Lancia History

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Lancia History



 1906 - present

Development Of The Unitary Body

The majority of pre-war manufacturers, at least those worthy of inclusion in the heritage section of the Unique Cars and Parts web site began with a philosophy of building sports-cars, many with the intention of having these cars compete on the race track.

But in Lancia’s case, there is really only one pre-war car worthy of mention – the remarkable “Lambda”. Today it is widely considered as the first ever design to feature a simple form of unitary body/chassis construction. The floor of the passenger compartment was so low that a propeller-shaft tunnel had to be incorporated.

Speculation abounds as to why the engineers would develop such an innovative method of construction, the most favoured opinion being that their inspiration came from the study of boat construction – the firm's founder Vincenzo Lancia was known to have taken a boat cruise shortly before the design.

In yet another first, the Lambda was also the very first “large” car to be fitted with independent front suspension, worked by a system of coil springs on sliding pillars, all in enclosed cylinders, and a type of hydraulic shock absorber.

The Lambda was launched at the Paris and London car shows of 1922, and then produced in no fewer than nine series until 1931. The engine was a narrow angle (13 degree) V4, with staggered bores, and was so compact that there was also space for the transmission to be mounted under the bonnet!

Initially the engine capacity was 2170cc and was good for 49bhp and a top speed of 70mph (112.6 km/h). By the time of the third series, the engine displacement had been increased to 2370cc, good for 59bhp and a top speed of 77mph (124 km/h).

All car manufacturers used the same formula of increasing engine size for subsequent models to maintain buyer interest, and so it was that the fifth series Lambda was fitted with a 2570cc engine good for 69bhp and a top speed to nearly 80mph (129 km/h). Even though the Lambda was not at first intended to be a sports-car, it had sporting characteristics. Some 13,000 examples were built, and the car has justly been labeled a landmark in automotive design.

Lancia Lambda
The Lambda may have been Lancia's one and only pre-war sports car, but it is better known for being the first car manufactured from unitary body/chassis construction.

Lancia Lambda
The Lambda was launched at the Paris and London car shows of 1922, and then produced in no fewer than nine series until 1931.

Vincenzo Lancia
Speculation abounds as to how Vincenzo Lancia came up with the concept of building a car from a unitary body/chassis. The most popular theory is that his inspiration came from boat manufacture, following his taking a holiday cruise.

Lancia Aprilia
Vincenzo Lancia would pass away in 1937 at the relatively early age of only 56, but he would leave behind him the legacy of a very advanced small saloon model, the “Aprilia”.

Lancia Aurelia B50 Cabriolet
The 1950 Lancia Aurelia B50 was the evolution of Vincenzo's legacy, the wonderful B10.

Lancia Fulvia
With a body by Zegato, the Lancia Fulvia Coupes turned out to be stellar rally cars.

Lancia Stratos
Gianpaolo Dallara's masterpiece, the Stratos is etched into rally history.

Lancia Delta S4
Lancia would remain committed to WRC, although designing something as innovative as the Stratos was always going to be difficult. The Delta S4 would quickly silence the critics.

Vincenzo Lancia Legacy, The Wonderful Aprilia

Vincenzo Lancia would pass away in 1937 at the relatively early age of only 56, but he would leave behind him the legacy of a very advanced small saloon model, the “Aprilia”. His son Gianni would assume control but, as was the case with the majority of European car manufacturers, passenger car production would halt until the end of World War 2. It was shortly after the war that Gianni would gain the talents of ex Alfa-Romeo designer Vittorio Jano, whom would head up Lancia's design and research department; and it was under his direction that the new Lancia V6 engine was developed.

The original design was a 1754cc 60-degree unit, good for 56bhp at 4000rpm – the engine destined for installation in their new Aurelia B10 saloon. The first Aurelia’s were perhaps a little plain, but mechanically they were anything but! They were of course built on a unit-construction basis, featured Jano’s new sweet V6 engine, were fitted with a rear-mounted transmission in unit with the final drive, had inboard rear drum brakes, and, lastly, offered independent rear suspension.

It was during the Aurelia period that the company's policy toward motor sport changed; Gianni was adamant that his company could benefit from race circuit success, and so Lancia committed itself to developing a new breed of sports car, one with balance, power and superior handling.

The Pininfarina B20 GT Coupe Sets The Lancia Styling Tone

The Aurelia saloon had been launched in 1950, but a year later the Pininfarina-styled fastback GT coupe, the B20, was also put on sale. This was an extremely attractive car, and would set the styling tone for Lancia, and even some of its competitors, for many years to come.

The B20 was originally fitted with a 1991cc 80bhp V6 engine, perhaps not the most powerful but certainly extremely reliable and robust, the engine would go a long way to helping the B20 GT models achieve a second place in the 1951 Mille Miglia, 12th place at Le Mans in the same year, and third in the Mille Miglia of 1952.

