When they were new
Lancia Fulvia coupé
An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, April 1966 | By Bill Boddy
The latest model from Lancia of Turin, who have never made a really bad car, is the twin-cam narrow-V4 front-wheel-drive Fulvia, which in the coupé version has 1216cc and 80bhp, an increase of 8bhp over the saloon. Having to go up to Bangor for participation in a Bill Hartley Motoring Quiz BBC programme, I decided that this journey from Hampshire would be facilitated by using a proper motor car, such as this splendid little Lancia.
It all worked out splendidly and 586 miles were disposed of between breakfast and tea on two successive days, the Fulvia not only proving very entertaining to drive but capable of averaging 36mph overall, inclusive of halts for refuelling, luncheon and map-reading. In the course of the journey to my destination just below the Menai Bridge, the Fulvia attracted, like a magnet, Mini, Imp, Viva and Zephyr but contrived to outcorner them all.
On the outward run I filled up at Welshpool and was fed simply but quickly for half-a-guinea near Dinas-Mawddwy. After leaving Dolgellau for the slate mountains at Blaenau-Ffestiniog I had to press hard to stay ahead of an enthusiastically driven Mini; I apologise to its occupants if I held them up when I stopped to look at a Fowler steam-roller on this picturesque route. After joining the A5 at Betws-y-Coed the Fulvia hummed through rain-swept Capel Curig, most of the 3500 feet of Carnedd Llwelyn lost in the afternoon mist.
Coming home, I left Bangor by way of busy Caernarvon, got to Dolgellau via the Portmadoc Embankment toll road and enjoyed the Lancia’s impeccable cornering over the Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain route. It is difficult to know which to praise first – the splendid gearbox, the excellent road-clinging aided by Michelin X tyres, the front-drive that makes the car follow its nose but leaves the steering as light as that of any rear-engined car or the level, comfortable ride.
Perhaps I should start with the functional interior, the excellent all-round visibility and truly commendable driving position. The Fulvia coupé was contrived for the enthusiastic driver’s enjoyment, without any frills or unnecessary flamboyance. The steering wheel is placed exactly right and an eye can easily be kept on three small dials.
I found that the efficient squab adjustment and well-shaped upholstery of the seat kept me reasonably comfortable for nearly 303 miles at a sitting – the Fulvia’s seats are a compromise between the Issigonis theory that a seat must be uncomfortable to keep a driver alert and the obvious answer that the more restful the driving position the more efficiently you will drive… The squabs spring forward to let out dog, child or doubled-up grown-up who has come for a ride in the back.
Instrumentation on the wood facia, flanked by black crash-padding, is by high-quality Veglia dials and includes a neat little clock. A strip below the aforesaid dials contains all the warning lights. Wipers, heater fan (very noisy) and auxiliary lamps are operated by buttons, which I normally dislike, but those on the Fulvia are of sensible size and located on the facia, so brought no complaints. Lamp-flashing is accomplished by the excellent Lancia system of a ring that encircles the horn button in the centre of the steering wheel.
The tachometer is calibrated to 7000rpm, with an almost apologetic red line at 6000, but in normal motoring nothing so drastic is needed. The narrow-vee engine, which is canted over at a most remarkable angle and breathes through twin-choke Webers, is reassuringly smooth.
One’s first impression of the Fulvia coupé is the eager engine noise, as typical of the Turin product as the entirely delightful and individualistic gear-change and the brakes, which are very effective and, by their nature, so progressive that wheel-locking is easily avoided. The square-tipped needles rush impressively round the speedometer and tachometer dials, 70 being easy to attain in third gear, while in top this legal cruising speed doesn’t entail getting to quite 4000rpm, so comfortably is the willing little OHC power unit. The hum increases so far and no more, so the Fulvia delights the enthusiast without really offending the less appreciative ears of Mr and Mrs Average Car Owner.
It is natural to drop frequently to second gear in traffic, the gearbox encouraging continual use of the lever. Third is a quiet gear for use in fast-running traffic, and instant overtaking, an indicated 80 attained at 6000rpm, and without exceeding 5000 the speedometer shows more than 60mph. As to maximum speed in top gear, the maker modestly claims 100mph and an indicated 95 is easy to attain.
As we entered Snowdonia, I delighted in throwing the Fulvia around tight bends. It takes them impeccably, the steering finger-light, quick and responsive with not a trace of lost motion. The car is, however, at its best on fast, open curves, when the low gearing is less obvious and it feels glued to the Tarmac, wet or dry. I was asked to feed the Webers the best petrol, which they consumed at the rate of 29.8mpg when the car was being driven with ambition.
There are snags to any car but those affecting the Lancia Fulvia are minor. The wipers are rather too slow and, on this model, there is a very bad unwiped area on the driver’s side, and the clutch is light but somewhat harsh.
These, however, are mere midges in the soothing Fulvia ointment. I enjoyed my drive very much indeed and cannot rate it as expensive at its all-in British price of £1664. Indeed, it seems astonishing that it is not better known, and it deserves an enthusiastic acceptance. While I do not wish to criticise in any way the Triumph 1300, which I haven’t driven very far, surely anyone who says it stands alone as the best small car is either taking price into consideration, or has not tried the Fulvia…
Lancia Fulvia Factfile
Max speed: 100mph
Pretty, a delight to drive, and reliable if it’s had the right owners. Unusual narrow V4 and front-drive mix, plus rally-winning heritage. Motors range from 1.2 to 1.6; Series 2 from 1970 brought big brakes and five-speed ’box; 1974 Series 3 mostly visual mods.
Ideal spec: Rallye 1.6 HF Lusso, with close-ratio ’box.