Faith: (n) “A strong or unshakable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence”.
For the true believer, faith represents certainty, a confidence which strengthens and sustains through strife and adversity. Closely aligned with hope, in the absence of either quality, the penitent would find it almost impossible to abide.
It is also a word closely associated with the house of Lancia, for to be a Lancista is truly to believe. For observants, fealty to the historic and storied nameplate has carried with it an element of blind faith — a certainty that in the face of all known logic, not to mention the testimony of their own eyes, that somehow, the Turin-based carmaker would return from its latter-day revenant state to life and to light. Hope, on the other hand, has been in considerably shorter supply.
Designer, Tom Tjaarda took two very different bites at the Lancia Flaminia during the 196os. Only one however is truly memorable.
During the Autumn of 1969, carrozzeria Ghia debuted the Marica concept at the Turin motor show, a styling study based upon the platform of the Lancia Flaminia, a car which had already ceased production. Not only that, but its maker had also gone bankrupt and was desperately seeking a benefactor.
Enter Alejandro de Tomaso, a phrase which would be uttered with increasing regularity within the Italian motor industry over the coming decade or so. Having purchased carrozzeria Ghia in 1967, he is alleged to have sanctioned the Marica study as a means of assisting Lancia’s bid to find a buyer – a statement which sounds suspiciously altruistic for such an automotive opportunist as he. But we are perhaps getting a little ahead of ourselves. Allow me to Continue reading “A Right Pair of Nymphs”
If one was to carry out a poll amongst Lanciaphiles as to the quintessential model in the storied marque’s history, there is likely to be a certain amount of heated debate. While some might cleave to the innovative and undoubtedly influential Lambda of 1922, it’s probably more likely the Aurelia would garner the majority vote.
Borgo San Paolo’s 1950 entrant was Lancia’s first genuinely new product of the post-hostility period, replacing the emblematic Aprilia, which ceased production the previous year; the latter model itself a ground breaker in design terms mating fully independent suspension, a narrow-angle V4 engine and pillarless construction within an aerodynamically streamlined, stressed bodyshell.
The Aurelia was intended as a larger, more refined car, aimed at the affluent owner-driver. Italy was for the most part impoverished and war-torn from years of conflict by the close of the 1940s, with large swathes of the population who could only dream of car ownership, but there remained a base of professionals, wealthy industrialists and titled nobility who could Continue reading “The Aurelian Way”
Tracing the Peugeot 504’s kinked tail motif through the Pininfarina back catalogue.
In order to capitalise on the popularity of UK TV series, The Avengers, stars, Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee were persuaded to record a novelty single celebrating not only the fashions adorning the somewhat distracting Ms. Blackman, but the broadening societal permissiveness of mid-Sixties Britain. And while it was a rather throwaway ditty which didn’t chart particularly well at the time, it did take on a second life several decades later.
These things take time – as with fashion, so with design. One of the more interesting aspects of recent discussions surrounding the styling of the 1968 Peugeot 504 was the notion that its rear aspect was regarded with a degree of ambivalence. Uncomfortable and strange were among the soubriquets employed on these pages, but further afield, and particularly in the US, the 504’s kinked tail was considered peculiar. In light of this, it might be germane to Continue reading “Kinky Boots”
Sixty this year, Lancia’s zenith gets the DTW spotlight.
There are in life, some affronts you can never quite forgive. For instance, the manner in which the Lancia name has been debased by its current owners remains a burning injustice. This germ of resentment about Lancia’s latterday fate can be traced to one car. Built to exacting standards, and engineered like little else, this purebred ammiraglia is an automotive old master. Continue reading “The Pinnacle”
The tale is etched in automotive folklore, but how well do we really know the Lancia Gamma ?
Death by a thousand Fiats:
Fiat’s stewardship of the Lancia marque has seen such a pitiful series of reversals, it is now difficult to imagine the road to perdition having ever been paved with good intentions.
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. Lancia’s culture centred round the concept of innovation and engineering depth, coupled with an enviable quality. Once the preserve of an elite; customers from the aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie, to Pontiffs and film stars, Lancia’s descent from the very pinnacle of grand marques contains within it an element of grand opera.
Supreme amongst the most lamentable examples of brand mismanagement in recent automotive history, the Gamma’s lurid tale vividly underlines how mergers and acquisitions never quite work out.
The Lancia ethos was aptly illustrated by the fact that their expansive Sixties car range was based upon three unique platforms, each with a model-specific engine, with little or no commonality. By the end of that decade, the Lancia business collapsed largely because management failed to realise that in order to survive it first needed to make money, not just cars. With debts believed to be over 100 billion lire, it became impossible for their patrons, the Pesenti family, to continue. In 1969 Lancia fell into the hands of FIAT Auto, entering perhaps the most protracted and humiliating decline of latter-day automotive memory and it is from this turbulent cauldron, the subject of our examination emerged, unready, in the spring of 1976.
Today, the Gamma is primarily recalled for its notoriety, yet there was much to admire: its technical specification, its styling and its critically acclaimed road behaviour. Lancia’s Seventies flagship also contained more marque-specific engineering than any contemporary or latterday model, representing the final flowering of a once noble line.
History states that the Gamma was Lancia’s opportunity to prove to its new masters that it could build a luxury saloon according to marque ideals, yet within cost constraints – its failure ensuring FIAT would never again sanction anything as expensive and individualistic. Certainly, the Gamma’s successor (the 1984 Thema), a resolutely conventional design in style and engineering, lends credence to this view. Similarly, the party line for the Gamma’s downfall (its engine design) is well documented. And while neither are untrue, they provide a very one-dimensional story.
The purpose of this essay is therefore to examine the Gamma’s commercial failure and attempt to determine whether its failure has as much to do with FIAT management’s lack of a cohesive creative vision for Lancia as much as any specific failure of the car itself. But before we delve into the Gamma’s origins, let us first Continue reading “Signs and Portents”