If you are reading this, can we agree on a love of Lancias? Mine started with my parent's Flaminia about 45 years ago. Over the years, its matured into Fulvias, and then back to Aurelias. The Flaminia and Aurelia share the basic design of a V6 and a transaxle with either IRS or de Dion rear suspension. Over the years, I’ve grown very fond of that basic concept, the neutral weight, and the lovely chassis. But there’s always been this wondering… could it be improved?
And what would change if it were updated? One thing is more power - Thornley Kelham have been doing this by updating B20s with Flaminia engines. But what about the rest of the chassis - how about up to date brakes, better synchros…. What would say if someone made a similar chassis, similar but updated drive-train, with more power and good weight? Throw in some modern conveniences, anyone tempted? At the risk of upsetting Lancia friends, I was. So the Aurelia and Appia got a new sister.
When is an Alfa not an Alfa? Let's look at a Milano, from 1988. Maybe Alfa made it, but its not really part of their 4 cyl DOHC DNA. Rather, its much closer to the Lancias, its really an updated Aurelia/Flaminia - 60 degree all alum V6, de Dion transaxle, guibos in the driveshaft. And disc brakes that work, easy shifting, power steering (lovely), AC (necessary where I live), only 2900 lbs (lighter than a Flaminia Zagato, more power and less than 1/10th the cost), wishbone front suspension, Recaro seats, parts easily found, and cheap in the US.
OK - its not the most gorgeous thing in the world, but the Verde (75 in Europe) has the hotter 3 liter SOHC motor, with 190hp. It has lovely Lancia-like pushrods and rockers with its overhead cam (very clever), electronic injection. And... you can upset everyone. The family thinks why do we have this? Alfa people say its not of the spirit, Lancia folks think you've gone daft. But friends get it - it has a sophisticated chassis, easily fixed, all top caliper underneath. Take it out for the day or the weekend, and come home rested and with energy left over. The upper part of the car practically wants to fall apart if you look at it, but a one owner car with 65k miles has everything working and staying together for now. When something falls off, you tap it back in place. Its built simple and fixed easily.
There are other ways to go daft:
We've all appreciated the beauty of the shop, and the people who work on the cars. Sometimes we might think them as saviors, keping our beloved machinery going; othertimes, we surely are frustrated, and wonder who and why things are the way they... sometimes are.
While the range of emotions goes from high to low, I never thought to make much of it, rather to simply share with fellow car buffs and gear heads. But could there be more to it? Might these ups and downs have a classical sense to them?
It took a Chicago photographer Freddy Fabris (whom I don't know) to make the leap. And what a leap he made - redoing Renaissance images with modern heros, mechanics. The meaning is overt, but the settings, the lighting, the colors are lovely. OK, it might upset some, but lets just enjoy and have a good laugh together.
The original rods for the early Aurelia engines are worthy of replacement. The conrods were originally sized for the 50hp 538 engine designed in the 1940s, and were unchanged in the early Aurelias. Perhaps adequate for a B10 berlina, they really aren’t up to a hard driving B20 s.2. As an example, my car was taken off the road in 1963, with a rod through the side of the block. It seems conrods were a problem back then too.
When Walt Spak rebuilt my engine in 2010 he commissioned new rods from Cunningham on the west coast. They worked closely to get the rods correct dimensionally but also strong. New rods will require rebalancing the crankshaft, as the reciprocating weight for the piston/rod assembly is now greater, it is also important that the rods all match in weight closely.
The new rods involved a few other changes:
FYI - I'd recommend looking at the valves too, especially for s.2 engines.Beppe Regazzone once told me that the s.2 valve stems were the same diameter as the earlier motors but were made longer for the new head configuration, and susceptible to breakage. The factory went to thicker stems in the s.3 motor, we made new SS valves.
Back in 2004, I did a booklet on Aurelia camshafts, trying to figure out all the different camshafts Lancia used on Aurelias. Since then, better information has been found, and these findings have been condensed on this webpage, which has goodies for any cam junky. (updated 2.10.2019): Camshafts
So what was Nardi's role in Lancia's early Aurelia competition cars?
Nardi had been a friend of the family (primarily of Giovanni Lancia's son Massimo) in 1930, and knew the Lancia cars well. They were going to go to Modena to work at Maserati, but Massimo's untimely death in an airplane crash in 1932 put an end to those plans. Nardi went anyway and became Ferrari's driver, and worked with him for many years, into the 1940s.
