Get into a conversation with someone about cars and the subject will invariable drift towards Italy. Once there, names such as Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Masserati will be murmured with varying degrees of lust. An Alfa Romeo is once again a car to be seen in, and Fiat can produce a bug-eyed monster and still have sunlight shining from their rear tailpipe. But what happened to Lancia?
Those of you over a certain age are probably already chuckling to yourselves and thinking the words 'They all rusted away mate' and those under that age are just baffled and thinking who are Lancia.
Italian cars are synonymous with elegant design, performance and driving pleasure, but Italian cars are also synonymous with dodgy electrics, unreliability and rust. During the late 70's the worst of these was by far rust and could be spelt in one of two ways; traditional OED approved or L A N C I A.
Lancia was formed in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia and Ugo Fogolin. Over the next 50 years Lancia built up a reputation for sporty, innovative and luxurious cars with such models as the Lambda, Astura, Aprilla, Aurrelia, and Flaminia. In the late 60's Lancia was in financial trouble and Fiat, who were on an Italian automotive marques shopping spree, snapped them up.
At the time Lancia were producing the Fulvia and Flavia. During the early 70's, despite Fiat ownership Lancia continued to produce distinctive cars, none more so than the Stratos with its (Ferrari) Dino V6 engine, and Bertone styling. However as the decade drew to a close Fiat started to draw in the purse strings and take more control. The result was the Gamma, the Beta/Trevi (Saloon, Coupe, Spyder1 and HPE2) and the Monte-Carlo. Both The Beta and Monte Carlo used Lancia tuned versions of Fiat's superb Aurelio Lampredi Designed 2 litre twin-cam engine.
All of these cars had the potential for being great:
The Beta range boasted two truly beautiful cars with the Spyder and HPE, sporty twin-cam engines, great interiors and superb handling.
The Monte Carlo looked like a miniature Ferrari with similar lines to the Ferrari 308 GTB/S (it was styled by Pininfarina after all), mid engine 2 seater layout, hardtop and targa variants.
The Gamma was an embodiment of Lancia's traditions3. With luxury and sporting character combined in an elegant Pininfarina styled body.
But it was not be...
Some legends would have you believe4 that flushed with the success of their recent acquisitions Fiat decided that they could afford to sell the designs to a number of their best selling and now aging models to countries in Eastern Europe5. The only problem with this plan was that Eastern Europe did not actually have any money and so a deal was struck and several thousand tonnes of recycled tank and washing machine made its way into Italy for Fiat to use in whatever way it saw fit.
...Whatever the truth behind the source of poor quality steel, one thing is sure, when this was combined with sloppy workmanship and electrical systems that appeared to have been designed and built by school children during their summer holidays, Lancia were in serious trouble.
When launched the Lancia Beta had life expectance of a little over 9 months due to the poor materials, build quality and zero rust protection. There seems to be no end to the people who remember the Nationwide report on Beta's dropping their engines on the drive due to rusty engine mounts, rotting body work and electrical gremlins.
The Monte Carlo suffered from the same problems, but also had to contend with an identity crisis. It was supposed to be a sports car but unfortunately the same 2 litre twin-cam which gave the Beta's their sporty feel, could not provide the performance required for a true sports car. It had been envisaged that the Monte Carlo (X20 concept6) would feature a V6 engine probably the Dino power plant used to such good effect in the Stratos, but as these were too expensive and would have pushed the development back, the 4 cylinder twin cam was used. In some respects this was probably a stroke of luck that saved Lancia from a number of law suits as Lancia decided not to fit a brake servo to the Monte Carlo and so once you did get it up to speed it did not like to slow down again.
The Gamma's engine was great until it broke and it broke a lot. And while you were waiting for it to be fixed the bodywork would start to drop off.
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