Unexceptional Recognition For Our Lancia
Alongside our regular classic car hire fleet we have a few classic cars that we run for our own personal use. It's a bit like running a B&B - these cars are the bit we keep to ourselves.
One of those cars is our 1982 Lancia Trevi. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s and you quite like cars, even if only a little bit, then the Lancia Trevi will be a familiar name to you. For one very good reason, which we'll come on to.
If you didn't grow up then and even if you do love cars then there is a very good chance you have never heard of the Lancia Trevi. For several reasons.
Why the Lancia Trevi has faded from public view has many answers. Firstly, it's a Lancia and there's not much of Lancia left to talk about and none of it in Britain, a market it exited about 20 years ago. Then there's the Trevi itself, which was, to look at, a pretty ordinary three box saloon and one made by Lancia, not at the time entirely associated with building cars well or to last.
All of which also explains another reason, which is that the Trevi has virtually dwindled into extinction in the UK. There were never very many in the first place, now there are perhaps three left, maybe four.
Despite all that, mention the word Trevi to the right people - probably a man with a receding hairline - and you'll get a gasp of recognition, closely followed by one unusual exclamation-driven word: 'Dashboard!'
That's right, beneath the dowdy, instantly-forgettable exterior you see above, lies this....
The Trevi's dashboard, penned by industrial designer Mario Bellini, is a masterpiece of form and function. Today we are used to cars having creative, perhaps over-designed dashboards, but in the 1970s and 80s there was a way to lay out a dashboard and that was the only way to lay out a dashboard. Form reigned and design took a well earned holiday. How Bellini envisioned things was not that way. At all.
So when Lancia unveiled the Trevi, with its Swiss cheese fascia, to Britain's shuffling motor press, clad in their suits, shirts and ties of varying shades of brown, it was genuinely shocking. For some, even, mirth-inducing. They saw it as a complicated, fussy, over-designed piece of Italianism that was intended to draw attention away from how ordinary the rest of the Trevi was. And they were probably right on the second point.
While the press chortled, Lancia's battered dealers tore their hair out. In the early 80s the company was trying desperately to recover from a catastrophic rust and reliability problem that had plagued its cars and ruined sales. What the dealers wanted was a competent, mainstream car that would appeal to Britain's army of uber-conservative company car buyers. They wanted a Latin Cortina.
They sort of got one. Because the Trevi looks, from the outside, about as conventional and and anonymous as a three box Cortina or Cavalier. Perhaps more so. But, of course, open the door and the plan for conservative world domination utterly falls apart. Britain's car buyers were simply too staid to buy into the Trevi's modernity.
All of which explains why Lancia barely sold any Trevis in Britain. Those that were haven't tended to survive: they're not as exciting as the other Lancia products and of course they have an aversion to our climate.
There has never been a dashboard before or since that looks like the Trevi's. But that doesn't mean it's not very good. Slip onto the spongey but otherwise-support free blue wool seat of the Trevi and acclimatise. What at first seems confusing is, in fact, logically and cleverly laid out. Everything you need is right in front of you - every dial is fully visible through the small wheel. To the left are arranged clear, obvious buttons and warning lights that are big and chunky, so you can't miss them.
Admittedly, the radio and the ventilation are ideally positioned to take your eye off the road and cause accidents. And ventilate your left knee. But that's detail. And some of the other features of the interior also suggest Bellini did the dash and got rather bored. Why are the door handles hidden? Why do the rear seat passengers have to reach into the front to operate their windows? Was it really necessary to fit four ash trays?
These and other questions you can ponder at Festival of the Unexceptional on 31st July when you'll be able to see the Trevi up close. Because it's been selected for the coveted Concours D'Ordinaire, a showcase of a handful of the best and most unusual classics at this popular show. Yes, we appreciate the irony of a rather distinctive car being selected as unexceptional.
We tend to use the Trevi during the summer months so you may see it on site if you arrive for our one of Road Trips or Classic Tasters. If so feel free to jump in and admire the madcap world of Mario Bellini.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days, 01527 893733