By K. Foeman
Behind most technically advanced cars, there is usually one man who nurtures the design from an idea germinating in his mind, through the difficult days after the model is first launched on the market, to its ultimate commercial success. Although to every designer his assistants are indispensable, with certain notable exceptions, great cars are not the work of design teams, but the result of an individual’s creative thought and determination. Such a car was the Lancia, distinguished, from the Tri-Kappa of the early ‘twenties to the current range, by the narrow vee design of the engine – a record broken over forty years only by the introduction of the flat-4 Flavia in 1961.
When the F.I.A.T. concern was founded in 1899, it took over the Ceirano Company, a bicycle and voiturette manufacturer, on whose staff were two apprentices. These were Felice Nazarro and Vincenzo Lancia, the son of a soup canner, both of whom were destined to make their mark as racing drivers. In the still youthful motor industry, the merits of men of ability were quickly recognised and it was not long before Nazarro and Lancia were in the works racing team. Among Lancia’s successes were a win in the second Florio Cup, held in 1904, at the wheel of a 75-h.p. 4-cylinder F.I.A.T., which had chain drive and rather obvious Mercedes influence, and second place in the 1908 Targa Florio. His name appears far less frequently in records of the period than Nazarro, but Lancia was a most unlucky driver, constantly dogged by minor mechanical failures. Later in 1908 he severed his connections with Fiat (as it had been known since 1906) and set up on his own as a car manufacturer.
The first Lancia designs were conventional enough, but were known, somewhat confusingly, as the Alfa and Di-Alfa. The former had a 2,544-c.c. (90 x 100 mm.) side-valve 4-cylinder engine in a 9 ft. 3 in. wheelbase chassis, and in England in 1908 the quoted chassis price was £400. The Di-Alfa was identical in most respects, but had a longer, 10 ft. 8 in. wheelbase, and a 6-cylinder version of the same engine. These models remained in production until 1913, when they were both replaced by the Theta, broadly similar to the Alfa, but with a 4,951-c.c. (110 x 130 mm.) engine, developing 70 b.h.p. at 2,200 r.p.m. Few early Lancias have survived, but a beautifully restored Theta is owned in this country by Mrs. Jeddere-Fisher and another is in the very interesting and beautifully laid-out Turin Motor Museum. This model was continued after World War I with few design changes as the Kappa and Di-Kappa.
As a first indication of future design trends, Lancia produced in 1919 a 12-cylinder vee-type engine of 6,032 c.c. (80 x 100 mm.) – his first breakaway from the traditional “in-line” design. Conditions were not favourable for the marketing of such a luxurious and expensive design, so although a few engines were made, the design was not proceeded with.
The first production vee-engined design was the 8-cylinder Tri-Kappa made between 1922-25 – in the latter year it was withdrawn to permit increased output of the Lambda. The Tri-Kappa had a capacity of 4,595 c.c. (75 x 130 mm.) and developed 98 b.h.p. at 2,500 r.p.m. This engine was fitted in a chassis similar to the Kappa and it looked like a larger version of the Lambda. Two notable features were the single horizontal twin-choke carburetter and the exhaust manifold consisting, for all eight cylinders, of a single outlet at the back of the head. Top speed was in excess of 80 m.p.h. Although it is known that a prototype of the Lambda was being tested in 1921, with a body having four staggered seats and distinguished or disguised by a radiator reminiscent of a Bugatti, the model was not revealed to the public until the Paris Salon of 1922. Not only was this a considerable advance on previous Lancia cars, but it was also technically ahead of nearly all its rivals. It was never intended to be a sports car, but its robust if somewhat rough engine and taut road-holding gave it an appeal comparable to that of the Vauxhall 30/98 and the Bentley 3-litre. As the weight of the early 4-seater tourer was a mere 15 cwt., the Company was able to guarantee a top speed of 70 m.p.h.
Construction was of integral pressed steel, with deeply flanged sides, which formed the main body panels; there were riveted cross-members, which carried longitudinal tubular supports for the engine, gearbox and footwells. The Lambda was of much lower construction than was usual at that time and it set the style for the now universal central hump between the seats and concealing the prop.-shaft.
