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.
CC Outtake: 1996 Lancia Y10 – Grazie Luigi, by Roger Carr
I mean, there wasn’t always a “y” in the middle of Tokyo; in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was transliterated as “Tokio” as often as not. That disappeared pretty much immediately after WW2 for whatever reason.
Here’s an example of that:
Germans spell it as Tokio to this day as well…
I’ve always felt it’s only fair we should spell other countries’ cities the way the locals do. But I think I’ve met my match with 東京.
I’m very familiar with the Y10 as they were everywhere while I lived in Italy. I had an A112E and thought it was a fun little car to scream around the city in. Tiny 900cc engine. Would like to have one here in the USA too but like riding a motorcycle, a person would have to pick and choose where they drive it for safety. Same with alot of classics.
There is alot to be said for a basic well built car that doesn’t have a laundry list of electric gizmos for around town. I love satellite radio and power seats, etc on a long road trip but for my short commute, a 1930 Model A Ford would get the job done with simplicity and economy.
When my son announced 10 years ago he would be looking for a car I suggested an Y. It is a car I fancied because it was so different yet very practical and luxurious for the time (AC as mentioned by T87). We found a very clean low mileage example.
He managed to loose both sets of keys which meant he had no remote control for the central door locking anymore. A fairly expensive repair was needed in the two years he had the car – the heater radiator leaked and needed replacement which meant much of the dash had to be removed.
I think I liked the car more than he did. It was quick, frugal, very small so excellent in the city, but also fast and stable enough on the motorway.
Oof! that front end styling really destroyed the looks of a mostly squared off car. It would have looked a lot better with a more rectangular style front end like the original Y 10 and the grille would still instantly distinguish it from the Punto.
I still have a 1987 Lancia Y 10 brochure somewhere (UK spec) and thought it was a neat idea, sort of like a factory Wood & Pickett Mini. Unfortunately that was a minority view and per the latest Practical Classics there are only a handful left in the UK
Years ago, one of my friends went to Munich to visit the exchange family he stayed with back from High School. He loved the Dad’s 911, but when I asked him was it scary to fly around in, he laughed. “No, their Mom drives way crazier“ (I was already aware they were wealthy and she, eccentric). He asks me what I thought she drove, and I guessed correctly, first try; Lancia Y Elefantino Rosso. “How did you know that!” Umm, it was the new Mini before there was a new Mini…
Wow! 100 possible colours to chose from on a mainstream vehicle! That’s unheard of in recent times. You can get pretty much any colour, as long as it’s some shade of gray. And if you’re really lucky, possibly a red and a blue thrown in.
I rented a Y in Italy. I didn’t have any say in the specific car but that’s what I ended up with. The turn signals started going on their own which was incredibly annoying and Europcar in Arezzo swapped it for an Opel Corsa which I much preferred. The Y, besides being weird looking if not downright ugly, felt a little dangerous on the autostradas though it was fine in town.
I’d kind of like (or would at least take) the opportunity to drive one but I’ve never really found myself even remotely attracted to the looks of this thing. The mid section’s ok, but the front and back, no, not for me. But I will say it’s distinctive and unlikely to be confused for anything else so it’s got that going for it at least. Work with what you have, I suppose.
I saw hundreds of these in Sicily a couple of years back – climate seemed to suit them – I imagine that UK winter would finish one.
The market for this kind of car has been taken by Ford´s Vignale version of the Fiesta and the (defunct) Opel Adam. I´ve always like the idea of a luxurious small car. There have been elaborate Minis (Wood & Pickett?), the Renault 5 Baccara and the Clio Baccara (leather, air-con, nicer alloys) and lately the Lancia Y Mk2 and Mk3. As far as I know the Ypsilon is still in production and outsells Alfa Romeo quite healthily. I think FCA don´t care too much for Lancia but still, 65,000 cars a year is not bad at all. I wish they´d put a little more effort into the steering and ride to make it more Lancia and less of a nicer Fiat. Lancia doesn´t need a full range – it´s basis could be the Ypsilon, a mid-sized saloon in the Jetta mould (for all of Europe´s small saloon fans) and a C-D class coupe for anyone ticked off by the price of Audi and BMW coupes. That´s all. They would not even have to replace them more than on 8-9 year cycles as this market is not fashion led.
I’m hoping to buy a second generation some day in near future. Lancia scratches that itch of driving something slightly exotic with a bit more style and comfort and with proven Fiat mechanics.
Never liked the front end on this first gen examples though.
I never understand why a Lancia or an Alfa are always called FIATs in disguise, while VAG (Skoda, Seat, Volkswagen & Audi) are never mentioned ; while these have been pulling the same trick for years .
Fun is you pick up one of these small Lancia’s up for next to nothing compared to the same FIAT. A friend of my wife bought a very nice and chique Y for very little money, a little green frog and she has been driving it for 8 years now !