Here’s one I don’t bother to keep an eye out for in Eugene. Not only was the Gamma not imported to the US, it was a sales flop in Europe, with only 15k of these fastback sedans sold over its eight year run (1976 – 1984). That’s considerably less than I would have thought. Why?
The Gamma’s mission was to compete in the hot executive class, but it only had a four cylinder engine, although an unusually large one (2.5 L) and a boxer, no less (just like a Subaru). Even with 140 hp, it just wasn’t a match against the BMW 5-Series and such, and its shortcomings contributed to the decline of Lancia. It didn’t help that the boxer four was also very fragile, as were its front suspension wishbones and other parts. The Gamma quickly got a bad rep, and languished.
About a year ago, we had a post on the Gamma Coupe, and a reader (Brian) left a comment describing his woes with his Gamma sedan. Since his words will carry more conviction than anything could say, I’ll quote him here:
These are one of those cars that are wonderful in theory but horrid in execution. I had a 1983 Gamma berlina, and it was the absolutely worst car I have ever owned. Aside from the rust issues that you would expect from an Italian car designed in the 70s, it had an absolutely infernal drivetrain. The gearbox was an AP 4 speed, which was the same as the one they put in the minis and Austin America. It wasn’t known for its reliability in those cars, and with a 2.5 litre Ferarri designed boxer engine, had an even lower life expectancy. The Gamma was supposed to be the sister car to the Citroen CX. They were designed together, and the Gamma was intended to have the hydraulic systems of the Citroen. Unfortunately, it was realised that a merger between Europe’s 2 quirkiest manufacturers was not a good idea, and Lancia was forced to revert to a more conventional suspension and steering system. The problem was the engine. Like many Citroens, the hydraulic pump was driven off of the cambelt. Unfortunately, whereas Citroen pumps pumped a constant pressure light oil thorough the system regardless of pressure on the system, the Lancia just had a power steering pump bolted to one bank of the cylinder head. Thus, if you were parked in a tight space on a cold day, you would yank the steering wheel, which would stress the pump with cold fluid and make ONE cambelt jump on half of the engine. The other half would continue to power the engine and ram the pistons into the valves on the unfortunate half.
This was also an alloy block and head design, with cylinder liners that had gaskets at the bottom made of tissue paper. Thus, any fluctuation in engine temperature would cause a gasket failure, mixing coolant with oil and destroying bearings.
I hated mine though not because of these faults, but because on the few days I had it when it was working it was the best car in the world. The boxer gave wonderful power, the 4 speed gearbox clicked from gear to gear faster than I could have in a manual and exactly when I wanted it to, the handling was better than anything I’ve ever driven, and the interior- wow. It was wool blend upholstery and as sexy as anything. With better rustproofing and a Subaru Impreza engine, this thing would have been a world beater. As it stood, it just sucked £3000 from my savings that I will never get back.
If the Gamma sedan’s styling by Pininfarina wasn’t exactly sparkling, the Gamma coupe more than made up for it. Very handsome indeed. Even fewer sold…