Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.3S vs. Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior
Epic battle: Italian Sports Coupés Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.3S vs. Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior. The closest contest yet, but there’s only one winner. Driving, buying and investment. We pitch two of Italy's best 1300cc beauties against each other. Russ Smith takes a pair of Italy’s tax-beating sub-1300cc junior coupés from the 1960s/ early 1970s for a head to head run. There is a winner, but it’s a very close run contest. Photography Simon Thompson.
Written by Derek Bell Sunday, 09 August 2015 15:10
Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.3S vs. Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior - road test2015 / 2016 Drive-My
The Italians are as well known for their performance cars as they are for their pasta, but a car-taxing system that penalises on engine size means that most of the hot stuff gets exported, as only the rich can afford it. But it also means that Italians build very good small-engined – sub-1300cc tax-break – performance cars which are the big sellers back home. Like the pair of coupés we have here. They get exported too, of course, but protective pre-EU UK tax laws back meant that when they arrived on our shores they were seen and sold as something a bit exotic, and you had to really want one, and be quite wellheeled, to choose Italian. In 1969 the Alfa Romeo GT Junior and Lancia Fulvia 1.3 S cost £1749 and £1745 respectively. Quite a jump from the £1125 Ford was asking for a Ford Capri 1600 GT, though it must also be pointed out that both Alfa Romeo and Lancia would outperform the larger-engined, but old-tech, four-speed Ford.
But never mind that: which of the competing Italians is the better car? Italian cars tend to attract tribal behaviour in their fans – you’re either in one camp or the other. But we love both Alfa Romeo and Lancia equally, making choosing between them a purely objective affair. Honestly!
The development story: A rivals’ road race
Alfa Romeo was first to market, showing what was at first called the Giulia Sprint GT at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show. Still using the 1600cc twin-cam running gear of the outgoing, eight-year-old Giulia Sprint, the new car was designed by Giugiaro while he was working for Bertone – hence the common reference to all these 105-series 2+2s in Alfa circles as ‘Bertie Coupés’. And the 2+2 designation is made for a reason – there was a bit more room in the back than the old Sprint offered, but this was still not a full four-seater, the rear ones were just kid-sized. In 1965 1000 of the coupés were converted to soft-tops by Touring, 100 of them in right-hand drive, but they are rarely seen today. At the same time Alfa built 500 GTAs for competition use with light alloy bodies and from 115-170bhp, winning the European Touring Car Championship three years running.
Output from the roadgoing 1600 Sprint engine was 106bhp, and in Spring 1966 a GT Veloce version was launched with a different grille, buckets seats and an extra 3bhp, then later that year the Sprint GT was phased out. In its place came the GT 1300 Junior, which with 103bhp didn’t seem to be short-changing buyers by much, especially as it cost much less in tax. All that what was needed was some more power for the more expensive model and that came in 1968 with the 1750 GTV. As well as a healthy 122bhp the GTV got 5.5x14in rather than 5x15in wheels, and a new twin-headlamp nose that also did away with the step, or ‘Scalino’, ahead of the bonnet.
The GT 1300 Junior gained the 14in wheels, suspension revisions and new dashboard from the new GTV, but retained its ‘Scalino’ nose until 1970. The 1750 GTV became 2000 GTV in 1971, now with 132bhp, a new chrome grille and smaller hubcaps with exposed wheel nuts.
A year later Alfa added the 1600 GT Junior with 110bhp. Both this and the GT 1300 Junior received the new-look wheels. In 1974 the Juniors became 1.3 GT and 1.6 GT and now looked just like the 2000 GTV with twin headlamps. All lasted until 1976 – a 13-year run for Giugiaro’s design.
In 1965, the Fulvia Coupé arrived. Also a 2+2, it initially competed on style rather than performance – there was just 80bhp from the 1216cc V4, and despite alloy doors, bonnet and bootlid it weighed about the same as the Alfa. Nearly 60,000 Series I Fulvias would be sold by the end of 1969. It helped that Lancia quickly introduced sportier versions – like the lightweight 88bhp 1.2 HF in 1966. In 1967 there were two new engines: the base unit now with 1231cc and the same 80bhp, and a 1298cc V4 which gave 87bhp (and later 90bhp) in the 1.3 Rallye and Sport models and 101bhp in the 1.3 HF.
Then in 1968 came the hero: the stripped-out 1.6 HF with 115bhp in street form or 132bhp in optional competition spec, plus a five-speed ‘box – all other Fulvias has so far only had a four-speed. Fiat took Lancia over in 1969 and quickly rushed out a Series II Fulvia Coupé. The alloy panels were now steel, and there was just one engine choice for non-HF models. Luckily that was the 90bhp 1.3 S unit, and all Fulvias now came with a five-speed gearbox. You can tell them from the earlier cars as the outer pair of headlamps were raised to comply with regulations, creating characteristic ‘eyebrows’.
