Remember The Calculus Affair, where Tintin and Captain Haddock, in Geneva, enlist the help of an Italian driving a Lancia Aurelia to rescue Professor Calculus from his kidnappers? When the Swiss traffic cop stops the Aurelia for breaking all traffic rules and asks the Italian his name, our friend replies: Arturo Benedetto Giovanni Giuseppe Pietro Archangelo Alfredo Cartoffoli! When I heard this car’s double-barrelled name, I was instantly reminded of Arturo and his Lancia, as it has no less an august name: Lancia Flaminia Sport Double Bubble Zagato Coupe. As the flustered Swiss cop would say, ‘Er, don’t do it again.’
Well, if you had a car like this, you simply can’t help but do it again and again. Drive like an Italian, that is. The Lancia Flaminia, remember, has a Sport attached to its name, and a proper V6 powering its rear wheels. With a silhouette that looks as fast as it goes and a muscular sound emanating from those twin exhausts, what else do you expect? Unlike Arturo, I certainly didn’t terrorise the citizens of Mumbai with the Flaminia – in fact I drew their loving attention – but it was really tempting. What the heck, and I floored the pedal. With a proper throaty roar, the Flaminia took off, turning more heads everywhere. It was truly a memorable moment, more so because I didn’t expect a car that’s almost 46 years old to go like this. I was completely wide-eyed, as the Lancia’s forward thrust caught me by surprise. Shifting the sporty gear lever into second, the Lancia was now getting into its element, and begged for more. Clearly, this car didn’t want to be treated the way I normally do vintage and classic machines – gingerly and carefully. It needed to be driven the way the Italians do! So be it. There I was careening down Mumbai’s roads, enjoying the acceleration it provided in the completely tractable third gear, gunning it for all that it was worth.
And the best part was that the Lancia was so well put together that there were none of the squeaks or rattles that one encounters in classics – of course, it was restored brilliantly, but its aluminium (yes, aluminium) body was handcrafted lovingly and built around the Flaminia’s platform chassis by the Milan-based coachbuilding firm of Zagato. Also, the steering had lost none of its precision. One reason was that the engine and the suspension setup were mounted on a subframe, allowing better directional stability and a front end that went the way you pointed it. Seriously, this is a proper driver’s car. You are instantly comfortable in the crisply laid-out cockpit and there are large buttons for various functions in the centre of the dash. In front of you – oh, did I say this was a left-hand drive car – are two large Jaeger multi-function dials for the speedo (marked at 220 kph) and the tacho (redlining at 5500). Inside, in fine Italian style, are indicators for benzina, acqua, olio, dinamo, etc. The same words sound so good in this language! What I liked best in this particular car was the handmade three-spoke Nardi sports-steering – I wished I could pluck it from the car to hang it in front of my desk at the office. What a souvenir it would make!
The Flaminia sedan was developed in 1956 as a replacement for the Aurelia, and the Sport version was introduced in 1959. Not just Zagato, but Pininfarina and Touring both had their versions of a coupe and coupe/convertible respectively. But it’s this, the Zagato version, that is considered more special. And why not? A feature of its roof is what makes this Lancia stand apart. Notice the twin bubbles on the top? Now that’s a classic Zagato trademark, which makes this Lancia rub shoulders with some Zagato-bodied Aston Martin DB4s with a similar feature. Does it give you additional headroom on the inside? Well, frankly I didn’t notice, and I thought that the double bubble roof was a bit over-rated, simply because you pay more attention to this feature rather than the overall flawless shape of this fastback coupe. And look at the way the top of the lip juts out in the front and the iconic round taillamps placed at the back. Also check out the fashionable cut of the wheel arches. Isn’t the whole car just perfect to look at? Adding to this perfection is a legend smouldering below its scooped hood. Displacing 2451cc, this twin overhead cam, aluminium alloy V6 is a carryover from the Aurelia, but in this version breathes through three dual downdraft Webers, developing close to 125 bhp. Development of this compact V6 was carried out under the legendary Vittorio Jano, who designed and engineered some brilliant GP and sports cars for Alfa Romeo and a winning GP car for Lancia too. This engine made history by being the first mass-produced V6, and looks like Lancia has put it to good use too. Combined with a four-speed gearbox, I noticed this free-revving engine was flexible even in today’s driving conditions. Even while in fourth, down in the rev range, the Lancia can really pull and attain a top speed of 180 kph. With disc brakes on all four wheels, it certainly stops just as well. Heck, for an Italian-built classic, this is one car that’s extremely friendly to live with even in the 21st century.
Another clever bit of engineering in the Flaminia – again a carryover from the Aurelia days – is the housing of the gearbox and clutch as a unit along with the differential at the rear, giving the Flaminia perfectly balanced weight distribution. Add to that a light aluminium body, and you have a car that handles like a dream. Even while taking sharp corners, you know instinctively that the car is well in control and shouldn’t break loose even with the leaf springs at the rear. The front suspension, of course, is independent, with a coil and wishbone setup. With such a fine balance, the Zagato-bodied Flaminia Sport is perfectly tuned for curvy roads around Tuscany – sadly, all I had in Mumbai were a few right-angles and roundabouts.
Still, I did the best I could, enjoying the thrill of driving a sporty classic in town. Given a chance, I would have scared a few Mumbai cops too. I had the right car, but sadly I don’t have the right name.
We’d like to thank Nadir Roni Khan for letting us drive his Lancia. This car has been superbly restored by Rishad Kundanmal, Mumbai.