Spannerhead Dot

Posts filed under ‘Lancia’

Flawed Beauty: Lancia Gamma

June 4, 2016 by Matt

Lancia Gamma

The Lancia Gamma reprises a familiar story arc when it comes to Italian cars: Beautiful, ambitious, flawed.

Produced from model years 1976 to 1984 and sold only in Europe, the Gamma was offered in coupe and 5-door sedan (berlina) bodystyles. Powered by a SOHC flat four developing a healthy 138 horsepower in its later 2.5-liter version, the FWD Gamma moved with respectable alacrity for its day. The coupe weighed in at 2,850 lbs, a figure that ensured competent acceleration, handling and braking.

Lancia Gamma

The boxer engine configuration was chosen for a couple of reasons. Its lower center of gravity aided handling balance, but the real benefit was in the styling department: The hoodline could be more gradual, allowing for a very sleek profile. The overall design was penned by Pininfarina and is a masterpiece of proportion and understatement, especially considering the tacky, overwrought 1970s context of the car’s genesis.

Lancia Gamma

Rust was a major bugaboo for Lancia unibodies up until the late ’80s, and the Gamma’s sheetmetal had its share of challenges in that department. But the ambitious engine was the source of most of the Gamma’s problems. Its all-aluminum construction was underengineered, and any minor problems with one of the engine’s peripherals had a tendency to cascade and result in total failure. And speaking of peripherals, instead of being driven off the crank pulley as with most cars, the power steering pump was connected to the left timing belt, and when an additional load was placed on the pump—say, the steering was turned to full lock—the timing belt snapped under the strain, and, well, you can imagine the carnage that ensued.

Lancia Gamma Interior

The interior is sensibly laid out and has a decidedly no-nonsense German appearance, mildly surprising for an Italian machine but perhaps understandable in light of the Gamma’s competitors: Executive coupes like the BMW E24, Mercedes SL and Jaguar XJS. At least the switchgear is mostly reliable, especially compared to that of its British and Italian rivals.

Lancia Gamma Engine Motor

The Gamma was never imported to the US. While that might seem superficially unfortunate, at least the car’s lovely shape and powerplant were never marred by the 5-mph impact bumpers, sealed-beam headlights and performance-killing emissions equipment that afflicted those of its contemporaries that did make the trip across the Atlantic. No, the Gamma remains unmolested by US regulations, and the 25-year-old import rule makes it fairly straightforward for a moderately-determined enthusiast to be able to buy one in Europe, ship it and register it here. Sourcing replacement parts would be a challenge, especially given the Gamma’s maintenance requirements, but like with so many lovely Italian machines, I think the rewards of driving one or hell, just looking at one would outweigh the hassles of ownership.

Image credits:,,

1 Comment on Flawed Beauty: Lancia Gamma

FWD Champions:
The Lancia Fulvia Coupe

December 21, 2012 by Matt

Lancia Fulvia White

Well, this is a lovely car. That’s really the only adjective for it.

There are, of course, overtones of the Alfa 1750/2000 GTV, but the ’63-’76 Lancia Fulvia Coupe carves out its own niche. The four-headlight grille treatments of the GTV and Fulvia are similar, but the latter’s profile is much more delicate and lithe-looking, subtly betraying its FWD nature with more visual bias toward the front of the car. Between the pencil-thin C-pillars and the uninterrupted flow of the beltline alone the car’s ethereal flanks, the Fulvia has all the visual substance of one of Tolkien’s elves.

Lancia Fulvia Silver Rally

Also like the GTV, the Fulvia has a racing pedigree, winning Lancia’s first (of an eventual 11) International Rally Championship in 1972. Like the Mini Cooper, whose rally success preceded it, the Fulvia’s triumph vindicated the quality of its FWD architecture, coupled with an emphasis on light weight and handling precision over brute power.

Lancia Fulvia Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The delicacy of the interior matches the exterior as well, with a beautifully functional bank of readable gauges set into a swath of warm wood, and ample space in every direction. Rack and pinion steering is perfectly weighted and accurate, the front wheels connected by wishbones and the rears located by a beam axle and Panhard rod, similar to the later Saab 900‘s setup.

Lancia Fulvia Engine Motor V4

The Fulvia’s engine is somewhat unique: It’s a 1.2-1.6 L, longitudinally-mounted V4 tilted at 45°, sending power to the front wheels via a transaxle mounted to the rear of the engine. The powerplant is similar to the much-later Volkswagen VR6 engine in that a single cylinder head spans the narrow angle between the two banks. In the end, the piston arrangement is as much a staggered inline-4 layout as a V configuration, allowing a measure of compactness in both width and length.

Mechanically and aesthetically, the Fulvia is simply an elegant car, and I imagine that it moves with grace and aplomb befitting its lines. If there was ever a car to convert me to FWD, this is it.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

4 Comments on FWD Champions:
The Lancia Fulvia Coupe

Technical Curiosities:
An Automotive AWD System Primer

December 14, 2012 by Matt

AWD 4WD All Wheel Drive Systems Badges Emblems Audi Quattro Mercedes Benz 4matic Subaru BMW 325ix

Prompted by a recent online forum discussion wherein I explained the difference between BMW’s and Audi’s AWD powertrain layouts, I thought I’d put together a short rundown of front-engined AWD solutions.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked a configuration or two. If you think of one I haven’t covered, post a comment and I’ll add it to this primer!

