Trust me to find cars in Venice.
My poor brother thought he’d gotten a reprieve during our Europe trip when we arrived in Venice. No cars for me to stop and photograph and yammer on about. Lucky him! Only, while exploring Venice we stumbled across a parking lot near where busses, trains and, yes, some cars enter the archipelago. I pointed at this little purple hatchback and said, “Look, a Lancia Y10!” Although my brother probably didn’t want to engage me in a long discussion, he did point out that that didn’t look like a Lancia badge. He was right, this was an Autobianchi – the last Autobianchi.
Technically we were both right. By the time the Y10 was launched in 1985, the Autobianchi brand was being withdrawn from other markets. The Y10, therefore, was known as a Lancia throughout Europe but for the Italian market where it received Autobianchi badging.
The Fiat-owned Autobianchi brand had a reputation for innovation, the ’64 Primula being the world’s first hatchback with front-wheel-drive and a transverse-mounted engine. That formula would later be adopted by Fiat-branded vehicles and, indeed, by rival automakers the world over.
From 1969 until 1986, Autobianchi sold the A112 supermini in continental markets, a neat three-door hatchback derived from the Fiat 128 and which, in turn, spawned the Fiat 127. Offering a hatchback and front-wheel-drive like the Primula, the A112 was still somewhat of a pioneer as rival brands continued with less space-efficient rear-wheel-drive platforms and undersized trunk lids. Its trend-setting format is probably what kept it looking fresh enough to last into the 1980s.
By the time the Y10 came along, Autobianchi was no longer much of a testing bed for the Fiat Group. Instead, the Y10 shared mechanicals with the Fiat Panda but for a new rear suspension set-up (which did end up on a Fiat, following tradition). Engines were borrowed from the Fiat lineup, consisting of 1.0 and 1.1 four-cylinders. A turbocharged 1.0 was offered for the first few years before emissions regulations led to its replacement with a 1.3 naturally-aspirated mill.
While the Y10 used a great deal of Fiat componentry, it was still innovative. Its luxurious (for a supermini) level of trim and premium positioning presaged upscale B-segment products like the rebooted Mini, Opel Adam and Citroen DS3; the Y10 could be had with an interior swathed in alcantara, as well as mod-cons like a sunroof and power windows.
Unlike more practical Fiat-branded superminis, the Y10 put form over function and targeted women buyers. Styling was penned by Tom Tjaarda, responsible for the design of the De Tomaso Pantera among many others. The Y10’s severe Kammback rear sacrificed some cargo capacity and rear passenger space on the altar of style; the tailgate was often finished in matte black. The Y10’s rakish styling was rather aerodynamic, however, with a drag coefficient of 0.31.
Further emphasizing the Y10’s role as a stylish supermini, there were numerous special editions available including designer trims like FILA and Missoni.
The featured Y10 is a 1992-95 model, the final facelift of the long-running supermini. Its narrower headlights and slim, chrome-trimmed grille brought it in line with contemporary Lancias like the Kappa and Dedra.
Although the Y10 was the last Autobianchi, Fiat had found success with this premium supermini concept. The Y10’s replacement was the Lancia Y (also known as the Ypsilon), which lasted for three more generations. Much as the Y10 had been the last Autobianchi, the final Ypsilon looks like it’ll be the last Lancia.
Don’t think of the Y10/Y/Ypsilon being the angel of automotive death, however. This line of chic city cars has proved to be an enduringly popular supermini for its often young, female consumer base, even as rival superminis have come along with the same level of equipment and style. Not everybody wants a big car, so why should supermini buyers miss out on features and style?
Photographed in Venice in September 2018.