This week, the Lancia Gamma receives the DTW Longer Read treatment.
It’s a question I’ve been asked on a number of occasions: Why the Gamma? Why devote well over ten thousand words to a car whose failure hastened Lancia’s headlong spiral towards infamy and oblivion. The answer is, like the Gamma’s story itself, somewhat convoluted.
Not content with having laid out their stall for the next five years, FCA has further surprises in store.
Lancia is back! Driven to Write can reveal FCA’s secret plans to return the revered car brand to European and Chinese markets with five new models set to beat the established luxury elite at their own game.
While the mainstream press focused upon the Alfa Romeo and Jeep portions of FCA’s highly anticipated presentation last week, anonymous sources within the carmaker have revealed to us FCA’s bold plans for Lancia, encompassing as many as five new models to be introduced between now and 2022.
Today we take up once again the baton carried by earlier instalments of this mind-provoking series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).
In the last instalment, we reached number six. The pace will slow down as we near the summit. Today we consider only number 5, an example of the “Italian art of living”.
No list of great European cars would be complete without a Lancia, one of Europe’s most storied and, some would say, venerable marques. Lancia embodies low-key classiness, comfort and style with many landmark cars to its credit. Its great cars include the elegant Flaminia, the ground-breaking Aurelia, the innovative Beta, the nimble Fulvia, the rally champion Delta, the aristocratic Flavia, the agile and distinctive Trevi and the practical and refined Lybra.
Lancia’s 2004 B-sector monospace was that rare thing – a commercial success. But was it a better Idea than its Fiat sibling?
It has been suggested that the Lancia Musa died prematurely, production ceasing when Fiat Auto’s Stabilimento Mirafiori car plant was idled in 2012; victim of the catastrophic fall in Italian new car sales in the wake of the financial crash, sovereign debt crisis, not to mention the legacy of Fiat Auto’s inability to Continue reading “The Muse of Melpomene”
The author characterised the Fiat as the “underknown sportsman”; the Alfa is portrayed as the “playboy from Milan” and not surprisingly the Lancia they called the “noble professor”. It was also called a “cult car for connoisseurs”. What more did they write?
Two of the more storied automotive marques happen to have owned representative headquarter buildings at some point. The respective fates of these edifices has proven somewhat poignant.
High-rise buildings inevitable lend themselves to illustrate human hubris. As the building of a monument to oneself is among the least humble of acts imaginable, skyscrapers typically invite less-than-kind comparisons: From the bible’s Tower of Babel to JG Ballard’s High-Rise, architecture aiming for the skies regularly acts as a metaphor for an aloof state of mind.
The automotive industry, whose core business of selling a commodity finds itself in constant battle with that product’s simultaneous role of a social entity, is even more prone than others to Continue reading “A Tale of Two Towers”
Sometimes there are cars that seem not to merit a whole day to themselves, especially not a Sunday. This is one of them: the 2011 Lancia Thema nee Chrysler 300.
It featured recently as one of my lame “guess the car” teasers. Did you know that this vehicle (as a Chrysler) has been in production since 2011? Or more, honestly, since 2004**? That makes this quite a coelacanth. The Thema left Lancia’s catalogues in 2014 though. The Chrysler version still soldiers on somewhere. Continue reading “A Photo For Monday”
Dateline: Thuringia, summer 2038. Internal combustion engines have been phased out across the EU for almost a decade now. However, their use has not been eliminated entirely and much as one can still ride a pony and trap or a stream train, one can still enjoy the petrol-driven experience.
It’s now autumn, a time to reflect. Recently, DTW has been driving Lancias and we have discussed the decline of this once noble marque. It is not the only brand to have faded away.
In the diagram I have marked the timelines of two other defunct brands: Rover and Saab. Rover closed in 2005 and Saab shut up shop in 2011. You’ll notice that while Rover had no new models in the Phoenix years (I don’t count the MG versions), Saab had new product in the pipeline right until the last minute. Lancia’s demise is more muddled.
DTW has had a chance to rewind the years and test a 2002 Lybra SW, the Delta’s predecessor. This puts in perspective the step-backward that was the Delta and reveals a car that probably deserves a wider audience. Continue reading “The Cormorant Rethinks”
Always first with the news that matters, this just in…
In a surprise move today, FCA’s Sergio Marchionne announced during an earnings call that the beleaguered Lancia brand could be set to make a comeback. During his conference call with analysts he left strong hints that a new Lancia model, (tipped to be a compact crossover), is being planned – a vehicle type increasingly popular across European markets.
