The beginning of Lancia Automobiles S.P.A. (formerly named Lancia & Co.) started like many fast Italian car manufacturers. It was a way to offer a better car for racing enthusiasts in Turin, Italy. Vincenzo Lancia and Claudio Fogolin wanted to create a car that was light and inexpensive that would appeal to those who chose racing as their sport.
Vincenzo Lancia spent many years racing cars and had a firm conviction as to how an automobile was to be made. He was a pioneer in this field mostly because he understood the importance of the vehicle mechanics. In the late 1800s, Vincenzo spent quite a lot of time at Giovanni Ceirano’s shop who was partly responsible for founding Fiat. Lancia left school to fulfill his passion for automobiles.
In 1906, Lancia decided to break away from the Ceirano’s factory to pursue an automobile that was completely designed by him. He persuaded Claudio Fogolin, a fellow Fiat test driver to join his ranks. They both put together 50,000 lire each and opened the shop on November 29th, 1906.
The first car manufactured at Lancia was the “Tipo 51” or “12 HP” (later called “Alfa”), which remained in production from 1907 to 1908. It had a side-valve straight 4-engine with a top speed of about 90 kilometers per hour with a 2544 cc engine producing 28 horsepower and rotating around 1800 revolutions per minute. The flagship Lancia Alfa gained stature in the racing community quite quickly giving the brand a boost in the racing industry. The Lancia brand became known for its sobriety and elegance of their exteriors and innovative interior designs.
The first indication of future trends came with Lancia’s 12-cylinder vee-type engine of 6032 c.c which was a breakaway from the traditional “in-line” design. The economic climate was not optimal for this kind of luxury in 1919 so only a few were made. This lead to their first production in-line design called the Tri-Kappa which was produced between 1922-25. It looked like a larger version of Lambda which became one of their more popular models in the early 1920s.
Vincenzo Lancia was able to lodge patents for his vee-4 engine which pushed other designers to create a compact engine. Lancia’s goal was to make the shortest engine possible. He was able to achieve that feat by staggering one pair of cylinders from another at a 13-degree angle. It was later called the staggered four. The advantages of this kind of engine gave the automobile a short and rigid crankshaft, well-dispersed combustion chambers and a square cylinder block which allowed more circulation of cooling water.
Production of their infamous Lambda continued as Lancia's reputation for excellent castings continued through the years.
Lancia after Vincenzo
Unfortunately, in 1937, Vincenzo Lancia had a heart attack at the age of 56, leaving the company to his son Gianni and his wife, Adele Miglietti. During this time, all automobile manufacturing was halted due to World War II. Each facility shifted to build equipment more suited to the wartime effort.
Shortly after the war ended, Gianni brought on the expertise of ex Alfa-Romeo designer Vittorio Jano. Under his direction, the new Lancia V6 engine was developed. This was another innovation from Lancia that lead the automobile industry. The original design was the Aurelia B10 which was a little plain on the exterior, but the V6 engine with rear-mounted transmission, rear drum brakes, and offered rear suspension, giving Italian race car drivers superior handling.
The Aurelia was one of the most successful Gran Turismo cars after the war. It topped speeds up to 110-115 miles per hour. The real beauty of the automobile was that the motor was beautifully smooth that would surge up to 5,000 RPM and had an excellent handle on the road.
History with Fiat in Turin, Italy started when Vincenzo first joined Ceirano’s factory, and it did not end there. Lancia always strove for quality down to their distinctive logo which made the cost of production very high. Unfortunately, they did not have the demand to survive in the 1960s. The company's standards drove production so much so that it became unsustainable.
In 1969, Lancia accepted a bid by Fiat that indicated the company would take on the significant losses but preserve the image that Lancia had worked so hard to build. Though Gianni did lose the business, Lancia benefited from Fiat's access to Ferrari technology. The Stratos, Gamma, and Beta models fit the Lancia brand even after it was acquired.
During the 1980s, the Lancia Delta was sold as the Saab 600 in Sweeden then in 1984 to 1994; the Lancia Thema shared the “Type Four” chassis with Saab 9000, Fiat Croma, and Alfa Romeo. Fiat has a huge umbrella of brands and relationships. In the 1990s, many Lancia’s looked like Fiats. The automobile company continued to use parts from each of their automobiles to enhance newer models coming on the market.
In 2009, Fiat acquired a stake in Chrysler and reported plans to co-develop products with the Lancia brand. Sergia Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, saw it as a way to preserve the expensive Lancia brand.
Today, Right handed Lancia models are marked with the Chrysler brand. In 2015, Lancia's parent company because FCA (Fiat Chrysler) Italy S.p.A. reflecting the partnership between the two companies.
In 2014, Sergio Marchionne announced that the Lancia brand would be withdrawn everywhere but Italy by 2017. The Chrysler line continues to build new models that are stylized to fit both Chrysler and Lancia in mind. There would be no replacement for the luxury brand in any other part of the world except to be rebranded as Fiat.
Lancia continues to use its trademark Greek alphabet letters to name their newer models like Ypsilon, Musa, and Delta. Their marketing still holds true to their initial values of being a luxury brand that offers the best car possible for motorists. Their brand image will continue to make Vincenzo Lancia proud.