A short history of Lancia in South Africa
I promised the Italian Car fraternity in Texas to write a piece about the history of Lancia in SA. With a insurmountable mountain of work dragged in front of me
I really struggle to do this as much as I would want to. Hence I asked my son Litha to use ChatGPT to write the story. While not being particularly overjoyed with the advent of AI, if the thing can save me some work, so be it. So Litha asked ChatGPT to write a story about Lancia in SA, and what is the response of the smartest automated brain available ?
"Contact the representatives of Lancia in SA to get the required information."
So it puts the job right back on my plate.... so there I sit on a Sunday morning, its mothers day, and I will write some story now....
The history of Lancia is most peculiar, as in no other country outside Europe did the brand get that deeply entrenched. The people that really know the history are sadly not available for comment, I am a latecomer to the scene ( 1995) and can only report on what I picked up along the way.
Going back in time the earliest name is TAK the Transvaal Agricultural Koöperasie.
The owner Raimondo di Boyle shared with Ferruccio Lamborghini the idea of moving from tractors
to sports cars. So that has been a successful progression at least twice in history.
The the information available here about TAK on this page which also tells you about the Lancia car production in SA
The cars came down as CKD ( complete knock down ) and were assembled in Natal. To comply with importation regulations they had to use a certain amount of local content, like batteries tyres and most important trimming material. As a consequence, the interior is rather substandard.
The cars were of course very costly, but then again, apartheid south Africa had plenty of wealth to afford such luxuries.
The last cars to be assembled was the Beta coupe, in a unique SA blend, using basically the latest body trim with wrap around bumpers, but using the normal carburettor engine instead of the IE and VX units assembled in Italy.
When the Thema came out, it was launched in SA with fully equipped models, aircon being a standard feature. The 16V turbo was sold in considerable quantities.
The cars were very popular, but the tight service schedules of 30 000km for the 16V engine did not go well with the tight Dutch financial schedules.... so may cars died from belt failure :(
In 1995 the came the end for TAK, for personal reasons and the fact the wit the Dedra, the RHD production for Lancia had ended for good. This is of course not entirely true, as the Delta 3 and the Ypsilon 3 were both build as RHD though badged as a Chrysler when sold in the UK.
The Viglietti brothers had been running a Ferrari workshop Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town for a while. Eventually they purchased a large property in Roeland st.
At the same time Fredman motors http://fredmanmotors.lancia.co.za closed down, and Vilgiletti motors were then the agents for Lancia and Ferrari.
When TAK closed down, a historic effort was made, and 12 containers with Lancia and Ferrari parts were shipped down from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
By then Viglietti rebuild their premised in Roeland street, featuring a large showroom and a massive parking garage.
I still remember the room the size of a football field stacked with brand-new parts. The only time I saw something alike was when we visited the store of the late Tom Sheehan in Pennsylvania before it went down the drain :(
At the time the Lancia Ersatzteilservice has made the move from Germany to Cape Town in 1996
The move was epic to say the least, but this is another story....
It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time, or should I say of being lucky once.
And the foresight and generosity of then CEO Gabriele Viglietti.
Viglietti motors was mainly interested in the Ferrari parts, the Lancia parts were a bycatch, though a rather large one. So that opened an opportunity. We brokered a sale of most body panels to Gruppo Ricambi Bielstein, the leading FIAT/Lancia wholesalers in Europe. In rust prone Europe those body panels were very valuable. A large chunk of of Appia and Flavia parts were via Bielstein sold to the US, but we don't have any info who the recipients were. I remember 2-3 containers being packed and moved to Germany.
As a thank you , we received from Gabriele the first batch of parts:
this batch contained a waste amount of new leaf springs for Fulvia /Flavia form the original production in SA
By then we purchased our building in 3 Plein st. Woodstock to make more space for more parts.
we now had space to fetch everything from by now rat-infested remote locations:
for a few years Viglietti use the Lancia stock for the servicing of vehicle, but one day they received an offer to rent out the storage space to tenant who promised a much higher revenue then the parts could ever generate. I remember how I go the call, to EVACUATE NOW. With a small Nissan 1100 bakkie and endless loads, tonnes of material was moved. Luckily the original stock database of TAK was preserved, so the parts came with an inventory. Now started the long work of checking thousands of parts against the inventory list.
To date we are selling from this stock and the shelves are still full, so it has been an eternal blessing to us...
But now let us go back to the non-commercial players:
The late Peter Immelman was the face of Lancia in Cape Town. He started early in his marriage with an Appia Saloon. ( I only see the pun when I proof read it, but I just leave it ) Being young and racey, he was naturally unimpressed with the engine performances and approached the factory in Italy with a request for more power. The response came via return post: "If you want a sports car, buy a sport scar". So that was that. The original letter sadly disappeared. Peter and his family moved to Ireland, propelled as a Flavia Saloon.
Eventually they moved back to the cape bring with them the marvel of thin film plastic bags, who are now dispersing across our windy shores in the millions.
Peter ran a plastic factory in Ndabeni, and had his own private Lancia workshop cum mechanic in the back. From here he did house the events of the Cape Lancia Club. There were many cars around at the time.
Peter was a very lovable character, his passion for lancia going to the extremes. He is known to have lost a Flavia engine as he was not prepared to spend the money to top up the oil. On the other hand he did spend fortunes to have the armatures of his lambda rebuild in the UK.
Him and his charming wife Christine were very generous hosts, and hosted many braiis in their home in Rondebosch for the Lancia fraternity.
Very sadly, Peters two sons did not share his enthusiasm for the brand, so after his passing, the cars were flogged off to the highest bidder. In another "right time right place" moment, a Cape Townian Entrepreneur took over the tools and the extensive spare parts collection, and started the Lancia stable, in a barn he rented in Tokai. Now the Club had a home again. for a while, the bonfire was burning until all of Peters goodies were sold and then the rent was defaulted.
The end of the Lancia stable was a rather sad mess.
On the other end of the country we do have Tony Seiler, a Swiss engineer with an love for the brand. He chaired the Lancia Club SA for many years and after retiring form his teaching post, he dedicated his life to Lancia Restorations. Sadly his children likewise did not inherit his passion, so we can say that the love for Lancia is not heditary. One day he will have to down tools and we really don't know who will replace him,
Now going back to the corporate world:
After TAK packed up, the Lancia dealership shortly went to Fausto and Vicky Carello ( from he famous headlight family ), but that did not work out,
and Fausto took his dealership code with him into retirement.
But now Stellantis set up office in South Africa in 2022 and will cater for all the brands in its fold including Lancia. This leaves the future of FIAT SA which has always been an independent company in the balance.
Once the new electric Lancia models arrive, they may eventually be offered to the SA market. This wont be much of a logistical overhead as all the brands will be based on he same electric platform.
Which brings us back to the very last real Lancia which is proudly hosted in he Cape Lancia Museum.
The museum was established primarily to allow importation of the Thesis Emblema V6 which otherwise remains banned in South Africa.
The brand has recently enjoyed un unprecedented popularity, with prices soaring, especially for the Fulvia coupe. Unfortunately the quality of the cars on offer is very poor, which we discover every day in the workshop.
So now ChatGPT should read that and learn something :)