If you’re ever playing the game of guessing automotive ‘firsts,’ the best strategy to deploy if you’re unsure of an answer is to say either “Mercedes-Benz” or “Lancia”. The former makes perfect sense (after all, its founders invented the car), but Lancia? What’s so groundbreaking about Lancias?
That’s a question we’ve been dying to answer for quite some time, with the Turinese marque having developed some of the world’s most innovative, stylish, and desirable machines. Note the tense—the company has a vastly different product range than it once did.
For every Stratos, Delta Integrale, Fulvia HF, or the 037 that enthusiasts pine after, Lancia designed dozens of vehicles for “normal” people, its range rivaling that of any manufacturer in Europe at one time. The rub? Many of those cars are as well-engineered and interesting as their more famous siblings.
Now, things are different for Lancia and its future as a carmaker—but nothing’s stopping you from adopting one of these surprisingly fantastic machines from Lancia. You’d better hurry: one 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet by Pinin Farina recently took Best In Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
An early Lancia calling card was the company’s use of 4-cylinder engines arranged in a compact ‘V’ formation. Few of these models were as compact as the Ardea, a small family car that’s both humble and impressive at the same time.
One of the first production vehicles to feature a ‘conventional’ control layout and 5-speed manual transmission, the car was produced from 1939–1953, with far less survivors today than its production run of 32,000. At 903-cc, it’s also one of the most charmingly tiny cars of its era, like an Aprilia that’d shrunk in the wash. This year, the company entered one into the Mille Miglia, definitely a rare sight among competitors.
Flavia Sport by Zagato
Think of this car as a BMW 1800 TI rival, albeit with bodywork from Zagato and an entirely different approach to BMW’s. Some of the last cars to roll off the line before Fiat assumed control of Lancia, they’re a testament to the engineering capabilities of the marque and its willingness to try something new.
For instance, this car sports front-wheel-drive, disc brakes on all corners, an aluminum ‘Boxer’ four cylinder twin cam engine, and enough speed to nearly top 120 mph…and then Zagato went and did its part to shape aluminum for a small series of outlandish coupés in the ’60s. In its 1964 ‘prototipo’ racing trim, the car looked and performed far better, but DNF’d in its one and only major competition in this form, the 1964 Targa Florio.
As its machines were winning in rally competition, the 2000 represented an opportunity for a regular driver to own some of Lancia’s polished engineering while retaining the usefulness required from a more family-oriented machine.
Evolving from the Flavia, it kept a boxer four-cylinder engine, but had more power (up to 123 horses), better interior appointments, the most up-to-date fuel injection system, and (once it was all designed and engineered) had a price high enough to ensure its relative exclusivity today.
The coupé is one of the most svelte to come from Lancia, while the sedan is fashionably minimal as far as its styling goes. One of our favorite websites, The Petrol Blog, , “My late father owned one. And within a moment of driving home in his Lancia 2000, my dad went from being the greatest father on earth, to the coolest father on earth. It was quite simply the best car my dad ever owned.”
What began as part of a styling proposal to replace a Fiat ended up—in racing trim, at least—as one of Lancia’s most memorable designs. Sure, the Group B-prepared 037 (seen here in its prototype form) is all sorts of insanity, but at least the company had the Montecarlo (‘Scorpion’ in North America) for “regular drivers”.
It may not look it, but this car sports a mid-engine layout, with a inline-4 cylinder powerplant stuffed behind the seats and underneath a side-hinged cover.
Over the years, various issues, updates, and problems have been tended to by experts and owners who still enjoy these machines, and for the right buyer, they represent an atypical way to bring home an Italian sports car.
For this writer, there is no Lancia better than the Fulvia. Equipped with much of the company’s best-sorted engineering for the time, this small front-wheel-drive (and V4-powered) berlina, coupé, and sport variants was not only a willing family car but an unlikely contender in events as diverse as finishing third overall at the East African Safari Rally in 1974 and winning its class at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1969!
Sport variants, which were all produced by Zagato, are the most dear, with Coupés next and Berlina representing the least expensive and most practical route into Fulvia ownership.
My favorite model? The Safari, a simplified version of the Series II 1.3 sold without bumpers and a number of other components, all to honor the car’s strong showing in the East African Safari long-distance rally.
So you’re an enthusiast who refuses to budge on the requirement for pace, grace, and space. Or you’re one who just can’t be seen in a car similar to anyone else’s—the Beta HPE might be your jam.
Conceived as a modern sporting estate for the ’70s, the car combined fully-independent suspension at all corners, with weight distribution, centre of gravity, and (toward the end of production) a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine to make the most of its tied-down chassis.
The Trevi, launched in 1980, was quite the technological marvel underneath: a choice of transverse 4-cylinder engines with electronic ignition and dual overhead cams, and MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar, and an as-standard 5-speed manual transmission to make use of the motors.
‘Volumex’? That’d be a mechanical supercharger, for a total of total of 133 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque from a 1,995-cc engine…in 1980—not bad at all for the time. Real-world tests in period weren’t blown away by the car’s outright pace, which is fine, for one reason: it had the most sculptural dashboard ever fitted to a car.