Flavia Zagato and Vignale

The Lancia Flavia, fifty years old this year, was probably the most refined middleweight Italian car of its time. In saloon form its boxy shape came to define Lancia four-door motoring in the sixties although it was never the commercial success the firm had hoped for.
Carlo Pesenti, the Italian cement tycoon who owned Lancia from the late fifties, only committed to the huge investment the all new Flavia represented on the basis of Fiats assurances that it would leave the market open and not produce its own saloon of similar size. He was mightily disappointed therefore when Fiat introduced its 1800/2100 range.
The Flavia was a beautifully made, beautiful riding car but always rather expensive for its performance. These were over-weight cars with a rather pedestrian image compared to the contemporary Alfa Romeos yet the Flavia had many technically novelties like an ultra smooth horizontally opposed all aluminium 4 cylinder engine (that could removed for servicing, along with its four speed gearbox, merely by unbolting the sub frame) split circuit disc brakes and, later, fuel injection.
The Flavia, the second of the three ‘F’ cars designed by Professor Antonio Fessia, was big brother to the much more successful V4 Fulvia with which it shared its basic suspension (a curious but effective blend of leaf springs and, at the front, double wishbones) and, like the Fulvia, it had front wheel drive. In deed the Flavia was the first Italian production car to be front-driven. In true Lancia fashion the Flavia, named after a road leading into Rome, was over engineered and it is unlikely that the firm ever turned much of a profit on it.
Head-to-head with cheaper, glossier Fiats and Alfas it was an expensive car and Lancia sought to extend its appeal with low volume models that would give the range a more performance orientated image. Pininfarinas Coupe version was a fully productionised steel bodied model built in its thousand and is, in fact, a more familiar representative of the Flavia range than the saloon in the UK market (it lived on into the Fiat era as Flavia 2000 and then 2000/2000HF coupe). However Lancia offered two short lived but even more exotic variants of the original 815 Series Flavia range bodied by Zagato and Vignale; the former was a closed 2+2 with perhaps the most unusual styling Zagato ever offered on a catalogued car. The latter, styled by Giovanni Michelotti on behalf of Vignale, was an elegantly sober convertible with the rare distinction of offering four real seats. Symptomatic of Lancias confusing model structure in the 60s (Fiat pruned it dramatically after 1969) the Flavia Sport and Convertible are the rarest and most collectable of the Flavia range.
The Convertible appeared first at the Turin show in 1962. It shared steel wheels, ‘D’ shaped rear lights and its combined speedo/rev counter instrument pod with the Flavia saloon and there was a family resemblance around its pouting grille to the other models in the range.  The hood tucked neatly out of the way flush in its well behind the rear seats and the Vignale looked particularly good with the optional steel hardtop fitted.
The Vignale Flavia, steel bodied, was a restrained design with a certain resemblance to the Maserati Sebring. It was based on the shorter coupe type floor pan and came at first with the 1500 engine up-rated to twin carburettors giving 90bhp and miserable low-down torque but many were modified using the 88mm cylinder liners to boost the capacity to 1727cc. This was known as the variante 1005 and it shifted the torque up to 103Ib/ft at 3000rpm whereas before there was only 85Ib/ft at 4500rpm.
The Zagato bodied Sport joined the Flavia family early in 1963, the brief from Lancia being that the car should be lighter and more slippery through the air than the standard coupe.
It was certainly lighter (by 100kg) and although there is no data on its aerodynamics Elio Zagatos eye for a wind cheating shape was well honed, although the car would have spent little if any time in a wind tunnel. Ercole Spada was tasked with drawing the shape and came up with possibly Zagatos most eccentric looking production car with a low nose, rounded sides a deeply curved windscreen and rear side windows that extended well into the roofline to give those in the rear (the Sport was a tight four seater) more light. The first few cars had semi-enclosed rear wheels but most Flavia Zagatos had conventional wheel arches. The rear window opened electrically just a few inches; on the move the difference in air pressure on the outside meant the gap acted as an air extractor for the cabin.
Technically Lancia provided Zagato with the same fabricated floor pan as was delivered to Vignale. Engine developments ran parallel with the Coupe and Vignale but when the factory 1.8 litre engine appeared in late 1963 Sports were delivered with a special twin carburettor 100bhp engine with a high lift camshaft whereas the Vignale (and PF Coupe) had the same 92bhp engine as the saloon. The rarest of these cars are the Kugelfischer fuel injected versions (there were 32 inezione 1.8 Flavia Sports and 43 convertibles) but they only had a couple of extra bhp and less torque so the benefit was derived in quietness better consumption.
The Convertible and Sport Flavias were listed until 1967, although production likely stopped rather earlier. In Britain in 1966 they listed at £2686 for the Vignale and £2736 for the Zagato which pitched them well above natural rivals like the Porsche 356, never mind the much faster Jaguar E-Type. Such comparisons likely meant nothing to the people who bought these cars. They were aimed at the discerning rich who wanted to drive something distinctive and whom price was largely irrelevant.
For most people they were probably quick enough in any case: Autocar squeezed 115mph out of its road test Flavia Zagato in 1965, an impressive figure for a 1.8 litre car 45 years ago. Of 726 Zagatos produced 25 are thought to have been imported into the UK. British import figures for the Vignale are not known but are likely to be of a similar order. In total 1601 were built.
It is always tempting to make comparisons with  certain Alfa Romeos when talking about sixties Lancias but really the Flavia, even when fitted with two door bodywork, is more of a relaxed touring car than a sports car. The flat four engine is smooth and flexible but doesn’t have the appealingly crisp throttle response of its little brother the Fulvia V4.
Dave Gee’s Flavia convertible, restored 9 years ago, has been up-rated to twin Solex carburettors and still requires a little fine tuning. Even so it pulls willingly from low revs and starts to go well beyond 3000rpm with that distinctive flat-four exhaust throb. The interior with its broad plastic trimmed front seats is austere in the typical Lancia fashion. There’s only a small transmission hump from which long, robust looking gear lever emerges. It has a narrow gate and light, precise movement with third a particularly handy ratio that takes you from 15 to nearly 80mph.
You sit lower in the Zagato facing the same wood-rimmed steering wheel and instrument pack. Many functions are worked off unmarked piano key style switchgear on the centre of the facia. It feels a shade livelier with strong, smooth torque but as in the Vignale the four speed gearbox, its lever seeming to emerge near horizontally from the centre console, has a precise, quiet and refined action combined with a smooth, progressive clutch. Both Flavias waft along easily at motorway speeds, the Zagato on very little throttle indicating that it is probably is as slippery as it looks, with great stability.  The saloon variant of the Flavia was one of the best-riding cars around in its day and the Zagato and Vignale bodied cars inherit much of its well damped smoothness but they are noisier. Power steering only became available on the 2 litre Flavias so the earlier cars make do with low geared steering that seems slightly ponderous at low speeds but feels quite positive when you go faster. They corner in an effortless way suggestive of much younger cars with little roll, modest understeer and no tug at the steering. Lancia had motorsport ambitions for the Zagato bodied version and the semi official HF Squdra Corsa team ran six of them in 1964 and 1965 in rallies, hill climbs and touring car events. Its best result was an outright win in the 1965 Coupes des Alpes but by then the much lighter and more nimble Fulvia coupe was on the way to take over as Lancia’s official rally weapon.
The arrival of the 819 series Flavias in 1967 signalled the end for these rare coach built variants as Lancia, haemorrhaging money, sought to rationalise its range. The firm’s relationship with Zagato continued with the much more conventionally attractive Fulvia Sport which became the coachbuilder’s best selling model ever. Vignale had no further connection with Lancia and were absorbed in Ghia.
In good order both these models, after decades in the doldrums, bring quite good money. At £10,000 or more the Vignale has an appeal as a rare Italian four seater open car, while the Zagato is a love-it-or-hate-it acquired taste that can command up to £20,000 now. They are enigmatic examples of Lancias brave engineering solutions and its need to offer variety in its last period of independence.