Although independent front suspension had been used on a very limited scale on the Edwardian Sizaire-Naudin, the Morgan 3-wheeler and certain competition cars, to Lancia must go the credit for marketing on a large scale a model so fitted. The beam front axle was replaced by a triangular tubular structure, which supported the radiator, and at each side were enclosed coil-springs and hydraulic dampers. This layout had numerous virtues, including low unsprung weight, much improved suspension (even if wheel movement was limited by modern standards) and a very good steering lock. Rear suspension was by long semi-elliptic springs and the brakes had small drums shrouded by the protruding hub centres and were cable operated; these were later replaced by very large aluminium drums. The wheelbase was excessively long, but this did not appear to affect road-holding adversely. Vincenzo Lancia was able to lodge patents for his vee-4 engine, which for many years compelled designers seeking a very compact engine design to go in for a flat-4 layout. In planning this very narrow angle power unit, Lancia was aiming at building the very shortest engine possible, and he achieved this by staggering one pair of cylinders from the other at an angle of 13°; this angle refers to the selected position of the connecting rods on the crankshaft and the cylinder bores in relation to each other. The design is, in fact, more accurately described as a staggered four. Other advantages of this design were the short rigid crankshaft, well-dispersed combustion chambers and the square cylinder block and head, which permitted freer circulation of cooling water. Furthermore a single camshaft and rockers could be used instead of the two sets needed on a 90°-vee engine.
Production of the specialised components used in the Lambda was facilitated by the fact that Lancia had his own foundry, and the Company’s reputation for fine castings has persisted through the years. The block was cast in aluminium, with steel liners pressed in and the crankshaft ran in three main bearings. The inlet and exhaust manifolds were bolted to the rear of the block and there was not much room for cylinder-head studs, so only six of these were used; resulting in more frequent than usual gasket failure. A total of thirteen thousand Lambdas were built between 1922 ard 1932 in nine series, but there is little distinction between the first six. These all used the original 2,120-c.c. engine, and series one to three and most of series four had a 3-speed gearbox with remote control centre-change and ratios suited to more undulating terrain than found in this country. Coachwork was angular in the extreme and available as an open 2-seater or 4-seater tourer, for which a detachable saloon top was offered. Marelli electrical equipment was changed for Bosch on the sixth series, the tourer was fitted with larger doors and the model was available with an even longer, 11 ft. 2 1/2 in. wheelbase. The series seven introduced in 1926 was bored out to 2,370 c.c., with numerous other detail engine modifications, and a few of these were built with a separate chassis so that specialist coachbuilders could exercise their talents. A notable feature of this enlarged engine was the unconventional design of the connecting rods with offset shank. 16-in. brakes with shrunk-on alloy fins and lowergeared steering to match the new low-pressure tyres were now fitted.
A separate chassis was standard for the eighth series and the radiator was 3 in. higher; this series was especially popular in this country, with Weymann fabric saloon coachwork, which was angular in the extreme, true “early Gothic,” with box-like rear boot, on which was mounted the spare wheel, and wicker seats. There was also seen on this chassis at the 1928 Olympia Show, one of the ugliest cars ever built. This was the “Airline” saloon, with a sharply sloping roof line and a protrusion, in which the third passenger, who was seated centrally, was supposed to accommodate his head. The final eccentricities were an air-speed indicator and a swivelling searchlight on the roof. The ninth series, differing only in detail from the eighth appeared in 1932, shortly before the model was withdrawn. Both these had a 2,570-c.c. engine, developing 69 b.h.p.
Although most Lambdas were good for 75 m.p.h. and the series eight and nine for 80 m.p.h., performance did not increase commensurately with power output, as weight rose, too, and many owners, not satisfied with the existing performance and finding the engine not very amenable to tuning, fitted seventh and eighth series engines into earlier chassis. Incidentally, very few of the early Lambdas seem to have survived, but there are quite a number of series five onwards about still, although unfortunately many have been “cut and shut,” a modification which does not exactly improve handling. Certainly the Lambda was one of the great cars of the vintage era and affection for it is not based on sentiment alone.
