Before there was a Stratos, or an 037, or an Integrale, Lancia was already making a big noise on the world rally scene with an elegantly styled yet surprisingly robust little two-door: the Fulvia coupe.
As a kid I can remember poring through rally round-up annuals, ogling pictures of Munari, Simo Lampinen, Vic Elford, Pauli Toivonen and Rauno Aaltonen raging along in their Fulvias, rooster tails of snow and dust spurting up from the front wheels, on the hunt of a Renault Alpine or a Ford Escort or a Porsche 911. Almost always the Lancias were red with a matt black bonnet, the script Lancia-Italia emblazoned across the leading edge of the bonnet. And while the Alpines, Escorts, 911s et al already seemed wonderfully exotic, there was something extra special about the svelte Italian.
The model that looked most like the rally cars, and therefore attracts most attention from deep-pocketed collectors these days, is the 1.6 HF Fanalone that you see here. Apparently the title of Fanalone was bestowed upon the little Lancia when some lewd-minded Italians decided that the prominent inner headlights reminded them of certain lady-esque protuberances - don't ask me, must be a Latin thing... However, the Fanalone was also a homologation special, with alloy bonnet, doors and bootlid to keep the weight down, and a pair of Solex 42mm sidedraft carburettors to keep the pace up.
Grab the chromed metal door handle, thumb the button to open the frameless, lightweight door. Drop down into the period sports seat; figure-hugging laterally but stopping short of your shoulders behind you. Adjust the non-inertial reel seat belt. Marvel at how slender they could make A-pillars in the days before rollover protection legislation (and how much vision they afford you). Glance up at how much headroom you have despite the Fulvia not seeming all that tall; rejoice in how low and unobtrusive the facia is. Note how far apart the speedo (left) and tacho (right) are, and how difficult that makes them to read in a hurry. Laugh at how randomly strewn all the minor switchgear is. Reach out with your left hand to touch the left-hand door, and make a mental note of how bloated modern cars have become.
Blip the throttle and there's a small delay until your request is answered; that's carbs for you. First gear is far left and back - a dog-leg, as they say. The 1.6 HF was the first Fulvia with a five-speed gearbox and, by using a dog-leg pattern, it put the most often-used ratios (second, third, fourth and fifth) into an 'H' pattern for greater convenience.
By modern standards the V4 - with its distinctive 'Fanalone' blue and yellow colour scheme - isn't all that grunty: it hasn't been dynoed, but this engine should produce between 115bhp and 132bhp. But what it might lack in bragging rights it makes up for in pure enthusiasm, especially if you keep it between 4000rpm and its power peak at 6000rpm. Do that and throttle response is ankle-twitch quick and the sheer pace perspiration-inducingly perky. This is a genuinely fast car even 33 years after its introduction, only its oh-my-gawd brakes letting the side down. It's characterful, too, with a sharp-edged snarl at the top end complemented by a cackle, crackle and pop from the exhaust on the overrun.
Point your cursor at the PistonHeads classifieds Lancia section and you'll find a major drawback to Fulvia ownership - rarity. With inevitable cost implications. A top-notch S1 HF Fanalone such as the one pictured here is likely to be in the order or £35,000. And when I asked Lancia specialist Omicron Engineering (whose 1.6 HF Fanalone and Fulvia Zagato are also pictured here) what's the minimum I should consider spending on a Fulvia coupe that I could drive around for a while without any major work, the answer was about £15k. Gulp...
You could spend a lot less, but it's a gamble. These Lancias are so problem-prone that specialist inspection is essential, unless you have deep pockets or are a talented engineer. And just so you know, the later S2 versions are cheaper and have better brakes.
Regardless of the risks I'd still love a Fulvia coupe, especially my dad's old one. I wonder if I'm nice to Stuart Dobson he might remember me in his will...