Back in 2007 I started to look for a 60s convertible, a touring, rather than sports car, which offered accommodation for four. Something with interesting engineering and design, and with relative rarity, all at a modest cost. An ambitious combination you might think but the search eventually lead me to a Lancia Flavia Vignale convertible.
The Flavia was a rather boxy saloon, which Lancia brought out in 1960 to fill the gap in their range between the compact Fulvia Berlina the large and expensive Flaminia. As with the Flaminia, in due course Lancia offered the Flavia in a variety of body styles, designed and built by different coachbuilders. This was very redolent of a past age of coach built cars and something of a Lancia tradition, though I think the Flavia variations were the last of this tradition before Fiat took over the company in 1970. The Flavia could be supplied as an elegant coupe by Pininfarina, a rather outlandish ‘Sport’ model by Zagato, or a convertible by Vignale.
I found a 1967 example of the Vignale at Lancia and Morgan specialist Richard Thorne in May 2008, the first time I had seen such a car. It wasn’t quite love at first sight: Michelotti, who designed the car for Vignale, obviously had difficulty hiding the rectilinear architecture of the saloon underpinnings and the convertible is quite a square, sober design, though lifted by nice details (including what must be the longest ever model script along the boot lid!), and a Maserati style front, with a pouting grill and twin headlights.
On closer inspection I began to rather like the restrained style of the convertible, she was sound and drove nicely, the engine making a very Italian rasping sound through the exhaust and pulling well, though the acceleration was less than startling. The body had been restored about ten years previously and a photographic record showed a thorough, bare metal respray, though the quality of the paintwork was very poor and the undercoat was showing through in several places, with very bad micro-blistering all over the car. However, she still looked quite presentable and the price reflected the poor paintwork. A deal was done and I was now a ‘Lancista’, (pronounced Lanchista as I now know!)
The Flavia was developed by Professor Antonio Fessia in the late 1950s, and introduced for sale in the UK in 1961. It featured a 1.5 L aluminium boxer engine, Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels, front wheel drive and front suspension by unequal length wishbones. Our convertible is fitted with a later development of the engine, enlarged to 1.8 litres, providing 85hp/5200rpm and 0-60 14.7 seconds
The Vignale was a very expensive purchase when new in the UK, and only 49 right hand drive examples were made and sold into this country. Production of the model ceased in 1964 but many cars, including our example, were not sold and registered until some time later.
Over the next two years I used Flavia – as she has come to be known – irregularly and spent time and money getting the car properly restored. I soon discovered the Achilles heel of the model is the brake servo, a unit unique to the Flavia and Flaminia, which suffers from failed seals and is difficult to rebuild or re-sleeve due to the unusual size of these seals. I spent six months trying to get Lancia specialists Omicron Engineering to rebuild my carâ€™s servo, before they eventually relented and sent me their only ‘new old stock’ unit, which transformed the brakes. Otherwise, mechanically Flavia is sound and so I have concentrated on improving her bodywork.
Four years ago Flavia was treated to a second bare metal respray, which revealed a very solid and well-made body, now repainted in her correct and original colour ‘Azzurro Vincennes’. She also has the original hard top in this colour. All this was finished in 2010, just in time for a big road trip.
As you may have already calculated, 2010 was the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Flavia and I discovered that a Dutch enthusiast for the car, Angela Verschoor, was writing a book about it and was proposing to launch this and celebrate the model at a four-day event in Trieste in September/October that year. Trieste has the last remaining stretch of the Via Flavia, the Roman road after which the model is named, running through it. I hatched a plan where we travelled from Dusseldorf to Trieste by Autozug, (German Motorail!), holidayed in Croatia, attended the Flavia event and then stayed on and travelled to Vicenza and Ravenna for 5 days, taking the Autozug back to Dusseldorf from Verona. It was to be a truly wonderful two weeks away, and apart from a couple of teething problems before we even reached the ferry at Dover (including a broken throttle cable as we boarded the boat!!), Flavia covered nearly 2,500 without incident.
She has continued to a reliable, enjoyable and stylish way to travel and whenever the sun comes out, so does Flavia.