News: The ‘Most Famous Lancia In The World’ Is Being Restored

The ‘Most Famous Lancia In The World’ Is Being Restored

By James Gent
April 25, 2020

In fact, you’d be wrong in thinking ‘the most famous Lancia in the world’ had anything to do with Group B or the World Rally Championship in any fashion at all. The epitaph, as bequeathed by UK restoration specialist Thornley Kelham is actually this Series 1, Lancia Aurelia B20GT. Quite a history it had too until its mysterious disappearance in 1952…

Given the company’s almost sarcastically successful competitive history in later years, the Aurelia may not spring instantaneously to-mind when considering famous Lancias, but that would be doing the 1950s saloon a disservice. Though only in production for eight years between 1950 and 1958, more than 18,000 examples of the Aurelia were built during that time, each of which featured a V6 engine – the first production car to do so – radial tyres, and a rear transaxle designed with one eye firmly on near perfect weight distribution. We mentioned something about Lancia’s staggeringly successful history…

The 1951 example below was no exception. Indeed, only months removed from its time on the production, this B20GT – chassis 1010, to be precise – was being entered for its first race by new owner, Italian privateer Giovanni Bracco. That the event in question was that year’s Mille Miglia was the metaphorical equivalent of diving into the deep end with the umbilical chord still attached. Then again, 2nd first time out behind only the works Ferrari 340 America Berlinetta Vignale on Italy’s most notorious road-rally endurance race proved the Lancia’s dynamic chops. As indeed did wins at the Caracalla Night Race, the Pescara 6 Hour, and a class win at the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bracco this time partnering with Italian Count Giovanni Lurani.

When time came for the 1951 Carrera Panamericana though, ‘1010’ had received a notable tweak, namely its now lowered roofline in an effort to improve the aerodynamics. It may not have helped on the event itself – Bracco crashed out on day four – but the intent raised some eyebrows. Thornley Kelham itself for example created the limited-edition Aurelia ‘Outlaw’ in the car’s honour more than half a century later. The homage, of which only nine have been made and each of which personalized for their respective owners, features a lowered roofline like its muse, as well as a Flaminia engine, modern disc brakes and nitrogen-filled front suspension.

One year after its Panamerican smash, the repaired chassis 1010, with its lowered roofline still intact and now under new ownership finally finished the event, placing 9th. Unfortunately thereafter, the Aurelia fell off the map completely until its eventual discovery in the US more than six decades later.

Enter Thornley Kelham, and so began the full restoration. By the way, if that name sounds familiar, the UK specialists recently began restoring Mussolini’s Alfa Romeo 6C (yes, really), and even brought another Lancia Aurelia B20GT – a 1953 edition this time – back to life last year.

Much has also been the case with Bracco’s Aurelia since its rescue. The car’s profile had to be completely re-shaped, the rear end – or what remained of it – was no longer an Aurelian design, nor indeed was the fuel tank and most of the interior, all of which has either been replaced with period parts or refabricated with 3D technology.

One of the biggest challenges though was reserved for the paint. Flecks of white paint could be seen through the myriad rust patches, but the B20GT would customarily have been painted black as per tradition with Italian sports cars of the time. For its Le Mans bow in 1951, the Aurelia had also been painted red. Thus much deliberation was spent perfecting the period black paint. Then the red. Then the black again.

More than 4,000 hours of work across three years has already gone into the restoration of the ex-Bracco Aurelia B20GT. But soon, the 1951 Le Mans class winner and Mille Miglia runner-up will be fully reborn after more than half a century of mis-use. We’re guessing Giovanni Bracco would be proud.

*Images courtesy of Thornley Kelham

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