Lancia Flaminia Touring C&SC
In the enchanted forest of the classical Lancia the Touring bodied Flaminia convertible is still something of a sleeping princess. I’m not the first to pursue this line in a story about these rather over looked V6 Lancias that has lived so long in the shadow of the Aurelia – and I doubt I will be the last – but with fifty years now passed, and Aurelia Spider prices looking so strong (£100,000 routinely) surely the time has come to reappraise its direct successor, currently valued at say £25,000, in a new light?
Putting aside emotional, aesthetics and even technical issues there are certain basic facts about these marvellous cars that surely put them in the front line of classics that are on the cusp of ‘discovery’ – at which point they will be swept out of the reach of all but a few posing collectors who will probably never drive them.
The first thing to appreciate is the rarity of these cars. In total Lancia built more than 12,000 Flaminias but Carrozeria Touring of Milan were only responsible for 2750 of those, 1048 of which were convertibles. Although listed in the UK from 1960 to 1967 no serious attempt was made to build right handed examples (in fact there were six right hookers) and most, like the car pictured here, came in as private imports. Touring of Milan went bust in 1966 and it probably built its last Flaminia in 1964, although Lancia were still selling them a ‘new’ cars as late as 1968, which didn’t amuse some owners. They were cheerfully broken for spares in the seventies and eighties and the current survival rate is anyone’s guess although I suspect they outweigh the poor sedans. It’s funny how the rare versions of some cars in the end become the most common…
Like the Aurelia the Flaminia Convertible had an aura of glamour and sophistication that suggested the sultry decadence of the Via Veneto or the effortless sexuality of a Marcello Mastroianni but it is all too easy to make the mistake of comparing it with brawny contemporary products of Modena or Newport Pagnell which tended to have bigger engines, much more power and a far less sophisticated chassis specification.
The Flaminia, low and svelte as its Touring bodywork appeared, was developed from Italy’s most refined and patrician saloon as daily transport for Italian professionals. It was exotic in its layout, detailing and materials – from the thermostatic shutters of its radiator to the finned alloy sump on its husky four speed transaxle – but here also was a tractable, refined car capable of 25mpg and with a pushrod, single camshaft engine that tended to stay in tune. It was a quick car in its day but it was never intended to be an alarmingly fast one in the mould of a Maserati or a Ferrari but more of a high geared long distance car that just happened to have a superbly balanced chassis and about the best brakes and steering of anything on the road at the time.
The memory of the Aurelia has always been so jealously guarded that, somehow, the Flaminia – often dismissed as merely a routine development of the earlier car, which it wasn’t – has never been allowed to find its stride as a ‘classic’. It was designed by a cold theorist called Professor Fessia rather than that intuitive romantic Vittorio Jano and with no particular racing pedigree to its name never really captured imaginations in the same way.
Yet, at the time of the saloons introduction in 1957 (the Touring GT’s followed in 1959 and 1960) it was widely accepted that Lancia had successfully taken the concept of its six cylinder, transaxle equipped flagship car to a higher level with much more refined unequal length wishbone front suspension (thus eliminating the steering shimmy associated with the traditional sliding pillar) and a V6 engine, with its forged alloy pistons and fully machined crankshaft, that was both structurally stiffer and less beset with the vibrations that are inherent in a V6. It also had a freer breathing cylinder head and an even stronger bottom end than its predecessor.
Everything about the car’s engine and drive train was assembled to an almost obsessive standard of quality that was the highest Lancia achieved post-war. The Flaminia was a product of the Pesenti era; the Cement tycoon of took control of Lancia in the mid fifties and should have been looking to rationalise the firms rambling, loss making range and chaotic factories yet he had the instincts of an enthusiast rather than a business man when it came to cars and proved unwilling to make any changes that would compromise the firm’s reputation for build quality.
The Flaminia, like the Flavia and to a lesser extent the Fulvia, was a model that seemed to subvert all attempts at turning a profit. It was perhaps too much a car of hidden refinements and subtly that was lost on all but a handful of knowledgeable connoisseurs. Other than triple Weber carbs and a bigger 146bhp 2.8 litre engine in 1962 Lancia made little attempt to up-date the Flaminia which became rather side lined as the Flavia and Fulvia ranges began to gain momentum.
In a sense Touring’s chic efforts on the Flaminia chassis, while visually satisfying, rather undermine the quality of the engineering underneath. The factory saloon and Pininfarina Coupe had nicely finished bodies but, like the Sport by Zagato the Tourings GT convertible always had the slightly insubstantial feeling of a car that was intended to give a few seasons of pleasure for some rich hedonist before being passed on to make way for the next high performance trinket.
I’m sure anyway that the original Roman owner of David Wakefield’s 1960 convertible would be surprised to see it giving such good service almost fifty years on around the lanes of Tunbridge Wells.
