Ital­ian thor­ough­bred

Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE -

One of the most in­flu­en­tial cars of the past 100 years, Lan­cia is still a pow­er­ful per­former. PAUL POT­TINGER re­ports

Lan­cias are a bit like vin­tage wrist watches. You can al­ways sport some­thing ob­vi­ous like a Rolex, but if you want the re­spect of those few who re­ally know, you’d have a nice, quiet and classy IWC. The Lan­cia Ful­via was ac­claimed but not very pop­u­lar in its era; a step up from Fiat, a step aside from Alfa Romeo. It was a model that per­pet­u­ated Lan­cia’s his­tory of in­no­va­tion and rac­ing suc­cess.

The Turin mar­que came up with such firsts as the mono­coque body, in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion, fivespeed man­ual, full pro­duc­tion V6 and V4 en­gines. It also per­sisted with right-hand-drive (then the sign of a pres­tige auto) well into the 1950s. A F1 fix­ture in that decade, the dash­ing Ful­via would add to Lan­cia’s haul of world rally ti­tles.

Yet for all that, Lan­cias have al­ways re­mained— es­pe­cially in this coun­try— some­thing of a cult, a mar­que whose merit and ca­chet was ap­pre­ci­ated by such true en­thu­si­asts as for­mer prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Fraser.

‘‘In the old days he’d fly in his heli­copter to Lan­cia ral­lies,’’ Lan­cia Ful­via owner Tony Ko­vace­vic says. ‘‘We have a ma­jor one ev­ery two years and that brings them in from Amer­ica, Bri­tain and New Zealand.’’

The al­lure of Lan­cia re­mains strong for those in the know. And work­ing for Shan­nons In­surance, Ko­vace­vic knows his ven­er­a­ble and valu­able cars.

‘‘It’s not a main­stream mar­que. But in 1996 when the list of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial cars was be­ing de­cided to cel­e­brate the first 100 years of mo­tor­ing, there were six dif­fer­ent mod­els of Lan­cia in­cluded. That’s more than any other man­u­fac­turer. That sense of in­no­va­tion and his­tory is very ap­peal­ing,’’ he ex­plains.

With its rally breed­ing, Ko­vace­vic — pres­i­dent of the Lan­cia Mo­tor Club of NSW— con­sid­ers the 1600cc V4 HF among the mar­que’s pearls.

‘‘The HF is a pretty rare car,’’ he says. ‘‘They built only about 1250 HFs and the best guess is that 200 were right-hand drive. They were a pretty hot lit­tle car when they came out with mag wheels, fi­bre­glass sleeves, the en­gine has 10.5:1 com­pres­sion. Pretty po­tent.

‘‘It was built as a ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial that would en­able Lan­cia to race in the Euro­pean and World Rally Cham­pi­onship.’’

Fit­tingly, the ex­am­ple Ko­vace­vic acquired in 1996 had it­self been raced ex­ten­sively. Lan­cias have al­ways re­mained some­thing of a cult, a mar­que whose merit was ap­pre­ci­ated by en­thu­si­asts such as for­mer PM Mal­colm Fraser.

‘‘I had a his­tory of Fi­ats, I had more than 30 of them,’’ he says. ‘‘I de­cided to move to some­thing bit more so­phis­ti­cated and in­ter­est­ing, but still Ital­ian. I love Ital­ians cars.’’

In 2000, Ko­vace­vic gave the Lan­cia’s body a ma­jor restora­tion. The now gleam­ing sil­ver HF is a fix­ture on the club cir­cuit, in­clud­ing the bi­en­nial rally that brings en­trants from the US and the UK.

‘‘I’ve driven it to Castle­maine in Vic­to­ria where we have the Lan­cia rally. I’ve driven it to Queens­land twice and in all the lit­tle lo­cal runs we have,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s pow­er­ful. It’s got a lot of torque, so you just put your foot down and it goes. The en­gine in my car was mod­i­fied for com­pe­ti­tion. It has big­ger brakes and the wind­shield is the only glass in the car.

‘‘The cars came from the fac­tory with an al­loy boot and doors, so they were pretty light. In its day it was quite ad­vanced: four-wheel disc brakes, five-speed man­ual. And it was pretty ex­pen­sive— about twice the price of a Holden at the time.’’

And that holds true of Hold­ens to­day, given the price at which a new Com­modore Omega is flogged to fleet.

‘‘We sold a Ful­via at Shan­nons re­cently for $53,000. I see them ad­ver­tised in Europe for E50,000, which is quite a bit more, but in Aus­tralia it’d be be­tween $50,000 and $60,000.’’

That will be a good deal more even than the new Lan­cia Delta, should the mar­que choose to re­sume op­er­a­tions in Aus­tralia.

‘‘Delta has just come out in Europe and man­age­ment say they are go­ing to make a push back into right-hand­drive mar­kets,’’ Ko­vace­vic adds. ‘‘That RHD thing goes back to the Ro­man char­i­ots— the driver was al­ways on the right.’’

Tony Ko­vace­vic with his im­mac­u­lately re­stored Lan­cia


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