Just at the end of the vintage period, Lancia supplemented the Lambda with the Di-Lambda, a rather larger and more imposing touring car. Chassis design followed closely that of the Lambda, but wheelbase was lengthened to 11 ft. 5 in. and the engine was a revised and developed version of that used in the Tri-Kappa. This was, of course, of vee-8 design, but capacity had been reduced to 3,960 c.c. (79.37 x 100 mm.) and power output was 100 b.h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine was cast in two blocks of four cylinders and the head was detachable.
The increased power output was countered to a considerable extent by increased weight – a typical tourer weighed around 38 cwt. Top speed was just under 80 m.p.h., with 55 m.p.h. obtainable in 3rd and a maximum in 2nd of 40 m.p.h. This early vee-8 had one characteristic in common with the majority of its type, there being a remarkable freedom from vibration and engine noise.
Quite a large proportion of Di-Lambda production has survived simply because the model was toughly built. Apart from the maker’s own Torpedo 4-seater tourer and saloon coachwork, a wide selection of bodies by specialist builders was available. The majority sold in the U.K. were saloons by either H. J. Mulliner or Weymann, but other available styles included a rakish cabriolet designed by Lancias and built by Mulliner, known as the “Bachelor’s Two-Seater.” The Di-Lambda was one of the less significant Lancia models and was withdrawn from general production in 1933; it was, however, available to special order until 1937.
Two new models, the Artena and Astura, were introduced in 1931, as successors to the Lambda, and were in fact identical apart from wheelbase length and engine type and size. The Astura used a vee-8 2,604-c.c. engine, based on the Di-Lambda unit, while the Artena had a development of the Lambda engine, but with stroke reduced to 90 mm., giving a capacity of 1,925 c.c. Standard features of both cars included the usual Lancia i.f.s., 4-speed gearbox and a central lubrication system.
The Artena never achieved great popularity and was quietly withdrawn from production in 1933. The Astura, on the other hand, sold well and in its various forms continued in production until the outbreak of war. There was little distinction between the first and second series, but the third series had much more modern styling. The fourth series, which was available in standard forms as a 4/5-seater pillarless saloon or as a drophead coupé, differed in a number of points from the earlier versions. The overall length of the chassis was slightly greater, and was now the type adopted for the Aprilia (to which reference is made later). Ground clearance was reduced by 2 1/2 in. to 6 7/8 in. and the brakes were Lockheed hydraulics.
The short-lived Artena was replaced by the Augusta, another model with a comparatively brief production life. Not only was the Augusta the smallest Lancia yet produced, but it was also a stop-gap model until the introduction of the design which was intended to be, and was, the successful climax to Vincenzo Lancia’s career in the motor industry. Nevertheless the Augusta is a much-loved Lancia model.
Powered by a 1,196-c.c. (69.85 x 78 mm.) vee-4, developing a modest 35 b.h.p., the Augusta had a dry weight of only 17 cwt. and this enabled it to attain a top speed of 70 m.p.h. without fuss; 55 m.p.h. was obtainable in 3rd gear, but fuel consumption, at around 25 m.p.g., was expensive for such a small-capacity and light car. Apart from an indefinable charm, which makes the Augusta appeal to all who have driven it, there were such practical features as 4-door pillarless bodywork, which proved surprisingly rigid and durable and was to become an accepted Lancia feature. In addition, the usual Lancia i.f.s, gave it a considerable advantage over many of its rivals. Other good points were the excellent hydraulic brakes, a very nice centre-change and the comparatively modest price of £390.
Development work on the Augusta’s successor started in 1934, shortly after production had commenced, but it was not until 1931 that the Aprilia entered production, a month or so before the death of Vincenzo Lancia. Although subsequent models had been good, none had achieved the popularity of the Lambda and Lancia’s aim was to produce a small and light high-performance car that would do just this. At first glance, the most striking feature of the Aprilia was the exceedingly neat and aerodynamic coachwork, but the mechanical features were equally intriguing. The engine was a 1,352 c.c. (72 x 83 mm.) narrow vee-4 unit, evolved from that used in the Augusta and largely of aluminium-alloy construction; this was used in conjunction with a 4-speed “crash” gearbox. Not only was there Lancia i.f.s., but the same system, combining torsion bars and a transverse leaf-spring, was applied at the rear. But for the introduction of the Issigonis B.M.C. designs, the writer would have stated categorically that the Aprilia had the best suspension of any small saloon, as it combined exceptional adhesion and almost complete freedom from roll; the springing was, however, a little on the harsh side, giving a somewhat pitchy ride.