At that point, he returned to Torino, and started making his own particular cars and products, including twin carb kits for Areas and Aprilias. His shop was located close to Lancia (I believe across a courtyard) and in the early days of the Aurelia, he provided tune-up services for the factory and later for privateers.
First off was a double carb kit for the B10, then another for the B20 s.1, used in the Mille Miglia of 1951. Two further kits were made, one for the B20 s.2 (same carb, different manifolds, as Lancia had changed the heads), and the 6 carb dell'Orto solution (done in two versions).
Of interest is the evolution in these early years at Lancia, where initially the expertise comes from Nardi, and then quickly (starting end of 1951 and into 1952) Lancia gets more seriously interested in racing and engine development, and takes over the tuning of their cars. The high point here is De Virgilio's design for a four carb setup (single Webers) used in the s.2 Corsas. This kit may well have been cast by Nardi, and it showed up in his 1952 F2 car, powered by an Aurelia engine, supposedly to the disgruntlement of Gianni Lancia, who did not like factory developments showing up on someone else's cars.
Nardi continued to make further kits for the Aurelia, most notably the one for the 2.5 liter engines, used in B20 series 3 to 6, and would also be fitted to some B24s. The relationship between Nardi and the factory remained close - there is one example (I think either s.3 or s.4 B20 motor) that is taken out of a new car, refitted by Nardi with his hot cam and twin carb setup, and then tested at Lancia and then refitted to the car. Not sure who was responsible for what in that interchange, but the customer was likely very happy to have this all done for him.
In each of the Aurelia heads, manifold passages are changed to improve breathing, and these required different setups from Nardi - the number boggles the mind. There were six different heads, and the number of combinations of heads, valves, cam and carburetor are somewhat bewildering (ref: pg. 295 in the book, shown below).
Nardi was assisted by Gaudenzio Verga, likely designging the breathing enhancements. Verga was an old Lancia hand, coming to Lancia in 192. Prior to that he had been at Chiribiri in Torino, making 4 cylinder race cars from about 1910 to 1927, then joined Lancia and was with them into the 1940s, before migrating to Nardi.
For more detail, see Lancia and De Virgilio, At the Center (pg. 99 and following).
Its not quite an Aurelia, nor is it absolutely period, but it sure is lovely.
The D50R was a short run of recreations of Lancia's Formula 1 car, made with original engines by Guido Rosani in Turin. Guido was the last direct link back to the factory race team - his father had been the architect for the Lancia company, and young GUido (at about age 10 or 12) spent some of his youth running down the aisles in between the drafting boards. He knew Lancia history better than anyone else.
I was lucky to spend time with Guido while visiting Torino and working on the De Virgilio book. Guido appreciated my love of the drawings (he was a skilled draftsman himself as well as fabricator), and wanted his picture taken by his drawing board. We looked at the drawings from the 1950s, from the B110, D20, D24 and D50s, all of them, over the years. He shared with me the book on his father, Gino Rosani, which was privately published by Pininfarina. Gino had worked closely with Gio Ponti on the Lancia building, a very interesting design of the 1950s.
This picture of the D50 in construction shows the front end suspension of the car, with double wishbones and a hidden lower transverse leaf spring. Note the remote dampers. It was taken by Nigel Trow, another good friend of Rosani's, as Nigel had the chance to watch the cars be made. He wasn't the only one - one day Gianni Lancia came into Rosani's workshop, to check on his projects as well.
Rosani made both D24 and D50 cars - only using original engines, but making much of the rest up, with help from many in the industry who were familiar with the cars. The D24 lines were partially penned by Ercole Spada, formerly of Zagato, now retired - another one from Guido's deep Torinese network.
The cars were made meticulously, with even the rivets in the gas tank per the factory drawings, where no one would ever see them. He was quite proud that he followed the drawings carefully.
There has always been some discussion (especially in the British press) as to how much was by Rosani, and how much by Jim Stokes, who fettled the cars once they were done. While Stoke's work was invaluable and very well done, the real construction was in Torino, as shots like this make clear.
Here is a later shot of the D50 front suspension which I took of the D50 in the Revs collection in Florida. Just lovely workmanship.
Oh to be at Lancia in the early 1950s. I'm sure it wasn't all wonderful, but to be surrounded by so many Aurelias. The curves, the finish, the colors, and the sense that this was how things could be.
