The rise and fall of an Italian legend January 18th, 2018 marks the 110th anniversary since the unveiling of the Lancia Alfa 12 HP, the first car Lancia ever made. Now most well-known for churning out repackaged Fiats made from Chrysler parts, for much of the 20th century Lancia was renowned the world over for being innovative game changers. The first European production cars to come with complete electrical systems, five-speed gearboxes and V6 engines were all made by the little company based in Turin.
Lancia Aurelia Spider: Rex Gray
By the 1950s, models such as the elegant Flaminia, the boxy yet precise Fulvia and the gorgeous Aurelia had cemented Lancia as the stylish man’s BMW. The Fulvia Coupé even doubled up as a brilliant rally car, dominating the Italian Rally Championship and winning every title from 1965 to 1973 bar the one at the turn of the decade. In 1969, as Lancia were left with losses of £20 million, Fiat stepped in and took over.
This was the beginning of the end for the old Lancia – the brand you’d turn to if you wanted a high-quality touring car or coupe – but for a time the new Lancia would prove even more exciting. The Stratos HF kicked things off. Weighing less than a ton and with a body that could have cut glass, it was the car equivalent of a penknife – small, sharp and very handy. It cut through the competition in the World Rally Championship, winning three times in a row in the mid-70s.
Lancia Stratos HF Stradale coupé: The Supermat
There was no lack of beauty in the Lancia line up in the ‘70s – as this Lancia Montecarlo Spyder, demonstrates. So beautiful it can make grown man weep.
However, back on the rally circuit, internal politics stopped the Stratos from winning further, and when Lancia returned to win the WRC again in 1983 it was with the Rally 037, the last rear-wheel drive car to do so. It more than held its own against the legendary 4WD Audi Quattro, eventually securing victory in the penultimate race. 1983 was the Rally 037’s sole victory in the WRC and much of the 1980s wasn’t kind to Lancia. Their production cars were tanking and customers seemed to smell death.
But Lancia had one last trick up its sleeve – the Lancia Delta. It may have looked like something you’d pootle down to the shops in, but it drove like a fox on wheels. In its first year, it strolled to victory in the WRC, and until 1993 nothing could get close. The Delta racked up countless events and six consecutive WRC titles in total, which still stands as a world record.
Lancia Delta HF Integrale
The legendary and iconic Lancia Delta Integrale 8v and 16v vehicles made it over the channel for sale in the UK. These were serious icons for the youth of the time – many a young car lover would wonder when, whether and if ever they would get their hands on one.
This success led to impressive increased sales at first, but as brilliant as it was, Lancia couldn’t depend on it wholly, not when the rest of its line-up was so mediocre. Things have gone even more downhill since, and even if you wanted to buy a modern Lancia, they're now only available in Italy. On its 110th birthday, the sad fact is that all we have left of such a brilliant car manufacturer are the memories. But what memories they are.
Lancia Rally 037: Brian Snelson
By Andrew Shaw at 18 Jan 2018, 00:00 AM