The List An As­ton owner es­chews brawn for del­i­cacy with a Lan­cia Ful­via 1.6 HF drive

Joe Kit­ney’s dream drive list is driven by a love of de­sign. Will this wild rally-spec Lan­cia Ful­via 1600 HF prove to be more than just one mean look­ing Coupé?

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words Ross Alkureishi Pho­tog­ra­phy sam Chick

Hear ye, hear ye! V8 Vantage X-pack owner for­goes

410bhp to step into an Ital­ian tid­dler’ should go the cry around Au­toin­te­grale’s Berk­shire-based work­shop. Surely this month’s dream drive is the recipe for the ul­ti­mate anti-cli­max?

But this is no or­di­nary Ital­ian four-pot. It’s a homage – built on a later 1600 HF – to the 1972 In­ter­na­tional Cham­pi­onship for Man­u­fac­tur­ers-win­ning works car driven by Harry Käll­ström, Simo Lampinen and Amil­care Ballestri­eri. Now owned by Au­toin­te­grale pro­pri­etor Keith Turner – who re­built the car’s en­gine – it’s a feast of mon­strously large head­lights, light­weight body­work, a stripped-out in­te­rior and de­cals-a-plenty.

‘If I’m hon­est I’ve al­ways been more in­ter­ested in the de­sign of cars,’ says this month’s reader Joe Kit­ney. ‘Cer­tainly more so than the me­chan­i­cals or even the way they drive.’ Be­fore I can re­ply ‘sac­ri­lege’ to the lat­ter, he qual­i­fies this. ‘The Ful­via has al­ways been high on my list. As an ex-de­sign en­gi­neer, to me it’s so well bal­anced and the de­tail so well ex­e­cuted – un­der­stated, yet pretty as you like.’

If that’s the case, then does the vis­ual el­e­ment of this par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple spoil the aes­thetic? ‘Not at all, the flared arches and those spot­lights make it look like it means busi­ness. From the front the quad head­lights make it ap­pear wider and more mas­cu­line than the stan­dard car does. The neat cabin de­sign, with large glass area and thin pil­lars, al­lows your eye to be drawn to the flow­ing lines of the main body, and lines that ter­mi­nate in a neat, pinched off tail. The rear panel it­self is really nicely done, and yet as fem­i­nine in form as the front is mas­cu­line.’

The smile elicited by the dis­creet ‘Grumpy Club’ sticker on the rear num­ber­plate com­pletes Joe’s vis­ual anal­y­sis. Keith pops the al­loy bon­net to show us his hand­i­work, ex­plain­ing that it’s a V4. ‘To be hon­est I know very lit­tle about them,’ comes Joe’s re­ply.

We spend a fur­ther half hour tak­ing in the builder of this car’s ded­i­ca­tion to weight sav­ing. Mo­tor sport-in­spired slots and holes abound – even the front sub-frame, jack and fan hous­ing have been munched. Al­loy boot, bon­net and doors came from a Se­ries 1 ‘Fanalone’ and all glass has been re­placed with Per­spex. Joe takes his time savour­ing the finest de­tails of ev­ery el­e­ment.

Hav­ing taken longer than nor­mal por­ing over our cho­sen steed to­day, I sug­gest that per­haps sim­ply be­ing in the pres­ence of the Ful­via has sated his dream and we should now go our sep­a­rate ways. Joe shoots me a fine ‘as if’ look and be­gins clam­ber­ing over the roll cage and down into the light­weight bucket seat. It’s a race in slow mo­tion as I do the same on the pas­sen­ger side and we be­gin ad­just­ing our har­nesses. Rally cars don’t lend them­selves to par­tic­u­larly quick get­aways for the novice.

‘I was ex­pect­ing it to be twitchy and pretty un­com­fort­able, but it’s an ab­so­lute joy to drive’

Af­ter what seems like an eter­nity of fid­dling, Joe switches the electrics on, turns the ig­ni­tion and fires the V4 on the starter but­ton. It catches in­stantly and he blips the throt­tle sev­eral times, fill­ing the cabin with in­duc­tion roar and the work­shop with ex­haust crackle from that bul­bous trum­pet of a tailpipe. ‘With no sound­proof­ing at all, it’s L-O-U-D in­deed in here,’ he says.

He depresses the clutch, ‘that’s quite heavy,’ and en­gages first on the five-speed dog­leg gear­box; we’re off. ‘The gears click nicely into place,’ he says find­ing sec­ond. ‘I’ve no prob­lems with this ’box lay­out be­cause my X-pack has the same set-up – it really does make that sec­ond to third and back shift nice and slick.’

