- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

It all started with an argument about an Allard.

Ralf Berthiez and a fellow auto enthusiast a couple of years ago began discussing the finer details of a particular Allard automobile. The two men parted company with the outcome still in question. A year later, Mr. Berthiez received a telephone call from his friend explaining that their disagreement could be settled by his looking at a specific Web site on the Internet.

Mr. Berthiez eagerly sought the Web site to prove his case when he stumbled across another Web site offering for sale a 1971 Lancia Fulvia sports car.

All thoughts of resolving the Allard dispute dissolved when he delved into the intricacies of the Italian sports car. He learned that on April 12, 2004, the Lancia, an early Series 2, had been shipped from Genoa in northwestern Italy to Oakland, Calif. The car reportedly had previously been the personal car of an Italian instructor of race-car drivers.

After several telephone calls and exchanges of e-mail plus photographs, an intrigued Mr. Berthiez took the plunge and purchased the chocolate-brown car.

The unique 2,139-pound sports car arrived in Falls Church with Mr. Berthiez anxiously awaiting his acquisition in September 2005. There were so many interesting features that Mr. Berthiez kept busy for a couple of months just exploring the nuances of his Italian car.

He discovered that the Series 2 Lancias, manufactured from 1970 to 1976, are equipped with a five-speed manual transmission that transfers power from the 90 horsepower, 1.3-liter 13-degree V-4 engine to the 165x14-inch drive wheels at the front of the 13-foot-long car. The nimble Lancia rides on a wheelbase that is almost 92 inches long.

The proportions of the car appear unusual because the greenhouse part of the car above the beltline is unusually tall. The car stands 4-feet, 4-inches high, within 9.25 inches of the total width.

As Mr. Berthiez became more familiar with the finer points of his Lancia, he became entranced.

However, he recognized several things that needed the attention of someone familiar with Italian motor cars. He took his new acquisition to London Auto in Falls Church.

There he had the engine tuned to perfection with a pair of Solex carburetors feeding the proper fuel and air mixture to the engine.

The Lancia is equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, but only the front pair needed to be replaced. The ball joints, one of the weaker spots on one of the earlier front-wheel-drive cars, also were replaced.

With the sports car mechanically sound, Mr. Berthiez turned his attention to the cosmetics of the handsome car, either cleaning, polishing or simply admiring unusual quirks of the car.

Both grilles were replaced: The one between the headlights had lost all its luster and was virtually all black, while the small grille on the engine-hood air scoop needed to be replaced to match the other one. The rubber strips on both bumpers were in good condition, as was the three-spoke steering wheel.

The pop-out rear-quarter windows captured the attention of Mr. Berthiez. Another convenient feature that impressed him is the red light at the inside lower rear corner of each door that illuminates whenever the door is opened to alert approaching traffic.

Although carpeting would be more to his liking, Mr. Berthiez plans to leave the original rubber floor mats in place.

He reports that most of the interior is covered in beige vinyl, with the exception being the leather seats. The dashboard, which houses the 105-mph speedometer, is black.

The capacity of the trunk is sufficient to hold enough luggage for a weekend getaway, and the odometer has only recently rolled over 82,000 kilometers, about 50,000 miles, so the four-cylinder power plant is still running strong.

Since he became the unlikely owner of the Lancia Fulvia, Mr. Berthiez says, “It’s been a bowl of laughs.”

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