The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Three

CX and Gamma – Separated at Birth or Perfect Strangers?

The Pininfarina 1800 Aerodynamica prototype from 1967: its styling and packaging influenced 1970s Citroëns and Lancias. Credit: photo-voiture.motorlegend

In the third and final part of this series, we examine whether the CX and the Gamma were mechanically and technologically related at any point in their histories, and what – if any – politics, corporate or otherwise, affected their development paths.

Both the CX and the Gamma sported raked, low-profile, two-box, four-door, front-wheel drive fastback sedan designs with a Kamm tail, which, however, is not a hatchback. Someone with only a passing interest in cars could easily Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Three”

The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Two

Could a joint venture between Citroën and Lancia possibly have been on the cards, especially before they briefly shared a roof under Fiat?

After the discontinuation of the iconic Aurelia and its smaller sisters, Lancia spent the 1960s seeking a broader audience and larger profits. However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Credit: motoristorici

Trouble in Turin…

Under Gianni Lancia, the Italian firm ran a costly racing program that gobbled up whatever profit its modest sales brought. Its cars were expensive to begin with, aiming squarely at the upper echelons of Italian society. In the post-war context, Lancia’s export efforts were always hampered, and not just by the high import taxes of the era: its cars, for all their mechanical refinement and excellent driving experience, had a niche appeal, which eluded the majority of the newly-emerging (or re-emerging) affluent potential customers. Too many of them viewed Lancias as too expensive for their body size, engine displacement, horsepower, and acceleration. Plus, they wanted something far more flamboyant. Clearly, the times had changed, and so had buyers’ tastes.

Lancia’s new boss, Carlo Pesenti[7] of Italcementi fame, gave Dr. Antonio Fessia[8] the go-ahead to Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Two”

The Phantom Joint Venture – Part One

In this series, we examine a persistent bit of car lore involving French President Charles de Gaulle and two beautiful, yet flawed cars: the Lancia Gamma and Citroën CX.

As a kid, a teenager and, later on, young adult, I had very little interest in sports, and my artistic talents were pretty much non-existent. So, I looked to car publications for a source of inspiration. Impressed as I was by the detailed reviews and technical columns that contained a wealth of information that would be considered taboo today, I confess I took pretty much everything written there at face value. This applied not only to the reviews themselves, but to other sections of those magazines – from the ones that dabbled in automotive history to the ones where the contributors unfolded their political wisdom.

This exposed me to a non-trivial amount of rather dubious narratives that were (and some still are) presented as some sort of indisputable truth. For instance, in my teens I genuinely believed the major car publications’ narrative about a leftist conspiracy led by evil trade unionists and the hard-left populists of PASOK[1]‘ and aided by the ‘unpatriotic communists[2] that aimed to Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part One”

The Second Act

Lancia hits the marque.

veiling.catawiki

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 Continue reading “The Second Act”

Everything to the Front

Fessia and Issigonis. Great minds?

Image: automotodepoca

In 1960, outside of a few shall we say, niche carmakers (and Citroën of course), front-wheel drive was still viewed as a somewhat unproven concept. Therefore, when Lancia introduced the front-driven Flavia that year, there was bound to have been some surprise amid observers, and maybe too, an element of scepticism, especially amongst Lancistas of a more traditionalist stripe.[1]

It was after all, a significant technical pivot from Borgo san Paolo’s engineering orthodoxy, and one that was unlikely to have occurred had Lancia’s technical dial not shifted so dramatically by the appointment as engineering chief of Antonio Fessia. The good professor, technically gifted but single-minded in approach, was a staunch proponent of front-wheel drive and there can be little doubt that the Flavia was more attuned to his own ideals and orthodoxies than to Continue reading “Everything to the Front”

Academic Revolution

A totally new kind of Lancia.

Image: Klassik-Auto

From a six-decade perspective, it is not easy to gain a definitive sense of where the carmaking firm of Automobili Lancia & Compagni was positioned in the marketplace, or indeed an accurate breakdown of a typical Lancia owner. Hailing from the fringes of nobility to the more recent emerging middle classes, they tended to be affluent, cultured individuals who prized the finer things, but were not inclined to make a statement of it.

Despite appreciating tradition and craftsmanship, they were not averse to bracing modernity either. But more to the point, they were prepared to Continue reading “Academic Revolution”

Theme: Engines – Divine Inclination

The Lancia Fulvia V4

open-hf
Image: vivalancia

The V4 engine layout is synonymous with Lancia, the marque having employed the layout extensively from the 1920’s right up to and sometime after its demise as an independent in 1969. Founder, Vincenzo Lancia had something of a penchant for the vee-formation engine but it’s unclear exactly why he favoured the V4 over its in-line counterpart, given that the layout tends to fall prey to out of balance forces one would really rather not have to deal with.  Continue reading “Theme: Engines – Divine Inclination”