Which words or concepts spring to mind when you think of Italian cars? Stylish, peppy, flaky, vivacious, temperamental, intrepid, money-pit…? It’s a mixed bag, largely informed by one’s own experiences with various makes and models, but it’s undeniable that if there’s one thing the Italian motor industry has always been famed for, it’s a uniquely quirky approach. The loopy little Fiat 500 is one of the best-selling cars the world’s ever known, existing for eighteen years over a single generation, and the Nuova 500 retro revival has been on the market largely unchanged since 2007. Over at Lancia, they pioneered such ground-breaking notions as the monocoque body, the V4 and V6 engines, and independent rear suspension. And of course we have the rivalry of Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini to thank for the bonkers supercar arms race that rages to this day. Whichever way you look in the annals of Italian motoring lore, you find weird and wonderful creations – and the more you dig, the deeper the rabbit-hole goes.
Having recently fallen down just such a rabbit-hole, we’ve now managed to crawl our way out clutching a fistful of revelations for you. Taking a ten-grand budget, we’ve pulled together five peculiar options to wow your neighbours and plaster a smile across your face. Will these cars work faultlessly on a daily basis? Ah, we can’t promise that. But in the world of the £10k Italian oddity, whimsy and adventure are 100% guaranteed.
Lancia Dedra Integrale
No, that isn’t a typo. While every petrolhead and their dog has a deep-seated affection for the iconic Delta Integrale, very few people are actually aware that its bootylicious sibling even exists. This is essentially a saloon version (or ‘shatchback’, if you’re that way inclined) of the second-generation Delta, a car that didn’t exactly mirror the folkloric successes of its forebear. The Dedra itself is an obscure thing in the UK – you can probably count the total number on your fingers – but the Dedra Integrale? According to the seller of this particular car, it’s the only one.
Launched in 1991, this racy range-topper used the running gear from the 8-valve Delta Integrale, its turbocharged twin-cam serving up 170bhp and the permanent all-wheel-drive benefiting from the Visco Drive 2000 traction control system. The LHD 1994 example we have here appears to have been lovingly maintained, looked after by specialists, and is tidy enough to be displayed at shows. That’s a whole lot of Italian oddness for £9,500.
Autobianchi Bianchina Furgoncino
If there’s one thing that characterises Fiat 500-based commercial derivatives above all else, it’s the insane positive camber angles of the rear wheels. If you’ve ever seen a classic Porsche 911 in a workshop with its engine removed, you’ll know the vibe – and yet these perky minnows run like this every day, ever-ready to take an improbably huge cargo load and squat flat on demand.
The Autobianchi Bianchina was a range of minicars built from 1957 through to the 1970s, based on the ubiquitous 500, and available in a variety of bodystyles: you could have a Berlina (saloon), a Cabriolet or Trasformabile (roadster or convertible respectively), or Panoramica (estate), each with the dinky 499cc rear-mounted motor. The Furgoncino variant was a little van, available in either low-roof or high-roof form; it’s the former we have here, a later 1970 model, and impressively its original owner kept it for thirty-six years. It’s still only had three owners in total and shows fewer than 30,000 miles on the clock, which suggests it hasn’t really had the hard life that most vans are forced to endure. For £8,500, you’re buying yourself a lot of ‘It’s cute, but what the hell is it?’ from passers-by.
Innocenti Spider 950
Perhaps the go-to choice for a 1960s Italian roadster would be an Alfa Spider, but why follow the herd? The Innocenti may not have quite the pedigree, but it’s certainly a conversation starter.
