Lancia – No Grand Finale?

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Lancia behind the wheel of Fiat’s 28-40HP racer at the Targa Florio in 1907, after 8 hours he finished 2nd just 11 minutes behind Nazzaro also in a FiatThe prospect of an Italian renaissance for this historic marque is most unlikely as history confirms getting it ‘right’ for decades doesn’t guarantee a future.

Thirty years have passed since the ‘complete’ title of Integrale entered the history books with Lancia’s Delta model dominating the rally world from 1987 to 1992. The writing was already on the wall for the brand in the UK, the scandal of rustproofing (or lack of) a decade before certainly hadn’t helped, whilst all that remains in 2017 is the rebadged (Chrysler) Ypsilon. Many believe that as this model reaches production end in 2018 the marque will be permanently overlooked by FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. For those who worship the engineering excellence, stylish lines and unique approach the Lancia marque projected from the very beginning, this would obviously be disastrous. One thing has remained constant over the 110 years since the Lancia 18-24HP (Alfa) first appeared in 1907, the name of Fiat was always in the background.

Vincenzo Lancia 1881-1937, his father predicted a career in accountancy unaware of the influence Vincenzo would play in the development of the automobileVincenzo Lancia

Born in Turin, August 1881, the young Vincenzo served as an apprentice with the Ceirano brothers, makers of the ‘Welleyes’ bicycle range followed by their first automobile under the same name in 1899. Such was the success of the 5HP model they were unable to fulfil their order books and sold out to the fledgling FIAT brand. Lancia, along with another young Ceirano trainee, Felice Nazzaro (also 19) were taken on as test drivers and both soon raced for the new marque with records showing they recorded fastest times at the Padua race in 1900. In 1904, Lancia took victory at the Coppa Floria (Brescia) and was leading the Gordon Bennett Cup the following year when a stone punctured the radiator of his 16.2 litre FIAT; mechanical failures went on to haunt his racing career. Around the same time FIAT took on another test driver named Claudio Fologin and the pair would set up the Lancia brand late in 1906 with their first car arriving the following year; Lancia would continue as a works driver for FIAT during the period. The car that would be named ‘Alfa’ reflected Lancia’s engineering skills and foresight as it featured a four speed gearbox and was driven by shaft and not chains. The 2543cc engine was a high revving four cylinder with a top speed of 56mph and combined with coachwork by Locati & Torretta, an impressive 108 units were sold in two years, many to UK buyers. Behind the wheel of racing FIAT machines Lancia took podiums in the USA at the Vanderbilt Cup and the 1907 Targa Florio but his real genius came to the fore back in Turin at a new 27k square foot plant in 1911.

The Lancia Legacy
Brigitte Bardot enjoyed many stylish motor cars including this Pininfarina bodied Flaminia Coupe during the 1960sIn the summer of 1908, the Dialfa model was presented and featured an early straight six engine of 3815cc, utilising an extended Alfa chassis and a promise of 60mph but didn’t sell very well. The marque returned to 4 cylinders but this was the first mono-block and increased to 3120cc; continuing with the Greek alphabet it was named ‘Beta’ and sold 150 units. The design for the next model, the ‘Gamma’ was already underway and was the last car built at Lancia’s original workshops in 1910. Offered in three styles of coachwork and a trio of wheelbase sizes the Gamma also featured a dual nozzle carb plus a multidisc oil bath clutch; a total success with 258 cars sold. The new plant at Via Monginevro offered the capacity to expand and 1911 saw the first Delta followed by a sporting version called the Didelta, both capable of 75mph; combined with the Epsilon model over 1000 units were made available for sale. Unlike manufactures today, Lancia produced at least one new model per year during this period and 1913 was no different when the 35HP ‘Theta’ was launched. The four cylinders had been increased to just under 5 litres capacity and this new model was one of the first to enjoy full electric operations as standard thanks to an American Kettering generator. Buyers could also spec sheet steel wheels or a metal spoked versions of the wooden type utilised by most manufacturers. Just when the Lancia factory was at full capacity WW1 arrived and munitions production took precedence with armoured cars, trucks and even experimenting with a V12 aero engine which became a sensation once installed in an experimental chassis at the post conflict Paris Show of 1919.

