astra used a similar trope to today´s Lancia concept.
      ((Here is the bit where I write the usual sad laments about Lancia´s mistreatment)).
      The Lancia Delta, as Daniel said, was almost rubbish – a Fiat in Lancia clothes. The quality left me cold whereas the Lybra was really solidly made (apart from the sticky glovebox plastic).

    3. Hi Joost and Freerk. May I offer a more humble example, the Opel Kadett B Kiemencoupé:

      It was just one of an extraordinarily wide range of variants, covered on DTW here:

      Spice of Life

    4. Thanks Daniel and Freerk, those are indeed nice examples of a similar idea, albeit slightly different in proportions and -thus- the various lines intersect.
      Freerk, the ID has held up great during our holidays and went on stoically under temperatures upto even 35 Celsius (we were melting, though…). Still, our children would do the same next year, which makes my car-heart jump for joy. In France, it was as if we brought back a piece of forgotten culture and history, very heartwarming responses, especially from French people of all strata, which led to nice conversations on a daily basis. Thanks for asking, Freerk.

    5. Daniel, good find on the Kadett. I had forgotten all about it 😉 Joost, I am so happy to hear you had such a great holiday. Older cars can bring people together. I’m hoping you have many more similar experiences.

  4. There’s a last-gen (Chrysler) Delta that is often in the car park at work. I’ve yet to discover its owner, but it both stands out and appeals to me, and not only because it’s a member of the odd rear light club.

    No, it’s not as pretty as the concept featured here, but it was a brave attempt to draw punters towards something less aggressive and/ or mundane. I wonder if it suffered for straddling two class sizes? Or, was it just the general lack of support and follow-up? I see little point in launching a new model and then leaving it alone in the market to moulder.

    Maybe Stellantis will provide a new Delta off the EMP-2 platform, although one wonders if there’s room amongst the Pugs, Citroëns, DSs and Vauxhall/ Opels?

    1. There´s room if it´s handled right, which it won´t be. Or maybe there isn´t room if all the brands are under the same umbrella. As we said here ages ago, Lancia only needs two cars – a Fulvia and maybe a shooting brake; or if there´s no mid-sized saloon among the others, that´s its niche. They´d have to tune the suspension and controls properly – it ought not to feel like any other car to drive.

    2. The issue as I see it, is that there is nobody with a sufficient understanding of what a Lancia means. What you tend to get instead are a series of moodboards and keywords, adding up to a very one-dimensional reading of the marque. And to make matters worse, it’s more than usually wrong. Lancia exists now, if indeed it exists at all, as an ideal. I’m not convinced Stellantis has the sensitivity to carry its reinvention off well, but I’m equally certain that nobody else could either.

    3. They ought to let Ferrari have a crack at it. After all, they put a 308 engine in a Thema, so why not?

  5. Thinking about what could have been with regard to the Granturismo Stilnovo, are there any C-segment cars that could be called “beautiful” or any such synonym thereof? I like the first BMW 1 Series (the one with the bowed sill panel), but we won’t all agree on that one. Anything else, ever?

    1. I rather like the Alfa 147 and the recent iterations of Mazda3 (or however you stylise that). But given that you present the 1 series as an example, we probably wouldn’t agree on ‘beautiful’. Going further back, the Alfasud is a very nice design, I think. The mk3 Civic might not qualify as beautiful per se, but it is a very nice car. The Volvo C30 goes a long way toward beautiful as well, I think.

      Of course there are numerous C segment cars that are very competent designs, like earlier iterations of the Delta, the first Fiat Tipo, a number of makes of Golf and Kadett/Astra and many more.

    2. I spoke impetuously about the 1 (I meant the Coupé only), it’s not classically beautiful. Lately I’ve seen the GS categorized as C-segment, though such a classification did not exist in 1970.

    3. Ah, the coupé is a different matter indeed. Not classically beautiful, but there’s definitely something handsome about the three box design:

    4. The 1-series coupé ought to be more popular than it is. Why isn´t a hotter seller? Is it that despite DTW´s earnest exhortation, people don´t want small, two-door cars very much.

    5. Hi Richard. Here’s the successor, the latest 2 Series coupé:

      I can’t make up my mind about it. On the one hand, it’s far from being BMW’s worst current model, has a proper Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar and a normally sized (if still oddly shaped) kidney grille. On the other hand, those comically oversized wheel arches make it look cartoonish and must make the cabin very narrow relative to the car’s overall width (not that space efficiency is a traditional coupé virtue).

    6. Richard, I think it is because the pleasure of driving has been curtailed, paradoxically by performance having exceeded a threshold.

      Once you can go from 0-60 in under 5 seconds, it isn’t as thrilling to do it in under 4 seconds, but it gets a lot more dangerous. Same goes for speeds over 120-150mph (for me 120mph would be enough), or pulling higher g-forces. It’s fun to feel your head snapped against the headrest and the skin on your face pulled back taut, but you probably don’t want to black out at the wheel.

