Pillarless Survivor: 1961 Lancia Appia Berlina

This 1961 Lancia Appia Berlina is a recent discovery, emerging from multiple decades in an east coast Alfa Romeo collection. The sedan shows years’ worth of dust but looks surprisingly good out in the daylight. These were cleverly packaged sedans and feature a pillarless design among other engineering feats. This example is listed here on eBay with bidding over $2K and the reserve unmet. 

As mentioned, this example cleaned up nicely when washed. The body looks incredible – straight, with no obvious signs of damage or rust – and even the chrome retains some luster. The structure is said to be quite robust to account for the unusual entry/exit process, and the seller says the doors close with such authority that prior accident damage is doubtful. While not particularly exotic – Alfa made a ton of these – finding one in survivor-grade condition is what makes this example so exceptional.

While mostly a Texas car since new, it did make its way to a collector in New York in the early 80s. Not much has changed from the factory, other than the odd color matching (or lack thereof) occurring in the cabin. It’s likely the Texas sun caused for at least part of the interior to warrant removing and replacing, but the cherry red carpets lead me to believe the back bench is the last remaining original piece. Then again, the door panels match the front seats and rear seat back, so it’s anyone’s guess. It won’t take much to set it right, however.

The engine is a unique V4 design, and provided decent thrust with a top speed around 82 m.p.h. and increased horsepower over previous generations. The braking system was also quite innovative, and all of these engineering achievements – including the pillarless design – gave Alfa a home run for a comfortable, efficient sedan, only held back by a slightly high price tag that limited sale success early on. This one looks quite worthy of continued preservation and we hope the next owner changes very little.

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  1. Jbones

    I would be confused on who shuts the door 1st…

    • Ching-A-Trailer

      Oh, no, no. What is on second base.. . . I’m not asking you who’s on second. Who’s on first! . . .

  2. UJ

    Looks like the doors latch top and bottom so the closing order isn’t an issue.

  3. Nova Scotian

    Good buy.

  4. jw454

    A little black vinyl die on the rear seat cushion and the red rubber floor mats, any other needed maintenance, and I think this one would be ready for daily duty around town. It might even serve as a unique Uber car. certainly could get your riders in and out easily.

  5. Wolfgang Gullich

    Lancia was NOT part of ALFA when this Appia, least not until FIAT bought them out over 2 decades later. Lancisti are prolly beating down your door for this insult now 🤣

    • Dave

      Lancia has never been part of Alfa. They now share same corporate owners. Fiat bought Lancia in ’69 with sale completed when Betas started to roll out in 72. Alfa wasn’t bought until 87. Then more recently Fiat auto bought Chrysler. Really it’s like saying a 69 hemi Cuda was built by AMC , who would not be acquired until much later.

      • Concinnity

        Yes, please correct your article. Alfa and Lancia are as alike as Ford and GM, and as competitive with each other. Lancia are the ones that have been more competitive in motorsport more recently. Alfa used to make red sports cars.

    • Howard A

      Who ever heard of an Italian with a short fuse?

  6. araknid

    Very nice.

  7. Tony D'Acquisto

    Lancia was an entirely separate auto manufacture when this car was produced. This is not an Alfa.

  8. Achman

    Engine is original but doesn’t run and won’t turn…FYI

  9. mikeH

    A Lancia is not an Alfa!! That’s about as basic and you can get. Let’s get someone that knows Italian cars to do these articles.

    • ctmphrs Member

      The three people who know Italian cars wouldn’t do this job.

  10. Peter Atherton

    I owned a 1959 version of this car;it had a more attractive(to me, anyway)grille.It was as solid as bank vault, got great mileage, and would go all day flat out.It remains my favorite Lancia,even though I’e owned a Flavia convertible, and a Flaminia coupe since.

  11. LD71

    I worked in an auto plant where we had to do extra inspections for more than a week due to some QC issues—at least 1 car got to the other coast at a distribution center with the front seat in black and the rear seat in tan–it happens!
    LD71 :D

  12. Kenneth Carney

    Cute little car, but you couldn’t really use
    it on a daily basis. For those of us who
    remember the terrible reputation that
    Italian cars had for breaking down after
    you’ve drven one on brick streets or over
    a set of railroad tracks only to leave you
    stranded by the side of the road. Combine that problem with a lack of parts and trained service techs, and you
    have the recipe for disaster. After all,
    someone posted above that FIAT bought
    Lancia st some point and we all know
    what FIAT stands for: Fix It Again Tony!

    • rapple

      The cliche expert testifies! On the next posting here for a vintage British car, we’ll be looking for your “Prince of Darkness” remarks.

    • Adriaan Bendeler

      In fact Lancias made before Fiat took them over are of a design and build quality almost unparalled anywhere else (and it can be argued that they were so well made as to make the Lancia company never very profitable). Kenneth’s comments may have some relevance to some Fiats but hardly to Lancia IMHO).

    • Mark-A

      Or also after the millionth repair FIAT could even mean “Frig It All Toni?” meaning that the most cost effective repairs would be a box of matches?