The Inter War Years
With Europe recovering from four years of battle, the phrase ‘before its time’ could have been coined for Lancia’s V12 powered car but the less ambitious 70bhp ‘Kappa’ was well received in 1919. This attractive, sporting model included new innovations such as three position adjustable steering column and pedal starter. Two years later a high performance version the ‘Dikappa’ featured the same 4940cc unit but with overhead valves operated by rocker arms and rods; the performance increased to 87bhp. Lightened to just 1300kg the Dikappa could hit 80mph but was expensive (80K lire) and thus limited to just 160 units in total. 1922 was a massive year for the Turin Plant with the narrow (22°) V8 powered ‘Trikappa’ alongside the all new ‘Lambda’ which was recognised as one of the most outstanding automobiles of the era. Lambda production ran for nearly a decade with 13,000 units and was at the forefront of vehicle design featuring the world’s first stress bearing body, patented independent front suspension and Lancia’s 20° V4 engine. Originally of 2120cc with 49bhp it expelled very high RPM for the era, some 3250.  The capacity was later increased to 69bhp with various sedan configurations alongside the famous Torpedo bodies.

The company produced a line drawing of the LambdaThe start of a period of great success that began in the early 20s and continued for half a century was ignited by the Lambda; 1929 saw a V8 version (the Dilambda) launched. A large luxury model mounted on a bespoke chassis incorporating pump driven lubrication for the running gear with 4 litre engine that offered 100bhp at 4000rpm and enjoyed the involvement of the fledgling Pininfarina design house. This collaboration continued into a new decade with stunning ‘Astura’ model, a V8 powered coupe that became so popular it continued in production up to the start of WW2. Meanwhile, the V4 engine was suited to saloon models such as the Artena and Augusta which were the mainstay for Lancia customers until the new Balzano Plant opened in 1936. The machine that many consider to be Vincenzo Lancia’s finest offering arrived in 1937, the Aprilia. Just prior to the launch of this revolutionary model the company was rocked by the sudden death of its founder; at just 56 years old Vincenzo Lancia was taken by an unexpected heart attack. Whilst the Aprilia received a modest 1351cc unit, initially, the V4 was increased to 1485cc and offered 49bhp; the aerodynamic package along with independent rear suspension with inboard brakes allowed for a spritely and comfortable drive. Twelve years later and with a total of 27,636 units built, the Aprilia secured the company’s future even without its leader and facing six years of war.

The Next Generation
Pininfarina push the aerodynamic boundaries with their Aprilia Coupe but the model in all body types would enjoy great success in a variety of speed eventsPost war the Aprilia and Ardea resumed production quickly, both small, light and energetic pre-war saloon designs which allowed time for those in charge to prepare the Aurelia. Gianni Lancia, son of Vincenzo worked with Technical Manager Giuseppe Vaccarino and the legendary Vittorio Jano to build the Aurelia saloon, known as the B10 powered by the world’s first 60° V6 engine. The configuration of a single overhead camshaft in the centre of the ‘V’ ensured maximum revolutions of 4400rpm, offering 56bhp from 1754cc and with the total car weight of 1080kg, speeds of 80mph weren’t a problem. The Lancia’s of this period and for the next twenty years could be described as ‘sober, elegant and possessing personal lines’, the aerodynamic package was ahead of the competition without losing any stylish character. Pininfarina penned the B20 Aurelia Grand Tourism Coupe and the company went racing; almost immediately taking runner up spot in the 1951 Mille Miglia with a virtually stock car only beaten by a factory 4 litre Ferrari. The Aurelia set new standards in the early 50s and was developed in several guises whilst taking the plaudits on race tracks and rallies across the globe, including the 1954 Monte Carlo. As the model developed, its V6 increased to 2.5 litres whilst the factory looked to a 1.0 litre V4 to power their new baby the ‘Appia’ and during this period Fangio took victory in Lancia’s D24 sports car at the Carrera Panamericana.