So, Lancia Delta, what are you like to drive? Driven To Write continues its quest to test every Lancia available.
The Lancia Delta appeared under the banner of spearheading a rebirth at Lancia. The background to the Delta looked like this: a replacement for the Lybra saloon and estate and also a vehicle to cover a market the Bravo didn’t reach. As such, the Delta had to be luxury and estatey-wagony. Thus Lancia based it on the Fiat Bravo but with a longer floor-pan and a half-hatch, half-estate profile. Lancia sold the car with a quite broad engine range.
Reader Stradale kindly sent this photo which summed up some of the week’s subjects.
This week we discussed the Fiat Punto, quondam class-leader among superminis. The Lancia Kappa came up for more scrutiny (I have to test drive one). Driven to Write also applied its bifocals to rear bumpers – these cars have those. Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: Jam and Marmalade”
Sixty this year, Lancia’s zenith gets the DTW spotlight.
Pushed to choose one marque defining model I wouldn’t hesitate; after all, there are Lancias, and there is the Flaminia. Others might disagree and that is fine. We all have our icons, and if you believe the sliding pillar era was technically or aesthetically superior I wouldn’t necessarily argue. It’s a personal choice. Continue reading “The Pinnacle – 1957 Lancia Flaminia”
In contrast to the recent rather insipid Beta brochure, I can present a thoroughly aspirational 1975 Lancia HPE brochure such as this.
It shows how the product is intended to be used and the kinds of people who might be attracted to it. Shooting, diving, sitting down, gardening, conversing outside a hotel late at night: Lancia did not want for ideas to show how this rather fabulous vehicle could be used. What the brochure made you want to do was to Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – 1975 Lancia Beta HPE”
The 1973 Beta Coupé was slightly underwhelming – and to be honest, its sales literature was as well.
A year after the berlina’s launch, Lancia announced the first of four sporting Beta derivations, the 2+2 Coupé. Designed in-house in conjunction with Pietro Castagnero, the man responsible for the much-loved Fulvia amongst other pre-Fiat Lancia designs. This is an early sales brochure and it is notable for a number of reasons – some of a pedantic nature, others of a more whimsical stripe. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – Beta than expected but not as good as hoped”
Recently we’ve been drinking deeply from the Trevi fountain, which has prompted a further bout of rumination upon Lancia’s idiosyncratic saloon.
The Trevi is an unusual car, not only in itself – although, you’ll have to admit, it’s an intriguing one to behold. For one thing it’s the only car I can recall that began life as a fastback saloon – (with a separate boot compartment) and ended it as a three volume saloon. Yes, there has been saloon from hatchback conversions and vice-versa, but a saloon from a saloon? Continue reading “Trevi Musings”
In the previous two instalments we have looked at the car’s general background and the driving experience. In this instalment I’d like to gather together some of my reflections.
Firstly, the way I view the Trevi now versus how it seemed to me twenty-seven years ago is markedly different. In 1990 I was studying geology which necessarily includes a bit of evolutionary history. At that time I had regular car conversations with one of the other students on the course. The way I described the Trevi then was to refer to it as “a hopeful monster”.
In the first part I discussed the static qualities of the Lancia Trevi. In this part I will present my driving impressions.
Finally, it’s time to drive in the car. First off, we set off along some minor country roads, ones I have just driven in a modern car. Initially I am the passenger and from that position I realise that I can see nothing of the instruments from the passenger side. They are set in Bellini’s cylindrical recesses which are angled to the driver. This makes me look elsewhere – out, for example. Continue reading “Three Volumes in Three Parts: 2”
Could we have imagined the 1985 launch of the Y10 would mark the beginning of Lancia’s final act.
History does make for strange bedfellows. In 1969 Fiat handed control of Autobianchi to Lancia’s beleaguered management, entwining both marques. More than a physical union, their relative destinies would also become one – or at the very least, follow eerily similar pathways. History, as I’m fond of pointing out, has a way of repeating. Continue reading “Small Wonder : 2”
In 1989 the little Lancia Y10 looked like the runt of Lancia’s litter. What was it doing in the range?