Around 1980, I was in Los Angeles, and visited a grey-market importing operation for Lamborghinis. It was run by Jas Rarewala, an engineer, who was also interested in Stratos. We had a good time and he took me for a ride in a Countach, managing only 135mph on the expressway.
What does this have to do with Aurelias? Not much, except I remember being in a storage area surrounded by 4 Lamborghinis. It was an extraordinary experience, as you could come around to "believe" that these cars were right, and the rest of everything else wasn't. It was a new way to see the world. When you see them in numbers, you begin to believe. Quite amazing.
So the image of fifty or more Aurelias, all together, reminds one of how the world could/should have been - dedicated to quality, finesse, and elegance.
A couple of years ago, the Collier Collection brought up their D50 to Lime Rock in Connecticut. Along with Peter Gidding's D50, it was a chance to see two D50s run together. Here is some video of the Collier car warming up - stirring to say the least!
In 2016 - the B20 had a problem. The front suspension wasn't quite right. It had been rebuilt some years back, but the parts weren't available to do it right, and the suspension would "clunk" badly on one side with dips or holes. It made driving frustrating, as one had to steer around road conditions, and then brace for the inevitable which would only happen when least expected. On smooth roads it wasn't a problem. But I live in a city, and the roads are lousy.
The options were limited: the knowledge base on the suspensions is limited to a few people - and while the local mechanic (Gianni at Autosprint in Chicago) was fully capable - as there is little he can't do - what he didn't have was any knowledge of what parts might be available. It would be a first time effort, and the car would be laid up while the communication went back and forth to Italy. Who knows if all the right parts and pieces would come together? The suspension, while not too difficult, has bits and pieces.
One thought was to send it to Italy - but there would be little communication possible about what to do - they tend to do what they think is right, and it would be shipped back. A fair amount of risk there.
In the end, conversations with Simon Thornley and Wayne Kelham were quite useful. They were fully committed to doing a full rebuild, and had just completed two s.2 B20 front suspensions in the past year. The sliding pillar has some slight variations over its lifespan on the Aurelia, and so their experience with the s.2 was useful. So too, they had been in good communication with Italy, about what new parts were available.
So Gianni and I pulled the front axle out of the car in my garage, put the car up on stands, and the axle on a pallet. After about 20 pages (and endless phone calls) the axle was shipped to Thornley Kelham. They undertook a full rebuild, doing a crack test on the hubs, and finding one of the steering arms needing replacement. They went deep into the suspension, found the corroded tabs (not functioning very well, source of problem), plus a number of very worn out parts. They got new ones from Italy, cleaned it all up, and put it back together, rebuilding the brakes at the same time. And just to be sure, they put the axle on Simon's own B20 for a road test.
The axle came back about 2 months after I shipped it to them, and was fitted right to the car. And the transformation was total - the ride in the front is not only supple, but controlled. Its a level of finesse that is just lovely. I had thought the standard for a good front end was our Appia with 60k original miles, but this was even better. Its been now two years since the work was done, and all is good!
Many thanks to Simon, Wayne, and the team at their shop. Job well done!
A short video of the rally in 1953 in the Italian Alps. Notable is the scenery, the quality of the landscape, a number of Aurelias (and some Alfas too...) and a shot of Gianni waiting at the top. Great character, sent by Massimo Fila. Toward the end is some great footage of an Aurelia berlina bouncing along some rough roads.Other rally cars include a Porsche, several Alfa Romeos and Fiats, the roads and cities in 1950s Italy,. Thanks to Centro Storico Fiat.
Heading up to Wisconsin for the vintage car weekend, I was worried with a loud ticking from the engine. The local mechanic (Gianni) pulled the valve cover and checked the valve clearances - which should be done on a cold engine. This one was hot, so it not quite proper, but we found two loose rocker arms, and were able to get them back to the specifications shown by the other valves. (On an average, seems the valve lash was about .05mm tighter than when cold, but that is just a guess).
Here is a shot of the rocker arms and the pillow boxes that hold them. You can see the pushrods up top in pairs, coming from the cam in the valley of the "V". Then the clever rocker arms, in pillow boxes that are angled, so that the intake valve is rotated about 45 degrees closer to the intake, and the exhaust valves are on the bottom, close to the exhaust manifold. This way of rotating the valves was De Virgilio's clever improvement, first implemented in 1952 on the second series B20, and then used for all subsequent B20 and B24 engines. This car has the two single Webers as standard (the one for this bank is visible) and a special tubular exhaust.
