So it turns out the Lancia 2000 Sedan – or Berlina to give it its rightful Italian name – is going to feature in the new Hunt and Lauda epic, Rush. I discovered as much on Friday night having seen the latest trailer for the film at the cinema. It was a fleeting glimpse, but there was Niki Lauda driving a Lancia 2000 Sedan rather enthusiastically. And to think that for all these years I thought James Hunt was cooler than Lauda.
Well I’m sorry, but for all Hunt’s chain-smoking, beer-swilling, international playboy, ace racing driver antics, I’m afraid he has just been upstaged by an Austrian. At least as far as I’m concerned anyway.
The thing is, aside from the Lancia Delta Integrale, the Lancia 2000 Sedan is perhaps my favourite Lancia of all time. An unlikely choice I admit, especially given the existence of the likes of the Fulvia, Montecarlo, Stratos and Delta S4. But there’s a very good reason for my love of the Lancia 2000.
My late father owned one. And within a moment of driving home in his Lancia 2000, my Dad went from being the greatest father on earth, to the coolest father on earth.
It was quite simply the best car my Dad ever owned.
The Lancia 2000 was introduced in 1971 and was, to all intents and purposes, a revised version of the outgoing Lancia Flavia. Yes, there were some cosmetic changes, but the roof, doors, interior and the fundamentals of the drivetrain were carried over from the second generation Flavia. But hey, when a car looks as good as the Flavia/2000, why change it?
It was powered by a 1,991cc 4-cylinder boxer engine which, when fitted with a new and improved Bosch fuel injection system, could deliver 125bhp and 127lb ft of torque. Top speed was a leisurely 115mph and fuel economy in the low to mid 20s would be expected. Acceleration to 60mph? Well that would take a little over 10 seconds.
But mere stats and data are irrelevant when it comes to the Lancia 2000. It’s a rare thing. A car completely devoid of vulgarity. A simple, some would say staid and conservative design, that’s positively dripping in charm and elegance. My Dad’s Lancia 2000 was brown and of 1972 vintage. It wore the plate, MLK 71L and, even as a mere 12 year-old backseat driver, I fell head over heels in love with it.
I’m ever so slightly pleased with the fact that even in the late 1980s, my Dad used some true PetrolBlog Logic when it came to justifying the purchase of MLK 71L. We would shortly be embarking on our annual holiday to Wales. Dad managed to convince Mum that our trusty two-tone green Triumph Herald wouldn’t make the 200 mile journey to Wales, so a ‘holiday car’ would have to be found.
With a budget of £1,000, we ventured off to a small garage in Milford-on-Sea where three potential candidates were waiting to be test driven – a white Triumph Dolomite, a white Ford Capri and the Lancia 2000. Clearly the Lancia won the day, but aside from my Dad having great taste, I can’t recall quite why the Italian beat the pair of blue-collar heroes.
Of course, my appreciation of the Lancia 2000 has grown over the years. As a 12 year-old car fan, I loved it for simple reasons. Like the supremely comfortable nylon velvet seats. And the wooden dashboard. And the square dials. Not to mention the gloriously exotic Lancia badge, combined with the discreet ‘i.e’ badge on the grille. Such things matter when you’re a pre-teen car fan.
Today I appreciate the Lancia 2000 for other reasons. For starters, it was one of the last true Lancias, designed and built by the company before the takeover by Fiat in 1969. Don’t let the 1971 launch date confuse you, the Lancia 2000 was actually ready for production in 1969, but Fiat held it back over concerns about the high cost of production.
Which in turn led to it being an incredibly expensive car to buy. In 1972, the Lancia 2000 would cost the discerning British consumer a rather extravagent £2,399. A Ford Cortina 2000XL? Well that would be £1,361, sir. Even the relatively opulent and quite magnificent Rover 2000TC was some £500 cheaper in 1972. The Lancia 2000 was therefore bought by people who didn’t let the vulgarity of price get in the way of good taste.
And as Lancia’s flagship motor of the time, I love the way it was loaded with the type of equipment the average British motorist could only dream of. Electric front and rear windows, all-round disc brakes, optional air conditioning, ZF power steering, proper wood trim, optional rear window curtains and optional leather seats. Although quite why you’d opt for leather when velvet seats were fitted as standard is anyone’s guess. And yes, the velvet seats were as sumptuous as you’d imagine.
But perhaps most of all, I love the way it looks. Not beautiful in the way that a Jaguar E-Type or Lancia Fulvia might be, but gorgeous all the same. The Lancia 2000 is the Ingrid Bergman of 1970s cars – able to remain appealing without the need for make-up or unwanted jewellery. A uniquely Italian saloon car that could only stem from the late ’60s or early ’70s.
I shed more than a few tears when Dad sold it. I distinctly remember wandering up the long driveway on my 13th birthday, knowing that someone was coming to view the Lancia that day. That was my ‘Snowman moment’. The part when the little boy excitedly throws open the curtains only to discover that where once stood something dear, there was now no more than small reminders of something now lost.
I believe it was sold to a Lancia fan in Bicester or Banbury. In truth Dad could have sold it a dozen times over, such was the response to the ad in Auto Trader.
Dad would go on to buy bigger, better, faster and more practical cars, but none came close to recapturing the magic of the Lancia. It’s an emotional and irrational love of a car that was built long before I was born and I imagine would stand little hope of living up to my rose-tinted vision of its greatness. Would that stop me from moving heaven and earth to buy one? Definitely not.
Thinking about it, the last time I actually saw a Lancia 2000 Berlina was on a holiday to Innsbruck, circa 1990. I still have the photo of the Italian-registered car and can vividly remember the look on the Italians’ faces as I rushed across to take a quick snap of their family runabout.
But I fear that my chances of following in my father’s footsteps are slim. From what I can see, MLK 71L was sent to the great Italian scrapyard in the sky back in 1992. And with the number of UK cars down to single figures, I doubt I could ever afford one. Heck, a starring role as Niki Lauda’s chosen steed isn’t exactly going to depress the values of the car.
So maybe the Lancia 2000 Sedan is best left in the memory bank. Filed alongside Daisy Duke, Soda Stream, Subbuteo and The Wonder Years as things that were better as a kid.
Enjoy your moment in the limelight, Lancia 2000. And thank you for bringing some Italian glamour to the life of this child of the 1970s. For what it’s worth, you were the best Welsh holiday car, ever.
Featured image and TNJ 663 © Tony Harrison, bottom image © PetrolBlog, all other images © Lancia.