Cohort Classic: Lancia Fulvia – Last Chance To Try Something Really Different

(curbside shots by CC Cohort glen.h)

Since today’s posts seem to be dominated by large American V8 cars, in order to keep some semblance of balance, let’s really swing for the other extreme. How about a very small fwd Italian coupe with a tiny DOHC narrow-angle V4engine so unusual in its design and construction, we’re just going to have to take the time, open the hood, and even take it apart. A Ford FE 390 this ain’t, folks. And this is required reading; there will be a test on Friday.

In the old days, Lancia was one of the true pioneers, always taking radical approaches instead of the tried and true. For their new small car for 1963, the Fulvia, they came up with an update of one of the most unusual engine configurations. Now, popping the hood doesn’t exactly make that fully obvious: looks like a…a…very short DOHC four.

It’s a super-narrow angle V4, which originally appeared in OHV form for the rwd Lancia Appia. For the Fulvia, it got new DOHC heads, among other changes, and was placed ahead of the front-driven wheels, for which it almost seems made for. There were three different versions, no less, each with a slightly different angle, ranging from 11º20′ to 12°53’45”. Just enough angle to allow the cylinder bores to offset, making for a very short block.

image source:viva-lancia.com

Here’s the inside scoop. Now that’s a bit different, eh? Rather brilliant, actually. And perhaps the best part: it allows using a single cylinder head casting.

image source:viva-lancia.com

The camshaft on each side activates both banks of its respective valves, via rockers. Sort of like two SOHC heads, with a twist.

The Fulvia engine was made in several versions, starting out with a 1100cc, and ending up with a quite potent 1600cc that made from 115 hp to 132 hp. The Fulvia coupe was  succesfull in rally racing, winning the 1972 championship.  The Fulvia finally ended its production run in 1976, several years after Fiat took over the struggling firm, and ended its radical experiments. It was replaced by the Beta, which we’ll undoubtedly find and cover sometime here. But let’s just say it didn’t quite inspire the love and devotion that has been bestowed on the charming Fulvia.

But Lancia’s pioneering narrow angle engine design did not go to waste: VW picked up the baton, and utilized it in their VR6 (and VR5) range of engines.