The pillarless saloon bodywork had no separate chassis, but a flat steel “floor,” with a streamlined underside (the only projection was the exhaust), to which the body was welded. Most vulnerable panels, such as wings, were bolted on and easy to replace. Styling was particularly clean and uncluttered, with a sloping roof and tail, in which a divided rear window and adequate luggage accommodation were provided. There were no running-boards and the headlamps merged into the wings.
In view of the small capacity engine, performance was quite exceptional and compares very favourably with many current 1 1/2-litre models. Top speed, aided by the clean shape and low weight of 17 cwt., was an easy 80 m.p.h., with effortless sustained cruising in the 65-70 m.p.h. band. It would accelerate from 0-50 m.p.h. in under 13 sec., and could cover the standing quarter-mile in 21 sec. The speeds obtainable in 2nd and 3rd gears were 40 and 60 m.p.h., and fuel consumption rarely fell below 30 m.p.g. The steering was light and high-geared and turning circle a mere 30 ft. It can be truly said of the Aprilia that it was one of the great cars of the ‘thirties, with a specification and performance up to 1964 standards.
Two years later, in 1939, a Series-2 version with an enlarged engine of 1,486 c.c. replaced the earlier model, and this remained in production until replaced by the Aurelia in 1950. Other features of the Series-2 model were pierced wheels to permit better cooling of the brake drums and a fuel gauge consisting of a series of numbers, which lit up in turn as the tank level fell. The Aprilia was always available in chassis form, and a considerable number of drophead coupés were built on the pre-war chassis by Farina and Eagle; these were pretty enough little cars, but lacked the body rigidity of the saloon versions.
A really good Aprilia will still fetch close to £200, but the majority, as a result of the integral steel construction, are severely rotted, especially around the rear suspension mountings. Most Aprilias require, therefore, a complete body rebuild, an exceedingly expensive business but, in the writer’s opinion, well worth the trouble.
The joint work of Gianni Lancia, the son of Vincenzo, and Vittoria Jano, former Fiat and Alfa Romeo designer, the Aurelia was the first new Lancia model introduced after the war and appeared at the Turin Motor Show in 1950. Over a period of eight years, the Aurelia was evolved from a modest 1 3/4-litre touring saloon into a quite hot Gran Turismo car with a top speed well in excess of 100 m.p.h. This evolution resulted in a bewildering assortment of engine sizes, but changes in chassis design and body styling were comparatively few. The original model closely followed Aprilia practice, with an integral body/chassis unit of 4-door pillarless type, pressed in sheet steel. The simple uncluttered lines were also reminiscent of the Aprilia, but with larger overall dimensions, the wings flush with the body sides and a curved windscreen and rear window; the boot lid was operated by a lever inside the car. Interior finish was somewhat austere, but practical, with rubber floor covers and cloth upholstery. A nice feature was the dipstick for the fuel tank.
Mechanically the Aurelia was just as interesting as its predecessors; front suspension was independent on the traditional Lancia vertical coil-spring system. In unit with the final drive were the clutch and 4-speed gearbox, this creating good weight distribution and a favourable effect on road-holding. As the gearbox was controlled by a steering column change, the linkage was one of the longest ever, but, nevertheless, the change was very precise and one of the few of its type that is acceptable. Hydraulic brakes were fitted all round, inboard at the rear. The drive shafts passed through the hubs to outboard universal joints and the rear wheels were independently sprung on trailing wishbones and coil-springs.
The engine was a 60 degree vee-6 design, with a single light alloy casting forming the upper half of the crankcase and the cylinder blocks, and there were detachable wet cylinder liners. Each bank of three cylinders had a separate light alloy head and the overhead valves were push-rod operated. This initial model was designated the B10 and had a top speed of just over 80 m.p.h. A year later, in 1951, both bore and stroke were increased to give a capacity of 1,991 c.c., and power output rose to 70 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m., giving a top speed of 85 m.p.h., and this model was called the B21. Again in 1952 power was boosted to 90 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., and the model became known as the B22. Models B51 and B52 were separate chassis versions of the B21 and 22, for fitting with specialist coachwork. These various models remained in production concurrently until replaced by the Series-2 in 1954. Major differences between this and the earlier Aurelias lay in the larger capacity engine of 2,266 c.c. and an entirely new rear suspension. By increasing the capacity of the engine, it was possible to reduce the compression ratio to 7.4 to 1 and peak power (86.5 b.h.p.) was developed at a lower engine speed (4,300 r.p.m.). As weight was greater, there was no increase in maximum speed, but acceleration was much improved because of the better torque characteristics of this engine.