Fulvias were popular for rallying and an HF won the 1972 Monte Carlo Rally, leading to matt blackbonneted Monte Carlo special editions. HFs were sold in stripped out form or as the HF Lusso, with all the trim of the 1.3 S. Final changes were made for the Fulvia 3 Coupé in 1974, but these were mainly to the interior, which got cloth seats and white-faced instruments. Just like the GT Junior, Fulvia production ended in 1976.
Driving: Pecorino v Parmigiano
A right-hand drive Alfa GT Junior is a rare beast. Not many were sold in the UK in the first place, due to the already mentioned cost, and of those, many not claimed by rust have been converted into GTA replicas. So our test car, fresh off the transporter from Italy where there are still plenty to choose from, is a left-hooker. In little cars like this there’s no disadvantage to that and I don’t mind which side I sit; with the Alfa’s slim pillars, even pulling out at awkward-angled junctions isn’t an issue.
The Fulvia is even more delicately pillared than the GT Junior, with quite a tall greenhouse, and this is an original UK-market car with the wheel on the right-hand side; with all that, the view out is pretty much unmatched by any other coupé. However, though I usually fit the long arm/short leg driving position in Italian cars well, and was instantly at home in the Alfa, it’s even more exaggerated in the Lancia so I have to set the backrest more upright than I’d like to get a comfortable grip on the vast 16in wheel. There’s not much side support in the Fulvia, something the Junior gets extra marks for, as the upright part of the seat has body-hugging side bolsters. This one’s also cheating a bit by having a smaller aftermarket Momo wheel, but in original form the Alfa’s wheel is still an inch smaller in diameter than the Lancia’s.
On the road the GT Junior’s steering wheel feels alive, dancing in your hands and feeding back information about road surfaces and cornering forces. It’s like a racer in that respect, which is fair because many of its more powerful kin were racers, and that steering feel – also so smooth to turn – was one of the main things that attracted me to 105-series Alfas in the first place. Aided by that larger wheel, the Fulvia’s steering is much lighter, though it still has weight at parking speeds. But on the move it is fingertip-light and also wonderfully smooth. What I didn’t like so much was the disconcerting play in the system when you are going in a straight line. I did get used to this the more I drove, and over a long journey the Lancia would be the more relaxing car to drive.
On paper these cars look to have similar performance and both produce their peak power at the same 6000rpm, but they deliver it in different ways. Though its peak torque is much higher up the range, the Fulvia’s growly V4 has a broader spread of it and pulls more strongly at lower revs than the GT Junior. That needs to be revved hard to get the best out of it – no hardship as the Alfa twin-cam loves to be gunned. Only above 3000rpm does it really start to work and earn its GT badge, so it’s best driven in the Italian manner with your right foot down, keeping it on the boil. Do that and it doesn’t feel much slower than the later GT 1600 Junior. Once again the Lancia proves the more relaxing car to drive as it picks up well from lower down the rev range and switches easily from cruising to charging mode when called upon.
The bigger-engined Alfa 105 coupés can generate a degree of (controllable) oversteer once you push through their initial tendency to understeer, but the 1300 doesn’t have the torque to bring that on so remains delightfully neutral and hard to get into trouble with, no matter how hard you chuck it at a bend – it just feels unstickable. Try the same with the Fulvia and it finally gives the game away that it’s front-wheel drive; the rest of the time it hides that well – you just can’t tell. But push hard too far into a corner and it understeers quite markedly and can even generate a bit of axle tramp. So it’s best to avoid that and instead drive to the car’s strengths, getting your speed right before the corner and picking the right point just past the apex to put the power back on. Then it returns to being the smooth and relaxing drive it was obviously set up for, though surprisingly with a firmer ride than the Alfa; there seems to be less suspension travel and it bottoms out more easily.
Both cars have five-speed gearboxes (pre-1970 Fulvias only had a four-speed) but with different layouts. The Lancia has a dog-leg first, the Alfa has a more conventional layout with fifth out there on its own – with reverse sited below it. Both have quite light and precise shifts, though until you get used to the Alfa the narrow gate means it’s easy to hit fifth instead of third when shifting up. Both cars also have 10.5in disc brakes front and rear so no flaws there.
But one other thing they share is vinyl seats. Oh, the forgotten joys of your shirt sticking to your back in warm weather, then rapidly chilling when you step out into the breeze. No wonder that aftermarket seat covers were all the rage when these cars were new.
