Morte a Venezia

The Flavia’s final act. 

Image via tumblr

Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a slow, precise and beautiful film”, Italian filmmaker, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, starring Dirk Bogarde and set in a ravishingly filmed Venice was a sombre meditation on art, beauty, creative attainment, age and desire. Critically acclaimed, Death in Venice would come to be viewed as an arthouse cinematic masterpiece.

Slow, precise and beautiful were adjectives that could at various times have been attributed to Lancia’s 1960s mid-range offerings – although the latter two were undoubtedly the more apt descriptors, especially once the power to weight aspect of the Flavia’s performance envelope was addressed towards the latter part of the decade. In its post-1967 Milleotto evolution, the Lancia berlina offered a refined, modernist, yet utterly Italian dissertation on elegance in motion, its seemingly unprepossessing style masking a highly considered technical and aesthetic package. Continue reading “Morte a Venezia”

This is the Time and this is the Record of the Time

Car advertisements offer a snapshot of a different time. Welcome to a vision of Italy – mid-’70s style.

Image: Author’s collection

Today’s visual meditation rests upon that perennial DTW favourite, featuring press ads for two of the more indulgent offerings from Lancia’s abundant Beta family. These were expensively shot advertisements featuring high production values, and targeted at a discerning audience. During the 1970s, (before it all unravelled for them) Lancia’s UK importers spent a sizeable portion of their ad budget with publishers, Conde Nast, between full-page colour ads like these, and multi-page spreads made in conjunction with a fashion house(s) of choice.

The product planning meetings for the Beta programme must have been interesting. Given the breath-taking scope of what they eventually went with, one has to Continue reading “This is the Time and this is the Record of the Time”

Fontana a Tre Vie

Lancia’s idiosyncratic Beta Tre Volumi turns 40.

Image: Ran When Parked
Image: (c) Ran When Parked

This article first appeared on 3 February 2017.

The Lancia Trevi is an unusual car, not simply because it was and remains an intriguing one to behold. For one thing it may well be the only car that began life as a fastback saloon (with a separate boot compartment), and ended it as a three-volume version. There have been innumerable saloon from hatchback conversions (and vice-versa), but a saloon from a saloon?

It’s clear that the Trevi was a stopgap. By right, Lancia should have readied an all-new replacement by then, but that failed to materialise. Of course lengthy production runs were by no means unusual either for Lancia or within the sprawling Fiat Auto grouping they had become an unwilling hostage to. Couple this with a crisis both of confidence and managerial competence which afflicted the entire Fiat Auto group in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, to say nothing of Fiat’s inability to Continue reading “Fontana a Tre Vie”

Theme: Brochures – 1975 Lancia Beta HPE

In contrast to the recent rather insipid Beta brochure, I can present a thoroughly aspirational 1975 Lancia HPE brochure such as this.

Use as directed: 1975 Lancia HPE.
Use as directed: 1975 Lancia HPE. Richard-Ginori is still in business.

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”

Signs and Portents

The tale is etched in automotive folklore, but how well do we really know the Lancia Gamma

Image: autorevue.cz

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”

Micropost: Lancia Advertising From the US

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.

1977 Lancia advert
1977 Lancia adver

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”