Driving the Lancia Fulvia 1 6HF Works Rally Car

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Driving the Lancia Fulvia 1.6HF Works Rally Car

by pete on November 28, 2012

Adelaide, Australia

Collectors aside, how many real enthusiasts are able to walk out to their garage, lift the door and see their own genuine ex-works Lancia rally car sitting there?

This is a reality for Jeremy Browne, a man who has immersed himself in his passion for rallying and the Lancia marque for most of his life. Whilst his fascinating stories from competing all over the world offer remarkable distraction, it’s the journey that Jeremy has taken with his Lancia Fulvia 1.6 HF, a works car used by the factory to win the International Rally Championship (the forerunner to the WRC) in 1972, that brings us here today.

Jeremy Browne is one of the few who can experience a Works Rally car by lifting his garage door.

One can see these genuine works cars from time to time at historic events and in museums, but they’re often part of large collections, desired because of their status and traded like commodities. What makes Jeremy’s Fulvia unique is that its owner is a genuine enthusiast who holds a lifelong passion for Lancia, and who has actually used it enough over the past two decades to build his own special relationship with the car.

Rally cars with works history, especially those as old as the Fulvia, are extremely scarce today because the things that make them special are usually the reasons they no longer exist. Works cars, particularly from teams as big as Lancia was in the 70’s, were built as consumables to do one job – to win rallies at all costs. According to Italian Lancia expert Ezio Altorio, there were around 40 1.6HF chassis used for the works team. The few cars that survived their works time then usually endured the long slope down into the amateur leagues as they slowly became uncompetitive, unloved by drivers for whom victory was the sole goal. The popularity of vintage motorsports today means they are now highly prized, but most of them were crashed long before their historical significance was appreciated.

Jeremy’s Fulvia is one of the lucky few survivors.

Lancia’s Rally Cars

Lancia’s main involvement in rallying began in 1965 with the new Fulvia Coupe. The new team’s results steadily improved to the point where they led most of the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally with the 1.2HF (HF for High Fidelity) until a puncture on the last stage handed the win to the famous number 37 Mini Cooper, quickly becoming a legendary result for the British brand. Lancia then hit back for the 1968 season with a rally prototype powered by a 1.6 engine, which was put into production in 1969/70 as a limited run of 800 vehicles.

These Fulvia 1.6HF homologation specials were dubbed ‘Fanalone’ models, a reference to their larger inner headlights.

In addition to the bigger engine, the homologation 1.6HF’s featured a 5 speed gearbox, disc brakes, Perspex windows and aluminum doors and bonnet. These were homologation specials in the truest meaning of the word, and the options list offered customers a choice of gear ratios, fuel tank sizes and even carburetors. They were the benchmark rally car of the time, but at twice the price of even a Lotus Cortina they were simply out of the reach of most.

Chassis number 818540*002269 is officially a 1970 build series 1 Fulvia 1.6HF, however it wasn’t first registered (G36418-TO) to the works team until May 31, 1972. The series 2 Fulvia was due to be launched in late 1970, however before its launch the works team realized that the new car was going to be heavier and slower than the car it was replacing. In a move that sounds absurd by modern standards, in 1969/70 the works team stockpiled series 1 1.6HF bodyshells for future use, creating a supply that lasted until 1973 and the introduction of the Stratos the following year.

Chassis number 2269

Barbasio with #2269 at the 1972 San Remo Rally.

Such was the expected usable life of a works car that #2269 was one of 6 built for the 1972 San Remo Rally, where it finished 2nd in the hands of Sergio Barbasio. The car’s history is less clear from there on because mud and snow quickly covered the low mounted number plates on rallies making photographic identification impossible, and the Lancia team records were later destroyed in a factory fire. However according to Sandro Munari, a Lancia factory driver of that period, #2269 did 3 World Championship events before being moved into the Italian National Championship for the 1973 season where it is reasonably certain that it was driven to victory in the Four Regions Rally by Ballestrieri.

It was then sold to a privateer team in 1974.

Ballestrieri and Maiga on their way to victory in the 1973 Four Regions Rally, a round of the Italian national championship.

Saving History

Its life for the next decade remains a mystery, and Jeremy knows none of its history until it was sold to an American collector in 1984, who successfully campaigned it in vintage circuit racing until he parked it in 1990.

It was actually back in 1970 that Jeremy’s love of the Lancia marque began. Jeremy was co-driving in that year’s Lombard RAC rally in an Austin 1800. Lancia had entered their full works team for the event, and on one particularly wet and rainy night, a Fulvia with Harry Sputnik Källström behind the wheel passed the little Austin at full speed.