Pootling off the in­dus­trial es­tate it’s clear this Ful­via isn’t the hap­pi­est of bun­nies at low revs. Joe pulls out onto the A4 and boots it, chang­ing up barely past the 3000rpm mark. ‘It doesn’t feel that quick, if I’m hon­est. My big heavy As­tons feel quicker off the mark.’ This con­tin­ues for around 15 min­utes, and only when the oil and wa­ter are up to tem­per­a­ture do I give him Keith’s only in­struc­tion, ‘you have to drive it hard.’

The dif­fer­ence is ex­plo­sively im­me­di­ate. Bang, shift, bang, shift, bang, as Joe uses his right foot to negate the slovenly lack of low down pull. ‘That noise is in­tox­i­cat­ing,’ he bel­lows, as the ve­loc­ity stacks dump yet an­other se­ries of deep stac­cato barks in quick suc­ces­sion. ‘No won­der I wasn’t get­ting any­where, the en­gine only comes alive at 3200rpm – now it feels prop­erly fast!’

He’s in full HF mode now, learn­ing the va­garies of the beast, revving hard to get the rally-spec camshafts on song and rev­el­ling in the 140bhp V4’s sweet spot be­tween 4500 and 6000rpm. ‘There’s no point talk­ing to you, or lis­ten­ing to heavy rock – if it even had a stereo. Who cares, though? This is won­der­ful…’

For a com­pany renowned for the pre­ci­sion of its en­gi­neer­ing, Lan­cia’s 1963 re­lease of the Ful­via saw it fol­low in a long line of su­perla­tive au­to­mo­biles that harked back to the pre-war Theta, Lambda, Ardea and Aprilia, and in­cluded an im­pres­sive lin­eage of Aure­lia, Ap­pia, Flaminia and Flavia. The new ju­nior Lan­cia fea­tured an all-new V4 driv­ing the front wheels, trans­verse-leaf in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion and an all-syn­chro­mesh gear­box.

The hand­some in-house-styled Coupé ar­rived two years later, sit­ting on a sig­nif­i­cantly short­ened floor-pan but with iden­ti­cal me­chan­i­cals. The Ral­lye and Ral­lye S fol­lowed, with the heav­ily tuned 1.2, 1.3 and from 1968, 1.6 HF mod­els the ba­sis for an all-out pre-stratos at­tack on the rally arena. In the UK, all Ful­via HFS were pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive – the 1.6HF cost more than a Jaguar E-type – mak­ing them the true con­nois­seur’s sport­ing choice.

That’s some­thing I feel my driver is al­ready be­com­ing. ‘As a rally-pre­pared car, I was ex­pect­ing it to be twitchy on the throt­tle and pretty un­com­fort­able. But it’s nei­ther – in fact, it’s an ab­so­lute joy to drive. The sus­pen­sion set-up is firm, but not bone-jar­ringly so. In many ways it feels al­most mod­ern, but for the noise!’

There’s a lot of love for the colour, rally look and sheer pres­ence of the lit­tle Ful­via – oh, and Joe’s right, that noise, as it re­ver­ber­ates off the sur­round­ing build­ings and can­non­ades down Ox­ford Street. Mul­ti­ple thumbs up from pedes­tri­ans abound, while white van men stop to let us out at junc­tions. It’s a proper lit­tle charmer.

De­spite this it’s time to ditch this ur­ban jun­gle, so we head north on the A339. Joe en­gages fifth gear, stay­ing sub-3000rpm and in­stantly civil­is­ing the cabin. ‘It’s so easy to imag­ine my­self rip­ping through a for­est rally stage, revving the heck out of the en­gine and see­ing the next bend com­ing up at an un­fea­si­bly rapid rate. And yet here it is hap­pily cruis­ing at speed.’ I con­cen­trate on the for­mer re­mark. What the man wan­teth, we giveth…

Di­rect­ing Joe to take the next exit, we turn off and head to­wards the vil­lage of Cur­ridge. Her­mitage, Marl­ston Her­mitage and Buck­le­berry are dis­patched in quick suc­ces­sion and then it’s flat out along the tree-lined Broad Lane, sun­light fu­ri­ously dap­pling the Marl­boro-branded bon­net, as we speed to­wards Chapel Row. There’s no need to travel too far to­day, not with this car’s nat­u­ral habi­tat at such close quar­ters.