Later series of B20s were fitted with De-Dion rear suspension and, given Lancia’s determination to achieve race track success; engine capacity was increased to 2451cc now good for 118bhp at 5000rpm. It was in this form that the B20 would win the Liege -Rome-Liege rally in 1953 and the Monte Carlo and Targa Florio rallies the following year.

Pinnafarina was commissioned to design an open-top version of the B20, dubbed the “Aurelia Spyder”; the first versions of the Spyder had a rather ungainly wrap-around windscreen, but the fifth and sixth series used a more conventional screen with wind-up windows.

Jano Helps Lancia Develop A Grand Prix Racer

It was during the early to mid 1950’s that Lancia embarked on more ambitious race-car designs, including the development of a Formula 1 Grand Prix car – all under the leadership of Jano. The first sports racer was the D20, which had a 60 degree quad-cam V6 engine of 2962cc good for a healthy 217bhp. Not unlike the competition, the car used a tubular chassis frame with independent suspension all-round, though later varieties would use de-Dion rear ends.

By the time the D20 had evolved into the D24, it was fitted with a much larger 3300cc V6 engine, the increased performance helping it take out the first three places in the Mexican road race “Carrera Pan-Americana”, the cars being driven by racing legends such as Fangio, Taruffi and Castellotti. The same car also tasted victory in the Tour of Sicily, the Targa Florio and, driven by Alberto Ascari, the 1954 Mille Miglia.

But development and racing of such machines is a very costly exercise, and Lancia was starting to feel the financial heat. By the time the factory had development the D50 Grand Prix single-seater of 1954/55, such were the financial woes of the company that Gianni Lancia was obliged to hand over the cars to Ferrari, and then sell his company to the Pesenti business interests.

Lancia Returns To Touring Car Manufacture

For the remainder of the 1950’s and following 1960’s, Lancia tried to remain viable by manufacturing a series of technically advanced, but rather mundane looking touring cars - notably the Appia, Flavia and Fulvia, and although sporting derivatives of each were produced, none qualified as an out-and-out sports-car.

Nevertheless, the lightweight Fulvia Coupes were outstanding rally cars, and the Zagato-bodied equivalents were unmistakable, with excellent performance and road holding.

But such cars could not stem the outward flow of capital, and so in 1969 Lancia was taken over by Fiat. It is somewhat sad that Gianni would lose the company founded by his father, but as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and so it was that Lancia would soon benefit from Fiats ownership of Ferrari. Now Lancia had access to the Ferrari Dino 246GT's engine and transmission – a setup that would ultimately find its way into the magnificent “Stratos”.

The Delta S4 Silences The Critics

The “Stratos” was designed with one objective in mind – rallying. Gianpaolo Dallara, who had worked for both Lamborghini and de Tomaso, is credited with doing the majority of the development work on the car, while the styling and structural manufacture were completed by Bertone.

As used in the Stratos, the Dino engine was transversely mounted behind the seats, and was good for 190bhp at 7000, all from a reasonably small and lightweight 2418cc engine that drive the rear wheels through a Ferrari Dino five-speed gearbox. The Stratos front and rear body sections could be swung completely up and out of the way, providing access to the all-independent suspension, and four-wheel disk brakes.

During 1974 and 1975, approximately 500 Stratos were built to meet homologation requirements as a Group 4 competition machine, and once approved it dominated rallying more than any other car before it. The 'works' team won three consecutive World rally championships - 1974, 1975 and 1976 - and in 1978, Stratos cars won 13 national and international events, all round the world.

In the meantime, Fiat had produced a mid-engined sports coupe which they then donated to Lancia for production; this was the unit-construction “Monte Carlo”, with coachwork by Pininfarina. The “Monte” used a transverse mid-mounted twin-cam Fiat four-cylinder engine of 1.6, 1.8 or 2.0 litres with integral five-speed transmission.

In the USA it was known as the Scorpion and in all markets it was sold with either a fixed roof or roll-back 'convertible' top. The last of these cars were built in 1983/84, after a two year lay-off in the late 1970s to sort out handling and quality problems.

For rallying purposes, however, the Stratos was succeeded by the Lancia Rally coupe, which looked rather like the Monte Carlo, but was almost entirely special except for using that car's centre section. Only 200 were produced, with tubular front and rear sub-frames, a longitudinal instead of transverse engine mounting, and a supercharged (not turbocharged) engine.

The first car was shown at the end of 1981, the 200-off run was completed by mid-1982, and the car started winning events later in the year. In 1983 it distinguished itself by winning the Monte Carlo rally, and going on to take the World Rally Championship for Makes. In road-car tune, the 1995cc 16-valve engine was good for 205bhp, with up to 325bhp at 8000rpm available in fully-tuned form.

Also see:
Lancia Car Reviews
Lancia History and Heritage (USA Edition)
Vincenzo Lancia - Legends of Motorsport (USA Edition)
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