(first posted 10/2/2015) A Lancia of any era and model is not a common sight in the U.S. The Lancia Beta of 1972-84 was the first and only Lancia marketed heavily in the U.S., and although it was fairly successful in initial sales, a reputation for rust and reliability issues ended Lancia’s largest foray into the U.S. market. Enthusiasts of European cars and sports cars have always held Lancias in high regard, though, and over the decades some classic Lancias have made their way across the Atlantic. Concours events are where they should be found, so imagine my surprise when I drove past a local garage’s lot and found a Lancia Flavia from the 1960s standing by the curb.
Like most Americans, I have almost never even seen a Lancia, aside from a few Betas over 30 years ago and a single Fulvia sighting several years ago. I previously knew the Flavia only from Paul’s article on the model from three years ago. Lancia’s history of innovative design and cost-is-no-object engineering is familiar, though, and a look back at the Flavia revealed it to be an excellent example of Lancia’s traditional qualities.
The Flavia was a clean sheet of paper design that departed completely from previous Lancias, with a boxer four cylinder engine and front wheel drive. The compact, lightweight aluminum boxer four mounted longitudinally ahead of the transaxle allowed a low center of gravity and minimal nose-heaviness and front overhang. The Flavia set the pattern for later longitudinal engine front wheel drive Lancias from the 1960s to the 1980s, from the 1.1-1.6 liter V4 Fulvia of 1963-76 to the 2.0-2.5 liter boxer four Gamma of 1976-84. Positioned between the earlier rear wheel drive 2.8 liter V6 Flaminia and 1.1 liter V4 Appia, in a model lineup named after famous Roman roads, the Flavia began as a sedan with a 1.5 liter engine in 1961 and added more body styles and more powerful engine variants over the course of the 1960s. The Flavia name lasted through 1970, with Lancia renaming the model the 2000 for 1971-75.
The boxer four rose in both displacement and sophistication during the 1960s. The initial engine in 1961 displaced 1.5 liters with an output of 78 horsepower. A higher output version in coupes in 1962 produced 90 horsepower. In 1963, a 1.8 liter engine with 92 horsepower became optional in sedans and standard in coupes. A special Sport model had a 100 horsepower version, later upped to 105 horsepower using dual Weber carburetors instead of Solexes. The Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system, later used in the BMW 2002tii and other high performance cars, became an option in 1965, increasing output to 102 horsepower. In 1969 a 2.0 liter version became available, with 114 horsepower with carburetors or 126 horsepower with fuel injection.
The Lancia boxer four’s output was comparable to that of the BMW M10 inline four that made BMW’s reputation during the 1960s, which ranged from an initial 1.5 liter with 75 horsepower in 1962 to the fuel injected 2.0 liter with 130 horsepower in the 1972 2002tii. To handle the performance, all Flavias had four wheel disc brakes and a double wishbone front suspension, with a simple beam axle with leaf springs in the rear.
Coupe and convertible body styles introduced in 1962 shared little with the boxy sedans. Pininfarina designed and built the bodies of the coupes, and Vignale did the same for the convertible.
The Pininfarina coupe body remained unchanged until 1969, while Lancia made styling changes to the sedans. In March 1969, the existing coupe body received new front and rear styling, which lasted through 1975 in the Lancia 2000 coupe.
The Sport model mentioned earlier was designed and built by Zagato with a lightweight and more aerodynamic aluminum body, along with the higher tuned 100-105 horsepower 1.8 liter boxer four. Only 626 were built from 1963 to 1967.
I did not spot this Lancia so much as see its roof out of the corner of my eye while driving past, which immediately made me think, “I have never seen that roofline before. Must investigate.” What I found was a Flavia coupe, whose profile I soon recognized as clearly reminiscent of Pininfarina’s contemporary Ferrari 250GT 2+2, with a similar roofline and rear window/pillar kink.
While the overall shape had much in common with Pininfarina’s Ferrari 250GT 2+2, the style of the front end was reminiscent of another contemporary Pininfarina product. The quad headlights in prominent pods and projecting grille were used in the firm’s one-off custom bodied Maserati 5000 made in 1961 for Gianni Agnelli, Fiat’s principal shareholder and Italy’s wealthiest man.
The other end of the Flavia, with horizontal taillights and a hint of tailfins, departed from Pininfarina’s work on the Ferrari 250GT and the Maserati 5000, both of which had vertical taillights set into the tailfins. When not ruined by a badly mounted American license plate, it was a clean design and quite practical with a low liftover height. The lack of a proper location for an American license plate on this car, which has only space for a European license plate above its rear bumper, indicates that it may be a recently imported European market car.
“Le Auto Service” is not a garbled French pun like “Le Car”; Le is the name of the Vietnamese-American family that owns the shop. They have an interesting business working mostly on classic Mercedes and other European makes, with a mix of like new looking 560SLs, rusty hulks of 1960s and 1970s Mercedes and BMW sedans, 1960s Pontiacs, and other random American classics such as the 1937 Lincoln Zephyr profiled in an earlier CC in the lot. Rising property values in the area have wrecking balls and new condo and office construction sweeping relentlessly in their direction, so I give their business only a few more years in its current location, but for now they are a smorgasbord (Volvo/Saab pun intended) for classic car lovers. It is a fitting place to see a classic Lancia for the first time.
The trunk-mounted badge on this example indicated that it had the 1.8 liter version of the Lancia boxer four, narrowing its model year to 1963 to 1969.
The interior, which like the exterior showed some wear after half a century but remained complete and generally sound, revealed the car to be from 1967 or later. Round instruments were a change made in 1967, in place of the horizontal ribbon speedometer, round tachometer, and rectangular secondary instruments in earlier cars. The prominent instrument binnacle and straightforward wood-trimmed dashboard were modern, clean design when introduced in the Flavia sedan in 1961 and still look good today.
With high style and advanced engineering and made with little regard for cost, the Flavia coupe was a car for connoisseurs in the 1960s and continues to be today. It was an elegant small GT sold at a high premium over competitors such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT or BMW New Class. Imported into the U.S. in very small numbers, it will be an infrequent sight at American curbsides or even at car shows.
I expect that this Flavia coupe is the only 1960s Lancia that I will ever see unrestored and parked curbside in the U.S. It is in rough condition now, but I hope that it eventually will be a standard-bearer for the marque in the U.S. as a fully restored example. Apparently sound and complete with almost all exterior and interior trim, although with rough and peeling paint, extensive surface rust on the hood, and some small rust perforations behind the rear wheels, it should be restorable given a sufficient budget. Whether the worth to the owner and the market value of a Flavia coupe in the U.S. will be sufficient to justify the cost of restoration is another matter, though. What I can say with certainty is that the world can use as many classic Pininfarina bodies wrapped around sophisticated engineering as it can get, and a Lancia Flavia coupe has them.