In the spirit of working our way back in time through the Lancias on display at the national rally held in Castlemaine last year, we are now up to the oldest cars. For example there were nine examples of the famous Lancia Lambda present, as well as some more common and other rarer cars.
The Aprilia is one of the landmark Lancia designs, debuting in 1937 with a 1.5L narrow-angle overhead cam V4 engine and four-wheel independent suspension using torsion bars for rear springing.
The car resumed production after the war and through to 1949. I’m not sure what if any changes were made.
The design is pretty sharp, with semi-integrated headlamps and a flowing aerodynamic rear end. It is easy to see how this evolved into the more rounded, full-width styling of the Aurelia that followed.
Here is the trim above the licence plate, where you can see the plastic (or perhaps resin?) name badging is showing its 78 years of age. Note the detailing of the feature lines that merge into the centre trim piece.
For something different, there was also an Aprilia special. Note that the standard sedan had unitary construction, and I wonder if the unusual shape of the side indicates that it was built using the main body/floor structure of a sedan? The radiator and presumably engine have been set back and it appears the wheelbase is shorter. Those front cycle wings are strangely high!
They do expose the front suspension nicely though, which gives a good view of the later version of the Lancia sliding pillar suspension. In effect it is like a rigidly-mounted solid axle with a spring and shock absorber mounted at the end and the rod carrying the top of the stub axle upright. The bottom of the stub axle upright runs outside the cylinder containing the spring.
Nearby were this pair of Augustas, the predecessor to the Appia from the last instalment. While they have a long 104.3” wheelbase we need to recalibrate our sense of scale, because this was a small car with a 903 cc engine that competed against the Fiat 508 Ballila. The sedan is from 1934 and I am guessing the convertible is from either 1935 or 36.
As you can see there is no such thing as an overhang! The hood looks very long, but consider the base of the windshield is much further back than a modern car, with the footwells extending further forward under the scuttle and rear of the bonnet – a 1200 cc V4 isn’t going to take up much room!
The interior of the convertible illustrates this point – the instrument panel is forward of the windshield. Note the instruments here are from left to right a clock, fuel gauge (looking for all the world like a tachometer!), speedometer and oil pressure gauge. Perhaps one of the two warning lights covers water temperature. The bottom of the fuel gauge says “Litri Benzina”, and apart from the missing needle here the car is in beautiful condition.
They are definitely very handsome cars with striking colour schemes thanks to the contrasting mud guards and running boards. It is also interesting to see the difference in tyre sizes, a matter of what can be obtained I suppose.
Slightly younger is this 1938 Lancia Astura tourer, an extremely rare car that the owner spent something like 30 years restoring. I imagine that many of those were spent chasing parts and people with the necessary expertise to carry out some of the work.
A similar two-door car won the top prize at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Both of these cars came towards the end of Astura production, which ran from 1931 to 1939 through 4 series.
It is powered by a SOHC 3.0L V8, and in typical Lancia fashion the vee angle was just 17°! It almost looks more like a giant DOHC four. Power was 82 hp, which is quite good for the era. Note the radiator is actually behind the front axle line.
This is a fourth-series car, which had the longest 137” (3480 mm) wheelbase, and certainly interior space is generous to say the least. It is not often you see a car with more room between the wheels than most full-size pickups! Note that the front and rear doors are both hung from the central pillar; the opposite arrangement to the Aurelias, Aprilias and Appias previously shown.
The dashboard is very impressive, with what looks like etched metal panels full of instruments surrounded by timber. Only 2912 Asturas were built.
Going older still is this imposing Lancia Dilambda tourer, one of the model built from 1928-1935 and featuring a 100 hp 4-litre V8. Another engine, another vee angle; this time it was 24 degrees. Next to the far wheel you can see the signature Lancia sliding pillar front suspension, and I don’t think you will see too many taller radiators on a passenger car. Only 1,685 were built which is not surprising as production spanned the Great Depression.
Now for the Lambdas, which are revered as one of the most significant cars in history due to their monocoque construction which gave a much lower body height than most cars of the era. I would compare the proportions to the front-wheel-drive Auburns.
