Lancia’s last coupé

Family business founded by Fiat racing drivers doesn’t really sound like something to last from current perspective. Innovation-wise though? Since 1906 they’ve managed to push into series production first cars to feature V4 engine then V6, electronic systems, first 5-speed gearbox, advancing suspension technology and ambivalent reliability.
Marshall Plan executors made things harder for them after rumors of affiliations with the communists. Difficulty was risen, but it took another 20 years – 4 of which Fulvia won World Rally Championship – to create some real trouble for Lancia. When push came to shove, Fiat acquired the company in ’69 keeping the flow of creativity. Result of that came pretty fast with better use of Ferrari engine in Stratos.
Going on forward, dominating racing again with crazy 037 – they got another hit by new Group C rules. That’s ok, just switch freshly created LC1 masterpiece to overpowered LC2 and go almost 400kph on LeMans racetrack, why not?
Lancia’s complicated history will always remain insightful on many levels, and coupe’s produced are here to stay as icons of style, dread or both.

IMG_2163.jpgMonica Bellucci with Lancia Fulvia Zagato By Emanuele Scorcelletti For Madame Figaro France 27th July 2013

Lancia (and some Scandinavian manufacturer) is a symbol of doing it Sinatra’s way – right or wrong. They kept on going after their own ideas as long as they could. Which wasn’t a problem really, with so many proposals ready to be given life. Fresh young driver back in the day, saw one of these roaring away with half-a-Lambo noise – it ment a lot for him. Especially with post-highschool psyche, thinking of chasing grand, Stratos moment somewhere in the future. Higher goals.

In 97′ Kappa got its own. Subdued in styling but even more elegant form of Grand Tourer joined the lineup. Target in question is pretty simple – as usual, the whole model range it’s supposed to be, what predecessor couldn’t achieve. Three body styles, designed by three different studios, basing on idea of fourth, then produced in three different places. Why not?
Honor of creating two-door fell onto Centro Stile’s lap.

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Now, Centro Stile. Fiat. You can have a pretty gangster code to live by, but no matter how many successes on your belt, there’s reality waiting for even a slight indication of your Mike Tyson moment(s) coming. Fiat swallowed Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, if not the whole controversy with Tipo 4 platform they would probably make a move to get Saab too. Shared platforms are a pain for some people now just as they were back in the day. Not even starting with standardized styling of manufacturers’ model ranges that made small cars look like flagships – you know very well why.

Which takes me back to Fiat and huge credit they deserve, for creating a home for all those artistic souls. Tipo 4 brought us Thema, 164, Croma, 9000. Very interesting and different creations: 164 got turned into V10-powered procar, Thema got Ferrari treatment, Croma was the last Fiat-badged sedan to have a V6 engine, Saab experimented with replacing steering wheel with a joystick. Tipo 2 platform gave birth to some cheap hatches’ and resurrected Alfa GTV alongside Fiat Coupe to rival with. Specialists’ from Lancia and Alfa even got together to dominate DTM, creating out of necessity one of the greatest engines of all time. I can go on for hours. They just got so much done in so little time.
All connections between Italian car companies are a bit like a Pollock piece seen for the first time – just give it some time, it’ll make sense. Even if not of necessarily good kind.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Jose Pacheco, Paris 1915 – credit: WikiArt

Trying to get Mr Jackson here is a bit out of touch. His challenging way of expression continues to change lives. This car here, probably ended few. It’s a well put together Italian, don’t get me wrong. Knowing what he’s doing to it all. Trying his best, to get himself into already overpopulated game with fixed rules. Amedeo Modigliani of car industry. Classic, enhanced by quirkiness of new perspective. People made a lot of money after his death selling mainly his nudes. Now with Lancia alarmingly approaching the same fate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these on auction. Bought by someone just to be stored away. Investment piece in air-conditioned storage room.




Would?

Maybe it is possible to create luxury brand out of racing legend. Bentley most definitely did so. Of course it took many years and effort to end up under Volkswagen’s wings where it can finally function properly. Now we can behold one of the most expensive, successful brand not only reliable again, but going over-the-top with possible options for buyers craving everything. Complete package. Coherent. Which is a value hard to find when analysing Lancia’s attempt to continue their career in E segment.

Approaching Kappa with its period-correct rivalry near by, there isn’t much to say about looks at first. I honestly believe that it’s due to unknown stance to subtlety ratio apparent in Toyota Century. Seeing it rolling quietly at night you won’t feel this BMW uncertainty but rather soothing confusion that someone out there feels unsatisfied with two options, and went with something third, leaving expectations out of the equation – “maybe he knows something I don’t” kind of feeling.

Engine-wise, every choice was the right one. Baseline made of five cylinder units and infamous Busso V6 at the top with one and only diesel because some places in Europe love to pay less for burnin’ and more for runnin’. Power isn’t revolutionary, but in this class in 1997 you need V8 Benz just to go half of second faster to 100kph. Crushing it more significantly requires proportionate amount of quatloos on the table. But then – no surprise – you’re up against a complete different company. Kappa is trying to calm you down – there’ll always be something faster, so why make speed a priority?

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Color palette was quite special, with some brave options to match your burgundy suit – much in a way of Kaleidoscope catalogue seen in Y. Here though, made not to blind pedestrians. Thank god.
When you finally lay these beige moccasins on the carpet and look around, fake-wood trim makes you smile, reminding of equally fake Gucci that once made your evening a whole lot more interesting. No place for your coffee because why would you gamble staining blue suede seats by your in-law.
Every single individual button on control panel makes this Walkman-like, satisfying *click*, and you haven’t lived yet if you don’t know what that means. What you just might, is a great layout of controls with hiding spot for your radio, out of reach for any fastened grown up or not so much child next to you.
Comfortable ride with unfortunate front wheel drive configuration is off-putting for some. However, knowing european car industry it comes as completely natural. Even for such car. Thankfully it’s somewhere on the right side of weight on par with alternatives.
Drive is fast enough not to make Kappa drink its whole tank every two hours, with some thump under your foot depending on your engine choice. Variance goes all the way from near 13 seconds for first generation diesel that I feel no compassion for, to almost 7 seconds with turbo engines using proper fuel.