  13. Rob Little

    Barn Finds should be proud of their very knowledgeable comment folks. I like old, foreign cars, but believed Mr. Lavery when he said Lancia was part of Alfa Romeo by the time this car was made. It is a cool sedan. I’d just leave the mismatched seat covers, but that unusual V-4 engine would be expensive to get running again. 82 mph hour top speed? What?!

  14. Howard A

    Lancia, Alfa, what’s the difference,,,( I’m reminded of that Mike Myers skit, Irish, Scottish, what’s the difference, and Myers freaks out) Kidding, it’s really a shame, when Italian cars are mentioned, a Fiat( and all it’s shortcomings) is the 1st thing we think of, but like any country, you get what you pay for, it was no different here( think Vega) What’s astounding, is this is even here at all. Looks like a neat car.

  15. Njohnb

    My second car was an Appia saloon. Bought as a twenty year old with an interest in Italian cars but without the finance or experience to do it justice. I really wanted an Aurelia but at least this started with the same letter.
    The narrow V4 was a beautiful piece of design and there were many small elegant touches. The ashtrays were lovely pull out cylinders and the quarterlight catches satisfying to use. The pillarless construction was always entertaining for passengers.
    The big negative for me was the steering box, right at the front of the engine compartment, immediately behind the bumper. The steering column was completely uncollapsible and aimed right at the driver so hitting anything head on didn’t bear thinking about.
    Fast forward 45 years and I was driving through a small town 120 miles from home and there was my old car driving towards me. Turning round I followed it and spoke to the driver when he stopped. He’d found it decaying in a field and set to work restoring it, including fabricating a new floor pan. With help of a Lancia owners club parts were available and he obviously knew what the was doing. That was the only time I saw one on the road since.
    Great little car and one of the few that made money for me on resale.

  16. Rob Little

    Those doors are sometimes called “suicide doors”. There was an old Hudson parked not too far from where I live that had the same sort of doors.

  17. Kenneth Carney

    Hi Rapple! As for British vehicles, they’re
    okay I guess but they’d be even better when the Brits learn to wrap the wiring
    with the proper insulation instead of
    the woven cloth type stuff they were,
    and maybe still are using today. Had a
    Jaguar sedan that used cloth wrapped
    wiring that clsimed so many of these
    cars when the electrical system shorted
    out and caused a fire. My Jag was the
    victim of an electrical fire that took out
    everything from the dashboard forward.
    Wound up having to rewire the entire car
    the proper way with American made witing and connectors. And since the
    engine and tranny wete destroyed in the
    fire, my buddies and I yanked them out
    and installed a 350 Chevrolet V-8 and
    T-400 auto tranny. I got the car as a
    freebie from a friend of Dad’s who owned
    a car lot not far from our house so that moving it was no big deal. Other than the
    fire damage to the front quarter of the
    car, it was complete– down to the picnic
    basket in the trunk that was never used.
    (The type with all the fine English china
    and silverware inside it) Bare in mind
    that this was the Summer of ’72 when
    foreign cars were rarely seen in the Midwest, and when something nroke on
    that vehicle the only choice you had back
    then was to crush it as parts and service
    weren’t available where we were living.
    I was also offered a ’70 or ’71 Austin
    America 2-door sedan for $25.00 at the
    same time I had the Jag apart and was working on that at the time. The man
    who offered the car to me was trying to
    dump it after the Austin dealer in our town pulled out leaving many Austin
    owners without parts or service. So
    that, Rapple, is the reason I dislike
    foreign cars to this very day.

    • Rob Little

      Mr. Carney, my brother’s 1959 “bug-eyed” Austin Healey Sprite had some electrical problems when I worked on it in about 1969, but my 1966 MG Midget was OK in this department. Both cars needed frequent repairs, however. At that time, in my mind, the gold-standard for quality car construction was Mercedes Benz, far outside of our limited budgets. The English sports cars were fun, but hardly trouble-free.

    • rapple

      There is no argument that behind almost every cliche there is a factual basis. The quality engineering on cars (foreign and domestic) a half century ago was certainly not close to the very minimum that we expect today. Cars of the time also reflected to a much greater degree than do current vehicles their country of origin. European cars were built to be small and fuel efficient due to the price of gas and nimble to handle curvy roads designed over centuries old trails. American cars of the ’50s and ’60s were designed for long distance cruising on the new straight interstates and cheap gas. Heaven help them if they had to stop or turn quickly. Different challenges, different solutions.

      I also would like to express my sympathies to you for having to live your formative automotive years in fly-over country and not know what you’re missing by disdaining cars from other cultures.

      • araknid

        Well said, rapple.

        I for one am really tired of the F-I-A-T cliche always thrown out by those people who have never experienced a joy of driving and owning an Italian car. True they were a handful when first imported, mostly due to an indifferent dealer network and poor support from the manufacturer. But, virtually anyone who owns one today will attest to to reliability that can be achieved once they a properly sorted out. And it’s not terribly difficult to do. Granted, it’s not like a Mustang, Chevelle or Charger that any ham-fisted mechanic can repair or maintain. And you can’t go down to your neighborhood O’Reillys or Auto Zone to get parts. They do require a little finesse to repair and maintain, but parts are much more readily available now than even when they were imported 30 or more years ago.

