Italian automaker Lancia was, for most of its independent life and for some of the past forty years under Fiat, a card-carrying member of that select group for whom building cars was tantamount to art. "There is one thing for which the world envies us. That is our style, that unmistakable Italian touch," boasted the Turinese, in a brochure for the Gamma coupé.
Indeed, in some cases, Lancia's designs have bordered on pornography. Those best Lancias have been faintly mad, evincing the uneven dollops of brilliance that played a role in their conception.
The 1976 Lancia Gamma, particularly in coupé form, certainly fit that description. Unveiled in the Tuscany town of Sansepolchro, it was, as Lancia put it, "pure, refined, unmistakable." The determinedly rectilinear Pininfarina figure remains dramatically imperious, quintiessentially Italian, and almost shockingly uncompromising.
It is, to be sure, challenging to look at. The most evergreen designs, perhaps those of German Mercedes and Volkswagen, have employed visual predictability to defy old age. The Gamma is too affecting to be evergreen. Yet, as with aged Benzes and Golfs, there is an inherent sense of rightness about it; as though it is dated not because its sheer surfaces indicate a more rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics and the form and function of personal transport; but, rather, it is simply a product of a different era.
"Gamma Berlina," its sedan counterpart, was in places no less dramatic, combining its two-door sister's haughty, glassy stare with sail panels to rival the flying buttresses of Jaguar's XJ-S coupé and a commanding rear overhang which in its vastness matched the despotic Czech Tatra.
This apparent homage is part of the Gamma's appeal today. Its crisp, continental lines vividly conjure up images of espionage, casinos, and crime syndicates. Despite Fiat having bought Lancia in 1969, the Gamma also had its own, Lancia engine. That's more than the thoroughly emasculated Lancia of today can boast.
Despite its lovely lines, sparkling flat-four (boxer) engine, and fine front-wheel-drive chassis, the Gamma wasn't exactly a huge seller. With just 22,000 built, it is largely - curiously - forgotten.
Mind you, the power-assisted steering was driven by the cam belt. Turn the wheel fully to the left or right, and the belt might skip a tooth or two, potentially causing engine damage...