A Painstaking Restoration Saved This Gorgeous 1960 Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato
Photography by Armando Musotto
I’ve always been interested in cars, especially those with history. In fact, I think of the past often; of what I experienced, of what I missed, of what things used to be like. When the efforts of modernization leave out considerations of beauty and instead focus only on comfort and ease, something important is lost, and rarely do I see examples of modernity and beauty in harmony.
It seems our canonical definition of aesthetic achievement has changed. Perhaps its simply because the ideals of classic beauty are impossible to reach while maintaining the comforts we’ve gotten so used to. I’m relating this to automobiles, but it is a broader pattern.
Automated factories are intriguing in their own right, but I have always been struck by the charms of something that was built with human hands. This act of direct creation is the only gesture, in my opinion, that brings us closer to the concept of infinite beauty; if you can create something worthy enough, it will remain and have a sense of permanence.
I approached the world of classic cars I think precisely because I loved the concept of creation in this sense, the hand-built machines. I’m fascinated by analog instruments, the feeling of bare metal, the smell of fresh paint and the sight of its patina’d counterpart, the sound of engines echoing in a workshop outside the city, the stories of a men with white hair speaking of Stratos, Delta, and 037 as their dirty hands idly toying with bolts designed to create something magnificent.
I’m not alone in these thoughts, and I first came in contact with my like-minded friend Corrado about a year ago. But before I met him I fell in love with his Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato. It is a car that embodies these concepts of craftsmanship and timelessness to the utmost, it is an object of art that will endure, a metal box full of infinite emotions.
Before I get too emotional myself, I’ll end my part here and let Corrado do justice to the story of this specific Lancia. We had a nice chat during our photography trip to the most beautiful promontory in the world, Monte Pellegrino, so sit down in a comfy chair, pour a glass of Marsala—I’m Sicilian to the bone, you know!—and enjoy the photos and the story of a wonderful restoration, shared by a wonderful person. Thank you, Corrado, you have been an example for me and for all those who live with passion.
It was the year 2006, and after sustaining a passion for cars—vintage or otherwise—that had lasted a lifetime already, it was time to acquire my third car. The first was a 1965 Giulia Sprint GT step-nose that had more stucco than metal under the paint, and that was followed by a monumental 1962 Touring-bodied Alfa 2600 Spider with a magnificent six-cylinder but the drivability of an OM Lupetto!
I have always been particularly interested in coach-built and racing cars of the ’50s and ’60s, so I decided to take a step up with my next purchase and climb a little higher up my automotive Mt. Olympus. This was the classic case of the step being longer than the leg taking it though, so for reasons of economic availability—or born from the temptation to set up the car in a period-correct race configuration—I took the very risky decision to seek out cars in need of restoration.
The guidelines were simple: it had to be a real GT, with racing connections, above two liters of displacement, preferably with six cylinders, and ideally of Italian lineage. Something that at the time could probably take part in the Targa Florio, the Tour de France, the Intereuropa Cup, and so on. The shortlist had come to include a handful of cars, in alphabetical order below:
So with my shopping list written down, I started to take a look without too precise of a plan. I started asking around through the channels I knew (at the time, word of mouth among friends and collectors was still invaluable, and even more so before the internet really started to create speculative markets and squeeze prices). Soon enough, there I taking a ride to central and northern Italy to see a series of possible restoration candidates. Including some dangerous jumps into the dark like a first-series Pantera, I went to see a Maserati 3500 GT in the process of restoration. It was on that journey that I ran into a Flaminia Sport Zagato, a first-series car from 1960. I had never considered it because I had always thought it was beyond my possibilities, in addition to the fact that it had become a very rare car—they built less than 100 specimens originally, and they are quite biodegradable as far as automobiles are concerned. Of course, it was love at first sight.
The conditions were not exactly encouraging though. Someone had started dismantling it many years ago perhaps to try a restoration of his own, and so the car was stripped down with its beautiful aluminum skin directly exposed to the sun. All in all it was very intact still from the looks of things, minus a small injury on its snout and some corrosion on the edges of the doors and hoods. The chassis was covered with sound-deadening material which certainly concealed the advanced state of the corrosion underneath. Inside, a series of wooden fruit boxes set on the floor contained a potpourri of components, from the heat exchangers to piles of the unidentified electrical bits. The engine—the right one, fortunately—lay on the ground nearby with an intake manifold and a three-body carburetor from the more widespread Flaminia 3B Coupé that did not belong on this car.
Before signing any papers though I had some consultation with friends, and I heard enough encouraging responses (from dangerous hardcore fans of the brand Lancia of course!) such that I could ignore the wise advice of those trying to save me from incoming economic disaster—“But why not just take a beautiful Giulietta Spider instead?”
