In Britain of the early 1960s, a Flavia Berlina was not so much an unusual sight as an exclusive one. The advertisements stated: “You will not see it everywhere; you will not see it every day,” for this was a vehicle that did not belong in the everyday realm of the Hillman Minx and the BBC Home Service.
It also redefined Lancia’s image in addition to being praised by Motor Sport as Cone of the world’s outstanding family cars”. The Flavia debuted at the 1960 Turin motor show, and an early report by The Motor noted: “Older Lancia enthusiasts will recognise here a considerable change of emphasis.”
The company’s technical director Antonio Fessia created the first front-wheel-drive Italian car with more than 60 per cent of the weight over the front wheels, to maximise traction and to avoid torque steer. The all-disc braking was another first, while power was from a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder “boxer’’ unit in alloy.
In Italy, the Flavia was ideal for the lawyer who regarded the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti as too compact and the Fiat 2100 as “too bourgeoise”; its popularity resulted in a four-month waiting time. By 1961 the line-up encompassed a Pinnarina-styled coupé, which was augmented by the even more exquisite Vignale-bodied convertible in 1962. A 1.8-litre engine was available from 1963 onwards, as some owners complained about the 96mph top speed, and the range was to encompass some 29 variations.
UK sales of right-hand-drive models commenced in May 1961, and Lancia GB’s publicity immodestly – but accurately – referred to “that enviable car!” while Autocar thought the Flavia was “for the connoisseur” because at £2,187 12s it cost over £200 more than a Rover P5 3-Litre Automatic and nearly £300 more than a Jaguar 3.8 Mk2.
In 1971 the Flavia was re-branded as the ‘2000’ and production ceased in 1974 after 105,848 examples had been produced. Forty-six years later, Terry Brown’s 1964-registered 1800 Berlina is so rare in Britain that it is not even listed on the How Many Left? online resource.
He acquired BLT 17B in 1989 “sight unseen as a non-runner”, and his initial plan was “teaching my sons to drive in it”. However, a car with a four-speed steering column gearchange was “not ideal to learn on”.
The Berlina was despatched to a local body repairer whose opinion was the Lancia “should be given a full rebuild – or throw it away”. Brown, fortunately, opted for the former. In 2015 the Flavia underwent “quite a bit of work” by the marque specialist Omicron, and today it looks ready for the most prestigious retro-themed events.
“It drives well and handles very well for a car of its size. I do like being able to take gentle bends more using the throttle than the steering wheel,” says Brown. He also owns an example of the Vignale-bodied convertible, and by comparison “the saloon does not seem to get much reaction from the public”.
Even in 1960, many observers regarded Pietro Castagnero’s styling as overly conservative, but the Flavia Berlina never indulges in mere ostentation. After all, this is a car bearing the grille once described by Lancia as the “Symbol of Superiority”.
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