Yes of course there are cars that are faster, grippier (not many), more nimble (fewer still), better looking (depends on your definition I guess), and cooler (I believe the integrale just got pipped to top spot by the McLaren F1 and the Bugatti Veyron in this regard a couple of years ago in Evo Magazine), but rare indeed is the car that manages to combine all these things together (and before Auto-Journals’ Managing Editor starts banging on about his Skyline, I guess I should casually mention the small matter of heritage…)
[Hehe, only if you want to display your ignorance of the rich heritage of the Skyline going back to the 1950s. Oh and Chrysler Delta anyone? – ed]
Consequently, despite occasionally casting an appreciative eye over other automotive devices, I’ve never found myself moved to even consider purchasing another car – let alone putting the integrale up for sale in order to make way (the mere thought of which even now brings me out in hives!)
However, it has occurred to me over time that it might just be possible to complement the integrale. With this in mind I’ve been able to indulge in occasional flights of fancy as to the ideal stablemate – without so far ever proceeding as far as getting out the chequebook. Off the top of my head, I’ve toyed with an Exige (say no more), an Evora (don’t know why, I just like ‘em), a Caterham (I still think everyone at some stage should own one), an Alfa 147 GTA (small car, big engine, yeah!), a D-type replica (just imagine….), a Z3M Coupe (the only BMW I’ve ever fancied), and a McLaren MP4-12C (unfortunately I think my wife must have spoken to the showroom as I never heard back from them…)
All of the above I managed eventually to talk myself out of (with the exception of the McLaren where my wife saved me the trouble), but then one day it happened….
Anyone familiar with my Auto-Journals integrale entries will know that my first memories of Lancias involve fairly terminal encounters with burning or self-destructing Fulvias – and so surely only a complete buffoon would disregard these experiences and countenance buying one?
“And do I spell buffoon with one ‘f’ or two?” said the nice man as he filled in the details on the V5 and relieved me of my cheque. Yes, I don’t know quite how it happened, but the quest to find something with which to complement the Lancia led me to… another Lancia! (Even amongst Lancia owners, owning more than one is regarded as a sign of possibly having eaten too much cheese).
But just look at it! Better still, as it’s the very car that Mr Clarkson drove in the same edition of Top Gear in which Mr Hammond drove my integrale, have a listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HcCrEliXHU It really does sound like that! If I have one criticism of the integrale, it’s that the engine, when mated to the standard exhaust system, sounds a bit… Meh. The Fulvia though, even though ‘tis but a humble 1300 (a V4, doncha know?), sucks in the air through some meaty looking Dell’ortos and makes j-u-s-t the most fantastic sound ever.
Driving the Fulvia reminds you of how motoring should be: a challenge – an enjoyable challenge, but a challenge nevertheless. You need to drive with your brain fully engaged the whole time. Starting the car involves fiddling with the choke (remember those?). First gear is out on a dog-leg with no lock–out on reverse (directly forward from first), and you need to bypass second until the oil is warm. The steering is unassisted and is u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-y heavy unless the car is moving (whereupon it becomes delightful). There is no ABS, no airbags, no air-con, no cup-holders, no radio, and no satnav – all these things (bar the airbag) you must do yourself. And to add to the fun of driving it in traffic, the bumpers have been removed and so there is nothing to protect its pretty bodywork from inattentive numpties – you must fast learn the art of ‘see and avoid’.
True Lancisti will spot that whereas ‘me Grale’ is a stock, factory concours example, La Fulvia is a bit of a hybrid mongrel – a 1.3S Rallye dressed up as a 1600HF rally car, with a Series 3 body but a largely Series 2 interior. The engine has also had some work done on it to give it a bit more poke, a half roll cage has been fitted, and the car has a baffled and foam-filled aluminium racing fuel tank. This latter item ensures that any attempt to coax fuel in at anything more than about two litres a minute simply results in fuel being spat back out all over your shoes. In fact fuelling the car is a bit of an art in itself as the engine is set up to run on 100 octane leaded fuel, obliging you to calculate how much fuel you’re about to pour (trickle!) into the tank in order that you can first pour in the right quantity of lead additive and octane booster so that it mixes with the fuel on its way in. I’m thinking of keeping a folding chair and a paperback in the boot for future trips to the petrol station! Having said that, I have found that a plastic funnel shoved into the filler neck(very rallyesque!) helps speed up the fuelling process and in turn, through use of the funnel, I now know what colour petrol is (I’ve been driving thirty years, and I don’t think ‘til now I’d ever actually laid eyes on the stuff).
Despite all this, on the road the car is bloody marvellous and it’s impossible to drive it with anything other than a huge grin on your face. The engine note encourages you to blip the throttle on downchanges, upchanges, nochanges (just for the hell of it), and through every tunnel. Even when you realise that you’re not actually gaining on the driving school Micra in front, the car always sounds like it’s going ‘maximum attack’. And although it’s quick, it’s obviously nowhere near as quick as the integrale, which does in turn mean I can drive it with my foot buried in, down roads where if I tried that in the integrale I’d vanish straight through the nearest hedge.
In short, it’s the perfect complement to the integrale. The integrale is still The Daddy, but the Fulvia has charms all of its own. The Fulvia shines a light on all of the integrale’s brilliance: getting back into the integrale again you realise just what an astonishingly composed and rapid package it is, and marvel at its ability to take indifferent road surfaces in its stride. Any time I want to get from A to B in the shortest possible time I’ll grab the keys to the Grale. But if the sun’s out, and I want to turn a mundane journey into an occasion, the Fulvia comes into its own.
And there’s no getting away from the fact that whilst the integrale may be many things, pretty it is not: good looking yes, sexy even, but pretty no. The Fulvia, on the other hand, well….
In fact, as my son is shortly to enter his teenage years, bringing with it the need for ‘father-to-son chats’, the two cars will serve very well to illustrate the difference between pretty and sexy. And just to complete the picture, waiting in the wings I have another car (a non-Lancia this time) that can be used to perfectly illustrate ‘beautiful’, but that’s a story and an Auto-Journals entry for another day….