The investment train with the GT Junior on board left the station several years ago. Looking all but identical, they were pulled up in the wake of their GTV and GTA brethren, which now fetch serious money, so alongside a GTV the GT Junior at about 25% less looks like a decent buy. But against the Lancia Fulvia they are expensive. They have yet to follow the sought after HF models, which fetch similar money to Alfa GTVs. So it’s not hard to imagine a 50% rise in the value of ‘ordinary’ Fulvia coupés in the near future. They look undervalued – perhaps they’ll be the next market ‘discovery’?
RUSS’ VERDICT WELL, WE TOLD YOU IT WOULD BE CLOSE...
Take it from me, it’s not hard to fall for the charms of either of these cars. You look at the promise offered up by their styling and think ‘this is going to be fun,’ and it is, as they deliver on all counts. All those elements that keep people coming back to Italian cars, despite their various foibles, are there: the engine and exhaust notes, the feel of the steering through wood, plastic or Bakelite rims, the surefooted handing and all the design touches that highlight the Italians’ passion for building beautiful cars. OK, it’s not a passion that extended to rustproofing, robust electrical items, or ensuring things stay in place like they do on German cars, but if you love Italian classsics you just have to shrug and forgive all that. After all, don’t the humans that we love even more than these cars all have flaws we learn to live with? These two were no exception: the Lancia’s temperature gauge permanently read just off the red though it wasn’t hot, and you couldn’t close the driver’s door with the armrest/door pull; the Alfa Romeo’s glovebox lid kept dropping open and the chrome gear lever boot surround wouldn’t stay in place so I threw it on the back seat. It’s all normal, and if you can’t cope with that, you simply don’t buy an Italian car.
But you want to know which was the best on test, and may have assumed – like I did – that it would be the GT Junior. Certainly the Alfa looks and feel sportier, but in every other way the Fulvia is just a little bit better and more refined, like it went to a good finishing school. Slightly quicker, more economical, and it’s a car you could drive a long way with very little effort. So it just comes out on top – even before you compare the prices.
Russ is right: it’s close, but it’s also a question of personal taste. I own a Lancia (albeit an Integrale), so I can hardly be accused of bias, but in this head-to-head, there’s only one winner: the Alfa Junior. Yes, it’s always on the go, like a six-yearold with a sugar rush. But because it is so constantly frantic it is also so very much more fun to drive. Sure, the Fulvia can be made to sing for its supper, but it’s more at home pottering along with a gent of rapidly advancing years at the helm. Face it, Russ, you’re getting old. Keith Adams
FULVIA BUYING TIPS
1 Look for rust, especially in the front subframe and rear suspension mounting points.
2 Also check for it in hard to- repair areas like the lower corners of roof pillars and the front bulkhead.
3 Check for healthy oil pressure and listen for bearing rumble – an engine rebuild can cost more than £6000.
4 On an SI make sure the brakes work well – rebuilding their Dunlop system is expensive. Later cars used cheaper, simpler Girling brakes.
5 Regular Fulvias done up to look like HFs are probably worth less in drag than in standard trim.
GT JUNIOR BUYING TIPS
1 Rust is the biggest enemy – buy a good body and worry about the rest later.
2 Make sure there’s a distinct join where front and rear wings overlap the sills.
3 Look in the boot at the underside of the parcel shelf. Rot here is hard to fix.
4 Look for oil in the coolant and tracking down the block below the head join on the exhaust side – it means a blown head gasket.
5 Up-engined GT Juniors (to GTV 1750 and 2000 units) are currently popular but it may hurt values in the long run.
The Fulvia is even more delicately pillared than the GT Junior – the view out is pretty much unmatched’. Fulvia’s seats are comfortable, but they lack support for hard driving. Two-spoke steering wheel allows a good clear view of the gauges. That’s a very stylish dashboard, but the wheel rim is actually plastic, not wood. GT Junior’s cockpit is much sportier and the seats more body-hugging. Don’t worry, that’s not optimism but an Italian-market speedo reading in km/h. Twin-binnacle dash is an Alfa trademark. The gear lever position looks odd, but it works well. GT 1300 Junior took over from Sprint GT. SII Fulvia 1.3 S has steel panels and 90bhp engine.
Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.3S
Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior
92bhp @ 6000rpm
89bhp @ 6000rpm
85lb ft @ 5000rpm
87lb ft @ 3200rpm
FWD, five-speed manual
RWD, five-speed manual
Rear whell drive
Independent, wishbones, transverse leaf spring, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers
Independent, wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers
Dead axle, leaf springs, Panhard rod, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers
Live axle, trailing arms, coil springs, A-bracket, telescopic dampers
worm and roller
Girling discs all round, inboard at rear
All vented discs
WHAT TO PAY Concours £12,500 Excellent £8500 Usable £4000 Project £1750
WHAT TO PAY Concours £22,000 Excellent £16,500 Usable £8500 Project
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