PH Heroes: Lancia Fulvia

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.

It may not have looked butch enough for the task, but the chic coupe brought the 1969 World Driver's title to Harry Kallstrom's trophy cabinet, gave Lancia the very last International Championship for Manufacturers crown in 1972 and, as a swansong before the mid-engined Stratos began stealing all the headlines and silverware, took Sandro Munari to the top slot in the 1973 World Rally Driver's Championship.

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 Fulvia's styling, of course, was fabulous; is still fabulous. Neat proportions. Confident stance. Intriguing yet not overwhelming details. Even in an era - the mid-1960s - that was awash with glamorous designs from Italy, France and occasionally Britain, the standard Fulvia coupe had star quality. But with the advent of the 1.6 HF series 1 in 1968, the two-door Lancia revealed a tougher look. It didn't take much; slightly broader tyres, incy-wincy wheelarch extensions, a small drop in ride height. Practically nothing by modern standards. Did the business, though.

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.

Red bodywork. Black wheelarch lips. Big inner headlamps. No bumpers. Matt black bonnet. Stuart Dobson's immaculate 1.6 HF Fanalone is pressing all the right emotional buttons as it stands on his driveway, bathed in the milky sunlight of a misty spring morning. This particular car is all the more evocative because it previously belonged to my father, and had a profound influence on my automotive development. During dad's tenure of the Fulvia I did get to drive it a couple of times, but wild fantasies of him gifting me the car to keep it in the family were depressingly far-fetched.

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.

Starting the HF is an old-school affair. Using a none-too-obvious lever beneath the facia, you give it some choke. Then you turn the facia-mounted ignition key round until upright, whereupon you press it inwards. With a hiss and a wheeze from the carburettors the narrow-angle V4 engine coughs and yelps into life. Yep, you read that correctly, a V4 motor. During this and earlier eras, while Lancias were often advanced and innovative, they were too over-engineered to be commercially viable, hence the company's consumption by Fiat.

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.

At parking speeds the steering is a biceps-buster - even allowing for no power assistance, it's extraordinarily heavy - but with a bit of pace it livens up, turning in eagerly and accurately despite some inertness around the straight ahead, threading together series of corners with fluency and flair. The quicker you go, the more capable and comfortable the HF becomes, the tall Michelins ever-more tenacious as your cornering speeds rise.

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.

What's so rewarding about the HF is that you have to work at it. The iffy brakes ensure that you have to plan your approach to fast corners, while the slight delay before the carburettors get fully on the case with fuelling give you a deeper appreciation of the need to get throttle inputs in good and early. These are the things that help you bond with the Fulvia, make you realise that your participation in the driving process has a profound impact on how quickly you can go. It's raw in the best possible way.

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...

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (79) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Neil G60 21 Feb 2011

    Very pretty. Good feature smile

  • sjmoore 21 Feb 2011

    That is gorgeous. Want.

  • chazwozza 21 Feb 2011

    Stunning little car, definately a 'want' in my classic car garage. If I had one.

  • RDRR 21 Feb 2011

    I own one!

  • Garlick 21 Feb 2011

    Lovely. More pictures of the car please smile

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