      Once the performance envelope exceeds the capacity of the human body, it’s not as fun. Who said it was better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow? But modern slow cars are biased toward safe handling, as insurance rates dictate, and aren’t fun anymore either. Cars evolved faster than humans?

      A modern hypercar would kill you but for the nannies like traction control, which are the opposite of fun. And if you didn’t grow up fantasizing about driving the present day equivalent of an E-Type, Countach, or Testarossa, then you aren’t likely to gravitate toward a sporty coupé. It was quite the big deal when the 200 mph threshold was exceeded by the XJ220, McLaren F1, and some other car I can’t recall at the moment (EB110 was it?). However. I don’t know where we’re at now, and it hardly matters anymore, does it?

    7. A few examples of the G42 2-Series have appeared in my neighbourhood, and my impression is that it looks far better in three dimensions than in two. A bit wider than I’d like, as it’s effectively a SWB 4-Series. It’s made in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, unlike the G22 4-Series, which comes from Dingolfing.

      There’s a £6K premium in the UK for the bigger coupe, which to my eyes looks like an unresolved Holden Monaro clone. (In its favour, it does have a more aspirational Glasgow postcode than the smaller coupe…)

      The E82, F22, and G42 all break the modern BMW Charter requirements to be either bland but a bit awkward, or else downright offensive.

      Even though the shaping of the spiritual successors of the 2002 has been handled sensitively, it would turn my stomach to spend my money with the creators of abominations like the XM, iX, or X7.

  6. Looked at through contemporary eyes, the Stilnovo seems to straddle another two segments: B and C, almost as the new Lancia Ypsilon. The design would still work.

    It’s also not a million miles from what Alfa were probably trying to do with the Mito, although that car’s execution is a hot mess.

  7. There happens to be a Delta in my area. I first spotted it about a fortnight ago. This particular example is painted in Matt black. Not the best of colors as it highlights the visual mass of the C-pillar instead of diminishing it. I never noticed the Lancia logo on the chrome trim on the C-pillar either.

  8. Viewed from the side, the Stilnovo loses out to the Delta; the latter’s greater length hides the bodywork’s height effectively. The front grille on the production car does, however, stick out a bit too much. This is where the concept’s item, which continues on the discreet design of the grilles of older Lancias like the Dedra and the Prisma, would have worked better.

    As for Gavin Green, I’m not going to dignify his flippant, “let’s pamper our Tory readers and their stereotypes” sort of “penmanship” and “journalism” with a rebuttal. Suffice it to say that pundits like him are exactly what promoted the conversion of the reading public into a cesspool of prokaryotes (like the Gamergate crowd).

    Regarding the C-pillar of the Stilnovo and the production Delta, you don’t need to go looking at Pegasos or Opels. Lancia has the Zagato-penned versions of the Flavia and the Fulvia in its heritage.

  9. Now, let me argue for the production Delta’s proportions and packaging a bit. As I wrote in my previous comment, the longer wheelbase makes the car look lower and – yes – sportier. Furthermore, it allows for improved packaging: more legroom for the rear passengers, and a bit more room for luggage.

    Also, I’ll go out on a limb and come out in full support of the five-door format, mostly because I’m a pragmatist. I’ve been reading comments about how Lancia needs to stick to a niche, producing derivatives of the Fulvia coupé etc. The answer to this is “no”, and one need look no further for justification than Lancia’s own history.

    What exactly were the Appia, Aprilia, Aurelia, Flavia, Fulvia, Beta, and even the venerable first-generation Delta of 1979? Or the Thema, with its quasi-legendary 8.32 version? Family cars. Yes, collectors and reviewers rave about the coupés and the convertibles, but comparing these versions’ sales to the ones of the “pedestrian” ones tells a rather ruthless story: the coupés and convertibles could never hope to allow the company to keep the lights on all by themselves. Had Lancia attempted to prop up its existence on producing such cars, it would have ended up being a parts-bin scavenger by 1975, and it would have folded by 1982 – mark my words.

    Lancia needs to sell. It needs to produce something that people will want to buy, be able to justify buying, something that will answer actual, practical questions posed by the buying public, something that will make the buyer say “that was money well spent” each time they look at the car, each time they open the door, each time they sit in it, each time they start the engine, each time they drive it, each time they refuel or recharge it.

    In the current climate, the Stilnovo wouldn’t stand a chance. The mere lack of rear passenger doors would ensure it’d go from showroom queen to dust-gathering doorstop in a matter of weeks. The Fulvietta would have its work cut out for it, what with the limited room for rear passengers and all. At least it wouldn’t need a coupé-cabriolet version à la Mercedes SLK, since this sort of car has become obsolete now.

    Another factor that needs to be taken into account is what the uncertainty surrounding electricity costs will do to technological forecasting regarding electric, mild hybrid, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Remember, one of the most important factors that determine a car’s running costs is its power plant. And, with the well-orchestrated (thank you, Frau von der Leyen) surrender of EU customers to an increasingly money-hungry energy cartel, how good are things looking for EVs?

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