At that time Lancia dealers stocked the ordinary Delta, the Delta HF, the Prisma 1600, the Thema and Thema Ferrari 8.32. Did any European manufacturer have such an inconsistent or heterogeneous range? Isuzu had a coupé and an SUV – (Piazza and Trooper), while Subaru had the tiny Justy, midsized 1800 4wd estate and the XT. Perhaps only Volvo’s odd mix of the 340, 480, 240 and 740/760 gets close in terms of antiquity/novelty and visual difference. No, the prize for incoherence must be Lancia’s. Continue reading “Small Wonder”
What you say isn’t always necessarily what you mean.
As Europe’s leading car design consultancy, Ital Design has always been in the business of ideas, and while they could to some extent predict the future in styling terms, they couldn’t necessarily convince the industry to follow their lead, which saw many promising styling studies on the cutting room floor. But in the industry’s defence, the price of failure has always been high. Continue reading “Cars That Could have Been Citroëns – 1980 Ital Design Medusa”
Successful motor companies are consistent motor companies. Did Fiat miss a meeting?
Looking at those who’ve made a success of the motor business, they stand out for (amongst other things) an unswerving consistency. This isn’t however a trait one could ascribe to the mighty Fiat group over the past four decades, lurching as they have from crisis to recovery like a cadre of drunken sailors on shore leave. Continue reading “Going to Extremes – 1986 Lancia Thema 8.32”
Certain writers on this site spend a lot of time bemoaning the sad lot of Lancia, so it is remiss of the DTW News Desk in being so tardy in announcing the awarding of a major prize to a Lancia.
Admittedly it is 80 years too late, but the Pinin Farina (two words back then) bodied Astura that was awarded the Best Of Show at Pebble Beach in August looks a deserving winner, even if it is hard to see it as a conceptual ancestor of the Ypsilon. Continue reading “Lancia Finally Comes Out On Top”
OK, so this relates to a TV series translated from a collection of detective books, but I’m hoping readers will allow me a little latitude.
For a moment there, this opening was like a game of charades for the ‘visually impaired’ …
I think most people know that (Chief) Inspector Morse was originally the owner and driver of a Lancia, not a Jaguar Mk2 (or was that really a Daimler?). Having read most of the books by Colin Dexter many years ago on the back of viewing a few of the TV episodes (pre-kids, one had time to waste like that), a few thoughts were stimulated by the changes wrought by the TV production company in its adaptations from the books. Continue reading “Theme – Film: The Mystery of Inspector Morse’s Car”
When the Thesis debuted, Lancia was at pains to present it as a sophisticated choice.
The PR offensive included a presence at a symphony music festival in St Moritz, and a range of accessories produced by Zegna and Longines amongst others. Fourteen years on, this example stands as a stark reminder that depreciation is no respecter of brand strategies or PR bumf. Continue reading “A photoseries for Sunday: 2002-2009 Lancia Thesis”
Whoever last owned this car really should have gone for a Vectra or Mondeo. The original alloys probably corroded and needed to be replaced with something sympathetic. You can put jokey wheels on an old Mondeo as they are blank canvas. These wheels are a custom paint job, I think. One does not customise a Lancia. Perhaps the last owner considered the disjunction of motorsport style colours and the Kappa’s formality amusing, like wearing runners with a suit. Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1996 Lancia Kappa”
In this final Gamma instalment, we examine alternate realities and the model’s shifting media perceptions.
It’s forty years since the Gamma was presented to the World’s press at Geneva and a lot has been heaped upon its shoulders in the interim. While undeniably a sales and reputational disaster, to view the Lancia flagship as simply a bad car is narrow and simplistic. To close this series, we ask whether Fiat could have chosen a different path. Continue reading “Gamma Bytes: Fated Symbol”
It’s been ages since I crossed one of these: Pininfarina’s version of the Lancia Thema.
Pininfarina assembled the SW in the Borgo San Paolo factory (which is not Fiat’s Mirafiori plant, an important difference). Unique among the T4 cars, it came as an estate though it doesn’t look all that unlike how the Fiat Croma might have done had it been offered in the same format. Continue reading “A Photoseries for Sunday: 1986-1994 Lancia Thema SW”
Death by a thousand Fiats: The tale is etched in automotive folklore, but how well do we really know the Lancia Gamma ?
