An imperfect classic
The principle of supercharging is as old as the hills, but it’s a brave manufacturer who re-introduces the system at a time when others pursue the “something for nothing” turbocharger route. But Lancias have always been a little different, and by adding the Roots-type Volumes supercharger to their two-litre engines in the pretty Coupe and the useful HPE the Italian company has extended its range with a pair of cars which will probably be regarded as classics in years to come, out of the same mould as the delightful Fulvia of yesteryear.
The long stroke, iron block engine comes from Fiat’s line, the bore and stroke of 84 x 90 mm giving a familiar 1,995 cc capacity. It is mounted transversely to drive the front wheels, and takes units Lancia identity with an alloy crossflow cylinder head, a twin overhead camshaft with a 65-degree layout, and a good old-fashioned Weber 36 DCA carburetter. The Volumes supercharger is at the front of the engine, alongside the carburetter and driven by a cogged belt direct from the crankshaft. There is an opaque float chamber at the top of the supercharger, and a note in the handbook warns the owner to check the level of the lubricating oil every 500 kilometres (about 300 miles), which could be a chore on a long journey.
The front-hinged homes allows limted accessibiliry to the engine. The supercharger tam the right of the engine, driven by a cogged belt direct from the crankshaft.
The object of supercharging was not so much to gain extra power as to increase the torque, and Lancia has been totally successful in this respect. Compared with the normally aspirated Coupe engine, which develops 122 bhp, the power has increased by an ultra-conservative 10.6 per cent to 135 bhp at the same engine speed, 5,500 rpm. Torque, however, has increased by 17.8 per cent, from 129 lb.ft at 2,800 rpm to 152 lb.ft at 3,000 rpm.
The normally aspirated engine is equipped with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection which is not suitable for the addition of a supercharger, and the power unit has undergone a number of other changes including reshaping the cylinder head and fitting new pistons to lower the compression ratio to 7.5:1, adoption of a competitions specification cylinder head gasket, sodium cooled exhaust valves and en-metal con-rod bearings. The lubrication and cooling systems have also been revised with a thermostatic by-pass oil cooler incorporated, and the exhaust system has been reworked.
There is much more to the Coupe Volumes than merely bolting on a supercharger, clearly, other modifications including closing the ratios on the five-speed gearbox, doubling the springs on the clutch pressure plate and fitting stiffer road springs, while from the outside the Volumes version is distinguished by its black-painted air dam and a miniature rear spoiler across the boot lid.
The result of all this work is a vivacious the boot lid. unmistakable hallmark of Lancia’s pedigree, selling for a very reasonable £7,995 which is some £719 dearer than the injected Coupe IE. The purchase price is one thing, but the owner then faces running costs which include an average fuel consumption in the very low 20’s which is quite unacceptable in this era; our best conswnption figure was 23.5 mpg, our worst 19.3 mpg, seemingly made all the worse by the poor range per tank. According to the brochures the tank holds 52 litres of fuel (11.4 gallons), but the yellow warning light comes on “solid” when eight gallons have been used, giving the car a comfortable touring range of only 160-180 miles.
We would not expect a carburated engine to be as fuel efficient as one with electronic ignition, and neither would we expect a supercharged engine to be as economical as a normally aspirated unit — even so, a target consumption figure some 25% better should have been a prime objective of the development team, together with making better use of the capacity of the fuel tank. Some family cars of comparable performance are capable of returning better than 30 mpg in similar conditions, and there are machines with almost twice as much power which give consumption figures similar to the Lancia’s.
Having got our main complaint out of the way, more about the car, a mixture of unaariYed driving pleasure and infuriating criticisms. We would regard the Pininfarina styled Coupe as being one of the prettiest available, the VX version’s additions keeping the styling up to date. It is marketed as a two-plus-two, but only achieves this by restricting the seat runners So that anyone over 5 ft 9 in is short of legroom; if the driving seat went back as far taller Person would like, it would be a two-plus-one! The seats are by Recaro, ecl with Ermenegildo Zegna woo) says here) and with adjustable –wes to support the thighs — or would support the thighs of a shorter driver. Ours were always well clear of the cushion’s leading edge, contact being only through the buttocks and the backrest.