After selling everything I could (including my modern car), and borrowing the remaining difference from a dear friend, I bought the car, paying for some reason 20% more than the agreed upon price at the outset; the seller raised it without any perceivable shame, but I was now too cooked to resist it, and I was only partially able to retract and come to a more reasonable number. All said and done, the following week the Flaminia embarked on the first ferry out and arrived in port on a rainy evening at the end of November. It was immediately brought to the workshop to start the process of cleaning and disassembling the mechanical components. To make things even more complicated, I decided to “break down” the restoration around Sicily (and beyond …).
The frame and the body would have been entrusted to a very skilled metal worker well into his 80s, who had already worked with great success on a friend’s Zagato (in truth though that car was in semi-new condition compared to mine! The engine, gearbox, and suspension would be the prerogative of a famous vintage car preparation workshop (mainly Alfa Romeo GTA, GTAm, SZ, etc.). Reassembly, interior work, and finishes (no less important than the parts mentioned above of course), would be managed by a restorer friend and a series of specialists he knew.
As we cleaned the car, we continued to remove all kinds of debris, including plenty of hives complete with their mummified inhabitants, plus a few kilograms of soil… Threateningly reddish soil… Once in the bodywork proper, I was subjected to the first of a long series of difficult decisions.
The Flaminia Sport Zagato (as well as the GT version bodied by Touring) was developed starting from a shortened version of the Flaminia standard steel chassis. Starting from the chassis and fire wall, it was then built out in a steel tube frame on which an aluminum skin was laid (or rather Peraluman, an alloy of aeronautical derivation in vogue on the Italian racing cars of the period).
On one hand this material allowed for a considerable weight reduction versus steel, without compromising the structural rigidity. On the other hand, it concealed the internal corrosive processes of the steel parts below, and introduced the risk of galvanic corrosion of aluminum if the insulation that separated it from the steel was destroyed.
Consequently, to be able to “heal” the body there were two paths. One, we would proceed piece by piece on the platform, and work on the accessible parts of the frame from inside the cabin hoping that the rest was not too compromised. Or two, we could continue to undress the car by detaching the aluminum skin from the frame, to lay bare everything and start from scratch.
We chose the second option, wisely in my opinion, and so it was, that on day two of ownership I found myself in front of the “pulp” view of the body cut into three sections and laid on the ground in the shade of an olive tree—what else? I squeamish sight, but the worst view was that of the chassis: once the carpet was removed (or what was left of it), various non-structural parts of the floor like the driver and passenger side walls and the spare wheel compartment, crumbled instantly. We also opened up the sill boxes too, and unfortunately we found internal corrosion in abundance there too.
It was the beginning of a total restoration of the frame which lasted 7 months in total and was extremely demanding from the economic side of things. But at the same time, it was worth it to have a safe and rigid car that wouldn’t need to be worried about and guessed at any longer. We also learned a lot of things about the car as we went along: the original construction technique was extremely refined, and in fact the Flaminia is considered by many to be the last real Lancia.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about: inside the sill boxes were a series of reinforcement profiles with complex polygonal shapes to add rigidity with minimal weight—for comparison, the Aston Martin DB2/4 frame that I had considered as an alternative had only a series of rectangular-section tubes and flat panels! The electrical system also had a series of dedicated channels inside the boxes on the Lancia. Further, all the bolts—all of them—made extensive use of noble solutions (bronze overlays etc.) so that, despite the disastrous conditions of the car, we never found a locked pin anywhere on or in it. The build quality was generally excellent, with for example the door hinges that were like new with minimum tolerances, the gear levers that had no play, etc.
In contrast, some other details reflected the tradition of craftsmanship, the “custom-built by Zagato” feeling: the roof as well as the window pillars had an internal wooden subframe that served as a support for the assembly of gaskets and coatings; the boxes of the rear part of the floor were shortened and closed without much gentleness (I would not say it was done with a baseball bat, but almost …). This was done because the rear overhang was shorter than even the Touring version, and this generated endless philosophical discussions with the restorer on how to best approach the restoration of such things.
The only major oversight that they had was the corrosion protection though. They were not yet at the time of galvanizing the complete body (even Porsche took 10 more years to introduce it on ’71 model-year 911), and probably the initial treatment of the sheet metal (largely state-produced or coming from the public ILVA and Italsider) was not any worse than the best German competition at the time. It must be said that the very bad conditions of its conservation also contributed to the peculiar history of my car: registered by a new Italian mining company, after a few years of life it was seized due to bankruptcy and consequently spent over 20 years parked in a legal parking deposit, probably out in the elements. From the ‘80s onwards it passed into the hands of a couple of collectors, one of whom tried to start the restoration … the rest of the story you know.
So back to the restoration. We moved on to the aluminum bodywork next, which was cleaned and repaired wherever we found deformed parts or other damage. The choice of color was easy: after some imaginative wanderings (including an “ivory blue” in Ferrari 250 GT Zagato style) I convinced myself to adopt the original Rosso Arcoveggio, which was also the official color of the first Flaminia Zagato to go racing. So, the long process of painting began with endless washing and treatment cycles, followed by months of rest before starting up again. These cycles of rest were very much in agreement with the need to defer the expenses. I practically invested everything I earned on the restoration, and several times I had to stop to catch some air!