Fiat’s stewardship of Lancia has been such a shameful series of reversals, it’s difficult now to imagine the road to perdition being paved with good intentions. Because if nothing else, the Gamma stands as an illustration of how mergers and acquisitions never quite work out.
Throughout its history as an independent manufacturer, Lancia produced exquisitely engineered automobiles that garnered respect and deep admiration, but consistently cost more than the company could afford. Continue reading “Signs and Portents”
Of all the concepts based upon Lancia’s unfortunate ’70s flagship, this was the most significant. Enter the Megagamma.
In 1978, the motoring world gathered at the Turin motor show to gawp at the new metal and absorb the latest trends from the cream of Italy’s styling studios. Particularly those of Ital Design, already Italy’s most important automotive carrozzeria. However the reaction to this 1978 offering was initially one of bemusement, bordering on derision. Neither estate, van nor saloon – what on earth was Giugiaro thinking? Continue reading “Gamma Bytes: When Gamma went Mega”
The Lancia Flavia coupe appeared in 1961 and stayed on sale with a name change until 1975. This is the first time I have ever seen one. Ever.
Lancia kept its models in production for a long time in the period before Fiat bought them. As I am not au fait with the intricacies of the Flavia’s history, I can only show these and ask some questions. The Flavia name retired in 1971 according to the commonly accepted history of the car. The name change to 2000 signified a face-lift and a new, bigger engine, going from 1.8 to 2.0 litres. According to Wikipedia the revised “2000” received the 2.0 engine in 1971. This body work is the Series 2 version. So, why does it say Continue reading “1971 Lancia Flavia 2000 Pininfarina Coupe”
Ultimately then, how does one encapsulate the Lancia Gamma?
When Fiat handed Sergio Camuffo Lancia’s flatlining cadaver and told him to administer emergency CPR, he did the best he could, but there was only so much that could be achieved. Because despite Fiat management allowing him sufficient autonomy during the immediate post-takeover period to produce cars that were (on the face of things at least) respectful of Lancia’s traditions, the Italian car giant’s locked-in prejudice against the upmarket led to a fatal ambivalence. This schizophrenic attitude to their new acquisition most likely informed the compromises that damned both the Beta family and later, the Gamma itself. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Twelve”
In a way, so to speak. If you lived in Italy you could be forgiven for thinking Lancia were still popular.
Here, south of Naples, Lancias outnumber Fords. There are very few Fords and Renaults, not even small ones such as Twingos. The first thing I did when stepping out of the airport was to photograph a Lancia Musa “Fifth Avenue” which had button-pleated beige leather seating. Continue reading “Lancia Lives”
The option of an automatic transmission did little to mitigate the Gamma’s reputation as a disaster on wheels. If anything, it appears to have added to it.
One option missing from the Gamma’s specification at launch was an automatic transmission, not a fatal handicap in the domestic market where manuals proliferated, but rather more so in the UK, where a sizeable proportion of luxury saloons were specified as self-shifters. But in fact, Lancia had foreseen this necessity and in conjunction with UK supplier Automotive Products, engineered a four-speed automatic transmission specifically for the model. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eleven”
At long last DTW has finally had a close look at the ashtray of a Lancia Lybra.
Before turning to that, I can report that the rest of the car is wholly agreeable, even if the upholstery is in dull, north European grey. It is velour and that helps. The rear ashtray is in the centre console and is of the pull-out, rear-hinged type. It looked adequate. The rear seats offer a comfortable place to spend time. If we compare it to a Ford Focus or VW Golf it is definitely more pleasant. I particularly liked the sculpting of the seats which are invitingly formed and much more pleasing than the other two cars. The Focus 1’s seats stood out as a weak spot. Continue reading “Ashtrays: 2002 Lancia Lybra”
Lancia did not have much of a presence in the US. It’s zenith: 1975 to 1983. This advert comes from about the middle of their last “proper” push to sell new vehicles.
