This Lancia Fulvia Is An Italian Classic Living In The African Dust
Photography by Robb Pritchard
Dirt roads and “bakkies,” the local term for pickups, are pretty standard sights in rural South Africa. A dust-covered Fulvia pulling into a roadside cafe is decidedly not though, and even before the cloud it brought into the car park with it had settled, it was obvious that a Petrolicious feature had just pulled up.
In fact Joel Bronner owns this 1968 Lancia Fulvia Rallye 1.3 S because of Petrolicious. Reading about people getting out in their classic cars and driving them tastefully inspired him to buy a cheap 1974 Alfa Junior with the idea that he would do it up and drive it around. Once home though, he found that it was in a lot worse shape than he’d been led to believe and so the only way to get it road worthy again was to give it a total rebuild…without realizing the magnitude of work and knowhow a good restoration takes.
His Junior is still in bits. But then this Lancia came up for sale. At 38,000 rand (about $2,750) it seemed a real bargain, although it did look better than it ran. The previous owner had given the body a full respray so it ticked enough boxes aesthetically, but he hadn’t done anything to the mechanicals at all. Driving it back to the lush hills of Howick from Cape Town, a 2000km journey, by the time Joel got it back it was smoking, leaking various fluids, intermittently running on three cylinders, and overheating… and so another lengthy rebuild of a classic Italian car ensued.
There was no way he could just send it off for a lengthy stay at a workshop though, nor was he prepared to let the Fulvia become someone else’s financial responsibility. The car lived in Dargle, in the green hills a couple of hours north of Durban, while Joel lived in Cape Town. When he’d come home to visit friends and family, he’d work on the Fulvia installing the pieces he’d been able to afford and bring with him. Work was slow and intermittent, and the months became years, but he never gave up the dream that one day it would be his daily driver.
The engine, full of years upon years worth of gunk, needed a full strip down and overhaul, and while the subframe was off the body all the bearings, steering joints, subframe assemblies, suspension components, and bushes were renewed as well. Lancia Auto in Cape Town, Bilstein in Germany, and Omicrom in the UK were great sources of parts and knowledge, and a local garage called Midland Motors helped a lot with some of the more technical bits of the engine, handy when, to quote Joel, he “hadn’t a clue what he was doing.”
As a mechanical novice he certainly didn’t do a bad job with the car, though, but sometimes little mistakes can have some very serious repercussions. Bolting the steering system back to the cast aluminum frame support for instance, he put a couple of spacing washers in the wrong way around. When torquing them up the 2mm misalignment was enough to crack it… and to get it repaired everything had to come off again. Live and learn.
The car would have been ready a lot sooner had Joel not had a serious bike accident that fractured a couple of vertebrae in his neck that confined him to a brace for the better part of six months, but although he couldn’t drive he could still at least hear the Lancia rev up. After years of silence with it in pieces sitting dormant in the workshop, listening to it alive and breathing again was an amazing feeling on its own.
After three and a half years, the first time out was down to the local cafe called Steampunk, but it coughed and spluttered all the way downhill and struggled to get back up the hill again on the way home, and so was due for some more serious engine tuning work at Midland Motors.“For a very long time, I had the idea of what the first run in it would be like, such as sunshine and coffee and all those good things. The first real run was in the pouring rain on the way home from Midlands Motors. It was nothing like how I had imagined, but wow, I was happy!”
But the point was always just to drive it regardless of the purpose or weather, and over the last few months that’s exactly what Joel has been doing. There are now an extra few thousand miles on the clock, plenty of them earned off-road as well, as the tarmac west of Howick in the South African Midlands is conspicuously absent in a lot of places. With its all-new suspension components the Fulvia is wonderfully smooth to drive, an absolute delight on loose surfaces, although we do have to be careful to weaving around the bigger potholes.
A 50-year-old Italian classic that gets driven off-road as a daily driver is never going to be perfect concours condition of course, and there are currently leaks from the gearbox and crank seal and the coolant is disappearing somewhere, each of which will be a laborious job to rectify, but Joel fully accepts that the car can’t be kept consistently clean and immaculate, and he’s not going to drive it as though he’s treading on eggshells either. And as if the universe were out to prove his point, the very next day after our photoshoot someone backed a pick up truck into him…
Going uphill is the only time when the car really shows its age, as it’s seriously short on grunt on the slightest of inclines. At some point in its life it had the S specification engine taken out and a standard 1300cc one fitted instead. The missing horsepower may make a bit of a difference when it only has 87 to play with! Joel is already thinking ahead to a 1600cc unit coupled to a five-speed in the future though. Maybe the bumpers will come off too, and maybe he’ll fit some spotlights. And some HF wheels. And an electronic ignition system… But all this can only happen with some time and some more saving. For now the plan is to just continue to drive it tastefully while giving the odometer a good workout in the process.