On tight coun­try lanes the Ful­via is in its el­e­ment – front wheels grip­ping for trac­tion, en­gine pound­ing to an un-burstable beat. Joe’s As­tons would de­vour it on a straight, but get big dogs out into this ter­ri­tory and this lit­tle ter­rier would have the bet­ter of them.

‘On pub­lic roads it’d be down­right il­le­gal to ex­plore the han­dling to the full, but driv­ing as now with a de­gree of gusto on th­ese twisty back roads is great. It’s so bal­anced and beau­ti­fully poised at all times; the steer­ing is nicely weighted and di­rect, while the smooth brakes are more than able to stop such a light car quickly, adding to the feel­ing of be­ing fully in con­trol.’

We park up to gather Joe’s im­pres­sions. ‘You know, the heav­i­est thing in this car is prob­a­bly me. It’s com­pletely de­void of any crea­ture com­forts, but as a stripped-out rally car, any ad­di­tions would be out of place.

‘You read about Ital­ian cars hav­ing a com­pro­mised driv­ing po­si­tion, but for me the con­trols are nicely placed – the steer­ing wheel is a de­cent size and ide­ally po­si­tioned, ped­als not too close to­gether and with no awk­ward off­set, and the gear­stick is within nat­u­ral reach. It could be made to mea­sure. Thanks to the amount of

glaz­ing, the driver has a su­perb all-round view. The seats really are quite com­fort­able, and even get­ting in and out over the roll cage side mem­ber isn’t really too dif­fi­cult.’ He hops out to demon­strate.

As he does, a semi-restored Land Rover Se­ries 3 stops be­side us. The owner dis­em­barks, pulls out his cam­era and asks, ‘You don’t mind, do you? My friend has just bought a stan­dard one, and he’d love to see a pic­ture of this.’ We grant per­mis­sion and as soon as it ar­rived, the Se­ries 3 is off again. Chuck­les Joe, ‘I’m used to peo­ple turn­ing heads at the X-pack, but I’ve never had them pull over for a look. Dressed in its war paint, the HF is dif­fi­cult to re­sist though.’

He’s right. But the in­ter­est­ing thing is that even that stan­dard one would give that same es­sen­tial essence of Ful­via – poised han­dling and jewel-like en­gine – al­beit in a more de­mure vis­ual pack­age. It’s just that here we have both turned up to 11. If ever a car demon­strated Lan­cia’s famed High Fidelity, then it’s ours.

Our reader has a ferry home to catch so we head back to base. Our jour­ney there is a cir­cuitous, bruis­ing and pul­sat­ing blast. Joe stays in lower gears marginally longer than nec­es­sary and changes down more of­ten than he would in a more or­di­nary car, just to get the roar from that won­der­ful V4 un­der the bon­net.

With the HF safely re­turned to its owner, it’s time for Joe’s clos­ing thoughts. ‘Even though it’s so dif­fer­ent from the cars I nor­mally drive, I felt at home right away. To stretch the madeto-mea­sure anal­ogy, I al­most felt as though I was wear­ing it. Beau­ti­fully bal­anced and in no way in­tim­i­dat­ing, yet cer­tainly no pussy­cat. Take all of the above, along with de­cent ground clear­ance and an en­gine that revs like crazy while pulling like a train, and I can see why it was such a suc­cess­ful rally car.’

So, would he buy one? ‘When I ar­rived I sent a pho­to­graph of it to my wife, who replied, “you’re not bring­ing it home ARE you?” I would love to if I thought I could get away with it. It’s so dif­fer­ent from my As­tons – more fun in many ways and a lot cheaper to live with. It’s ev­ery­thing I hoped it’d be and much more. How­ever, as a more ma­ture gen­tle­man, I sup­pose I need to act my age and not pre­tend that I am, or ever could’ve been, a rally driver.’

Just time for one last glance and com­ment, as he climbs back into his DB7 Vantage Volante. ‘What a tech­ni­cally and aes­thet­i­cally beau­ti­ful ma­chine – I really did have a blast. Can we do it again?’

Anti-cli­max? Per­ish the thought. Thanks to Keith Turner at Auto In­te­grale (been­ham­mot­cen­tre., where this car is cur­rently for sale; Lan­cia Mo­tor Club

Ross shows Joe where the ra­dio would’ve been Joe is pleas­antly sur­prised by the driv­ing po­si­tion

Our reader found the HF of­fered a more vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence than his As­tons. If only his wife would let him have one...

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