The choice of used Lancias in the US is not great. For $8950 you can have a Lancia Fulvia bodyshell. No doors, no interior. Just the shell, wheels and motor. If you want a bit more car then $15,000 is what you shall pony up for a 1965 Lancia Flavia coupe. It’s missing the top part of the dashboard, only. If you look around you’ll also find one of the three Lancia Scorpions used in Herbie Goes Bananas. That’s up for auction. Continue reading “Micropost: Lancia Advertising From the US”
Rumours of a turbocharged version of the Lancia flagship proved to be more than hot air, but the Gamma Turbo failed to enter production. Well, not quite…
Even following the car’s announcement, it appears that debate over the wisdom of employing the Tipo 830 boxer engine continued to rage; especially once the powerplant’s frailty in service became apparent. This schism was alluded to by Car magazine’s Italian correspondent, Giancarlo Perini in June 1979, writing; “At Lancia they are developing a new 6-cylinder engine that could be fitted into the Gamma. But a big struggle is going on between the directors who supported the flat-four project (who will not recognise they were wrong) and the other directors who support a change to a six cylinder engine.” It’s likely Perini was getting his timelines muddled, since Fiat were by then firmly in retrenchment mode and would never countenance such expense having already invested in the existing powerplant. Nevertheless, it does suggest a measure of hand-wringing was taking place over the Gamma’s fortunes in Turin. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Ten”
The Gamma had the requisite appeal to compete against its European upper-medium executive rivals in most key areas – apart from one.
Previously, we looked at how Lancia’s in-house sibling Beta nibbled away at the Gamma’s market, but how did it compare to its intended rivals, each well established upper-middle class contenders? The European upper-middle class market was populated by just about every major manufacturer, but Citroën, Peugeot and Rover offered the closest competition to Lancia’s big saloon. Similar in its left-field appeal, Citroën’s CX was also front-wheel drive and powered by large-capacity four-cylinder engines, but unlike the Gamma was also available with a wider range of engine, trim levels and body styles. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Nine”
The Gamma’s most formidable rival may surprise you, but should it really have surprised Lancia’s lords and masters?
When Lancia’s half dead remains turned up on Fiat’s doorstep in 1969, the product drawers may well have been empty, but there was a clear and logical model hierarchy in place. So it’s peculiar that Sergio Camuffo saw fit to disrupt this well defined model stratification with the first of his new-era Lancia’s – 1972’s Beta Berlina. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eight”
Obituaries are probably premature, but has Lancia’s traditional Geneva presence been bulldozed in the Giulia frenzy?
Lancia was not on the Geneva exhibitors list, but I fully expected a few Ypsilons to show their fresh new face on a small, but rather stylish, stand in some enclave of Sergio’s Palexpo empire. It happened at Frankfurt, but not in Geneva – the traditional Lancia space was occupied by Abarth instead, with a rather jolly display of 124 Spiders and a 695 Biposto. Continue reading “Geneva 2016 Posted Missing – Lancia”
We’re not huge fans of retro styling here at Driven to Write, but every once in a while, a concept’s essential rightness overcomes our reservations.
Over four decades it has been possible to gain a shorthand on the health and vigour of Fiat’s finances by how much (if any) development resources were drip-fed towards their impoverished Lancia division. At the beginning of the new millennium, despite being heavily indebted and messily extracting itself from the failed tie-up with General Motors, Fiat seemed primed to make another attempt at re-establishing Lancia’s position in the market, now shorn of its sporting heritage and projecting an unabashed offer in the luxury arena. Continue reading “Fossil Traces: 2003 Lancia Fulvietta Concept”
The Gamma Berlina’s appearance would divide opinion. In this part, we examine the concept that inspired it.
The styling of both Gamma variants was the responsibility of Pininfarina, a design house with a lengthy and distinguished association with the Lancia marque. While the Gamma coupé would reference themes from Lancia’s stylistic past, the scheme for the Berlina would prove a complete departure; echoing, particularly in the canopy area, the carrozzeria’s 1967 Berlina Aerodynamica, possibly the most influential saloon concept since their Lancia Florida series a decade earlier. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Seven”
As Lancia posts another respectable sales performance, where’s an automotive van Helsing when you need one?
I don’t know about you people but I’ve had just about enough of Lancia. I’m worn out from the serial indignities foisted upon this proud marque, sick to the eyeteeth of Sergio Marchionne’s platitudes and inaction. I just want the pain to end. But for those of us who’d prefer to see Lancia’s drooling remains smothered with its own pillow, the past two years have offered little by way of consolation. Continue reading “Bereft in Deathly Bloom: Not Bloody Likely”