Some Additional Lancia History

A year ago Motor Sport published an article on the history of the Lancia by K. Foeman and this, with a letter relating to it from the Editor of the Lancia M.C. journal in the following issue, is accepted as the leading source of reference to this famous Italian manufacturer.

However, we have recently come upon some additional information, taken from an article on the Lancia Company in Rivista Lancia and extract herewith some items not covered by Mr. Foeman’s informative article :—

The date of Vincenzo Lancia’s birth is given as August 24th, 1881, at Fobello. After an unhappy period at the Varallo boarding school and Turin Technical college, Lancia took up a position in 1898, as accountant, with Giovanni Ceirano, who rented premises in the courtyard at 9, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Giuseppe Lancia’s winter house—does it still exist ?—and where Ceirano built the Welleyes car, designed by Aristide Faccioli. Fiat took over this small works the following year and Vincenzo Lancia was its Chief Inspector, before he became a member of the Fiat racing team.

A fire caused delay in producing the first Lancia car in 1907, after Vincenzo had joined forces with Claudio Fogolin to become a manufacturer, and even then the prototype could not be driven out of the small factory, where 30 men were employed, until a wall had been knocked down. Those responsible for this original Lancia are quoted as Rocco for the engine, Zeppegno for the chassis, assembly being the concern of Passini, while the shop foreman was Rocca and the assembly-shop foreman was Allieyi. Between 1908 and the summer of 1909 production of this model was 108—Lancia tested every chassis himself up to the 16th and then took a car out now and then, although he always took out prototypes; the London agents at this time are given as Subani Bros. Further premises had been rented by 1908, in Corso Dante, near Ponte Isabella, for assembly and testing, and by 1910 the factory extended along the block formed by the Via Donizetto, Ormea, Petrarca and Pietro Giuria, until, on January 14th, 1911 a new factory of 26,550 sq. mt, was opened at Via Monginevro, formerly occupied by Fides-Brescia automobiles.

During 1911 and 1912 Lancia built 1,145 cars of the Delta, Epsilon and Zeta types, as well as about 106 military vehicles on the Tipo 12 chassis Which pioneered disc in place of wooden artillery wheels. The well-known Lancia Theta followed in 1913, of which nearly 1,790 were built. It is claimed to be the first European automobile with built-in electrical components.

The outbreak of war postponed development of the V8 engine and Lancia went over to building military vehicles, which included the IZ, Jota and Diota, with truck, gun-carrier and special bodies by Farina, and which formed the basis of the Ansaldo armoured cars. The factory in the Borgo San Paolo expanded during the war to an area of some 60,000 sq. mt. and 2,160 Lancia Jotas were produced, many of which were supplied to the Allies.

Coming to the post-war Lancia Lambda, legend has it that Vincenzo Lancia was driving with his mother in a Kappa to his father’s house “Monta” at Fobello when a front spring leaf broke on the rough road and the car nearly came to grief, whereupon the drawing office was told to think in terms of independent front suspension. In 1921 the Manager of the Engineering Department was Signor Zeppegno and on March 15th Lancia called a meeting to discuss the possibilities of a car having a hull in place of the then conventional channel-section chassis frame, and i.f.s. Apparently Battista Falchetto sketched fourteen possible i.f.s. arrangements, from which Vincenzo Lancia chose the one best suited to his proposed unitary frame structure, which, because it would be highly stressed by this i.f.s., was reinforced with some boxed parts, including the classic tapered tail forming a luggage compartment.

The narrow V4 Lambda engine was designed by Rocco and Cantarini and tuned by the test-shop foreman Scacchi. The prototype was finished by September 1st, 1921 . It had a horseshoe-shaped radiator within the ingenious trapezium of the frame, rear-wheel-brakes only and no differential, although the differential rear axle used later had been prepared. The car weighed 1,540 lb. Lancia himself took it out, with head-tester Vigin Gismondi beside him. That evening a celebration dinner took place at the Giaconera near Condove (idea for a Lancia M.C. expedition ?), those present being Lancia, his partner Fogolin, engineers Gracco, Zeppegno, Zorzoli, engine tester Scacchi, the brothers Bocca, Pallavieim, test-driver Gismondi and draughtsman Falchetto.

Front-wheel-brakes were developed for the Lambda, presenting a difficult problem in conjunction with the i.f.s. while rubber damping of the latter proved ineffective, the current friction shock-absorbers were unsuitable, so a special hydraulic damper was evolved, later modified by using a hollow rod to enable it to be made concentric with the coil-spring suspension. The Lambda’s propeller-shaft tunnel is claimed as a Lancia innovation. Total Lambda production was 13,000; Dilambda production is quoted as 1,685 between late 1929 and 1932, of which about 1,000 were the fast, short-wheelbase version.