The performance was excellent and the 80 m.p.h. obtainable in 3rd gear gives an indication of the high-gearing and long-legged gait of the Series-2 Aurelia. The steering was low-geared (4 turns lock-to-lock) but precise, and the turning circle was a quite compact 35 ft. The rear suspension was now of the de Dion type, suspended on semi-elliptic springs; the previous pattern had certain disadvantages, in that it had a slight oversteering tendency and in the wet one could never predict with accuracy when the limit of adhesion was reached. In addition, despite a ride control, it tended to give a rather bouncy ride.
The Aurelia blended into the motoring scene somewhere between the M.G. Magnette and the Riley Pathfinder (the styling of which it undoubtedly influenced); it was compact and comfortable, but with performance and road-holding vastly superior to most of its rivals.
A Gran Turismo version, designated the B20, supplemented the saloon in 1951. This had a capacity of 1,991 c.c. and developed 75 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. Bodywork was a most handsome 2-door fixed-head coupé, with basic lines similar to those of the saloon, but with a straight-through wing line into which merged a sloping roof. Weight was 11 cwt. less than that of its more sedate stablemate and it was 7 in. shorter. It was primarily a 2-seater, but there were occasional seats at the rear and a large boot. During the 1951 season the model was raced by the works and successes included second place in the Mille Miglia against very tough opposition from sports-racing ears, and victory in the 2-litre class at Le Mans.
In 1952 the Series-2 was introduced—the only important difference was an increase in power to 80 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and a year later the Series-3 was brought out with an enlarged engine of 2,451 c.c. and developing 118 b.h.p. at 5,300 r.p.m. As the works were now concentrating on the development of pure competition cars, they were no longer so interested in racing the Aurelia and most of its subsequent successes were limited to rallies. Especially notable were the late Johnny Claes’ victory in the 1953 Liége-Rome-Liége Rally and that of Louis Chiron in the 1954 Monte Carlo event.
Six series were produced in all and although production figures fell after the introduction of the Flaminia, the GT model was only finally withdrawn in 1959. The Series-4 model was fitted with the de Dion rear axle, with the axle tube supported on semi-elliptic leaf-springs and located laterally by a Panhard rod; it was also the first model to have Vandervell bearings. In 1956 this was replaced by the Series-5, which had new-type camshafts, non-detachable cylinder liners, a Fitchel and Sachs clutch, and direct drive on top gear. The final model, the Series-6, made from 1957-9, differed only in detail from its predecessors. A Spyder open 2-seater, styled by Farina and designated the B24, was marketed from 1954 onwards; styling was very similar to that of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spyder, with pronounced rear wing line and half bumpers. On this model a central gearchange was standard, and although the column change was retained on the coupe, quite a large number have been converted by Nardi and other specialists.
The Aurelia was one of the most successful Gran Turismo cars of the post-war era and one of the most satisfying to drive. Top speed varied according to the back-axle ratio fitted and the length of unobstructed road available, but in standard form it was in the 110-115-m.p.h. bracket. The real merit of the Aurelia lay, however, in its general all-round excellence, a beautifully smooth motor that would surge up to 5,000 r.p.m., a genuine 80 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and excellent road-holding, both fully controllable under all circumstances and utterly predictable, with a slight inclination to understeer. Steering was a little heavy at low speeds (partly due to the Michelin “X” tyres fitted as standard), but improved considerably as speed increased, and the 3 3/4 turns from lock-to-lock did not require too much wheel winding. The clutch was definitely in or out and the steering column change was precise and silent in action. The GT model was exceedingly refined and free from vibration; even the exhaust note was subdued for a car of its type. Although costing new, with purchase tax and import duty, in excess of £3,000, a good 1954-5 example can now be bought for around £500.
