Car manufacturers have a penchant for doing odd things. Of course, they often don’t start out as odd things, but on an alarmingly regular basis, they end up that way. British Leyland is the Grand Master, the Numero Uno, of snatching oddness from the grasp of convention, giving us the Allegro, the Princess and the Maxi. These were all odd cars, but ones you can just about see groups of senior managers convincing themselves of in endless meetings. Which is generally how, with a healthy dose of money, odd things come about.
And so it was with the Lancia Trevi, a rational solution with an odd outcome. And our new Project Car. We’ve bought one of the handful of remaining Trevis – there are either 2 or 6 in the UK, depending on who you believe – with plans to restore it to its former glory.
The Trevi is odd in the way that Grayson Perry is odd – it’s deliberate and knowing, unlike the Allegro, which was neither of those things. Also unlike the Allegro, the Trevi was meant to be conventional too, a Pininfarina-penned three-box notch-back saloon that cast off the avant-guard pretensions of the fastback Beta Berlina. Here, so the logic went, was an entry-level luxury saloon with sobriety on the outside and insanity on the inside. A posh Cortina for the Surrey set.
No doubt much like the few who have trodden the Trevi purchasing path before us, we didn’t set out to buy one. In fact, we didn’t set out to buy anything. It just appeared and then wouldn’t go away. It turns out that several of our Twitter and Instagram followers felt the same when this car appeared on Ebay, but they were made of sterner stuff.
The Lancia Trevi is not really a car that anyone then or now sets out to own. In the classic world it could be described as ‘overlooked’, if anyone had ever actually bothered to think about it at all. Which almost certainly is never. When new it was an aberration, a strange car from an unloved manufacturer. As a classic it’s rare, but for reasons far removed from those of a Ferrari Daytona.
Our unexpected Trevi itch was all about that rarity, Latin-ness and, well, that dashboard. The Trevi’s fascia is its claim to fame, a bizarre creation by industrial designer Bellini that draws its inspiration first and formestly – and solely – from Swiss cheese. It’s mad and yet strangely logical all at the same time.
The car we’ve bought is a 1982 2 litre model with manual gearbox, 77,000 miles and no MOT. It has been much loved during its life – we bought it from a very nice chap who sells Delta Integrales for a living, he bought it from the guy who restored it.
The first hurdle will be the MOT, which is scheduled for Monday. It will also need some work on the recalcitrant gearbox, which struggles to make it into 5th (the seller diagnoses a simple fix), the electric windows go down but not up and the carbs need tuned. Aside from some bubbling filler in the rear arches, it appears solid. Roll on Monday…
So while we await Armageddon, a little more about the Lancia Trevi…
By the late 70s Lancia was in a bit of a fix. Thanks to those well-documented rust problems, UK sales had halved and the company was peddling an aging line up consisting of the delicate Beta Coupe, the quirky Gamma and the ‘fast back’ Beta Berlina, a car that looked like a hatchback but was a saloon. To put the voom back into sales Lancia needed some new metal. They came up with the Trevi, a three box version of the Beta Berlina that actually looked like a saloon, albeit an ungainly one. It also managed to share very little metalwork with its sister car. Which remained on sale, also very much a saloon. Go figure.
The Trevi was pitched as an entry level luxury car, designed to prise Cortina Ghia buyers into something more exotic. On paper it seemed to fulfil this brief rather well. Despite being characterised as ebullient, arm-waving enthusiasts about virtually everything, Italians favour sober saloons, and therefore the Trevi’s simple, boxy lines also meant it looked like an Italian Cortina. On the outside.
Inside, things went a bit mental. Time has not dulled the impact of the Trevi’s masterpiece, its bonkers dashboard. Lancia cast aside convention and turned to Swiss cheese makers for their inspiration, fashioning a dashboard that couldn’t look more dairy-based if it was honed from actual Emmental. There are also seats that sacrifice support and comfort for appearance. The door handles are hidden – but of course – and there is a complicated ‘vehicle information system.’ All of this ‘design’ does detract from what is actually quite a well thought out interior – the window switches are centrally located and accessible to all occupants, the gearbox has helpful 1-5 + R labels on the centre console rather than on the gearknob, where they’d be covered by your palm, and the dashboard is kerrayzee but also quite logical.
Other than that, as an early 80s market contender there is not much to recommend the Trevi. It’s cramped, not particularly comfortable and the 2 litre engine churns out 115 bhp – respectable at the time but not enough to crack the crucial 0-60 10 second barrier. According to contemporary reports it was a tidy handler, but the woefully short gearing (19 mph/1000 rpm) rendered it tiring on long trips. So not ideal for those travelling regional sales managers. With little to recommend it, THAT DASHBOARD tended to be the nail in the car’s coffin – just too weird for Britain’s conservative motorists.
It may not have delivered much for early 80s posh small saloon buyers, but its failure when new is its attraction, at least to us, when old. We plan to get it back on the road to enjoy and show at our monthly Classics & Coffee events. All the work will be done in the Great Escape Cars workshop, which you can find more about right here.
Graham Eason Great Escape Cars http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk 01527 893733