Innocenti has had an unusual history since it was founded in 1920; a machinery and engineering works that has variously produced Lambretta scooters and Daihatsu-engined cars turbocharged by De Tomaso, and through the 1960s and ’70s it was the Italian partner of BMC, allowing the company to build Minis under licence. It’s this relationship that explains the trademark green A-Series motor you can see under the bonnet of this Innocenti Spider. This car was essentially an Austin Healey Sprite, with a fresh new body designed by Tom Tjaarda for Carrozzeria Ghia. The shells were produced by Ghia partner OSI, with the Frogeye Sprite’s 948cc engine under that delicate and slinky bonnet. It wasn’t just a cynical re-shell either – the bulkhead was relocated to allow for longer doors, giving it a more Italianate profile. The example we found for sale is a 1962 model in northern Italy; it’s recently had a full restoration and looks pretty sensational. Keep your Alfas, this sylph-like sweetheart would turn Mrs Robinson’s head.
Alfa Romeo 164 QV
It was tempting to put an Alfasud in this round-up as they’re right in the sweet spot at £10k, but we simply couldn’t resist this 164. Designed by Pininfarina, this imposing executive barge represented an offbeat choice to the 5-Series that relatively few buyers were brave enough to plump for, but it was Alfa Romeo’s insistence on turning the halo spec level into something that would resonate through the ages that makes this particular car truly special. In Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) trim, you got an oh-so-period bodykit, sculpted sports seats, and adjustable dampers. The crowning glory, heralded by those splendid chromed inlet pipes, was the 24-valve 3.0-litre V6 engine, which served up a robust 230bhp and made a noise like a chorus of angels doing unseemly things to each other while the Almighty had his back turned.
You’d struggle to find a better example than this one, too – it’s rust-free, the full black leather interior is unmarked, it’s got the BBS-style Alfa wheels, and it’s kept in a heated garage and doesn’t go out in the rain. It may not be the oddest car Alfa Romeo ever made, but we reckon it’s one of the most desirable. And that statement alone is enough to get you some pretty odd looks.
Lancia Gamma Coupe
We’re back with Lancia again, enjoying one of the strangest cars the company ever made. Sure, on the face of it, it doesn’t sound that strange for a manufacturer such as this to produce a luxurious two-door grand tourer, but there’s a lot about this car that’s weird and unexpected. It’s front-wheel drive when it doesn’t look at all like it should be; it has weird Detroit-esque proportions, seeming far too long to only have two doors; it has a flat-four engine that was developed specifically for the Gamma even though the bean-counters at Fiat really wanted it to use one of the existing Fiat V6s. It’s all so wrong it just has to be right.
The one we see here is a recent import to the UK from Germany; it’s had three owners, the first two being in Switzerland. It’s rust-free, has an incredible history file, and received a replacement engine in 2001, when the chassis was also Dinitrol treated – since then it’s done 16,000km and hasn’t been out in the rain. For £9,250, this is an excellent way into a very exclusive club: a car so deliberately weird, 95% of people don’t know what it is, and the other 5% really, really want one.
BONUS BUY: Lamborghini Crawler
We’ve blown the budget a bit here, but we couldn’t leave this thing out. You presumably know the story of how Lamborghini came about? Essentially, it’s a brand built on spite and revenge: born into a family of grape farmers, Ferruccio Lamborghini had served in the Air Force in World War II which instilled in him a love of machinery; he’d subsequently been doing very well for himself manufacturing tractors, and had bought himself a Ferrari as his daily runabout. However, its clutch wasn’t great and Ferruccio knew how to fix it, so he went to see old man Enzo to tell him how to improve the car. Ferrari was enraged at the impertinence, snorting that he certainly wasn’t going to take advice from an upstart farmer… so Ferruccio’s revenge, in 1963, was to set up Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. just down the road. The 350 GT was the first Lambo road car, and posterity wove a spellbinding web from then on.
Well, what you’re looking at here is perhaps the ultimate classic Lamborghini: a DL25C crawler from 1956. This was the first caterpillar-tracked model that Lamborghini built, and only 148 were ever produced. £12,995 buys a lot of exclusivity here – after all, you could park your Aventador SVJ Roadster outside Harrods for the delight of the Instagramming masses but, since they made 800 of those, there’s every chance that someone will pull up in an identical car. That definitely won’t happen with a DL25C.