D50 Formula 1 car developed for the 1955 season although it first appeared the year before, it would take two wins prior to the Monaco GPEntering the F1 arena in 1954 was a Vittorio Jano master class of engineering named D50, this 2.5 litre V8 featured 4 overhead camshafts, four twin choke carbs and dual ignition with an output of 260bhp at 8000rpm. Weighing in at just 500kg the D50 only ran once that year at Barcelona and set a new lap record before retiring; the team planned a full season in 1955 when they took two early victories with the immortal Ascari at the wheel. Against the mighty Mercedes team at the Monaco GP, the D50 with Ascari leading misjudged the chicane and both teams ended up in the harbour waters; the pilot suffered a broken nose. Ascari was at Monza just four days later watching his friend Eugenio Castellotti test a Ferrari sports car; not registered to drive he took a few laps in his shirt sleeves during which he crashed and died. Lancia were already struggling financially and immediately withdrew the D50 from F1, the cars and spares transferred to Ferrari; in 1956 Fangio took the Lancia-Ferrari D50 to his fourth world championship. Whilst it is disputed that the Lancia brand received Government help during this period, the company was in financial difficulty although it continued employing the best coach builders for certain models; the name of Pininfarina was joined by Touring and Zagato. Many consider the Italian Governments imposition of heavy sales tax was made worse when a minister announced it was a temporary measure, thus people ceased buying cars, especially expensive ones.

Swinging 60s Building Beauty
Lancia had been importing cars into the UK from the earliest models but never in great numbers and minus any dealer network. From 1961 this began to change following a takeover by Italian millionaire Dottore Pesenti.

The 1959 Flaminia 2500 Zagato Sport, the first Italian car to enjoy disc brakes and tinted glass, note the unique double bubble roof specific to this design house adding strength to the all alloy bodyMuch needed funds were injected into the business and 100 dealers took the franchise in the UK with manufacturer service headquarters located in Alperton, London. The time was right for the UK dealers to thrive, the splendid Flaminia saloon had been launched a few years prior and had enjoyed even more styling input from the coachbuilders with Coupe versions from both Touring and Pininfarina. The Appia was continued with various GT and coupe styles and Lancia’s first front wheel drive was available in the new 1960 ‘Flavia’. This new model caused a stir being initially fitted with a 1500cc ‘Boxer’ type engine and disc brakes as standard; once again Lancia dared to be different. In 1962 another plant was opened in Chivasso which prepared the Flavia and replacement for the long running Appia model, announcing the all new ‘Fulvia’ in spring of 1963. Performance figures of 58bhp and 86mph from a 13° V4 of 1091cc with twin overhead camshafts led to Fulvia Coupe and HF sports versions plus Lancia’s return to motorsport.

A coupe version of the Fulvia HF arrived in the form of a Zagato Coupe in the late 60s, built in limited numbers these have become very desirable collector carsA break from tradition and Lancia’s willing to experiment saw the 1500cc four cylinder ‘Boxer’ engine appear in the Flavia of 1960The Fulvia ran for 13 years with well over 300k examples in various guises, from a humble 1200 to the rally bred 1600cc producing 160bhp. With success both on and off circuit following such a prosperous period and having peaked at just over 50k units per annum, why did Lancia succumb to a takeover by Fiat late in 1969?  It seems that although the company were still building innovative and popular automobiles the past decade had seen little investment for future model development. Their costs per unit were high and profits strangled, so just as Lancia enjoyed the highest production numbers in its history an announcement came from the Italian Government; no doubt relieved it wouldn’t need to bear the burden of a bailout.

