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…
Gamma coupe…where have I seen those lines?
Well, they’re both from planet earth, so…I guess that where they are related, oh and they both have tires.
I can see a little Allante (which makes sense) and a little Maserati Biturbo (which may make sense, but I’m not going to Google whether Pininfarina also did the Biturbo, because that would bias my having seen some Biturbo in the Gamma).
I like the idea of putting a Subaru Impreza/WRX four in it. Although I could just get a WRX instead. Or an SVX, which is the Subaru equivalent.
Never heard about that Citroen connection before, about the Gamma being a “sister car” to the CX. And I’d put my doubts on that being true, I think it’s largely conjecture. Lancia was owned by Fiat since 1969, while Citroen had their hands full with Maserati from the same time until they went bust and bought up by Peugeot.
To be fair, the big Lancias was never a big seller even before. The Gammas predecessor, the Flaminia, sold in a little more than 12000 copies. In both cases, the Coupe outsold the Sedan. they were always more or less handbuilt in very small numbers, and always seen as an extravagant choise for a luxury car. They had the class, but they could never match its competitors in actual luxury. But lets just say it had a certain je nes sais quoi that appealed to certain people, though they weren’t that many to begin with. Audrey Hepburn was a famous owner, she had a Flaminia living in Switzerland.
What would be the choice today? Buying a Fisker Karma over a Lexus or Mercedes? Or perhaps the Lancia demographic is comparable to the Jaguar and Maserati demographic, always willing to spend money over safer choices like Mercedes or BMW?
His comment left a couple of questions in my mind too? I’d never heard about any connection to the CX. Wikipedia say long-time Lancia engine designer Francesco de Virgilio designed the Gamma engine. And how would the AP gearbox fit in a car with a longitudinal engine. Maybe.
I found a paper about the Lancia Gamma 2000 which states that Fiat and Citroën signed an cooperation agreement at the beginning of the 70’s.
It’s here for those who speak french : http://gazoline.net/article2.php?id_article=1496 (by the way, the title of this paper is : “Lancia Gamma, Reasons of a failure” and the author specifically refers to it as a “lemon car”…).
Basically, Citroën and Lancia decided to develop the CX and the Gamma together in order to cut costs by conceiving common elements for both cars. Lancia should have had Citroën’s hydraulic suspension. Unfortunately, the cooperation between them took an end and Lancia had to start almost from scratch.
Ïnteresting, however, I remain skeptical. This is the first I ever heard of this, and there’s very little out there to confirm. This very discussion turns up on page one on google.
It talks about a cooperation agreement in the early 70’s between Citroen and Lancia, and a task force with people working together “in two years”, just to have the marriage cancelled at the last minute. General DeGaulle had vetoed that Fiat should acquire Citroen. However, DeGaulle resigned in ’69 and died the year after, so it couldn’t have been him. Though, it sounds very probable and very French to veto a deal where the Italians would’ve swallowed a company like Citroen, and veto it by patriotic pride only.
The Beta was released in ’72, only 3 years after Fiat had acquired Lancia. That’s a very short time to have had a deal with Citroen muck it up, and the short time span is entirely up to the large Fiat input in the cars production. The Gamma used technology both from the Beta and the Flavia, however, its predecessor the Flavia was actually the more advanced car. The Beta had a transverse engine and MacPherson struts, the Gamma had a longitudinal flat four in front of the transaxle, just like the Flavia. But instead of the Flavias double wishbones, it used MacPherson struts just like the Beta.
Perhaps there was talks about a JV between Fiat/Lancia and Citroen, and perhaps even a possible merger. Though even the CX is a quirky car in its own right, they did manage to sell 1.2 millions of them, or roughly a hundredfold more than Lancia ever sold Gammas. Even though Lancia was owned by Fiat, they had some autonomy, but they were always cash strapped and has always just barely survived, even to this day. And perhaps they would’ve benefitted from each others know how, though it seems that Lancia would’ve benefitted more. Perhaps the Gamma really is the consequence of a ditched merger? It would explain a lot…
However, Fiat and Peugeot/Citroen do have a joint venture on small trucks, the so called Sevel trucks.
I don’t know, this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. And there’s nothing much out there to confirm.
Paul Frere wrote on this in the 1971 World Car Catalogue. He says agreements were concluded in 1968 and Fiat bought 15% of Citroen from Michelin. A few more words about the complexity of this holding, re: govt. but that holding had increased in principle to 49% of a Michelin/Fiat JV by 1970. Conjecture about a possible Lancia with Citroen susp. and a medium powered Citroen with 125 power. Also talk of the Wankel, but no hard facts on specific model development.
As an aside, I remember seeing an article on the three-box PF Gamma saloon concept being in private hands.
The aforementioned link is dead. Here’s the latest links:
Too bad the Gamma was such a mechanical dog. I particularly like the coupe. A friend of mine bought a ’76 Beta sedan. It had the 1600 cc (or maybe 1800) Fiat twin cam engine, and once desmogged was a great performing engine. With four wheel disc brakes it could hold its own in the mountains. It was a great family tourer. Fairly reliable too.
