The Lancia Flavia was first released in 1960, then as a rather underpowered 1500cc iteration typical of the Italian square-looking styling design for mid-size four door saloons of the time. The flat 4 engine was a revelation, smooth and tractable, but unfortunately not quite up to the job of moving the heavy bodied Flavia about with any urgency.
In 1962 Lancia increased the engine size to 1.8 liters, which certainly helped things along, but it was in 1964 with the introduction of Kugelfischer fuel injection that things took a decided change for the better. Now, at last, there was an engine capable of exploiting the Flavia's wonderful chassis.
The engine and gearbox were mounted ahead of the wheels on a substantial sub-frame. Underneath, the Flavia was fitted with the usual leaf spring suspension set-up, one mounted transversely at the front and
working on wishbone-located wheels and two at the back conventionally placed to bear a tubular dead-beam axle with anti-roll bar and Panhard rod.
Suprisingly, the Flavia offered class leading NVH and smoothness, so much so that most who test drove the car were unable to detect the improvements the new engine set-up made, until they checked in with their stop watch.
In fuel-injected form the engine pumped out a healthy 102 bhp, 10 more than the carburetor fitted cars. Still many felt the Flavia was off the pace, and leisurely in how it went about it. The reason?, poor low end torque combined with a very quiet engine.
While the Flavia would pull from as low as 1000 rpm in top gear, it was not done with any vigour, and the composure of the engine led many to believe the car, even in fuel-injected guise, lacked the Italian passion shown in previous Lancia's.
At idle, only the fuel-pump could be heard whining, and the injector pump would make a small clattering sound. The apparent lack of fan noise was due to Lancia switching from the use of thermostatically controlled
radiator shutters (which never seemed to open), to the use of a electro-mechanical fan clutch.
The Flavia was a true autobahn cruiser, the high gearing meaning the engine was only registering 3700rpm at 70 mph in top. The automatic choke meant drivers had to manually pump the accelerator to the floor just the once to commence operation. And better than many automatic chokes either before or after the Flavia, a red warning lamp was fitted to the dash to let the driver know when it was in operation.
There was even a yellow warning lamp, informing the driver if the fuel feed pressure was not high enough. Once warm, the idling settled to around 800 rpm, although it could be irratic when hot and prone to stalling. The Fichtel and Sachs single dry plate clutch was very smooth, although it lacked bite. The gearchange lever was set at a 45° angle from the lower bulkhead and, while light to use, was clumsy and had too much vertical travel. The gearbox was an all synchro affair, however if you tried to effect gear-changes with any urgency, it would grunt with displeasure and remind you exactly who was boss.
An Awkward Pedal Arrangement
The pedal arrangement was not ideal either, they being angled poorly relative to the drivers feet. There was also a damper in the injection system with prevented the snap-shutting of the throttle; if the engine was revved with the gearbox in neutral it would take abut 5 seconds for the revs to die down. This disguised the tail-out effects of lifting the throttle foot during cornering, and seriously reduced engine braking.
The suspension was a little better sorted, offering a comfortable ride (the springs having a very soft rate). This of course meant that the suspension was prone to being caught out when it encountered acute dips, an un-wanted side effect being that the exhaust and tail pipes were prone to scrape along the bitumen. The steering was rather low geared, requuring 4.5 turns lock-to-lock, and despite the low gearing the Michelin XAS tires required arm-strong steering to be used when parking at low speed. There was always a little play at the wheel when at the straight-ahead position.
The brakes were typically Italian, and that meant they were very good indeed. Light, progressive, fade free and well balanced. The seating had you sitting in the upright position, ensuring you had the best possible view of the road ahead. In fact, the drivers seat was a good place to be, the Flavia being fitted with a beautiful dash, the steering wheel being set at a comfortable angle, the feature half-horn ring operating very powerful Fiamm air horns.
The central hub of the steering wheel also looked like it was part of the horn set-up, but was in fact the headlamp flasher - an innovation way ahead of the time. The stowage space inside the cabin was more than adequate for a car of its size, with a long parcel shelf rnning under the fascia, open pockets being located in the footwell, and even a lockable cubby-hole in front of the passenger. The seats were made from pvc material that did not breathe well in hot or humid conditions, making it a "sticky" experience in anthying above 20C. Worse still was the lack of ventilation, and the heater controls were way too complex.
The headlamps used iodine vapour for the main beam, which produced then class leading illuminance. Unfortunately the contrast between the brilliance of these and the sharp cut-off and low intensity of the dipped beams made fast night driving against oncoming traffic difficult. Protecting the entire electrical system were 11 fuses, and the Flavia was one of the first ever to locate the fuses more conveniently inside the cabin, rather than under the hood.
Refinement, performance, sophistication. The Flavia had bucket loads of personality, and just enough quirks and foibles to remind you that you were driving an Italian car. That was always part of the experience. Those that couldn't appreciate a car with personality would never have stopped by at their local Lancia dealer, which was probably a good thing.