The Lambda debuted in 1922, and in addition to the body there were a couple of other significant innovations, the first being the independent front suspension. This was known as sliding pillar, and the same basic layout was also famously still used by Morgan on their sports cars. What looks like a conventional lower wishbone is actually a solid frame, combined with the angled upper brace. The large outer vertical cylinder combines the springing and damping functions (Lancia built a new type of shock absorber or damper for this application), as well as rotating to allow steering. Incidentally the coil springs have a square section instead of the standard round. The tie rod runs across in front of the radiator. Lambdas had four-wheel brakes, no doubt due to the influence of the nearby Alps where the cars were tested.
The V4 engine was also unique, with a single overhead cam activating the valves on both banks thanks to the narrow vee angle, from 13-14°. I have seen a bare cylinder block and it is a pretty beefy item, with quite a large head gasket area compared to the size of the pistons. Note the brace down to the gearbox, and how the intake and exhausts both connect to the rear of the cylinder head; not how it would be done now, but you have to take 95 years of progress since these were designed into account!
This engine appears to be a later type, and some differences that are evident such as the relocation of the spark plugs from the cylinder block into the head and the cylinder head water jacket. The carburetor looks to be a much later item. The capacity started at 2.1L from a ?? mm bore and long 100 mm stroke, until 1926 when it was increased to 2.4L and a final increase to 2.7L in 1928. This took horsepower from 49 to 69 bhp.
There were 9 series of cars produced through to 1931, each with incremental improvements. I don’t know a lot about the differences but the red car would appear to be an earlier type, which I am basing on the smaller doors and simpler windscreen that are different from the black car. The black car also has the longer wheelbase (3.42m/134.6” up from 3.10m/122”) that was introduced with the 1925 6th series.
Another pair of Lambdas, this time I think the newer car is on the right. The windscreen has been laid back slightly, and the base now follows the shape of the higher hood/cowl line where the earlier series have a horizontal base.
One of the earlier, small-door, cars had the windscreen folded flat. From the rear you can see the uncommon rear spare tyre position, as well as the mount for the leaf spring shackle thanks to the high rear mud guards which were different from all the other Lambdas.
This pair provides an interesting contrast. The rear section of the body does not seem to have changed much between series, and luggage space is limited due to the lower portion of the space taken by the fuel tank. The high licence plate mount appears typical for a Lambda, but not more traditional (ie not LED) lighting on the right-hand car including the upper brake light that contains both Lancia and Stop script. The other car has what looks like a rigid, bolt-on hardtop.
This car provides additional luggage space with an under-car locker that was added many years ago for a European tour. There are also two spare wheels carried. I visited this car’s home many years ago and it was one of the most impressive garages I’ve been to with shelves of reconditioned and rebuilt parts ready to go.
Here is an interior shot; the instrument panel appears to be cast aluminium, and like many Lambdas it has the most extraordinary leather trim. I have seen ostrich leather on one.
A quite different interior shot, from the only fixed-roof sedan present. This car has much softer-looking leather as would be possible with the weather protection, plus roller blinds and flower vases. Quite the luxurious experience, plus one that is entirely different from modern cars. I have ridden in a Lambda, and because the rear seat is directly over the axle u-turns give the feel that the car is pivoting about you thanks to the tight steering lock.
Here is the outside of the sedan. Apart from the roof note that the doors are entirely different, which signifies that this is a coachbuilt body on one of the bare-chassis variants that were offered from the 1925 6th series onwards. Incidentally the last 9th series of 500 cars in 1931 were only sold as a bare chassis.
This is the car I rode in, and it is an example the varied life that cars can live. In the 1950’s it was re-powered by a Standard Vanguard engine as parts for the original were not available. Later it was effectively abandoned on a farm before being rescued and restored. It still has the Standard engine, about the same capacity as the original, because that has been in the car longer at this point!
A final detail to wind down our tour of the Lancia Castlemaine rally is this delightful kangaroo radiator mascot. 11,200 Lambdas were built in total, and if you want to own one today you will need to be very patient because their devoted owners do not let them go very often.
Lastly, here is a 1938 Aprilia I passed on my way back down the highway cruising at around 65 mph, quite impressive for 1.5L of pre-WW2 sedan but not surprising for a Lancia. I hope you have enjoyed a stroll through the history of a most fascinating manufacturer. There were some other cars on display which I will showcase next time.