If you wished, Lancia had an interesting list of extras to lay on you. Of course, not that many people got them. They should open a secret society.
Need of power? How much? Is 16v turbo enough or do you need one cylinder more? We can also present to you two options of gear ratios to personalize your driving experience.
More bling is your way to go? Ain’t no thing, here you have wooden steering wheel, accessory rims, premium leather upholstery thicker than your bicep.
Are you into tech? Here you have active suspension, automatic gearbox with gear selection to dance among other 90’s gizmos. Few folk legends state that some of this electronics is still works. Nature is amazing.

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Sitting position in one of these always made me question necessity of SUV’s. There’s enough adjustment options to make entering and leaving the car easy. It’s dashboard, cut-out a bit in the front makes every Kappa feel not only spacious, but kinda… free.
Good example of what I mean is Alfa Romeo 166. Same platform, completely different idea. Sitting in 166 you feel more hugged by its chassis, lines of it pass by much closer, trying to integrate with the driver in spite of overall size. In Lancia, chassis design is made to go out of your way. To make you feel in control, leaving your personal space intact. Like in a motorboat, or near your uncreepy uncle. It’s so well done, no wonder it’s practically identical as in Kayak concept by Bertone.

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Lancia Kayak by Bertone, credit: WikiCommons – more pictures at diseno-art

Once you went all James May on your cockpit set-up, you’ll notice mushiness of ride. Of course it’s fun. Can you drive it like a complete nut-case maniacally changing lines? Yeah, if you’re that kind of person. There’s enough engine noise to be amused when necessary. But don’t race in Kappa without some modifications first (see Nyssa racing).
And modifications, are actually possible. Chip-tuning turbo diesels is a sloppy mechanic’s way but there’s quite a lot of potential laying in them. Torque figures can go very high at obviously low rpm. What you’re looking for though, is Kappa with 20vT engine. Why? Well, maybe squeezing 350 horsepower out of 90’s front wheel drive car can be dangerous. Deadly even, when done wrong. But ceiling is way higher. There are builders out there claiming over 1000 horsepower in their cars.
Maintenance? Hard, semi-dry flavour. Reward? Proportional to your effort. Sleeper bragging rights? Granted.


“but” of the matter

No one bought it.
Alright, maybe not literally. Sedan was doing pretty good, you can still find it in “Government Vehicles” yearbook. But it’s hard to ignore the fact, that at the production span of three years only 3263 coupe’s were produced. God only knows how many of those are left… Add to it depreciation ending somewhere next month, rumors of unreliability, poor servicing support and related. It speaks for itself.
Or does it?
I’ll leave that one for you to answer.

Let’s sprinkle some perspective on the whole picture.
What is there in 97′ premium coupe segment to compete with?
Mercedes CLK just got launched, great car. Aston Marin DB7 got its little brother Jaguar XK8. Porsche 968. Maserati Ghibli. Sounds great.
Forget it. High rollers, expensive. Tough market, too. Every single one of these beauties has a higher starting price that goes straight through the roof when options and upkeep come in. If you were to accept less comfort there’s still Mustang or any Japanese sports car under the sun (see what I did there?) but these didn’t sell in continental Europe either. Also, you would have to prioritize: performance OR comfort.

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We can only theorize at this point why Kappa coupe failed.
Maybe it was too grown up. Too expensive for normals and too cheap for ballers? Maybe lack of sight is of high value only in Modigliani’s paintings. Maybe there was just no need for a 4 seater coupe. Cause it seems like people who could buy such, were more drawn into leaving their kids for the weekend at Grandma’s. Going for a romantic trip in red Alfa GTV. Trying to catch the innocent years once more. Bowie tape in the speakers somewhere along the sea. Nostalgic.
See what I’m picturing here? That’s exactly what these cars do to you. Give them some time to get to know each other, openness and care. Second one, Lancia is most definitely going to need. Waiting to stab you in the back with some leak, electronic ridiculousness or engine failure in Game of Thrones fashion. Because oh boy, you’ll get deceived every single time starting it up and watching it shake.

Amedeo died in misery, usually painting portraits of people met in bars. All this pain, skill, passion… just to be declared one of the kings, too late. Such a waste. It wasn’t his fault, nor was it of any person working on Kappa. Which why in the process of doing our homework as a humanity, Lancia received one last chance to either go all the way with a bang, or do some market research and start saving money for episodic expressionism.


Epilogue

The whole story probably made it clear for some of you which car Kappa coupe was really up against. At least from our contemporary standpoint.
In the age where quiet people still had Saab and loud ones listened to Hole, there was one car, resembling body style of Kayak concept way more than Lancia did. It had a proper rear wheel drive in its 2+2 coupe design. An infamous engine in base trim, also capable of 1000+ horsepower. Smooth-like-butter V8 was only alternative. With bigger production numbers it’s already becoming a classic, drift car, Cannonball run tool or just a car in general. Timeless design makes it a pleasure to behold. It’ll probably run till’ the end of time and won’t be a pain to work on. Why would it be, with so many parts and service points in the world.
Reserved, classy package made by one of the most popular car manufacturer that just been starting out with premium brand back then.

 

 

 

 

 

Lexus SC

lexus_sc_400_bridge
Lexus SC400 (1991-2000), credit: Wikipedia

Photos of Kappa done at Motolegends meet, owned by the author

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