Driving the 1.8-litre Pininfarina coupe version is a reminder of the excellence of this front-drive, flat four Lancia
When the ordinary Lancia Flavia came along for road-test late in 1961, driving it proved a very enjoyable experience, and I see that I headed our report with the words “The 1½-litre light-alloy, flat-four, front-wheel-drive, disc-braked saloon from Turin demonstrates impeccable manners, safe handling, great refinement, splendid suspension and a very smooth engine.”
That adequately describes the Pininfarina coupe version of the Flavia, with the engine enlarged from 1,500 c.c. to 1,800 c.c.
This is not so much an attenuated GT coupe as a coupe in the older tradition, with full-size back seat and a not-too-sharply falling roof-line, so that four persons can occupy it in reasonable comfort.
The increase in swept volume has transformed the Flavia, giving it a top speed of nearly 110 m.p.h. and enabling it to devour motorways at a smooth, secure 100 m.p.h. The 88 x 74-mm. push-rod o.h.v. flat-four engine develops 92 (net) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., maximum torque at 3,000 r.p.m., which provides acceleration of the order of 0-60 m.p.h. in 13½ sec., a s.s. ¼-mile in 19 sec. The gear ratios are reasonable, allowing this acceleration to be taken to 55 m.p.h. in 2nd gear, 77 m.p.h. in 3rd gear. This is very good going from 1.8-litres but it is the manner in which it handles and runs that makes the Lancia Flavia one of the World’s really commendable cars. The steering is lowgeared but the turning circle is truly small, in spite of f.w.d. It is precise, quick steering, heavy for parking, otherwise not too heavy. It is steering which gives great confidence when picking a brisk way through tightly packed traffic. Then the Flavia’s suspension is first class—very efficiently damped, firm yet comfortable, and providing a notably level ride (except when some sway is built up), although in this latter respect the 6½-in. longer wheelbase saloon is even more outstanding.
The Flavia’s Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels, allied to a vacuum-servo of Lancia’s own conception, are superb. They are light and absolutely progressive as well as vice-free and very powerful.
Add to the foregoing handling which is typical of a front-wheel-drive car yet again vice-free, and it should be possible to appreciate why this Lancia is not only a fast car from place-to-place but as enjoyable to drive under these conditions as it is when hemmed in by “mimsers”—in brief, a restful, confidence building car, entirely in sympathy with discerning owners. It is a car in which the front wheels can be felt through the steering, at the expense of some rather vicious kick-back at times; there is vigorous castor-return. Pressed hard on tight turns, the Flavia goes round a thought untidily in a manner of its own but if the throttle is open the well-damped suspension, leaf-spring at the front, keeps the car on course, in spite of a faint sense of softness from the rear ½-elliptic springing.
The engine accelerates with a willing “hard” sound, and considerable fan noise, and starts promptly with minimum use of the little choke lever hidden under the facia on the right of the steering column. The gears are changed by a hefty, long, heavily spring-loaded central lever in the Turin tradition, which has long movements but functions with far less effort than its appearance suggests. Unless the clutch, which is heavy, is fully depressed, the change from 1st to 2nd gear is apt to be clonky. The pedals are rather unusually hung.
There is a conventional pull-up central hand-brake lever and a delightful wood-rimmed steering wheel, entirely complementary to the really excellent driving position. It has that practical idea of a hub which flashes the headlamps and an outer ring which sounds the pleasant but penetrating Fiamm air-horns.
The control and instrumentation arrangements of this 2-door coupe, the external appearance is smart rather than striking, are virtually the same as those of the Flavia saloon we reported on in January 1962, so need not be dealt with in detail. Before the driver is a horizontal hooded 120-m.p.h. Veglia speedometer, easy to read but contrasting curiously with the small tachometer on its right, which reads up to 6.500 r.p.m., with a warning spot at 5,600. There are warning lights for lamps on, full-beam and hand-brake on/choke out, as well as the expected warnings, all rather large. The four rather big push-buttons for sidelamps, heater-fan, headlamps and wipers are on a horizontal panel for right-hand operation, with a small washers’ control outboard of them, matched by the panel-lighting button, and when the lights are on, depressing a button on the end of the very precise r.h. turn-indicators’ stalk dips the beams of the small dual headlamps. The facia is apparently of wood, but I suspect of Formica, and occasionally the sun glints from the bright spokes of the steering wheel. There is no cubby-hole, but a most useful and commodious basket pulls out easily from under the facia on the passenger’s side, and swings out of sight just as easily. It is lockable and is altogether an excellent idea—for stowing oddments and parcels, not, as someone suggested, in case of car-sickness. There are no door pockets, but rigid map-carriers on both sides of the scuttle. Below the speedometer are uncalibrated square gauges for temperature, fuel, oil pressure and dynamo charge, labelled, and with a warning light for low petrol level. The fuel filler is beneath a locked flap on the rear o/s of the body and the filler-cap is stamped with the tank capacity—10½ gallons in our language.
The seats, upholstered in dark blue cloth on the test car, leather being an expensive extra, are another good feature of the Flavia. The driver is held securely, the squabs adjust easily over a big range, and the cushions are somewhat hard, but generally comfortable. Access to the back seat is by tilting forward the squabs. There are sill internal door locks, and the rear side windows act as vents, while there are air ducts on the facia. The quarter-lights were stiff to seal against their rubbers and the rubber along the outside of one window tried to detach itself.
The luggage boot is notably deep, but has the spare wheel set vertically under a cover on the o/s. Refinements include the red lights which show when a door is open and an illuminated engine compartment, although the bonnet needs propping.
Good as the detail appointments of this Lancia Flavia are, they are but complementary to the very fine handling qualities of this remarkable Italian motor car. Every mile in the Flavia was enjoyable, and not extravagant, for I recorded 27.7 m.p.g. of 100-octane fuel, helped a little, perhaps, by one day motoring almost entirely in Mr. Marples’ 50-m.p.h. speed-limits. This is excellent for a car of this capacity and performance. After 1,000 miles I withdrew the dip-stick, to find the oil level had dropped to the low-mark; a quart of Mobiloil Special restored the level.
Externally, good finish, solid bumpers and rather prominent rear number-plate lamps characterise this covetable coupe. It is a car to dream about, as most of us have to do at its English price of £2,496 19s. 7d. But those who can afford a Flavia will be well repaid by the car’s refinement, comfort, verve and impeccable road manners. This is a car, like the Rover 2000, designed for braced-tread tyres, Michelin ‘X’ on the test car, otherwise Pirelli Cinturato.
There is current a sad story that Lancia of Turin are in financial straights. I hope sincerely that such rumours are unfounded, but in case there is a grain of truth in them, everyone who can do so should go out and buy Fulvias, Flavias and even Flaminias in the hope of perpetuating a deservedly great name in motoring.