In 1953 the 1,090-c.c. Appia, the second model to be evolved by Gianni Lancia, was placed on the market. This had a 68 x 75 mm. vee-4 cylinder engine, with the crankshaft running in two main bearings and developing 38 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. Although front suspension was by the familiar sliding pillar system first used on the Lambda, the more usual live axle mounted on semi-elliptic springs was fitted at the rear. The integrally constructed body had lines similar to the Aurelia, but scaled down and with the same pillarless construction. There was a 4-speed gearbox, with a reasonably satisfactory steering-column change and virtually unbeatable synchromesh. The aluminium drum brakes were exceptionally large, but disappointing features were the excessively low-geared steering and large turning circle of 36 ft. Five years later the Series-2 model, with power output raised to 48 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and slightly revised styling, replaced the earlier version. Top speed in this form was 80 m.p.h., with 40 and 20 m.p.h. available in 3rd and 2nd gears. Acceleration from 0-50 m.p.h. took 15 sec., a time bettered by the slightly larger Aprilia of twenty-one years previously. A coupe by Farina and a convertible by Vignale were also available; these differed from the standard versions, by having a 53-b.h.p. engine and a horizontal radiator grille in place of the traditional design. The Series-3 adopted the modern air intake, but otherwise was identical to its predecessor.
In a vain attempt to rival the success of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, “Sport” versions of the Series-3 Appia were built, with lightweight Zagato bodywork and 60-b.h.p. engine. There was also available a Farina coupé with the same engine. The Appia was finally withdrawn from production in 1963, some little while after the introduction of the Fulvia. It had always been a tough, but rather expensive little car; perhaps its best virtue was reliability and this was more than confirmed by a test carried out in 1958 by an Italian magazine. A production model was driven over 100 laps of the Mille Miglia course—a distance of 97,200 miles—at an average speed of 43.6 m.p.h. Fuel consumption was 33.2 m.p.g. and no major replacements were required during or at the end of the test.
Despite conflicts with his fellow directors, Gianni Lancia, after reaching full age and assuming control of the Company, was determined on an exceedingly ambitious competition programme, visualised this as both a means of improving the Company’s production cars and as excellent publicity.
Initially the B20 Aurelia was entered by the works in a number of long-distance sports-car events, but soon a pure sports/racing coupé was evolved. This had exceedingly handsome fixed-head bodywork and used the Aurelia engine enlarged to 2,693 c.c., with a supercharger mounted in the vee formed by the cylinder arrangement and twin horizontal carburetters. Front suspension was by trailing links with a transverse leaf-spring and inboard mounted brakes.
At the rear, design closely followed Aurelia practice, with semi-trailing arms used in conjunction with jointed drive shafts, except that a leaf-spring replaced the helical coil-springs. The rear brakes were also mounted inboard and the gearbox was in unit with the final drive. After winning the 1953 Targa Florio (Maglioli) and finishing third in the Mille Miglia (Bonetto), a team of three cars were entered for Le Mans. Although at one stage Bonetto briefly held the lead, the whole team retired with various mechanical maladies.
By November of that year, the sports/racing car (now typed D24) had an unsupercharged engine of 3,300 c.c. estimated to develop 160 b.h.p., a de Dion rear axle and Spyder 2-seater bodywork by Pinin Farina—certainly one of the prettiest sports/racing cars ever conceived. A team of four, driven by Fangio, Taruffi, Castellotti and Bonetto, was taken to Mexico to compete in the Carrera Panamericana race. Serious opposition came only from a number of independent Ferraris, which were much faster than the Lancia. Surprisingly enough for an Italian team, the Lancia equipe was superbly organised and the D24 model won first three places, but Bonetto was tragically killed when, while leading the race, his car was in collision with a lamp column. Early in 1954 it was announced that Lancia would be competing in Formula One events with a car designed by Vittorio Jano now Lancia’s Chief Engineer, and driven by Villoresi and Ascari. An earlier indication of Lancia’s interest in this field of racing was revealed by the support given to the Lancia-Nardi Formula Two car. This used the 1,991-c.c. Aurelia GT engine with four Weber carburetters, rear-mounted in a triangulated tubular chassis. Despite being tuned to give an output of some 130 b.h.p. the Lancia-Nardi was not a success and quietly faded from the scene.