Coming to the Lancia Augusta, work started in 1930 and by 1932 the first prototypes had completed many tens of thousands of kilometres. Originally a car with three seats in front was visualised but this was abandoned for the more conventional arrangement. The pillarless construction stemmed from restricted access to the back seat with the normal layout—an American manufacturer claimed a patents infringement over the door locks and the Augusta’s platform chassis deriving stiffness from the central tunnel, but these were established in Lancia’s favour. The Lancia-type i.f.s. was continued, but incorporating friction dampers. Vincenzo Lancia still attended the experimental tests and apparently, after a British hydraulic brake system had been decided upon, he carried out tests on the downhill run between Superga and Sassi in comparison with an American car using the same brake master cylinders and steel brake drums. Fluid evaporation intruded about 100 metres after the end of the descent, on both cars. So Lancia experimented with alloy brake drums having c.i. liners; these were very good, until the longer Moncenisio descent was tried. Legend says that just as Lancia was about to abandon hydraulic brakes for the Augusta someone thought of ruffing up the external surface of the drums and painting them dull black, which got rid of the surplus heat !

By this time Giuseppe Baggi was Lancia’s Technical Manager, Alghisi was Works Manager, Giuseppe Sola and Verga were responsible for engine design and experimental testing, Falchetto for complete vehicles and the head-tester was still Gismondi. When Lancia ordered design of the Aprilia to commence in the winter of 1934-35, visualising a streamlined 5-seater saloon not exceeding 1,980 lb., Sola tuned the 1,351-c.c. engine to give 8.22 b.h.p. per litre at 1,000 r.p.m. and Falchetto, after consulting the Aerodynamic Research Laboratory of the Turin Polytechnic, designed the body, the panels of which were considerably thinner than those of contemporary saloons. Lancia himself toned down the very long tail and excessive angle between roof and side panels of the full-scale wooden mock-up. For the Aprilia Falchetto again retained the Lancia sliding-pillar coil-spring i.f.s., but incorporated an oil supply for it, at first mechanically, later driver operated. He was also responsible for the ingenious i.r.s. with inboard brakes. This originally gave trouble, wheelspin occurring on one side when starting uphill or on a had surface, which was cured by fitting a more flexible leaf spring and reducing the diameter of the torsion bars, if we interpret Rivista Lancia correctly.

Prototype Aprilias were road-tested between the autumn of 1935 to the end of June 1936 but Lancia was too occupied with problems connected with his Tipo RO-RO commercial vehicle engine to devote himself to this brilliant new small car. However, legend says he eventually got round to letting Gismondi drive him from Turin to Bologna in an almost finalised prototype, accompanied by Verga and Tacchini from the experimental department. On the outward run, apparently, Lancia was silent, except to remark that the car was too fast, at 81 m.p.h., and to indicate some unsatisfactory details. A dejected crew awaited his return from his business appointment. After a refuelling pause at Voghera, Lancia decided to drive, fast, back to Turin, and, on the outskirts of the city he proclaimed the new model to be a wonderful car. Some modifications were made, including reducing top speed to 78 m.p.h. That was at the beginning of the summer and Vincenzo Lancia did not get into an Aprilia again until late autumn, when he rode in one to Genova. He approved the design but died, at the age of 56, on February 15th, 1937, shortly before production commenced.

Three months later the Lancia foundry moved to Bolzano and the war hastened the transfer of other plant to this factory, although after the war it was used as an important feeder to the Turin works. War-time General Manager at Balzano was Manlio Gracco, Administration Manager Signor Oneglio.

After the war Ardea production got going properly and more than 31,000 were produced in all, of which about 22,000 were the saloon version.

The facts relating to the V6 Aurelia are better known, and it is only necessary to state that this high-performance Lancia was developed under the influence of Gianni Lancia, Vincenzo’s son, at a time when Giuseppe Vaccarino was Technical Manager of Lancia and the great Vittorio Jano was in charge of the experimental department. The V6 engine was originally the work of Francesco De Virgilio, Manager of the Patent and Special Planning Office, whose research led to the 60 deg. vee arrangement being adopted on account of its excellent balance, although the first experimental engine, known as the Tipo 538, was a 45 deg. V6 of 1,569 c.c., which was tested on the bench and in an Aprilia throughout 1947. In 1948, when any idea of developing the Aprilia further was abandoned, the second rest engine, destined for the B10 Aurelia, was a 50 deg. V6 but the cylinder angle was increased to 60 deg. and the capacity to 1,754 c.c., by the time the type was approved in 1949. The rest of the story is covered admirably by Mr. Foeman’s aforesaid article.

We do not like to ignore any fresh facts which come our way and while we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the foregoing,–. it comes from a good source. We would, however. appreciate any comments the Lancia M.C. or our readers have to offer.—W.B.