Ever since the introduction of the Aurelia series the Lancia firm have showed a noticeable interest in competitions, supporting private owners and entering factory cars for rallies and open-road timed events. When the Gran Turismo Aurelia was evolved this interest increased enormously, special works versions were soon built and the touring category of the Mille Miglia, Tour of Sicily and such races saw official entries. Specially prepared Aurelia G.T.s competed in Italian hill-climbs and even at Le Mans, but at no time did the Lancia firm show any inclination to compete with anything but special versions of their production cars. In the 1952 Pan-American-Mexico race the first signs of non-production Lancias appeared, and when Umberto Maglioli finished fourth with a supercharged version of the already fast Aurelia G.T. it was time to look to Turin for more serious things.
The competition department of the Lancia factory kept a rigid silence throughout the winter of 1952-53, no news leaking out at all, but when a test-day was held on the Ospadaletti circuit at San Remo, at which such drivers as Taruffi, the late Bonetto, Chiron, Manzon and Maglioli took part, using Aurelias, it was pretty obvious that Lancias were getting together a serious race organisation. With barely any warning a team of brand new sports/racing coupés appeared for the Mille Miglia in 1953 and, apart from following Aurelia layout in the disposition of the various components, these cars bristled with new ideas. The engines were wide-angle vee six-cylinders of 2.9-litre capacity with two o.h.c. to each bank of three cylinders and two sparking plugs per cylinder. The clutch, gearbox and differential were in one unit mounted on the rear of a triangulated multi-tube chassis frame using small-diameter tubing. The front suspension was a breakaway from the Lancia tradition of vertical sliders and coil springs, being by trailing arms and transverse leaf-spring, with long, thin, telescopic shock-absorbers. At the rear the wheels were also independently sprung on a system of splayed tubular arms similar to the Aurelia with a transverse leaf-spring in place of coils. All four brakes, of nearly 6 in. width, were mounted inboard and fully sprung, those at the rear being on each side of the differential, while the front ones were on each side of the radiator and coupled to the wire-spoke k.o. wheels by universally-jointed shafts, rather like a f.w.d. Citroen layout. Inside the front brake drums was a sun and planet gear arrangement that drove the drums at a slightly higher speed than the wheels, thus increasing the peripheral speed of the brake drum. A very stark coupé body with right-hand steering was built on the tubular framework and a long air intake surmounted the bonnet and ran forward to the extremity of the nose, supplying air for the downdraught Weber carburetters. Clearly these coupés were works racing models and had been designed from scratch, and with the lower part of the body painted dark blue and the upper part cream they looked formidable opponents to the long-established Ferraris and Alfa-Romeos. The shrouds on the Lancia competition department were now well and truly removed and without doubt Scuderia Lancia were going in for racing in a big way.
Presided over by the young Gianni Lancia, who was in control of the Turin firm since the death of his renowned father, the Scuderia were gathering about them a vast organisation that appeared to know what racing was all about, and the racing coupés began to figure prominently in sports-car racing of the “blood-and-thunder” type. After Bonetto had finished a brilliant third in the Mille Miglia, the first event for the new cars, Maglioli set up a new record for the Palermo to M. Pellegrino mountain hill-climb and then capped this by winning the formidable Targa Florio.
The Scuderia Lancia were now in the thick of the sports-car racing and though they were having successes they were also having failures, and at Le Mans they entered four cars. The engines were reduced to 2.6 litres and fitted with superchargers but the result was disappointing; they were not fast enough and all four retired before the end of the race. Now that the organisation of the Scuderia was in full swing they learnt rapidly from their mistakes, profited by them, and designed and built modifications faster than the racing programme called for. At Monza, in June, an open two-seater version of the cars appeared, painted Italian red, being lighter and using a de Dion rear axle layout, still with a transverse leaf-spring; the de Dion tube running behind the differential and located by a sliding guide and having twin radius tubes on each side of the frame. One of these cars, driven by Bonetto, finished second in the Autodromo G.P., using the unblown 2.9-litre engine. After this the same driver won the G.P. of Portugal, for sports cars, beating Stirling Moss in an XK120C Jaguar. It was at this meeting that the fabulous Lancia diesel transport van, as shown in the January Motor Sport, first appeared outside Italy, and to anyone watching the Lancia organisation in action it was clearly rather lavish for sports cars, but would be fully justified by a Grand Prix team, though no mention was ever made of such an idea. After the German Grand Prix, on the Nurburgring, the Scuderia Lancia hired the circuit for testing purposes and Taruffi, Bonetto, Castellotti and Manzon put the two-seater de Dion cars through their paces. By the end of August they had achieved a 1-2-3 in a national race in Italy and Taruffi had finished second in the Dolomite Cup, and on August 30th three cars competed in the Nurburgring 1,900-km. race. Two of these cars were yet another version of the original conception, having 3.3-litre engines and a redesigned rear end. The gearbox and differential were made in one casting, the gearbox internals being below the differential. De Dion suspension was still used, but with the cross-tube running in front of the differential housing and having no guide; 1/4-elliptic springs were used and these, together with tubular radius-rods, also looked after the location of the wheels. A large oil tank in the driver’s side of the bodv had an oil filter and cooler built in its base, cooling air running through tubes that passed through the tank, and adjustable scoops in the body panels controlled the flow of air. The opposition to Scuderia Lancia came from a works 4 1/4-litre V12 Ferrari, but in spite of one Lancia retiring on the second lap with a faulty petrol pump, the other two were soon first and and second and comfortably dealt with the larger-engined Ferrari. Throughout the season the Lancia team had been working up to this state of affairs, for they were clearly superior cars, but still had teething troubles to overcome. Victory was snatched from their grasp when the cars came in to refuel and both batteries were found to have lost all their charge, due to overheating, and as thee regulations called for all starting to be done electrically, with no outside assistance, the Turin cars had to withdraw.
There followed another Italian national race, in which Bonetto finished second to Fangio, who was driving an Alfa-Romeo, and then Castellotti set up a new record for the hill-climb from Catania up Mount Etna.
To conclude the 1953 racing season the Scuderia Lancia went to Mexico with only one idea in mind and that was to win. This they did in no uncertain manner, finishing 1-2-3, but in their glory they suffered the loss of Felice Bonetto, who was killed in a crash with the fourth car. The planning and control of the Lancia team was something to behold, and as indicated throughout the past season the team of drivers, mechanics and pit-crew was equal to any full Grand Prix team and a logical development of all the effort in organising, designing and running would be a Formula I team for the 2 1/2-litre 1951 Formula. Until quite recently nothing was said about a Formula I team, though there were people who claimed to have seen a 2 1/2-litre G.P. version of the vee-six and mechanically there was little difference between the sports Lancias and what one could visualise as a G. P. Lancia. Now, in a quiet and indirect way. Lancias have announced that their Formula I car may be ready late in the 1954 season, so that we can look forward with interest to a Grand Prix team that will be run by a Scuderia that has gained an enormous amount of practical knowledge during the past season. Technically speaking it is probably true to say that there has never been a motor-car manufacturer who has succeeded in achieving the desired end in a different way from the rest of the world so successfully as the Lancia concern. This ability to produce results from a clean sheet of drawing paper in the design room, without the need of copying others, still continues just as it did in 1919 and it should add greatly to the interest of Grand Prix racing. — D. S.J.