Commenter Chris inadvertently coined (in another thread) the perfect term for this car, if even by accident. Woederful. The perfect mating of the woeful and the wonderful. Chris gets the credit for coming up with a one-word description of the ownership experience. I shall, however, claim publicity rights. 🙂
It is actually an attractive car, though I have typically not been a fan of large 4 cylinder cars that are not called “Model A.”
Tut tut. After my 1456 cc 4-cyl Rabbit with which I went Atlantic-to-Pacific four times, I graduated to a 1988 Olds Touring Sedan with a 3.8 liter Buick V6. It was much more relaxed and returned incredible gas mileage. I then moved up to a 1994 Cadillac STS with the 4.6 Northstar. Not quite as miserly with fuel as the Olds, but I loved the fact that on cruise it didn’t need to downshift west of Cheyenne while climbing up to the national divide (8600 feet-2600 meters). When I went to work at Dulles I needed reliability and an easier entry-exit from a vehicle so it was a 3.5 liter Honda Odyssey. I got rid of that after eight years before the tranny imploded. When I got my Subaru I was really concerned that I would be able to live with an engine as small as two liters, given the spaces we have to traverse out west here (Utah just raised the speed limit on sections of I-15 and I-80 to 80 mph), but I have found that the Subi can handle 85 mph speeds with no problem at all, even in the mountains. Surprisingly, it doesn’t get as good gas mileage as my ’88 Olds.
The coupe is gorgeous but you just know it’s going to be pain to own.I’d never heard of wrecking the engine doing a 3 point turn!Lancias were withdrawn from sale in the UK many years ago,few people were buying them and the climate would soon wreak havoc with them.Was there ever a more rust prone car?
until the mid-80s german cars (except mercedes) weren’t nowhere near “premium” as they are now. peoples older than me often told me that they get covered in rust after 6-7 years. unless their awful handling killed you before. how often do you see a classic bmw or audi ?
talking about rust, i think that lancia was one of the first company in europe to apply anti-corrosion treatment on their cars, after the exaggerated scandal of the beta saloon in the uk. If I remember well, they also offered a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty.
CC has made me appreciate many older cars that I used to dislike, but I’m just not feeling it for this Gamma. Pretty much every Lancia after the Fulvia Coupe (especially the gorgeous HF version) looks hideous to me. The Gamma Coupe is OK, but the Beta sedans, coupes, and Monte Carlos imported to the US were uniformly dogs IMO. Even the much revered Stratos does nothing for me. Apparently their large car (Thema) is now a re-branded Chrysler 300, which makes the epic Aurelia/Chrysler chase in the Tintin book “The Calculus Affair” curiously ironic.
ah, the Gamma! the sedan a nut-case design and clear case of a “what were they thinking!?” (or drinking?) but the coupe … so beautiful and elegant, truly stunning and even better looking in the flesh.
back in the day, I had to take the bus to school, and the bus stop was next to a small shop who had a used coupe on offer, silver on dark blue velour. it just sat on the lot … and sat … and sat … and sat … for almost two years until the shop went bust. the bored teenager waiting on the bus had nothing left to lust over, then. mind, i even made calculations on how to cobble the 12000 marks together the seller was asking at the time (sometime in the late 80s?). didn’t really sound like too much money for such a graceful ride ….
I never saw one of these until now. First impression was it was an oversized Lancia Scorpion for the executive on the go. Then, after reading Brian’s take on this car I am glad to have never seen one or worse, buy one had I been of the European persuasion.
I do wonder though, whatever happened to those hapless engineers who brought to Lanca power steering pumps that were responsible for destroying engines or paper thin gaskets that fail due to the natural expansions of cold to warm to hot alloys? Were they quietly retired to that figurative Retired Engineers Home of Regrettable Design? 🙂 Or did some of them go onto bigger and more head scratching innovations?
I would agree that there are probably no Gamma in the country – at last weekend’s Italian Fest in Naples, I saw more Lancii in one spot than I ever knew existed.
I wonder if the designers of the Subaru XT were enamored with the Gamma coupe?
Wow. I wrote that ages ago and it still sends shivers up my spine. that gamma has now been in the hands of 2 further enthusiasts and it has cost them more than me. I’m interested to hear more about the nitrogen connection as what I knew was from other gamma owners. cheers from holiday in sunny new Orleans, where there’s a Packard 200 across from the hotel!
Apparently we got them new in New Zealand (they would have been UK-spec RHD), but I’ve never seen the sedan in the metal. There are, though, still a few coupes here, and the one I see locally occasionally always makes me smile. It’s not a traditionally handsome car, but I think the coupe’s unique and quirky styling really works in the metal. Same probably goes for the sedan, but I doubt I’ll ever see one.
Still haven’t seen the Gamma sedan in the metal, but a 1983 model has turned up for sale here – Unfortunately it’s at the other end of New Zealand from me, so my chances of seeing it for real are minimal.
