CC Capsule: 1997 Lancia Y – Well, I Don’t See Y Not

Another fish face out of water! Yes, it was fun to meet this one in the centre of the Japanese megalopolis I currently call home. But then, I should have expected bumping into one of these: there always was a “Y” in the middle of “Tokyo,” wasn’t there? The augurs, indeed even the orthography, were crystal clear.

The Lancia Y was perhaps the last Lancia to have met with real success. In reality though, it wasn’t so much a Lancia as it was a re-hash of the tried and true formula for Autobianchi: a gussied-up Fiat city car for urban women. But by the ‘90s, Autobianchi was dead to the non-Italian world, so the successor to the Y 10 would bear the name, big chrome grille and shield emblem of Lancia, so that French and German ladies could purchase this Fiat Punto in drag.

I’m being harsh – the Autobianchi concept was always viable. It worked smoothly in the ‘50s and could work just as well in the ‘90s. And the cars were always pleasant to behold – them Italians and their sense of style, Mamma mia! Che bellissima macchina, et cetera… OK, enough with the dubious tropes. The Y 10, while it served its purpose, was about as attractive as a butt-plug for city buses. The new fancy non-Fiat would need to be far more distinctive and refined. Over to the Centro Style…

Enrico Fumia, former designer at PininFarina and head of Lancia Styling, took charge of Project 840 in 1992 and decided to eschew straight lines almost entirely, basing the design on a series of arcs instead. Pretty daring for the times, though there was something in the air (the Renault Twingo and the Ford Ka spring to mind).

Production started in the spring of 1995 and the little Lancia was soon quite the ’90s fashion accessory. The platform was a shortened version of the well-proven Punto, albeit with a redesigned rear suspension for more comfort. Engines ran the gamut from small (1.4 litre) to very small (1.1 litre), with power ranging from 65 to 86hp. No Diesel option was offered, nor were any body variants, but a CVT was available.

And it seems our feature car has that particular option, which means the engine is the 1242cc FIRE, providing a modest 60hp. The Lancia Y was one of those ‘90s cars that went back to the central display, à la classic Mini. The Renault Twingo tried that trick too. And just like the Twingo, the Lancia’s central gauges are somewhat for naught, as these cars were only ever made in LHD. Some higher-trim cars could be optioned with Connolly leather or Alcantara, which we don’t have in this car, but also A/C (not yet a common optional feature on European city cars at the turn of the century).

In 2000, the Lancia Y was given a makeover (above), with a slightly taller grille, a refreshed bumper / fog lights / front spoiler set and body-coloured side sweep with oval blinker repeaters, in lieu of the black beltline with rectangular repeaters used up to that point. Sales continued, but the Y’s novelty had worn off, even with a proliferation of special editions and the then-novel Kaleidos customization option, which enabled clients to pick one of 100 possible colours for their car. Production finally stopped in 2003 in favour of the new Ypsilon.

Over 800,000 Lancia Ys were made in just over eight years. It really was the last popular Lancia – very common around the little corner of Western Europe I used to frequent in the ‘90s / ‘00s, except in the UK of course, as Lancia had given up on that lot. Too bad. With a name like “Lancia Y,” the ad copy just writes itself.


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CC Outtake: 1996 Lancia Y10 – Grazie Luigi, by Roger Carr