‘In the 70s I had a Fulvia which I really liked’ says Wakefield, a retired chartered accountant ‘I bought the Flaminia off a local man who had it for sale but the engine was out. When I saw the engine with its finned sump and black crackle rocker box covers I was absolutely smitten and I had to have it. I had it on the road by 1981 and we took it to the 75th Anniversary meeting in Turin. I had an AC Ace at the time but now the Flaminia is my only car and I begin to see now it will see me it out. It’s very practical and reliable, although my wife is beginning to complain about getting in and out of it – but she’ll put up with it because we go on some nice trips in it.’
‘The engine and gearbox are bulletproof and I’m keeping the corrosion at bay; the only shortcoming is the brakes, particularly the original brake servo – what a disaster! – but I’ve fitted a modern remote twin circuit servo which works well.’ The Dunlop brakes are basically Jaguar in origin so there will be no problem sorting them when the time comes.
In the eighties David would take the Flaminia daily into his office in London running it on the firm for ten years. He still drives it almost every day for shopping and, once or twice a year, takes it on a continental holidays. ‘I cruise it at 80mph and I’ve never help it needs an overdrive.’
The Flaminias hood stows easily and completely out of sight revealing a wide and roomy cockpit with slender seats. There’s only a slim prop tunnel to contend with so there is plenty of foot room and despite the intrusion of the clutch bell housing the space behind the seats could certainly take a unrestrained dog. The foot pedals are of meaty dimensions and emerge from the floor boards. The wood rimmed wheel and incongruous under-dash handbrake lever is similarly man-sized. There is an austere elegance to the cabin, with its big clocks and chunky knobs of unidentified function strewn across the dash, that chimes in with the tool room feel of the Flaminia and the fact the Superleggra body, with its complex of narrow tubes over which the elegant alloy panels are hung, is the product of a firm that once built aircraft.
Turn the big black key for ignition and press it in to work the starter using just a little throttle. You can feel a slight thrum through the pedals but this V6 is silkily responsive. The flat torque curves leaves you with a sensation of effortlessness and the V6 will pull its leggy top gear quite willingly from 1500rpm and continue surging forward. There’s quite a big gap between top and the 90mph third but it is a pleasure to snick the short lever forward, a chrome shaft that emerges from the side of the prop tunnel, and send revs whipping around the un redlined dial towards 5500rpm. The V6 sounds throatily expensive under duress but never strained.
The tall tyres, the same 165x 400 Michelin X covers as a Citroen DS on rather undistinguished steel wheels, treat irregularities with a light touch of subtle contempt that makes you wonder what has happened to ride quality in modern cars. There is something similarly disdainful and well bred about the Flaminia’s effortlessly precise and largely neutral handling. It rolls just so far but no further and with that wonderfully light and direct steering and a general poise and balance that leaves you with a sensation of strength and one-ness.
Much of this can be put down to the Dedion tube, which is tied to the car by a panhard rod and cart springs, and keeps the rear tyres square to the road. The massive (and expensive to replace) sliding sleeve inner pot joints made sure the Flaminia didn’t suffer unrefined Triumph style spline lock up when accelerating hard out of corners. Also, with the outer universal joint located outside the road wheel (in other words behind the hubcap) Lancia ensured less angular movement but more travel, which was good for the ride (but not profits)
Apart from the brakes – which are now excellent – the only real problems with the Flaminia, which has been up-rated to 3C Triple Weber specification form the original single Solex, has been with sourcing the massive rear wheel bearings that need replacing about every 20 years, but David feels that the parts situation for the Flaminia now is better than when he first bought the car almost 30 years ago.
‘Because it’s an aluminium body it corrodes rather than rusts but we have kept on top of it. I’ve never really restored it, just kept it on the road. I’ve got a friend who has spent £100,000 on an Aurelia Spider but he doesn’t intend to use it…’
In a way it would be a shame if the Flaminia went the way of the Aurelia but, for me, it is looking in evitable. Traditionally the market has always taken a long time to wake up to Lancias but I’ve got a feeling the time has come for the Flaminia convertible, probably with other fixed head versions hot on its heels. In a way I hope I’m wrong.
Sold/number built 1960-64/1048
Construction Alloy body on tubular steel frame
Engine V6 2458cc
Max power 140bhp @ 5600rpm
Max torque 150Ib/ft @ 3600rpm
Transmission 4 speed manual in-unit with differential
Suspension front Unequal length wishbones and coil springs
Suspension rear Half elliptic springs, Dedion tube
Steering worm and sector
Brakes Dunlop solid disc 11.5 in front and 12 in rear
0-60 10.5 secs
Top speed 118mph +
Price new £3787
Price now £25,000