        I had a ’78 Fiat 124 Spider than I had for 14 years that I recently sold. I put over 25,000 completely trouble free miles on it while I had it. Never once left me stranded.

        I will always prefer to drive my Fiat over a twisty mountain road with the top down that anything America produced in that time.

      • Ching-A-Trailer

        Well, if your Fiat was such a good car, how come you only managed 25,000 miles in 14 years?? It was the 1970s Fiats that were and still are the only cars in history where the manufacturer was forced to recall the entire car – because of rust! Regarding electrical reliability I like to say “Ah, Fiat. The car that gave Jaguar and Lucas a good name!” To be fair though, my 1975 Ferrari 308GT4 reminded me of a big over-grown Fiat in so many ways, both good and bad, but mostly bad!

  18. Rob Little

    I was of the opinion that the mid-1970s Fiats brought to America were not very well made. I knew 2 different men who owned them, and both had trouble with their Fiats. One of the cars, a economy sedan model, burnt itself up in an electrical fire.

    • araknid

      I think it was more the indifferent dealer network (often sold other brands) and the poor support from the manufacturer. The cars weren’t inherently poorly made. After all, they sold tons in Europe and other countries without the problems we had here.

  19. Adriaan Bendeler

    Me again. From my observation, the first Japanese cars and trucks that I saw exhibited by dealers at agricultural shows in the 60’s were quite conventional mechanically but stood out in the quality and attention to detail of all their auxiliary systems – fuel, cooling, and electrical – a huge contrast to the spaghetti-like engine bays of all other vehicles of any origin at the time, British, American or European. And of course these systems are perhaps the main factor in a vehicle’s reliability ( and likelihood to have an electrical fire). I think manufacturers in subsequent decades were forced to raise their build quality and attention to details because of the Japanese competition.

  20. Kenneth Carney

    Hi Adrian! I quite agree with you when it
    comes to the build quality of Japanese
    vehicles. They singlehandedly set a high
    standard for quality that the rest of the
    world’s automakers had to play catch up
    for the next three decades. The only
    hiccups I saw were the early Mazda rotory engined cars that spent more
    time in the shop than it did your driveway,
    and the fact that these wonderful vehicles rusted to pieces within teo years
    even though they were undercoated either at the dealer or Ziebarted in their shops. Sadly though, Toyota lost their
    quality crown in 2010 when gas pedal and break issues caused many accidents. Sorry Rapple, but the European still have a ways to go in order
    to catch up.

  21. Ching-A-Trailer

    45 some odd years ago I had an earlier Lancia Appia with the attractive shaped grille. At that time Mercedes was probably “King of the Hill” as regards quality but I compared my Lancia not to Mercedes but to aircraft – the quality was that good.

  22. jim fuller Member

    My partner had just this car in the 70’s and I drove it frequently; it was a wonderful tight car despite the door arrangement and the little four had plenty of scoot for the day. It was, altogether, a perfect small car for the roads of the day, and even in New England, it never let me down.

  23. jim fuller Member

    My partner had just this car in the 70’s and I drove it frequently; it was a wonderful tight car despite the door arrangement and the little four had plenty of scoot. It was, altogether, a perfect small car for the roads of the day, and even in New England, it never let me down.

  24. Rob Little

    I remember one of the car magazine articles from the late 1960s. The writer said what every Japanese car they tested came with was a man with a clipboard who wrote down every suggestion and criticism the car magazine journalist said after driving the car. I also remember one of the magazines saying they liked both the Datsun 1600 and 2000 model sports cars, which were somewhat similar to the Austin Healey 3000s, but the 2000 Datsun was just a bit quicker and had better build quality. I believe it had a 5 speed manual transmission as well.

    • Ching-A-Trailer

      If a magazine compared the Datsuns to the Austin-Healey 3000, the only magazine that would have done that was Mad Magazine (What, me worry?)
      The Datsuns were such a knock-off and improvement over the contemporary MGB that the cylinder head would fit the Datsun 1600 (but I don’t know if it was an improvement.) The 2000 seemed light-years ahead of the ragged old British roadster with it’s OHC engine and five-speed transmission. When equipped with the optional Solex sidedrafts it was darn near as fast as an E-Type Jaguar! I outran a cop at 130 mph in one in 1971 or 2 on the San Bernardino Freeway! Apart from the Jaguar, the only other British car with such performance was an Aston-Martin. To me, the 240Z was such a let-down after the 2000.

  25. Rob Little

    Dunno, Ching-A-Trailer. It may have been Car and Driver magazine. We got both it, and Road and Track. Sounds like you were lucky outrunning the cops. A buddy of mine successfully outran the cops in his Porsche 1600 Super, then down-shifted from 4th to 3rd at about 115 mph on a country road, and blew out the engine’s head gaskets. The car had to be towed to where he worked, which was a foreign car garage. True story, Johnny. My brother was in the passenger’s seat when all this happened.

  26. John

    Great little car. Start your own threads about English and Japanese cars.

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