815 BERLINA 1960-67
The original Flavia. Very refined but undeniably ugly. Came original as 1500, supplemented by 1800 and 1800 injected versions. Good column change, sometimes with bench front seat. Rust prone and very rare now.

Pretty, practical 2+2 coupe with steel body, similar in profile to Ferrari 250GTE.  The first ones were 1.5 litre with twin carburettors but from 1963 1.8 litre with single carburettor was standardised in this body with the (rare) option, from 1965, of Kugelfischer fuel injection. Always four speed floor change.

819 FLAVIA BERLINA 1967-70
Handsome restyle made the four door Flavia look bigger and more impressive with a far more attractive dashboard. Column or (more usually) floor change, still four speed. Refined high speed cruisers which continued to be offered with the 1500 engine on the home market but we got 1800, 1800 injection and a late 2 litre Flavia 2000 model with or without injection. The injection cars had power steering.
820 FLAVIA 2000 LX 1970-71
Very short lived interim model with up-dated Girling (rather than Dunlop) brakes with separate drum for handbrake, improved gearbox.
820 2000 BERLINA 1971-74
Completely redesigned Flavia for the seventies, all 2 litres with bigger valves for improved torque and a Bosch fuel injected version boosting power from 115 to 125bhp to give the Flavia concept the power it always deserved. Plushly appointed with velour trim and ‘retro’ wooden facia. Early cars four speed but most five speed with dog leg first. Injection models have electric windows, all versions have power steering.
820 FLAVIA 2000 COUPE 1969-71
Restyled Pininfarina coupe four speed, usually with power steering and a few with kugelfischer mechanical injection. Dunlop brakes. Nicely detailed, huge boot and great touring car. Only the carburettor version came to the UK.

820 2000 & 2000HF COUPE
Last of the Pininfarina Coupes with rubber faced bumpers, alloy wheels and usually five-speed. HF was the Bosch fuel injected car with matt black grille and body stripes plus electric front windows.
This was the forward control light commercial chassis based on the Flavia completely with slightly detuned flat-four engine and disc brakes, making it surely the most advanced pick-up on the market. However it was expensive and proved rather fragile. Around 3000 built.

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