Development of the Formula One Lancia was slow and the D50, as it was typed, did not appear until the Spanish Grand Prix, the last Grand Epreuve of the 1954 season. In the meanwhile the Company continued to race the D24 sports car with considerable success. After finishing second in the Sebring 12-Hours Race (Valenzano/Rubirosa), victories were gained in the Mille Miglia (Ascari) and Targa Florio (Taruffi), as well as a number of less important events.
No entries were made at Le Mans on the grounds that a team could not be prepared in time. Unkind critics suggested that the real reason was a reluctance to meet up with the Jaguar D-type, hotly tipped as winner of the race. The lie was given to this suggestion when a team of four cars was entered for the 1954 Tourist Trophy. Two of these had engines enlarged to 3,750 c.c., a not very wise decision for a race run on a handicap basis especially as Jaguar were running 2,482-c.c. versions of the D-type and David Brown refrained from entering the 4 1/2-litre Lagonda. Just to confuse matters Lancia nominated all drivers as spare drivers to each other, but they took fourth and sixth places on handicap, with Taruffi/Fangio finishing second on scratch and Manzon/Castellotti third.
Whereas most constructors had adapted existing Formula Two cars to meet 1954 requirements, Mercedes-Benz and Lancia had the advantage of starting with clean drawing hoards. Jano chose a t.o.h.c. 8-cylinder layout, with the sets of four cylinders at an angle of 9o degrees; a bore and stroke of 73.6 x 73.1 mm. gave a capacity of 2,487 c.c. Estimated power output was 260 b.h.p. at 8,000 r.p.m. and dry weight was fractionally over 12 cwt.
In general, the D50 was much lighter, lower and shorter than its contemporaries, and it had, therefore, a superior power-to-weight ratio. Suspension was by double wishbones at the front and the de Dion system at the rear, in both cases using a transverse leaf-spring. The engine, which was mounted at an angle to permit the driver to be seated alongside the prop.-shaft and so reduce the frontal area, formed an integral stiffener to the light tubular frame. The 5-speed gearbox was in unit with the final drive and there were pannier fuel tanks mounted between the wheels.
For most of the 1954 season, Ascari and Villoresi were released to drive for Maserati and Ferrari, but in tests at Monza Ascari had lapped at 121.5 m.p.h. and, on paper at least, the Lancia was faster than the W196 Mercedes. At long last it was felt that the cars were ready to race and two were entered for the Spanish Grand Prix in October. Ascari made fastest time in practice and by the third lap was in the lead, but Villoresi had already retired with brake failure. A lap later Ascari made a pit stop, because of a slipping clutch, did another lap and then retired. A disappointing first appearance, but pre-race testing rarely reveals how a car will fare in the actual event.
Three cars were entered for the Argentine Grand Prix, but two were eliminated by crashes and the third retired with engine trouble. A very despondent Lancia team returned to Turin, without competing in the Buenos Aires City G.P. However, by March most of the problems had been sorted out and the team finished first, third and fourth in the Valentino G.P., defeating the works Ferrari and Maserati teams. The Lancia team followed this up by finishing second, fourth and fifth in the Pau G.P., after Ascari had led until a brake pipe broke; and Ascari had an easy win in the Naples Grand Prix.
The next race was the Monaco G.P., which became a four-cornered battle between the Mercedes of Moss and Fangio and the Lancias of Ascari and Castellotti. Both Mercedes retired, and as Moss slowed, Ascari shot into the Harbour chicane without realising that he was leading the race, a brake locked, and to the horror of spectators the Lancia slid into the Mediterranean in a cloud of steam. Both car and driver were safely recovered and Ascari was apparently little the worse for his dipping. The Lancias of Villoresi and Castellotti finished fourth and sixth.
A week later Ascari was dead, killed while trying out a Ferrari at the Monza Autodrome – his car had left the course for no apparent cause. Perhaps he was more shaken by the Monaco crash than he thought, perhaps an unsuspecting workman had crossed the track, perhaps it was because he was not wearing his lucky crash helmet – all these theories have been suggested as causes of the crash.