Källström didn’t slow down or lift at all; he just gave a friendly wave out the window as he muscled them right off the road. It was then, watching the two petite taillights disappear into the dark night, that Jeremy fell in love with the Fulvia.

In 1995, Jeremy was in England buying spares for his first Fulvia when he learnt of the ex-works car sitting unused in Nevada. After a year of negotiations chassis #2269 was finally his, but the joy of its arrival in Australia was short-lived when it suffered a major engine failure on its first shakedown run. By this stage, #2269 was showing its age so Jeremy decided to give it a full restoration, placing a great deal of emphasis on originality.

As many of the original parts as possible were reused, but considering his future plans, Jeremy brought the car up to modern safety standards. A good decision, because it was discovered that the factory had actually built the roll cage from exhaust tube to save weight! A new one was built from approved steel tube following the original design as a pattern.

2269 Rallies Again

The restoration was completed in 1999, and Jeremy used the Fulvia extensively in many Australian tarmac rallies, including winning the classic handicap at Targa Tasmania in 2000. It was a long held dream of Jeremy’s to compete at San Remo, so in 2002 Jeremy shipped #2269 back to Europe once more for the San Remo Rally Storico. That event was the experience of a lifetime, roaring around the famous stages in the actual car that finished 2nd in 1972.

In the lead up to that event there was a dispute as to the car’s eligibility based on the discrepancy between its year of manufacture and year of first registration. This resulted in a comprehensive investigation by the FIA. This concluded on the eve of the rally, when Jeremy was invited to an opulent suite in the Royal Hotel in San Remo.

There, FIA Event Officials sat puffing cigars and officially confirmed chassis #2269’s works history and originality.

Browne on Classic Rallies, here at the top of Molls Gap, 2005 Rally of the Lakes, Ireland.

Jeremy then joined Reinhard Klein’s Slowly Sideways historic rally group, competing at Rally Deutschland, Corsica, San Remo and Rally Catalunya over the next five years. These classic rallies were often a support event to the modern WRC competition and were used to warm up the rally-mad European crowds. They didn’t need a lot of warming up though, and Jeremy has priceless in-car footage showing what it was like to race along these famous roads with tens of thousands of fans cheering and blowing air horns from the sidelines.

Chassis 2269 on the Rally Deutschland, 2004. Photo credit: Reinhard Klein.

#2269 was then shipped back to Australia for the 20th anniversary of the Targa Tasmania rally in 2011. This will probably end up being the Fulvia’s last competitive outing, as Jeremy feels it is too historically important to continue risking it in further competition. But there is no chance of it ending up in a dusty museum – for the foreseeable future the Fulvia will be retired to an easy life of spirited drives through the Adelaide Hills.

Driving the 1.6 HF 2269

And that’s exactly what we did late last Sunday afternoon. It had been a hot day, and the last rays of golden sunlight struck low paths through the trees as we tore up to Norton Summit, continuing on through the tiny village of Basket Range. We picked this road because it’s full of tight second and third gear hairpins, perfectly suited to the Fulvia’s close ratios and similar in nature to the twisting European roads this very car competed on some forty years ago.

It was quite surreal to watch old films of the Fulvia being flung around the Col de Turini, then hop in the actual car and go for a spin down my favorite twisty road in the hills at sunset. I really don’t see how it can get any better than this!

After just a few corners behind the wheel, it soon became apparent just how well the Fulvia has been developed for this type of driving. The dogleg shift pattern places the most regularly used second/third gear change in the center of the gate, and whilst the synchromesh gearbox doesn’t require a heel/toe blip, the accelerator pedal is so perfectly placed alongside the brake pedal and the little V4 engine is so responsive that it’s almost impossible not to. It feels like there’s an electric charge running through the whole car; the steering comes alive in your hands as it constantly relays information through to the driver, giving no hint that the Fulvia is driven by its front wheels.

Whilst I dare not push such a historic car to anywhere approaching its limit, I can still feel how neutral it is and how easily it turns into tight bends, hints of understeer nowhere to be seen.

Approaching the 7,500rpm redline, the induction roar from the pair of 45 Webers fight with the exhaust note, their battle echoing off the rock faces and filling the valley with glorious music; a passing cyclist even stops to watch and gives us a thumbs up in appreciation.

As we descend a twisty road from the ridge top back down into suburban Adelaide, I take a moment to think about who else’s hands have twirled this wheel in anger in a time and place I’ll never know. Whilst this Fulvia may no longer be tearing around the European rally stages trying to win world championships, it will be tearing around the Adelaide Hills at a slightly more sedate pace, a grinning owner behind the wheel enjoying everything the eager little Fulvia has to offer.

Detailing the Real Thing. All photos by Andrew Coles.

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