Journal: Gianni Lancia Was a Brave Man, a Leader, an Innovator

Gianni Lancia Was a Brave Man, a Leader, an Innovator

By Jacopo Villa
February 27, 2015
3 comments

The son of Vincenzo Lancia, founder of Lancia Automobili S.p.A., Gianni was the man responsible for convincing the family company to invest in research and development for racing cars in the early 1950s. In doing so, he not only gave Lancia its first Works team but he also bet, against all odds, that Lancia could field a competitive motorsports division. On the business side, Gianni proved capable as he revolutionized the assembly line and guided Lancia through its difficult post-war years.

Under Gianni’s leadership, Lancia became a top performer, known for its technology and for fielding the best drivers and engineers of the time. Its D20 line, later to evolve into its 23 and 24 models, set a new standard for both Lancia and for European automobiles more generally. The marque then followed this with the Stratos, the 037, and the S4, cars that truly revolutionized the company’s image and left an indelible imprint on the world of racing.

In all of this, Gianni was doing what his father could only dream of doing. When Lancia was a newborn manufacturer, a racing effort was too much to sustain. To get his racing fix, Vincenzo Lancia competed at the wheel of Fiat cars. Over those years, however, Lancia’s cars developed a reputation for reliability, elegance, and civilized performance and it wasn’t long before privateers and amateur racers began using them successfully in hill climbs and endurance races. In 1928, a semi-official team ran the second annual Mille Miglia in a Lambda, the highest profile race ever that would ever be run in a Lancia prior to Gianni’s era.

After the death of Vincenzo Lancia, the company was taken over by his wife, who kept Lancia afloat during WWII despite losing many workers and facilities. In 1944, she was succeeded by Arturo Lancia, Vincenzo’s cousin, who was a mentor to Gianni in his first years with the with the company.

At just 24 years old, Gianni took over a company in the midst of the post-war years and faced the challenge of developing new models on a shoestring budget. Taking advantage of the research and development work done in exile in a previously-hidden office in Padua, and from the expertise of Vittorio Jano, Gianni Lancia decided to renovate the already existing Ardea and Aprilia and in doing so hit upon a new model the Aurelia B10.

The powerful Aurelia, with the first production 2 liter V6, was a powerful, superb-handling dream. It wasn’t long befoe some clients begun using them in hill climbs and other competitions. When the B20 Cupè version hit the market, it was an instant success: three days after being introduced at the 1951 Turin Autoshow, an Aurelia won the Giro di Sicilia. Factory-backed B20s also competed in the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans, taking first in both races.

For 1952, Lancia bolstered Squadra Corsa and increased its support of privateers as the company competed in the Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico and in the Mille Miglia. These were to be the last races for the B20, however, as a new works car was being developed in Turin.

1953 was the birth year of Lancia’s first true race car: the Aurelia D20 Competizione, the D23, and the D24. With drivers like Taruffi, Maglioli, Ascari, Bonetto, Villoresi and Castellotti behind the wheel, Lancia took part in the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, Le Mans, Monza, the Carrera Panamericana and many other races.

By the time 1955 rolled around, Lancia was ready for Formula 1 with its D50, which would become known as the Lancia-Ferrari when the Squadra Corsa donated it to Ferrari. This foray into Formula 1, however, was short-lived. Factory driver Alberto Ascari was killed – behind the wheel of a Ferrari – while testing at Monza and Gianna was evicted from his position as CEO soon thereafter.

In just two frenetic years, Lancia had laid the foundation for its racing success. Characterized by unique design but marked by misfortune, Gianni Lancia’s dreams were but the first glimpse of what would become one of the most successful companies in Italian automotive history.

Image Sources: automotivevaluationservices.com, iefimerida.gr, imageshack.us, imageshack.us, hoopchina.com.cnimgci.com

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frauki athans
frauki athans(@frauki_athans)
2 years ago

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Edward Levin
Edward Levin
6 years ago

The history of the Aurelia and the Lancia’s ‘D’ racers is truly fascinating. But this version isn’t even close.

“[i]Under Gianni’s leadership, Lancia became a top performer, known for its technology and for fielding the best drivers and engineers of the time[/i].”
Lancia’s engineering prowess was established by his father Vincenzo, long before Gianni was born in 1924–two years after the Lambda had been launched with the first production monocoque body, the first production independent front suspension, and a narrow-angle V4.

“[i]Its D20 line, later to evolve into its 23 and 24 models, set a new standard for both Lancia and for European automobiles more generally. The marque then followed this with the Stratos, the 037, and the S4, cars that truly revolutionized the company’s image and left an indelible imprint on the world of racing[/i].”
More than a decade after the ‘D’ cars (D23, D24, D25, and D50), and before the Stratos, it was the Fulvia that re-established Lancia competition success, winning the world rally championship in 1972.

“[i]In all of this, Gianni was doing what his father could only dream of doing. When Lancia was a newborn manufacturer, a racing effort was too much to sustain. To get his racing fix, Vincenzo Lancia competed at the wheel of Fiat cars[/i].”
The dream was Gianni’s, not his father’s. At the beginning of his automotive career, Vincenzo worked for Fiat as a development driver and works racing driver. Because of this experience, Vincenzo well understood the economics of sustaining a racing program, and decreed that his firm would never engage in racing. It was only after his father’s death that Gianni decided to pursue the course that his father had forbidden.

“[i]Factory-backed B20s also competed in the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans, taking first in both races[/i].”
Nonsense. Works B20s won the Targa Florio in 1951 and 1952, and in 1953 finished 4th behind the winning Lancia D20. In 1954 a B20 won the Monte Carlo Rally. But the B20s never won the Mille Miglia or LeMans. In 1951 B20s took 2000cc class wins at the Mille Miglia (2nd overall) and at LeMans (12th overall), but not the overall wins. In 1952 B20s finished 1st and 2nd in 2000cc class at the Mille Miglia (3rd and 5th overall) and at LeMans (6th and 8th overall).

“[i]Taking advantage of the research and development work done in exile in a previously-hidden office in Padua, and from the expertise of Vittorio Jano, Gianni Lancia decided to renovate the already existing Ardea and Aprilia and in doing so hit upon a new model the Aurelia B10[/i].”
This is just too weird to correct. Anyone who wants to understand the real history would be well advised to read Geoffrey Goldberg’s excellent, thoroughly-researched, and important book, [i]Lancia and De Virgilio at the Center[/i] (David Bull Publishing, 2014). Available online or, as they say, at better bookstores everywhere…

Martin James
Martin James
6 years ago

The list of innovations that came from Lancia is long and storied . Their accomplishments … both with the road , race and rally cars is …. legendary . Hell .. even the mighty Emperor Enzo knew when he was licked … buying the financially failing Lancia Grand Prix teams cars and promptly winning the next years championship with them … all but unaltered I might add

The problems coming in at the end of each and every year since the companies inception when the books were tallied , with each and every number being deep into the red !

[ ahhh .. where would the automotive world/hobby be today if it were not for the constant and massive flow of subsidies that came from the Italian tax payers in days gone by ? ]

A fact which does nothing to dampen the pain of what Stronzetto Marchionne has managed to do to Lancia in less than a decade .

Suffice it to say … Lancia’s end is upon us … the past is all that is or ever will be left .. so we might as well celebrate the good stuff as this article helps us do … and move on …

Eco . Va bene ! Basta .. before the tears start flowing any harder