Massimo Fila Robbatino sent two interesting items: first is a marked up early Aurelia brochure. Both weights (in kg) and costs (in lira and dollars) are noted for the different models. Good fun.
Max also sent in a video of his B20 running around the Peloponnese in Greece. The B20 was running well and being used as a modern car. And the roads - without traffic - looked great.....Thanks!
Took the B20 up to Elkhart Lake for the day last weekend. 350 miles, no problems. Was photographing a nice red car when found next to me an older race car driver - Mario Andretti! Clearly a very nice guy.... Good fun.
On May 19, two fervent Lancistas, Fabrizio Granaroli and Paolo Battistelli, organized a conference on the Lancia V4 in Sangemini, Italy, a small midieval town in the mountains outside Rome. Several people spoke, including Luigi De Virgilio, Gianni Tonti, Fabrizio and myself (via skype).
Luigi spoke on some of the more unusual V4 engines designed by his father, Tonti on the racing developments of the Fulvia, Fabrizio on some balancing and engineering issues. I spoke on the history and development of the V4, in particular the design of the heads (intake passages), the blocks and the crankshafts.
The conference was well attended, with about 100 people in the audience. Several interesting Lancias were outside (including a Lambda), amid a festival celebration. A video of the talks is at www.SaveLancia.it, or youtu.be/P7z6NlPdhRQ
For those seeking a more in-depth understanding of the suspensions, there is now John Cundy's recent writeup on Lancias and handling. It was published in Viva Lancia, the magazine of the EnglishLancia Motor Club (England), and is an articulate explanation of the sliding pillar and IRS in both the Aprilia and Aurelia. It places these developments in historical context, and includes explanations of Olley, a famous supension designer at Rolls Royce and GM, and his understanding of the Lancia design. Also included is information from Rolls Royce's inspection of the Lambda, a little known fact from 1926. Read it here, found at the bottom of the page: Articles
Recently I was able to visit Nigel Trow, a long-time Lancia friend and historian in Wales. He convened a lunch of several friends, whom I call the "West of England/Wales Lancia Brain Trust" including John Cundy, Ron Francis, Paul Mayo, Roland Grazebrook and spouses, among others. Also finally met John Baker, the former owner of an s.2 B20 - we had been in touch many years ago, so it was good to see him in person.
It was rare to see everyone together - but having only known these folks for some 10-15 years, my experiences were decidedly junior to the rest of the table. Nigel and Roland have known each other since the mid-1960s, more than 50 years. The amount of Lancia knowledge at the table was daunting, rivaling other Lancia meetings in Italy.
The next day, Nigel and I drove up to see Ron Francis, who Nigel has said is "a Welsh farmer who grows Lancias", with parts tucked away here and there; the following day we went to see Roland Grazebrook, to learn about Thetas, massive bronze carburetors, and the intricacies of the early cars. All good fun.
New page on color information added under Reference, with paint codes from Max Meyer, Glasurit and Lechler. Not for the faint of heart. Its a confusing subject!
Took the B20 in for a few things. Exhaust gasket had let go, luckily had a spare, easy fix. brake adjustment, seems like it always wants this. A few cables to be tightened.
Most interesting was adjusting the rear shock absorbers. Thanks to William Corke's posting on the LMC site, we were able to find how to adjust the shocks. He showed where the little adjustment tab was on the shocks, under a little cover, and settings varied from fully closed to two turns open.
We tried one turn as a middle setting, and it was way too soft, so in the end, we settled for just 1/4 turn open on both sides (one had been fully closed, the other a bit open). The change was lovely - the car is back to its comfortable, but informed, ride and no more jarring over rough bumps.
Key to this is also setting the tire pressures. Too often people think firmer is better, and set them at 30psi. The real setting is 25psi, and the sidewalls at this setting provide part of ride comfort. Its important to those of us who live in cities, with our less-than-perfect roads. Set right, the ride is just right. One can always firm things up for the high speed runs on smooth country roads.
All good for now!
More from Massimo Fila, long-time Aurelia owner who helped with Enzo Russo's “Piloti Biellesi. Giovanni Bracco and Umberto Maglioli”. He writes: "This was a present from Lamberto Grolla to me, with his personal dedication “A Massimo, riesumatore di Aurelia - MM 1951". He was a friend of mine and my family. We all belong to the city of Biella." He also sent this image of Bracco's s.1 B20 1006, getting loaded on an airplane to the Carerra Panamerica. Notice the lowered roof.... Nice!