‘Fiat today announces that it has taken over the shares of the Lancia Company, and will take on the management and related responsibilities. The above has been communicated to the Government Authorities, and was received positively.’ 24th October 1969.

End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End
The Beta Montecarlo built by Pininfarina from in house designer Paolo Martin with transverse rearmid-engine configuration and rear wheel driveThe first model to arrive post takeover was the ‘Beta’ saloon in 1972 fitted with Fiat’s twin cam flat four-cylinder unit and available in three capacities; by utilising the parent company’s parts and facilities production costs would decrease and profitability return; at least that was the plan. The Beta sold in reasonable numbers but still at only half the amount required to cover development costs. Typical of the Lancia brand, the Beta Coupe followed and was well received in the same year (1974) that the Bertone derived ‘Stratos’ stunned convention and the motoring press with its Ferrari power and wedge shape plus the fact they dared to build it. The same year Lancia took over the sales and distribution of Autobianchi and its A112 which they sold in three versions including Abarth. The Beta received a facelift from Pininfarina in 1975 and the Montecarlo mid-engined two seater impressed whilst the following year another ‘Boxer’ engine was fitted to the all-new ‘Gamma’. It was Fiat’s excellent twin cam that excelled in the ‘Delta’ which became Car of the Year for 1980. A last ‘hurrah’ for the marque as both Fiat and Lancia seemed to be running out of options.  The product wasn’t niche enough for Lancia buyers, its individuality lost, then came the rust problems.

UK buyers became the marques largest market outside of Italy but corrosion problems forced a mass ‘buy-back’ of the Beta model here, especially saloons, as the mounts rusted through causing engines to fall out. Thousands of cars were affected and Lancia hierarchy failed to confirm that they had eliminated the problem creating a public relations disaster. Alongside the fantastic exploits of the Delta Integrale and the 037 Rally models came the likes of Dedra, Prisma and Y10; rebadged, non-descript options that sold in fewer and fewer numbers. As Lancia’s model range decreased into the 1990s Fiat were also trying to stop Alfa Romeo following suit. Lancia stumbled on for a further two decades but we are unlikely to ever see the badge adorning any UK dealerships in the future. They left in 1994 and since have been retreating back to their home market; parent FCA decreed Chrysler would also leave the UK in 2016 and at the same time Lancia withdrew from export markets worldwide taking the rebadge Ypsilon with it; the last of any ties between Lancia and Britain have been cut but the passion for this marque remains strong.

The Stratos shocked the world when Marcello Gandini at Bertone took the running gear from a Fulvia Coupe and built a championship winning rally car, under 500 were produced from 1973-78 The LanciaPininfarina Astura Cabriolet ‘Bocca’ from 1933 was fitted with a V8 that was attached to the chassis by blade springs The Fulvia Montecarlo (which it won in 1972) with an engine so versatile it was eventually tuned to offer over 100bhp per litre The first of nine series this Lambda Series 1 Torpedo Tourer from 1923 launched the monocoque design long before it became the norm The 037 Group B rally car was based on the Lancia Montecarlo and replaced the Stratos winning the manufacturers title in 1983 being the last RWD car to do so Greta Garbo appeared in a Lancia Lambda advert with her friend Vera Schmiterlöw in 1924 During the early 1950s the ‘D’ series of sports cars began taking victories in the long distance road races of the era Alberto Ascari blasts across the finish line to take victory in the 1954 Mille Miglia piloting Lancia’s D24 A strange decision came in 1974 when Lancia took over Autobianchi sales and distribution offering buyers a sporting small car especially in the Abarth version A rare non-rally competition machine from Lancia came in the form of the Montecarlo Turbo an endurance racer that took several championships in the early 1980s 1938 Lancia Aprilia Berlina Lusso thought to be the first production car where the aerodynamics were wind tunnel tested and the last model Vincenzo Lancia worked on prior to his early death