Journal: The Fulvia Mixes The Elegant And The Strange

The Fulvia Mixes The Elegant And The Strange

By Alan Franklin
May 6, 2013

Before they were relegated to the foul indignity of foisting re-badged Chryslers upon uninformed and gullible 21st century Europeans, Lancia was once among the greatest of all Engineering-first automobile manufacturers. Their record for innovation stretches back more than a century, and among their pioneering achievements were the early uses of independent front suspensions, narrow-angle V4 engines, the first-ever stressed moncoque chassis (all three features of the 1922 Lambda) as well as the first publicly-offered five-speed (Series III Ardea, 1948) and first V6-powered production car (1950s Aurelia). Though perhaps most famous for the legendary Dino-engined Stratos and WRC-dominating Delta Integrale, both of those cars are in fact products of a post-1969 Fiat-owned Lancia, and though undoubtedly deserving of their high status, they’re not representative of a pure and undiluted Lancia bloodline. For me, the greatest true Lancia is the lovely, advanced, and utterly unique Fulvia.

Upon first testing one in 1967, Road & Track summed up the Fulvia succinctly as “a precision motorcar, [and] an engineering tour de force”. I can’t put it any better myself, so I’ll let the specs speak for themselves.

Front-wheel-driven, its engine was an extremely-narrow angle 13 degree V4 featuring two overhead cams, one each dedicated to exhaust and intake valve operation. Similar to Volkswagen’s later VR6, the small vee angle allowed the use of a single cylinder head for both banks. Whether or not it’s a SOHC or DOHC design is open to interpretation, part of what makes it such a fascinating little motor. The whole thing is mounted longitudinally at a 45 degree slant, looking all the world like a short little inline three cylinder with a valve cover so fat it’d do a 426 Hemi proud. Displacement varied, but all were of an oversquare design, with the largest and most powerful version having a swept volume of 1584 CC and churning out a healthy 132 HP as fitted to the 1.6 HF (High Fidelity, by which Lancia meant “highly tuned”).

Front suspension was by means of double wishbones with a single transverse leaf spring, while outback a more conventional beam axle kept the wheels in contact with the road. Brakes were by means of four-wheel discs, quite a novelty considering the car’s 1963 introduction.

Three body styles were offered, a stately Berlina, somewhat reminiscent of Alfa Berlinas of the period, a thin-pillared and elegant coupe, and the wild Zagato-penned “Sport” coupe, which featured a cabin-activated electric elevator which raised the rear hatch slightly for better ventilation while on the move—it’s these kinds of quirky little details that make the Fulvia such a treat.

Nicknamed by race fans “Fanalone” for “big headlight”, the light-footed Fulvia HF was very successful in international rallying, winning several stages over the years, including Monte Carlo, but never quite matched the incredible career of its wedge-shaped replacement, the awesome Stratos. Still, the FWD Fulvia displayed incredible poise and traction where its mostly rear-driven competitors sometimes struggled, hinting at the coming days of all-wheel drive domination, of which Lancia played a major role in.

Today the Fulvia exists in a similar market standing to similar Alfa coupes, with prices healthy and rising steadily. Though perhaps lacking a final degree of flickability afforded by Alfa’s rear-driven chassis, Fulvias are easily one of the best-handling FWD cars ever made, and offer an intriguing alternative to Giulia ownership—I for one wouldn’t hesitate if offered a choice, the Lancia’s easily as pretty as it’s Milanese cousins (at least in coupe forms!), but with an even deeper world of mechanical intrigue just beneath the surface.

The idea that Lancia’s legacy will likely end with badge-engineered Town & Country minivans is nearly unbearable, so I chose to remember them as they once were—builders of elegant and progressive performance machines with a dose of elegance and style unmatched in modern times.

By the way, it’s pronounced “Lan-cha”.

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8 years ago

It is the quality of the components and the fascinating mechanical design that is particularly attractive to me. The fact that it works so well is icing on the cake. Engineers ruled Lancia so what was the best solution, in their view, won out – to hell with cost and what they would sell the car for.
They would be one of the very best engineered cars of their era. Reason for the V4 by the way was compactness and more importantly smoothness, and they are certainly smoother than an Alfa inline twincam 4 for example. Each engine capacity had a difference in cylinder angle because the engineers believed it was necessary in the pursuit of excellence and if there was a believed superior solution or even a superior fastening these cars got it anyway. Not commercially sensible these days but there were enough buyers then who appreciated quality to keep Lancia going then until the late `60`s. In our collection we are lucky enough to have two, a 2C Berlina, and a series 3 coupe amongst the Alfas, Fiat 500`s and DS Citroen. If you are into cars you have to have at least one pre Fiat Lancia.

Andrew Adamides
Andrew Adamides(@baskingshark)
8 years ago

Whoops, clicked submit too soon. It should also be added that the Fulvia Coupe was remarkably long-lived, testament to how great it was. When Fiat bought Lancia and introduced the Beta Coupe, that was supposed to be the Fulvia’s replacement. However, the Fulvia Coupe sold so well that it went on alongside the Beta Coupe until 1977 in 1.3S form.

And while everyone focuses on the 1.6HF cars, the 1.3 is no slouch. In fact with its twin carbs, it accelerates amazingly fast for such a tiny-displacement engine. I used to outrun E36 BMW 3-Series in mine at traffic lights.

Andrew Adamides
Andrew Adamides(@baskingshark)
8 years ago

I had one of these – it was great! Also, thanks to the miracle of front wheel drive and torque-steer, if you wanted to reverse round a bend, all you needed to do was tilt the steering wheel ever so slightly to the left or right with one finger, let out the clutch very slowly and the car would do the rest itself.

8 years ago

A powerful opening sentence that should be compulsory reading for anyone with a driving licence.

8 years ago

The Fulvia sedan at the top of the page brought back memories – it was my first car. Mind you, when dad said he’d bought me a Fulvia, I had a slightly different vision of what he would arrive home in…

John Teyssier
John Teyssier(@fb_100001268483411)
8 years ago

I love the Fulvia, looking for one now. In my research I came across the worst modified Fulvia I have ever seen. Look away now….

Dan Woodward
Dan Woodward(@woody)
8 years ago

A Fulvia is on my must own list.

Pretty, interesting, fun and criminally undervalued is a winning combination.

Rip Curl
Rip Curl(@nuvolari)
8 years ago

The Fulvia had some interesting engineering and was not a bad looking car to boot. I have always lusted after an orange one with all the vintage rally markings on it.