And then Massimo driving his B12 in the 1982 Targa Florio:
There are a few Chicago-area shops that work on Italian cars, but the Lancias tend to go to Autosprint - Gianni D'Avola has "magic fingers", a feel in his hands to solve those thorny Italian car problems. Maybe something to do with growing up in Sicily, but Gianni gets it done.
We were poking around in one of the back rooms one afternoon, and I was impressed by all the special tools. Internet chatter about hub pullers for Lancias (and other cars), never comes up with Gianni and now I know why - he's got a lot of pullers, for the the Lancias/Alfas/Ferraris he works on. And even for the Citroen Traction-Avant.
Beppe was a special person. A dignified gentleman, long active in the Registro, he had a deep relation with and love for Aurelias, going back to seeing the Aurelia Corsas at the Mille Miglia in 1952. He said that he had driven more than 1,000,000 kilometers in Aurelias, but its likely the truth was at least double that.
He was a good friend, sadly we were separated by distance. We first met in 2000 at the Aurelia rally in the south of France, which he attended in a berlina with his family. A few years later, I visited his mechanic in Como, and Beppe drove up from Milano to join us for an afternoon and discuss camshafts. My son and I had the pleasure of joining him and his lovely wife, Chiara, with Anthony and Lorna Hussey near Siena for a few days; they came to Chicago once on their way back from Alaska.
At an Aurelia dinner in Padova in 2015, each of us spoke briefly of our experiences. Beppe stood up, shucked off any time limits, and movingly spoke from the heart, passionately embracing the car in our lives. We were all captivated.
Beppe was close to his cars. His s.3 B20 was one of the very few seen with an original Nardi kit, fitted with Solex carbs, perfectly tuned, sweet and tractable. He enjoyed overhauling and tuning Aurelia carburetors. His B20 was fitted with wood knobs, new from Pinin Farina. His B50 cabriolet was an Aurelia without any vibration. Once asked how this was done, he went into detail about how one had to match up the driveshaft parts carefully and do the work oneself. This was from a man familiar with the banking industry, at one time active in Modena supplying interiors for Maserati.
And his knowledge was impeccable: who else knew that early B22s had been supplied with B21 engines as the new engines weren’t ready? And could provide the 8 page Lancia advisory issued months later instructing on how update your engine to the new specifications (change the camshaft, change the manifolds, etc.).
He and his friend Francesco Gandolfi tended to the Registro for all of us, no easy task in the details. He helped guide the forming of the De Virgilio book, At the Center, advising on how to navigate the complexities of the Italian landscape. He urged the book be in English, recognizing the tradeoffs - that a bilingual edition would have less content, and that it was important to deepen the understanding of the Aurelia for a broader audience. It was a gutsy call from this thoughtful man, one who was comfortable making good and firm decisions.
He and his elegant wife, Chiara, represented the depth of character that we so often find around these cars and this marque. He will be sorely missed. We have lost another giant. Our condolences go out to his family.
Every once in a while, its time to look at something different. Here is the bottom of an 8C Alfa, taken at Jim Stokes Workshops in England. Lovely.
A post on the LMC website reminded me of a strange day from a few years back. I was driving the B24 (owned at the time) from Chicago to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for a vintage race weekend, a 3 hour drive on main roads,
I was about halfway early one afternoon a few years back, when I noticed the car was running out of gas. Luckily this happened close to a gas station, so I glided in on a "dead stick", without problem.
After filling up, it was easy to see that the car now had a flat tire. Everything had to come out of the trunk, to get the spare. So the tire was changed. OK.... things happen.
Now, it got even more peculiar - as the car wouldn't start, as the battery (happy up until then) decided to quit. With a push start later, down the road to the autoparts store, which luckily had the right battery in stock. When I went to pull the battery from the car, the heavens opened up and it started to rain heavily. Very heavily. And I had left the battery pulling strap at home.
Put the top up, although everything got soaked. Got a strap from the store, pulled the battery, and dripping wet, back on the road to the races, shaking the head in disbelief. What had angered the gods so? Was there more to come?
Luckily not. But sometimes, you can be either very lucky or not at all. It was both this time!