Unfortunately I had no tolerance for the paintwork on certain parts of the body, so I was forced to repaint the car twice in just four years while the restoration of the other parts proceeded with much more calm.
It was not only due to lack of funds that the restoration slowed down though: the car was miraculously quite complete, but a series of specific details from Zagato forced extensive and exhausting research around Europe to find replacements or just information. The fact that many Flaminia Sports had been used in the ‘80s and ‘90s by gentlemen drivers for the historical races was certainly helpful in this regard; I remember a visit from the great and late Luciano Basso, who mindful of the good times of the Flaminia Club Italia, was happy to give me a series of details like door frames and moldings that were dismantled from his cars in order to reduce weight. Other objects proved to be practically unobtainable though, such as the manifold for the three dual-body carburetors (which forced me to buy an entire engine…) and the starter motor shared only with some versions of the Ferrari 250. I found that piece by chance back in 2015 online, but one of the finest pieces—the wooden and aluminum steering wheel—was included with the car, but in very bad condition. Initially considered unrecoverable by the restorers, it was masterfully saved by the carpenter who had redone the wardrobes at my parents’ house of all things (he worked in his free time and even tried not to get paid for the wheel!).
Next it was time to think inside the box: wanting to set up the car in a period-correct racing configuration, the Zagato shell seats (optional at the time) were indispensable, so I turned to a Lancia specialist in Piedmont who still restores the underlying seat structures. The real stroke of luck was to find an old upholsterer in Milan with his restorer who had worked as a young man at Zagato on the interior design of these cars: I of course entrusted him with the remaking of the upholstery of the seats and interior panels. It was easy to choose the color (black), much less to decide the details of the set-up (endless doubts about carpets, lozenges, smooth door panels with cord or originals with handles, etc.). Thanks to very advanced rendering techniques (read: pencil and paper) and a couple of brainstorming sketches, the configuration was defined.
With the body and interiors at a good point, and with a little economic energy recovered from the sale of another car (an Alfa Giulia GT competition car from 1966), we could act on the front of the mechanics. Having two engines available, on the first I chose the way of maximum preparation, trying to maintain a minimum of usability in the real world: displacement was maintained at 2.5 liters, three double-body Weber 35s were fitted (as on the following Flaminia 3C), I fitted it with a competition clutch (which I regretted after the first few meters…), added lightened connecting rods and special pistons as well as a new cam profile (but not too extreme), and provisionally it still retains its standard exhaust manifold which is to be replaced as soon as possible with two competition “3-in-1” headers. It also has the shorter gear change from the Flaminia sedan, custom spring rates and lowered and stiffened crossbows, rebuilt shock absorbers, and 15” technomagnesium wheels in the Campagnolo Amadori style with Dunlop Racing tires. Ideally this configuration would have to give a few tens of horses more than standard.
The sale of Alfa allowed me to accelerate the reassembly of the interior and the mechanics (not without infinite vicissitudes for the most complex electrical system in history, with hundreds of nearly identical black wires distinguished only by tiny incisions on aluminum plates), and finally we were able to feel the car in motion. What an indescribable feeling that was! A car that for years both my father and I were afraid of never completing (“One day we will sell it as a 90% complete restoration,” we’d say), finally, it was there in front of us making the beautiful noises of free suction from its V6 only partially covered by the buzz of the cooling fan and the standard mufflers.
The first full “test lap” revealed a very linear and clean power delivery, also due to deliberately greasy carburetion to preserve the mechanics which we would check again after the first 1,000km. It had good torque and excellent elasticity in its power band, plus a precise and light steering feel. Gear changes are smooth and crisp, and it’s just too bad there are only four forward gears, you always look for the fifth!
The perfect balance given by the central front engine and the transaxle gearbox to the rear axle is appreciated in the corners, and the layout lends itself toward excellent traction despite the absence of a self-locking differential. Even on very bumpy surfaces the car remains precise, neutral and planted thanks to the double front triangles and the de Dion rear setup. Perhaps only the accentuated front camber (chosen perhaps a bit ambitiously in pursuit of who knows what kind of future competitions…) gives some extra turn-in grip with a tendency to make the car tramline on the straightaways with any grooves or ruts present.
Beyond the technique, however, the greatest emotion is to find oneself in front of the two marvelous and quite enormous Jaeger instruments, the outline of the two fenders, and the central air intake on the bonnet, and of course the legendary double hump above the head, which is also visible from inside.
From that moment on, I began a long and slow running-in phase to take note of all the details to be developed later. Some are still pending (the carburetion and the advance are still “quiet”), but others have been fixed in time for the first important sporting participation of the car: the wedding day with my wife! For all the other details we will continue to work without too much haste: otherwise, after all these years, my father and I would risk finding ourselves with nothing to do…