Now, I don't usually comment on TG episodes these days, having long since given up on the "WORST EPISODE EVER!" versus "THIS IS BRILLIANT I'LL GIVE IT A 10!" hyperbole that has pervaded every single one of these threads for the last five series, but there's a good reason this episode meant rather a lot to me.
First of all, the random bit. I'm 90% sure the Morris Marina was the same one that had already had a piano dropped on it in Duel
, which was filmed earlier in the year... anyone see that?
Now, the real substance: I write in high praise of TG's decision to run a lengthy piece on Lancias past and... past. They've been mentioned before, in passing, and there was an old episode where Jezza and Hamster decided we really don't
want the Thesis in this country because it's eye-gougingly ugly, it being the culmination of the designers going down the wrongest of wrong paths for the last decade - the rot really started with the bug-eyed Lybra, which was launched several years after Lancia had pulled out of the UK. But, it's always a good idea to remind us of a time when Lancia's designers didn't know the meaning of ugly (we'll forget the hideous Trevi
for now), and when they were still here.
You see, Italian cars run in my family. My dad had a Fiat 128 and a 131. My mum had... two Unos and a Tipo. Even my brother had an Uno as well. But my uncle's the biggest Italian car nut of the lot. In the 1970s, he had a Lancia Beta. In the early 1980s, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. And, more recently, his third Lancia - a Thema. But it was the second one he had, about eleven years ago now, that was the most interesting, and there it was, right at the end of the TG segment, in all its glory - the Delta Integrale. European Car Of The Year 1980 the standard Delta may have been, but when I was 16 and reading Max Power
I lusted after the Integrale in a way that other teenage boys lustred after... girls. One day, slightly later on, I was told my uncle had gone to Switzerland to buy a 1993 Integrale and my jaw hit the floor. Still, I couldn't quite believe it really happened until he turned up at my house in it...
...and that's me, aged 19, when I had a lot less hair everywhere, posing in it. Of course, I couldn't actually drive it... the insurance man wouldn't let me. But I had my fun some other way...
...because I had a Lancia of my own! OK, I admit a 1.0-litre Y10 FIRE LX isn't exactly Integrale territory, and the kind of car bores that we don't talk about on this board will point out it was sold in its homeland as an Autobianchi, but compared to the weedy base model Vauxhall Nova I'd had before, it went... relatively... like a rocket. The Nova had a 1.0-litre engine as well, but in a much heavier body, and it wasn't injected. Unfortunately, the Y10 met a sticky end as its brakes failed rather alarmingly one day on a trip to Colchester, and although it only hit a kerb, it was still doing about 40 mph and the impact bent the chassis and it was written off. So, what could I possibly replace it with...
Lancia Y10, and this time it was the GTie! Admittedly, this was only a 1.3-litre, but it would do well over 100 (I know, even though I'm not supposed to admit it) and I always wondered what would happen if it had had, say, a 1.9-litre engine the way a Peugeot 205 GTI did. Or maybe they should have continued the old Y10 turbo and given if four wheel drive and then it'd have been a "Y10 Integrale".
I challenge Jezza to say I'm not a proper petrolhead because I haven't had an Alfa Romeo. He can ramble on about "soul", "passion" and all those other buzzwords he usually hands around whenever he's within a mile radius of an Alfa (except the Arna, obviously), but if what he's really saying is that chronic unreliability doesn't matter to a petrolhead because it's worth owning an Italian car despite that, and it's worth putting up with all those days of pain for the time you get to open the taps down a B-road and listen to the engine sing... then I've done that, in my two Lancias, or Autobianchis, or whatever you call them, and even the 1.0-litre FIRE engine makes a great noise on the B184 from Great Dunmow to Thaxted when you're 18 - as I was when I bought the red one - and insurance premiums are sky-high. And at the time I could have had another Nova or a Fiesta or a Polo or something unreliable and French (I certainly wasn't
going to have a Metro...), but when the Lancia jumped out at me from the pages of Auto Trader I knew it would be mine. And then the gearbox failed and still I dropped a replacement into it. And then there was that terminal brake problem. But it was great while it lasted, as was the white GTie, and so I know all too well the pain and pleasure of Italian cars.
And then, when the GTie also passed on in April 2001, the time came for less painful motoring and I switched to Panzer Division Volkswagen when I was given a deal on an F-reg MkII Golf, and on and on it went, eins, zwei, eins, zwei, eins, zwei, never giving me problems - other than the time I had a window smashed and tried to fix it myself ("that's not gone well", for reasons I won't go into), and if I hadn't sold it after three years to a man I knew wanted a quick runaround while his C-reg Golf was off the road, it'd probably still be doing the rounds today. And there's quite a few things I liked about that Golf. But it did signal the end of the road for me with Italian cars, because I aged and became sensible. In some ways, at least.
Now I'm 30 I may have a sudden mid-life crisis and decide I need a P-reg Alfa GTV that was once owned by James May. Unfortunately, I'll have to move house if I want to do that, as my driveway will only handle one car. Two if both were hateful G-Wizzes, but I'll never have one of those for as long as I have a pulse.