|Lancia Trevi dashboard|
And the Trevi, which can lay claim to having the greatest dashboard design of any car. Ever.
It isn't all about rose tinted glasses either. As Jeremy Clarkson recently explained on The Grand Tour, Lancia's technical innovation enabled it to beat Audi at its own game on the rally stages - the company's gorgeous 037 rally car beat the Quattro by being more agile and, amazingly, more reliable.
So why are we all driving anonymous Audis instead of stylish Lancias? Today Audi offers us 15 different models. Lancia has one. And you can only buy it in Italy. It's a posh Fiat Punto. How did we get here?
|Lancia Delta Integrale|
|Lancia Thema 8.32|
The culprit, of course, is platform sharing, an idea pioneered by Fiat but popularised by VW. As the plethora of identikit Skodas, Seats, Audis and Volkswagens tends to show, platform sharing often leads to decisions driven by the lowest common denominator. For Fiat this meant front wheel drive Alfas when the world wanted rear wheel drive, and Lancias that eschewed innovation and style in favour of cost cutting.
Platform sharing obviously makes sense as car companies seek economies of scale. It works where the brands applying it are largely functional, mass market and anodyn. Seat, Skoda, Audi and VW buyers aren't, in the main, looking for individuality and quirkiness. Before platform sharing, few car buyers got emotional about any of these brands in quite the same way as Italian car fans so the compromises were less obvious. Lancia and Alfa buyers, on the other hand, are. In order to deliver the compromises required by platform sharing, the Italian brands had to sacrifices too much of their DNA, one key ingredient of which is individuality.
Not surprisingly, Lancia sales dwindled as Fiat performed a Jenga-like gradual withdrawal of every reason to buy one. Over the last 20 years Lancia has been brought to its knees by a combination of boring, commonplace cars and a lack of new models. The new Delta was a decent-looking, individual car and the Ypsilon is unusual. But by the time Fiat got round to launching them nobody really cared. Buyers had migrated elsewhere.
And yet, all is not necessarily lost. Skoda was dead in the water when VW bought it and is now a proper driving force. Likewise, Alfa Romeo has skimmed along the margins for nearly as long as Lancia and now appears to be on its way back. There is still a lot of love out there for Lancia. So, who knows? Surely there is room for a left-of-centre, quality, luxurious, technically advanced premium brand that isn't German?
At Great Escape Cars we hope Lancia does get a second (or third) chance. A rejuvenated brand would stoke interest in the older cars and enable us to add some to our fleet - a Fulvia, Integrale or Beta Coupe would make brilliant additions. We can only hope.