Lancia Flavia: What I Drove Yesterday For 570 Miles Through A Snow Storm

I did drive 570 miles yesterday, back to Eugene from the Bay Area. And there really was a late-season winter storm that almost had me considering the longer coastal route rather than over the mountain passes on I-5. But, sadly, no, I wasn’t driving this lovely Lancia Flavia. And no, that’s not Stephanie. Why the misleading headline and picture? My mind does tend to wander on this beautiful 8.5 hour-long drive through endless fields of nut trees in bloom, Mt. Shasta, and the Oregon mountains. The distinctive smooth growl of the Subaru boxer in the Forester had me imagining something a bit more exotic. Of course, something with a boxer engine too. But in order to keep me occupied for more than a few minutes, it had be something truly all-round brilliant and exotic, like the Flavia.

Lancia has a glorious history of innovation, going back the 1913 Theta, the first European car with a complete electrical system, to the breakthrough Lambda of 1922, with the first monocoque (unibody) body structure. We’ll have to save all the other Lancia innovations for another time, but in the late fifties, Professor Antonio Fessia developed what became the 1961 Flavia, incorporating all the elements that advanced engineers had identified as their ideals for the modern car:

a smooth, compact, all-alloy boxer four, driving the front wheels, and looking for all the world like a Subaru powertrain.  Four-wheel disc brakes and a double-wishbone suspension rounded out the package. The boxer four started out with a mere 1500 cc and 78 hp, but over the Flavia’s lifespan, it would grow to 2000cc, fuel injection, and 126 hp. Obviously, the somewhat boxy but quite sporty sedan was crying out for a more handsome coupe. Pininfarina obliged.

The first version of the coupe was a bit google-eyed, but the rest of the body was a classic Pininfarina off-the-rack suit, circa 1962.

A new front end kept the now-named 1971 Lancia 2000 going through the end of its long run in 1975.

Zagato got in on the act too, with this rather wild and iffy lightweight alloy-bodied coupe. I’d really have liked to be driving that yesterday. Don’t laugh; all Italian alloy-bodied cars are fetching crazy prices now. Essentially handbuilt over bucks, their limited supply is simply not in balance with the demand for them.

The final version of the sedan was also re-named to just Lancia 2000 in 1971. It competed with the likes of the BMW and Alfa sedans, but was always handicapped by its higher price, presumably the result of its complex design, small production volume, and superb build quality. These were jewels, if not without their flaws.

A sad postscript: Fiatsler has announced plans to sell the Chrysler 200 convertible-coupe in Europe, rebadged as the Lancia Flavia. Thankfully, that thought never once entered my mind in all 570 miles. And now I need to purge it again, by dumping it on you. Sorry.