I have seen Bertone stamps behind the front bumper on Evo2s, researching

why this logo was there revealed a story of decline, corruption and greed.

A bit of history

Vincenzo Lancia died in 1937, the company he founded continued trading, still innovative, but now lacking the funds for proper R&D. Low profit car and truck production , and Vincenzo's son Gianni's mismanaged motor sport ventures had depleted Lancia's funds, so in the 1950s Vincenzo's wife Adele agreed to sell her share of Lancia to the Pesenti family.

With Lancia now being controlled by the Pesenti group, investment in the company improved. In 1963 Lancia opened a new factory in Chivasso, this was a massive facility, placed in a rural township community of 15000 inhabitants.

This entirely new vehicle production facility was alongside the A4 highway to Milan, this new plant gave Lancia the capacity to quadruple production, and modernise the Lancia range. The Fulvia and Flavio were developed and built here, these new cars were a great success, confirming Lancia's reputation for quality and innovation.

Chivasso was a self sufficient facility, with a 440 metre long assembly hall,

it had a paint shop, foundry and metal stamping units. A 4.2 km test track outside the factory was used to road test every car produced.

The Chivasso plant would design and build a car from scratch, then deliver

a completed quality product. In 1968 37,000 vehicles were produced here,

the plant was also used by Pinin Farina, Bertone and Zagato to assemble

cars under their brands.

In 1969 Fiat made Lancia's owners an offer they really couldn't refuse, so Fiat took over Lancia and the Chivasso factory. Fiat sought to bring Lancia into their control, and enforce the Fiat production methods and standards. Fiat hired Giugiaro to design Lancia's new small car, the Delta. The Lancia bodied version of Fiat's new small car was developed at the Chivasso factory, but the Fiat group found it difficult to properly control Lancia's independent thinking, and struggled to keep the development costs down to Fiat standards.

In 1986 Fiat bought Alfa Romeo from the Italian government, Fiat's CEO Cesare Romiti had decided to combine Lancia and the struggling Alfa to form a Fiat luxury brand. Not many of the two smaller companies' management or shop floor staff thought this was a good idea.

In the 1990s neither company prospered in 'Alfa-Lancia Spa', Fiat's profit-taking, Fiat's shady Libyan stockholders, and accounting irregularities saw to this. The increased revenue of the combined brands disappeared into supporting Alfa Romeo, where the money actually went is anybody's guess.

 

Fiat's plan was to milk the Lancia partnership, and close the expensive Chivasso factory down. Despite these plans for closure, new assembly robots were installed at Chivasso to improve build quality. Paint shop quality control had been poor, with paint lines not being cleaned properly between colour changes, this led to many new cars being repainted. 

 

Soon afterwards, the factory was duly run down, Dedra production was transferred to the smaller Rivolta factory, only the run-out Delta production was left at Chivasso.

Fiat installed painting robots at Chivasso because paint shop quality

control was so poor there. Manually operated  paint lines weren't cleaned properly between colour changes, this led to many cars having to be

repainted after inspection, and this is why many batches of Betas were

different colours, when they should have been the same!

The importance of the Chivasso factory was confirmed when Pope John Paul II visited the premises.

He's pictured here with Gianni Agnelli and his CEO Cesore Romiti in the early 1990s.

A popemobile was built at the factory for this visit

Fiat brokered a deal to transfer the Chivasso factory lease to a consortium of small bodybuilders,

this was led by Carrozzeria Maggiora, the company became known as IRMA Spa.

The now IRMA factory staff were busy building cars at Chivasso for Maserati, Alfa Romeo and DeTomaso, some Fiat sports models and prototypes were also produced here. IRMA were concentrating on profitable vehicles with a production future, our little Delta had a short future by then, so didn't really fit into their plans.

Bertone had meanwhile been busy building their own production facility, in readiness for a big GM contract to build Kadett and Astra coupes and convertibles. This GM contract proceeded, and Bertone who were already building the Fiat x/19, could now build a car to the parameters set by the largest multi-national manufacturers, so Bertone's standards were high and matched to their customer's production products.

IRMA were contracted to Fiat to assemble the Ducato van range, this was profitable for Fiat and easy for IRMA. Fiat was pressuring IRMA to increase production of these commercial vehicles, IRMA's paint and finishing shops found it difficult to re-tool for the elaborate Lancia Delta. So the remaining Evo2s were sent to Bertone for final assembly and finishing.

The Lancia Delta was always produced at Chivasso, and was developed there into the multiple rally winner it became.

The Subaru and Mitsubishi competition cars that came along were faster and more reliable than the Lancias, and the road going versions were cheaper too.

So the final Integrale Evo2s were a fine car, but were no longer a top flight rally competitor. The last, now expensive, Bertone built Deltas could only be sold as a luxury sports saloon, to the Far Eastern country who's home produced cars helped with the Delta's demise.

The last Delta's trim, paintwork and upholstery were proudly completed at Bertone, who stamped their logo in an area which nobody at Fiat would see. Within two years the strain of running a big factory, and the ever lengthening credit taken by Fiat, pushed IRMA into liquidation and forced closure of the factory. This was always Fiat's long term plan, so the parent company didn't have to take the blame for closing Chivasso down.

 

As we know, Bertone also collapsed, not long ago.

The Delta had the longest running production of any car with a Lancia badge, an unlikely candidate for that title. Lancia's engineers fought to create a 'proper' Lancia from a Fiat designed small car. The Delta Integrale is a great adventure in spirited Italian engineering, I think Bertone recognised the unique and special nature of the Evo2, and were proud to be part of it's history, thus the Bertone stamp!

One of many protests at closure of the Chivasso factory