Lancia immediately withdrew from racing, shocked by the death of the 1955 World Champion, the pride of Italy. Castellotti was reluctantly permitted to run as a private entrant in the Belgian G.P.. and held third place until a spin caused him to retire, but the Company never resumed racing. The expense of building and developing the competition cars had proved too much for the Company’s resources. The final folly had been a 16-storey office block straddling the Via Vincenzo Lancia. Shortly afterwards the Company passed out of the family’s control and a new management took over. The Lancia D50 racing cars were handed over to Scuderia Ferrari, who raced and modified them with Fiat finance, but that is another story….
The first indications of a change of policy by the new directors at Turin came with the introduction of the Flaminia as successor to the Aurelia saloon. This had appeared in prototype form at the 1955 Turin Show, where, in pillarless form and with a longer and lower line, it was exhibited by Farina as the “Florida” on the GT Aurelia chassis.
In production form the Flaminia had 6-light bodywork and forward hinged doors (the prototype was pillarless) and there were also a number of mechanical changes. Although the Aurelia GT engine was retained, the dimensions were revised to 80 x 81.5 mm. giving a capacity of 2,458 c.c. The traditional sliding pillar front suspension gave way to a system of coil and wishbones. In other respects the mechanical recipe, was largely as before.
With a power output in its initial form of 100 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m., the Flaminia could just exceed 100 m.p.h. and accelerate from zero to 60 m.p.h. in 15.5 sec. Since then power output has been raised to 110 b.h.p. and at the Frankfurt Show an enlarged 2.8-litre engine became available. Despite a price in its native country of some £1,650, the Flaminia was an immediate success and by 1959 production figures had reached 100 a month.
Since 1960, shorter wheelbase versions with coupe coachwork by Farina and Zagato have been available. With triple Solex carburetters, 125 b.h.p. is developed at 5,600 r.p.m. and claimed maximum speed is 111 m.p.h. Competition experience with the very handsome Zagato coupé has led to the introduction of a much faster version with triple Weber carburetters, developing 140 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. and with a genuine top speed of 125 m.p.h. The tragedy is that such delectable machinery is beyond the means of the majority of British enthusiasts – it requires a true connoisseur to pay £3,388 when a car 50 m.p.h. faster is available for little more than half the price.
Late in 1960 the introduction of the Flavia made a complete break from traditional Lancia practice and the new model was completely new in every respect. The Flavia was the work of Professor Fessia, who had designed the front suspension of the Flaminia and that of the Fiat 600 and had been responsible for the pre-war Fiat 500.
The Flavia has a fiat-4 horizontally-opposed 1,500-c.c. engine, mounted ahead of the front wheels and driving these via a 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox. Independent front suspension is by double wishbones with a transverse leaf-spring and an anti-roll bar. At the rear there is a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf-spring and Dunlop disc brakes are fitted to all four wheels. Despite its conventionally low square lines and four headlamps, the Flavia contrives to look rather different from its rivals. With a top speed in excess of 90 m.p.h., performance is excellent for a 1 1/2-litre car, but gearing is perhaps rather on the low side, and this is confirmed by a fuel consumption which rarely betters 25 m.p.g. Sports versions of the Flavia with a 90-b.h.p. engine and either Farina coupé or Vignale convertible coachwork have since become available. In this form the model comfortably exceeds 100 m.p.h., and this performance is closely matched by the standard version with engine enlarged to 1.8-litres introduced at the Frankfurt Show. Like most Italian cars, the Flavia has been seen with a wide assortment of specialist coachwork and a number has been built for competition use with lightweight Zagato bodies.
The latest addition to the range is the Fulvia saloon, which, like the Flavia, has front-wheel drive, but uses a revised version of the Appia engine, with dimensions of 72 x 67 mm. and developing 60 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. This angular little car has only just come on to the British market, but the performance should be quite excellent.
Despite the ever-increasing car production, to cope with which a new factory has been recently opened at Chivasso, the Company markets a wide range of commercial vehicles. One of these is called the Beta, forming a last link with Lancia’s practice of calling his models after letters of the Greek alphabet. More recently models have been given names of roads leading into Rome, which themselves are named after Roman Statesmen.
The present Lancia models are considerably different from the type of car built by Vincenzo Lancia, but, nevertheless, they are still beautifully finished, individual motor cars, soundly engineered, in many respects technically unorthodox.