Perhaps the best way to describe a vintage Lancia is as the ultimate connoisseur’s car. It is a car that one owns not for the image it projects to others, but for the experience it offers its owner. At the core of the company were two critical pillars: technical innovation and build quality. As far back as the years before World War I, Lancia distinguished itself on these axes, bringing the world’s first integrated electrical system in an automobile (1913), the first unitary body (in 1922 in a car which also had independent front suspension!), the first 5-speed gearbox (1948), the first V6 (1950), the first V4, and many other innovations. These cars were objectively expensive for the performance they offered, but the quality of engineering and construction left them essentially without peer for buyers who could appreciate these characteristics. For everyone else, they were a tough sell and this ultimately led to Fiat taking the company over in 1969.
Much of the company’s history was characterized by financial troubles, and in the 1950s, these were quite acute. The Lancia family watched the company lose considerable sums, resulting from poor sales performance of their Appia and Aurelia models, as well as a costly racing program which was abruptly terminated in May 1955, three days after Alberto Ascari lost his life in an accident at Monza driving a Lancia D50 Grand Prix car. The Lancia family ultimately sold their shares to Carlo Pesenti, a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in construction and cement, a process which occurred between 1955 and 1959. Pesenti tended to prefer the engineers with extensive theoretical education, and consequently gravitated toward Lancia’s new Technical Director Antonio Fessia, who had been intimately involved in the creation of Fiat’s wildly successful Topolino (500) and subsequently championed the front-wheel-drive F11 sedan powered by a horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine which was intended to be produced by CEMSA in the second half of the 1940s before they went out of business.
Fessia arrived at Lancia in March of 1955, and it wasn’t long before he was able to dust off the ideas behind the stillborn F11 to introduce a new midsize car to slot between the 1.1 liter Appia and the 2.5 liter Flaminia. Initially produced in 1.5 liter and later 1.8 and 2.0 liter forms, the new model was called the Flavia and featured front wheel drive and a horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, just like the F11. The car also employed unitary construction and four wheel disc brakes, making it one of Italy’s most sophisticated cars when it was introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1960.
Initially available as a square-rigged saloon, a coupe version of the Flavia was added in 1962, which featured a Pininfarina-designed body that looked rather like a smaller version of Ferrari’s handsome 250 GTE 2+2. It was tuned for a bit more power and embodied all of the traditional Lancia values of good road holding, innovative engineering, and superb build quality. Like its smaller sibling, the Appia, the Flavia showed buyers that a small car need not be a cheap car.
According to the car’s included libretto, it remained with its first owner until November of 2006. A short time later, the car’s current owner acquired it in Italy and imported it to Northern California, where it has remained since. It is extremely well-preserved and is believed to retain both its original paint and interior. Maintained by Jaan Hjorth and Rene Weigand of Burlingame Motors, the car is extremely well-sorted mechanically. Cosmetically, it has a charming patina but is also remarkably crisp in its presentation for an unrestored car of this age. The paint shows some oxidation and the chrome a bit of dullness, but the overall condition is impressive.
It runs and drives well, starting easily hot or cold. The engine carburates well, with good throttle response and is smooth throughout the rev range. The clutch takes up with a bit of judder but it is otherwise difficult to fault the driveline; the synchromesh works smoothly even from cold. The brakes are effective and confidence-inspiring, and the unassisted steering light, feelsome, and precise. It rides well, displaying good body control, and there is a light, athletic feel to the driving experience that is both coherent and rewarding. Every interface point with the car, whether it’s the feel of the steering or the noise of the shutting door speaks to the standards to which the car was engineered and built.