When the Lancia Beta Coupe was annnounced, the impression given was that it would replace the much-loved Fulvia Coupe series. Thankfully this did not happen, and the Fulvia remained in production until 1976. Still, the motoring public were denied one of the true production built rally cars ever to see the light of day - the wonderful 1600 HF series
On paper at least, the Lancia 1300 Coupe did not present a good value-for-money case, particularly given the diminutive size of the engine. For your money you only got two doors, two full-size seats and a rear bench seat that, in fairness to the human frame, was suitable only for children.
But once you drove it you would quickly realise that in practice, the Fulvia 1300 Coupe was a gem of a car, well worth its price. It offered wonderful handling and roadholding from its front-wheeJ-drive layout, good performance from an efficient engine and, most importantly, an endearing character.
The Fulvia 1300 Coupe S3 was the last car in Lancia's range to use the compact, narrow-vee, four-cylinder engine; each bank of two cylinders, operating at 13 degrees to each other, with a chain-driven, single overhead camshaft which operated in effect as would each camshaft of a twin-overhead camshaft straight-four unit.
The right-hand camshaft controlled the inlet valves, the left-hand one controled the exhaust valves. To the casual observer a quick underbonnet glance would suggest the 45-degree-inclined engine to be a twin-overhead camshaft straight-four - you needed to look a little closer to notice the staggered positions of the Marelli pIugs buried in the one-piece, Lancia-monogrammed, alloy camshaft cover.
The aluminum cylinder head was a one-piece casting, too. This small version of the engine had a 77 mm. bore, a 69.7 mm. stroke, a compression ratio of 9.5:1 and a capacity of 1,298 c.c. Two twin-choke, horizontal Solex C 35 PHH-E/2 carburetters and a big, dry-element air-cleaner filled the centre of the engine bay.
The engine was mounted so far forward towards the nearside that the radiator had to be positioned towards the off-side of the car, the designers however ensuring that cooling would not be an issue by incorporating an electric fan. The Fiamm battery was mounted lengthwise and a direct-acting brake servo with tandem master cylinder sat behind the engine.
This little Lancia weighed just over 19 cwt. at the kerb, heavier than you would expect and, although the designers had tried to keep the weight down, the added bulk was in fact a reflection on the quality of its manufacture. Fortunately the diminutive engine had such a high output that it is well able to cope. No less than 90 b.h.p. DIN and 83.9 Ib./ft. DIN was produced, although these figures came in at a rather high 6,000 r.p.m. and 5,000 r.p.m. respectively, meaning that the big wooden gear knob was always getting a good work-out. It controlled five beautifully spaced ratios of which fifth gear was direct, so there was no need for an overdrive. Typical of Italian cars of the era, synchromesh tended to baulk in first and second gears when the engine was cold.
Some road-testers of the day objected to the positioning of first gear, which was down to the left with the upper four ratios in a more traditional H-pattern. Low gearing (17.97 m.p.h. / 1,000 r.p.m. in fifth) meant that the speed range in the lower gears was poor, four gear changes being needed by 62 m.p.h. if the handbook's recommended 6,200 r.p.m. limit was to be adhered to: 1st gear was good for 27 m.p.h., 2nd for 41 m.p.h., 3rd 62 m.p.h., 4th 87 m.p.h. and 5th 105 m.p.h. The emmphatic red sector on the tachometer started at 6,450 r.p.m., and enthusiastic drivers soon discovered that, without a limiter being fitted, the willing little engine would whirl past in 5th gear very easily. Frequent use of the gearbox was essential for quick progress through town, and if sufficient revs were not used at traffic lights the Fulvia driver soon found himself left standing by much slower vehlicles.
Superlative Suspension - Simple But Close To Perfect
There was nothing much simpler than a Fulvia coupes suspension: at the rear a dead axle was suspended upon semi-elliptic leaf springs and controlled by telescopic dampers, an anti-roll bar and a Panhard rod; almost unbelievably, a transverse leaf spring provided the suspension medium at the front, though each wheel was independentlly suspended by double wishbones, controlled by telescopic shock-absorbers and an anti-roll bar. It was a brilliant example of simplification, as rally results proved. With the 1300 engine it was practically impossible to find the limit of adhesion of the 165 x 14 Mlichelin ZX tires in either wet or dry conditions.
The Fulvia's natural tendency was to understeer, though never with the feel that it was likely to plough straight on. In any case, lifting off the throttle in the middle of a corner neutralised the understeer. There was only moderate roll and practically none of the disturtbing torque reaction at the front wheels which afflicted many front-wheel-drive cars of the era. Under acceleraation out of corners you soon discovered just how well sorted the suspension was, and what a revelation the excellent traction was, too. Much of the excelllence of the suspension was due to the damping, which ensured optimum tire /road contact all the time.
What made the set-up so brilliant was that it did not come at the expense of ride, which though firm generally soaked up rough roads without too much disturbance. Somehow Landia engineers had managed to insulate road and suspension noise very well. Worm and roller steering (rather than rack and pinion) was used to great effect, it providing excellent response and feel through the comfortable, padded steering wheel. On the down side however, some commentators reported that it was too low-geared for town use and quite heavy when parking. With disc brakes all round the braking system was magnificent, combining with the roadholding and handliing to make the 1300 Fulvia an excepptionaHy rapid, cross-country conveyance.
Inside The Fulvia 1300 Coupe
Compact but cosy described the cockpit, which was carpeted and featured cloth trimming for the comfortable reclining front seats (with built-in adjustable headrests), rear bench and panels of the two wide doors. As with most Italian designs, the steering wheel/pedal relationship was poor and the dlutch and brake pedals were too high off the floor, though proper heeling and toeing was possible with the organ throttle pedal.
The wooden facia panel was simple if not a bit old-fashioned. The instrument cluster included a water temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, tachometer, speedometer with trip and clock. An impressive array of warning lights provided other information. The heating system was well above standard. There was a lockable cubby-hole on the passsenger side and open stowage wells on each side, but most of the boot room was taken up by the floor-mounted spare wheel. The twin-headlamp system was powerful, and the slim pillars ensured excellent all-round visibility.
Overall impressions of the Fulvia would leave the driver in no doubt as to the cars quality and depth of engineering. Sure, the engine was a little buzzy, but it was energetic and could provide spirited performance. And there lay the problem, as to get the most out of the car you needed to be a keen punter - always. It was not a car for an unsympathetic (read lazy) driver, simply because of the need to use the gearbox and engine intelligently. It was instead a fabulously rewarding little car for a good driver.