How The Fulvia Coupé 1.6 HF Helped Chart The Course For Decades Of Lancia World Rally Supremacy
Story by Alexander Byles
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Let’s go back to the 1972 edition of the most famous rally of them all: Monte-Carlo. Arriving to the starting line is the French Alpine-Renault team, the incumbents, returning winners that were favorited to repeat the act against a powerful lineup of Porsche 911s and more. With three days and nights of racing ahead, the field of contestants set out amidst weather that was unusually mild for a January in Monte-Carlo.
Day two, and with the serious racing beginning, the remaining group of 206 cars was soon led by the 911 from the rally’s 1969 winner, Björn Waldegård]. But, as the weather turned steadily more severe, a ferocious blizzard bearing down, the field was decimated, with only 34 cars still competing by day’s end. Ove Andersson, the previous year’s winner and an experienced pilot on high-altitude roads in wintry conditions, was leading the remaining cars in his Alpine-Renault A110 as the rally headed through the final day, with Bernard Darniche, in another Alpine-Renault, following in second. Meanwhile, Sandro Munari, behind the wheel of the Lancia Fulvia Coupé 1.6 HF, began rising through the field, closing the gaps ahead of him and expanding the ones behind.
Then the final and most famous test of the event was upon them: a night stage including three crossings of the 6,000-foot high Col de Turini. By now the relatively balmy start a few days earlier was a very distant memory, and the mountain stage was covered with snow, making for highly treacherous racing conditions and a rate of attrition that the race leaders were not immune to. First, Munari lost two minutes due to tire troubles, but then Anderson was forced to withdraw completely with a broken gearbox. At the critical third hour on the second pass of the Col de la Couiolle, the remaining Alpines of Darniche and Jean-Claude Andruet were also forced to pull out.
The powerful Porches were unable to keep pace with the little Lancia, and while the rest of the field fell back further and further, if they remained in it at all, Munari and his Fulvia danced around the snow-caked hairpins, quickly making up for the lost time spent with the tires. By the third and final pass of the Turini, the Fulvia was dominant, and Munari raced to victory with Gérard Larrousse taking second place honors with his Porsche, and Rauno Aaltonen in third for Datsun.
A winning combination of skillful driving and a fast and plucky automobile had conquered one of the most grueling rallies on the calendar, and the 1972 Monte-Carlo victory marked the peak of an illustrious career for the Fulvia HF. The Lancia went on to win the 1972 International Championship for Manufacturers with what from the outside looked like total ease, with podium finishes in Sweden and Greece, a victory in Morocco, and a one-two result that was met with much fanfare from the home crowd in Sanremo. How did it get there?
1965: The Fulvia Returns Lancia To Motorsport
Launched at the Turin Motorshow in 1965, the Lancia Fulvia Coupé, named after the old Roman road between Turin, location of Lancia’s HQ, and the neighboring Piedmontese city of Tortona, was the successor to the less-successful Lancia Fulvia Berlinetta, the four-door saloon launched two years earlier. Designed by Piero Castagnero with a brief for a sleeker, sportier, more elegant appearance, according to Castagnero the iconic form was inspired by Riva’s speedboats of the time.
But it wasn’t just the appearance of the car that was a critical update for the Fulvia name. Retreating from motorsport after the 1955 Formula 1 championship, the Fulvia was to be the Italian marque’s reentry into competitive driving. The initial version to take on the job, the Coupé HF (standing for “High Fidelity”), produced some 88bhp from its 1216cc engine.
Renowned for its front-wheel drive layout, unusual for its time, the Fulvia was powered by a V4 engine that was typical to Lancia, but the Ettore Zaccone Mina-designed motor was narrow-angled at 13 degrees, enabling use of a single cylinder head. Mounted at 45 degrees ahead of its transaxle, the longitudinal motor also featured dual overhead camshafts, one operating the intake valves, the other the exhaust. The engine was also significantly tilted to the left, enabling the radiator and auxiliaries to be fitted to the right side to best utilize the available space of the bay. The result was a boon for competition: the HF was propelled by a more sizable, more powerful engine relative to its compact frame.
Suspension was provided by a wishbone and single leaf spring system for the front, with a track rod and leaf springs in the rear. Meanwhile Dunlop disc brakes on all four corners provided stopping power. Weight was reduced thanks to an aluminum bonnet, doors, and trunk lid, as well as Plexiglass for all but the windshield.
Beginning its racing career in the same year it was release, preparation was rapid for the rally spec cars, but the Fulvia Coupé achieved an unexpected eighth place at Corsica all the same, the first sign of what was to come. Before the success of the 1972 season, the Fulvia went on to win the Italian Rally Championship every year between 1966 and ’69, and again between ’71 and ‘73.
Rallye 1.6 HF “Fanalone”
The competition version increased displacement to 1298 cc, creating 101bhp with with the 1.3 HF, then in 1967 a new V4 1584 cc engine was fitted to the 1.6 HF, seen in the model photographed for this article, which achieved FIA approval in 1969. With output ranging between 115 to 132bhp, tuning dependent, the engine’s angle was even narrower at just over 11 degrees. Despite the now longer 75mm stroke with 82mm bore, the Fulvia Coupé remained high revving with a 6,500rpm redline, featured a close-ratio five-speed gearbox, and was among the fastest accelerating competitors of its day on a rally stage. The 1.6 also featured bigger valves and twin Solex 42mm carburetors. It was these developments which essentially increased power yet maintained the same compact dimensions and light weight, moving the Fulvia from Group 2 to Group 4 and turning Lancia into a truly dominant rallying force.
Aesthetically, the 1.6 HF was identifiable by its large, inset Carello headlights, earning it the nickname “Fanalone,” (“big lamps”). With restrictions on the number of headlights allowed by the FIA, Lancia was forced to upgrade, hence the distinctive look. The finish, especially on latter models like the car photographed, was corsa red, while the competition models featured a matte black bonnet to reduce glare. Wheel arch extensions were also been added to HF works cars, accommodating a wider axle track for the 13” alloys. The model also dispensed with the standard car’s bumpers. Only 1,258 1.6 HF production cars were built, and its performance and exterior styling was complemented by a rather sophisticated interior design, making for a rare car with motorsport provenance wrapped up in a compact and exceptionally pretty package.
The Legacy of the 1.6 HF
In competition the Fulvia never again realized the heights of 1972, though Munari’s third place in Kenya’s Safari Rally in the Fulvia contributed to Lancia’s constructors’ championship win in the 1974 season, when the Stratos HF replaced the Fulvia mid-season. The legacy of the 1.6 HF though lies also in the success of the Lancias that followed in the WRC in the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. The car in its own time rejuvenated Italians’ passion for rally, and gave a subsequent boost in the marque’s sales. Today, the 1.6 HF is recognized as a proper classic, and a works version at auction can fetch close to $200k today.