A daring design and a colour which would only suit very few cars, helped this classic turn heads and win hearts at one of this summers Cars ‘n’ Coffee meets at the late thirties functionalist Arne Jacobsen petrol station just north of Copenhagen.
The Lancia Gamma was created almost in spite, and certainly not without significant challenges. It was the first car which Lancia was to produce under Fiat’s ownership, and as if that wasn’t to cause enough grief on its own, it was also a joint venture with Citroën and their CX-model. The Gamma was supposed to encompass all the best this venture had between them, among other things the Frenchmen’s famous hydraulic suspension. The great Pininfarina came up with two body styles: a four-door Berlina and an ever-so-stylish Coupé.
However the Citroën venture quickly went up in smoke, and Lancia found themselves solving the need for suspension and engines on their own. Plans of using Fiats V6 engine bizarrely didn’t materialize, and the decision was made that a 4-cylinder engine would suffice. This decision proved to become a serious handicap for the Gamma – both on paper and in reality. Lancia and Fiat had hopes of a car that would take the fight to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but these could of course be had with 6- and in the case of Mercedes-Benz even 8-cylinder engines. The “little” engine choice at Lancia put an immediate stop to them entering the proper and exclusive club of luxurious GT-cars. Such a shame, as the Gamma’s design was a real candidate for this market sector.
The Coupé model was produced at Pininfarina parallel with the Ferrari 400, while the Berlina model was assembled by Lancia themselves. But it wasn’t long after the introduction in 1976 that the Gamma quickly got a poor reputation for being unusually mechanically fragile. The decision – or rather the brainfart – of letting the power steering pump run off the timing belt, has by many been dubbed as perhaps the main reason for many Gamma’s early death. Starting the engine on a cold morning combined with immediately winding on full steering lock, would much too often result in the timing belt jumping a couple of teeth, which in itself rarely does anything good for the internals of an engine. Furthermore, camshafts were worn down in record time due to lack of lubrication, and weak head gaskets mixed coolant with engine oil which main bearings rarely appreciate. Also, automatic gearboxes would stop changing gears altogether as the pressure channels suffered from blockages. Plus several other minor issues. Nope, the Gamma was not one of Lancia’s finest engineering feats.
Lancia managed to eventually put most things right by the time they launched the Gamma series 2 in the early eighties. The series 2 was even treated to a reliable Bosch fuel injection system, 15” wheels and a very smart interior designed by Ermenegildo Zegna. Sadly for the beautiful coupé, it was too late. The first attempt under Fiat’s control proved to be a bit of a disaster, and production ceased in 1984 with a mere 6790 coupés produced spanning both series 1 and 2.
The vast majority of the issues which caused the Gamma’s downfall had their roots in the engine. But when you witness just how well the design works – even in 2017 (and it truly does work when you see the car in real life), it’s only all the more frustrating that they didn’t stick with the original plans of using the Fiat V6 engine. That would have no doubt given us classic of immense proportion. The Gamma Coupé is genuinely beautiful, and left me practically speechless as I gazed upon those stringent Pininfarina lines. Luckily there are enthusiasts out there who take up the challenge, and keep gems like the Gamma on the road. With all of my heart – thank you!