There are some very nice features to be found inside the car, including back-lit coloured symbols on the rocker switches making them very easily located at night, and twin push-button interior lights overhead, one to illuminate the cabin and another being a swivelling pencil beam for map reading. The bronze tinted windows are electrically operated, a manual sunroof is fitted, and the instrument tableau is well laid out with a rev-counter matching the speedometer, having a green sector from 1,600 rpm to 3,000 rpm “for economical driving”, and the red sector starting at 6,300 rpm
MacPherson strut suspension is fitted at the front and rear with anti-roll bars, the rear one also acting as a radius rod. The Coupe has servo-assisted rack and pinion steering, and solid discs all round also with a servo. Cromodora alloy wheels come as standard with Pirelli P6 tyres.
A brisk performer
The real pleasure of the Coupe Volumex is actually driving the car, of course. .The engine is a very prompt starter, the Weber having a cold-start device, and has just the right induction noise to make you aware that this is no ordinary souped-up sedan. We had to remember, though, to park the car at night facing the direction we wanted to go the next day since the gearbox refused to engage reverse until the oil was thoroughly warm!
Vivacious is an adjective that comes to mind time and again. The clutch is beautifully smooth and the Lancia moves away briskly, the close ratio box contributing to the pleasure of driving. It has a very faint whine that does not offend in any way, rather contributing to the sporty character of the car, and the sturdy lever has a positive action that makes light work of the first four ratios, though fifth is rather baulky and difficult to engage. This, we were told, was due to incorrect adjustment.
Speeds in the gears are 28 mph in first, 58 mph in second, 95 mph in third and 113 mph in fourth, the maximum claimed speed being 124 mph. Only by going briefly into the red sector on the rev-counter could we reach 60 mph in second gear and break nine seconds in our acceleration runs, the average being an on-par 9.1 sec, with 80 mph seen in 16.5 sec and 100 mph in 28.8 sec. After a visitation to the 6,000 rpm realm (there is no cut-out, unusually) the engine pinked noticeably in the next higher gear for several seconds, suggesting that there is some potential local overheating.
The Volumex actually feels quicker than the stopwatch says, revving very freely and having so much torque. It is in fact much more rewarding to drive the car on its torque curve since it pulls extremely strongly from 1,500 rpm, and feels more like a 3-litre engine when it gets into its stride. This is where the supercharger really pays off, having no lag, no flat-spots and no sudden bursts of power, just a steady surge of power and torque all the way up.
When delivered, the Lancia’s newly fitted P6 tyres were under-inflated, but inflating them to the maximum recommended 32 pounds enabled us to explore the limits of roadholding. The power steering was rather lighter than we cared for, and felt undergeared, but the car’s turn-in to corners is very sharp. Initial understeer balances out at higher speeds and, having driven the same car at the Donington race track a few days previously, at Lancia’s Press introduction, we knew that at the limits of adhesion the car actually oversteers. It’s hard to think of another front-drive car which will oversteer with power applied, and this characteristic made the car very reassuring and rewarding to drive on fast roads. The 14-inch diameter Cromodora alloy wheels have 5½ J rims rather than 6J which is fairly standard for sporting cars in this class, but then the kerb weight of 1,095 kilogrammes (2,409 pounds) is perhaps a little lighter than the Porsche 924, for example. The net effect is very high cornering capability and neutral characteristics, with braking very ably taken care of by the all-disc system.
The twin headlamps system gives a very good spread of light on “full” with good Penetration, though the dipped beam is markedly less efficient. All the lighting is controlled by one stalk on the right of the column, aft of the indicators, while the wipers are operated by a lever on the left.
The general impression given by the Lancia Coupe Volumex is that it’s a real driver’s car (“just like a Formula car” our photographer remarked). The beefy engine, the faint sup,charger whine, the close ratio gearbox and The taut handling characteristics combine to give the car a Pedigree feel totting it apart from the breed of quick family saloons whch snap at its heels. Sadly, our memory of the car will be tinged by some major shortcomings: the poor fuel economy and range, the inadequate, seating adjustment and the baulky, fifth/reverse gears are features that some people just could not live with.