TG’s guide to concepts: the 2003 Lancia Fulvia
Could this pretty coupe have given Lancia's tragicomic tale a pleasant plot twist?
Often, revisiting concept cars can bring about a melancholy state of ‘what if?’, and no truer is that the case than with Lancia’s delightful little Fulvia concept.
Neither name should need an introduction if cars are your thing. Lancia is a wondrous car brand, particularly for fans of rallying and unreliability. And the Fulvia is perhaps its most underrated product, a stunning little coupe that made front-wheel drive as glamorous as it’s perhaps ever been.
No wonder, then, that the Italian marque looked to revisit the success of its 1960s and ‘70s hero, with a concept that brought its pretty little shape bang up to date.Advertisement - Page continues below
The proportions were instantly recognisable, with the Fulvia’s three-box shape retained, but all of the key styling flourishes modernised. Namely new lights, alloy wheels measured to suit their era, and panel gaps which might actually have kept the mud out had Lancia chosen to revisit the Fulvia’s rallying past.
When it was unveiled at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show, the Mini and VW Beetle had been freshly revitalised, and the concept that previewed the new Fiat 500 – the cutesy Trepiuno – was just a year away. Retro revisits were all the rage.
The logic behind Lancia’s decision was sound, then, as was basing the wee Fulvia upon tried and tested mechanicals. So it remained front-wheel drive, with its platform borrowed from the mk2 Punto.
That kept things nice and simple (and therefore cheap) beneath, with its transverse-mounted engine also Fiat-sourced, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with a friendly 140bhp. And weighing 990kg, performance was modestly brisk with a 8.6sec 0-62mph time and a 132mph top speed.Advertisement - Page continues below
At the time, Top Gear magazine reported there would be no electronic driver aids, save for ABS, a tactic by Lancia to keep the old Fulvia’s fun-to-drive spirit.
Our paper product also reported a ‘strong chance’ of the car making production. In the years leading up to the Fulvia concept, affordable little coupes – like the Fiesta-based Ford Puma – had proved a huge success; putting this into production to compete with them was therefore a no-brainer.
It may not have needed brains, but it did require finances, and so Lancia’s tragicomic tale missed the fortunate plot twist that could have assured its future in the eyes of us petrolheads.
The recent state of play – rebadged Chrysler people carriers and saloons – is evidence things never picked up after the Fulvia’s comeback was halted. Lancia sells the vast majority of cars in its homeland. This could have been the car to make people outside of Italy actually care.
It all makes us very sad. Just look at its sweet little interior, which blends wood, brown leather and some delectable little heater controls with an infotainment system that we’re sure must have looked state of the art back in the early 2000s.
The fit and finish was doubtless pure concept car, but still: who wouldn’t want to take a pew in here and pretend they were on the San Remo rally?
Rumours abounded in the press in 2008 that the Fulvia comeback was, um, making a comeback, with a small sports car based on the then-upcoming Alfa Romeo Mito in Lancia’s plans. Perhaps it was just hopeless optimism from a bunch of people hoping to open the discussion in the Fiat group’s next planning meeting.
We can’t blame them, if so. We all wanted Lancia to return to its glory days, and the fun of Fulvias past. Perhaps now there's an Abarth 124 rally car bounding around forests, it's time to make mischief with our own, updated rumours...
Question is, would you have considered an affordable little Lancia coupe, given the chance?Advertisement - Page continues below