Car All Wheel Drive AWD 4WD Layout Drawing Diagram Schematic

Standard layout – The illustration above depicts what I’ll call the standard layout—basically a RWD setup with a transfer case attached to the rear of the transmission, sending power to the front wheels via a secondary driveshaft, front differential and axles. All four wheels must be able to turn at different speeds for dry pavement use, so the standard layout incorporates a center differential within the transfer case.

Advantages of this layout include the ability to position the engine further rearward for better weight distribution within the chassis, and the fact that it’s a relatively simple affair to convert a RWD car to AWD using a few extra parts. Among the downsides are additional complexity compared to the other methods described below, as well as a higher center of gravity since the front differential and axles must fit under the engine, and the transfer case and secondary driveshaft run beneath the car as well.

Automakers that use this layout: BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Infiniti, Cadillac, etc.

Car All Wheel Drive AWD 4WD Layout Drawing Diagram Schematic

Standard transverse layout – Similar to the first configuration, the standard transverse layout is a conversion of a “regular” 2WD (in this case FWD) powertrain setup to AWD. A transfer case, including a center diff, is attached to the rear of the transmission and sends power to the rear wheels through a (long) driveshaft and conventional rear diff and axles.

It’s a relatively compact setup, and commonly added to FWD cars. That said, the engine placement is still limited and the fact that so many components are concentrated near the front of the car means weight distribution is very often less than ideal. Also, the front-rear torque split is almost invariably biased toward the front wheels, only sending power to the rears when the front start to slip, making the car for all intents and purposes FWD, except in certain select circumstances.

Automakers that use this layout: Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Mazda, etc.

Car All Wheel Drive AWD 4WD Layout Drawing Diagram Schematic

All-in-trans layout – Subaru and Audi pioneered this layout in the ’70s and ’80s, respectively. Everything, including the front diff, is contained inside the transmission casing, and the front axles simply sprout from the sides of the bellhousing.

Both the upsides and disadvantages of the all-in-trans layout are significant. Its configuration is simpler and more compact than any other, and comparatively very robust. Also, having all the mechanicals “on the same plane” allows the car’s CG to be relatively low. All that said, a quick glance at the schematic above reveals the layout’s major downside: The engine must sit fully in front of the transmission and front axle line, utterly destroying any hope of reasonable weight distribution. To Audi’s credit, in the past 5 years or so, they’ve managed to rearrange components inside the transmission such that the front axle line can now move in front of the clutch, improving weight distribution slightly. Better—but they’re still a long way from a 50-50 front-rear balance.

Automakers that use this layout: Audi, Subaru, some Volkswagens (those built on platforms shared with higher-end Audis).

Car All Wheel Drive AWD 4WD Layout Drawing Diagram Schematic

Both-ends layout – This one’s rather creative. It represents Ferrari’s solution to the “AWD problem” and was first introduced with their 2011 FF top-of-the-line shooting brake. Instead of siphoning power from the back of the engine to send forward, the FF’s V12 has a second transmission mounted to the front of the engine, without a differential, sending power to the front wheels via a pair of clutches. For its part, the actual transmission is mounted at the rear of the car in a classic performance car transaxle layout.

The boon to weight distribution from the both-ends layout is clear: The entire engine can, and indeed must, be pushed behind the front axle line. It’s relatively simple, mechanically. But the car’s wheelbase and styling proportions have to follow the layout, and can look rather stretched, as any consideration of the FF’s profile will attest to. Also, the lack of a front differential limits the power sent forward to only 20% of the engine’s output, not a great help in many situations.

Automakers that use this layout: Ferrari.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting obscure automotive engineering solutions. Read the other installments here:

5 Comments on Technical Curiosities:
An Automotive AWD System Primer

A Top Gear Take on Lancia

November 19, 2012 by Matt

Lancia Montecarlo Monte Carlo Scorpion Red

Really been jonesing for one of these lately. Maybe not a mid-engined Lancia Montecarlo (sold in the US as the Lancia Scorpion) as shown above, but for a Lancia in general.

What’s the appeal? Imagine a car with the cachet, élan and romance of a classic Alfa Romeo, but rare as hen’s teeth, and even less practical.

What’s attractive about an impractical car? Well, why are we often drawn to others so dissimilar to ourselves? Where’s the “practicality” in that kind of arrangement? Sometimes we just want the heartbreakers, and there are few marques able to break hearts quite as effectively as Lancia.

A few years ago, the Top Gear presenters asked themselves which automaker had produced the largest number of great cars, and after some deliberation, they (rather surprisingly) passed over such legends as Ferrari, BMW and Jaguar and settled on Lancia. The following couple of clips span only part of the show’s coverage of the brand, but they illustrate at least somewhat the cars’ appeal to obscure car nuts like myself, and if nothing else showcase some lovely shots of classic Lancias in motion.

Click here to view the video clips!

3 Comments on A Top Gear Take on Lancia