The coupe is lovely
There’s nothing more to say, a car doomed from the beginning…the sedan was criticized even for its heavy handed styling, an ungainly take on the then popular fastback big sedan concept (Citroen CX, Renault 30, Rover SD1…), I’ve never, ever seen one in my life and when I was a kid there were still plenty of ’70s era Alfas and Fiats, not the most solidly built cars either but real stones compared to these overly complex nightmares…the coupe, on the other hand, it’s a real stunner, I’d really like to own one someday, with some fuzzy ’70s interior to match !
I’ve owned 10 of the coupes. The only time i had a cam belt jump was when i didn’t change the belts on a car i’d pulled out of a ditch that had been off the road for 10 years- which was stupid on my part.
I used another one to commute – did 15000 miles and then sold it to a guy in Australia via Ebay. They’re great cars. Buy one before they all disappear!
My mum had a Berlina with an auto box and yes, it was rubbish, broke about 3 of them. On the other hand one Gamma Consortium member just completed 160000 miles in his auto car with no issues.
And the Citroen/Lancia thing is well known in Gamma circles.
Always strikes me that contemporary Fiats were much the better looking car; the 124AC and BC coupes, wonderful, the 130 coupe superb. I prefer the Gamma berlina to the Coupe which I think is an awful, poorly coordinated mess. Those freakish rear arches, that nonentity of a grille. Most Lancias are either nondescript or plain ugly.
The Beta coupe, so dull and with a tacky plastic interior was the expensive option, wearas the cheap 124 coupe had a classic interior, lovely body (greatest door handles ever made) and drove and handled beautifully as it remained a well developed RWD.
Lancia were certainly not the first company to think of rust prevention; Volvo were at least galvanising parts of there cars years before. It is true that after the Beta saloon debacle Lancia began a process of rust protection that led to their cars being amongst the most durable in Europe; however by the mid ’90s they were still some of the most stylistically challenged. Ever seen an yipsilon? or a Y10, some of the ugliest cars ever built, down to their archaic, out of place grilles.
I have one of these and love the looks and the way it drives. It appears the best Subaru engine to fit is the later Legacy EZ30 flat six, as it’s scarcely any longer than the later fours, (unlike the SVX 3.3 six). This is because it was designed to fit in the same place as the fours,and has more compact chain drive for it’s camshafts. I haven’t found the weight difference yet, but this is likely the best option for when the current, and turbine/rotary smooth, torquey, but underdeveloped orphan flat four blows another gasket.
I have a Gamma to restore and note you mention a Subaru engine
I would like to no more please.
Gamma Coupe in the flesh is a very beautiful car, no if’s or but’s.
If you think the styling is poorly proportioned you have no idea.
I agree,the Gamma coupe did look good in the metal.A doctor a few doors from my house in central Hobart bought a new Gamma coupe in a metallic sand colour and often I would detour,walking home from work,around to the carpark behind his surgery to look at it.That coupe was the only one I saw in Tasmania and I haven’t seen it since 1982.
The Gamma’s engine was not designed by Ferrari, but an inhouse Lancia team. Lancia had enough experience in designing flat four engines and did not external help on that.
The engine was absolutely under developed. They slipped their cambelt (only on the very last couple of engines, only available as a spare part, was this cured by a different belt tensioner arrangement). The wet liners were not stiff enough and flexed when the heads were torqued down, taking the pressure off the head gaskets and ruining them and the paper ring at the liner’s bottom in no time. One big problem was that there were no oil reservoirs in the heads, making the cam lobes and rockers run dry until oil reached the heads after a cold start. This made them wear out in very short time if the cars were used for short distances.
The Gamma coupé was produced on the same Pininfarina production line as some Ferraris at the time. The car was never officially available in black colour because on a black car the uneven surface of the body parts would have become too visible. But at least the coupés were relatively properly rust proofes for the time, making the Gamma coupé about the only Italian car with a body that lasts and mechanical trouble being the limiting factor.
When they worked, they were great cars. The coupé drove like a jumbo-sized Alfasud
The Gamma Coupe was truly the first car that as a teenager in 1978, left a huge impression on me, as someone I knew , purchased, a new Dark Blue model. Stunning looks and lines, one of Pininfarinas finest, though I did not know this at the time.
Over the years I have owned many classic Lancias-Fulvias, Flavias, Flaminia GT, Monte Carlo, Beta Coupes but never a Gamma. Until May 2015 when a 2 owner Series 1, 42k mile Silver example came my way. Unused 12 years, great body and underside, original engine, tool kit in the boot and with 2 sets of alloy wheels (S1 and S2) After a proper service incl. new belts, all fluids changed, new pads, couple of brake pipes, she passed the Mot and was ready for use. 200 miles and 2 weeks later, what a car-fab ride and handling, great sounding engine and oh the styling. Grab one now whilst affordable and parts via the UK Gamma consortium are available to keep these works of art on the road where they belong.
In two days I’m going to visit a Gamma Coupé 2.0, IInd series, automatic.
Could any of you, anyhow experienced with this version of the car, give me suggestions?
Thank you beforehand and best regards.