Founded in 1906, Lancia produced their first car, later known as the Alfa, in 1908. They soon began to push the boundaries of what people could expect from a motor vehicle. The Theta was the first car to be equipped with both headlights and a starter motor as standard when it was launched in 1913.
Then, the exceptionally ground-breaking Lambda of 1922 was both the first production car with a monocoque structure and the first with all round independent suspension. It also featured the debut of Lancia’s V4 engine. The V4 has two banks of two cylinders each arranged at a narrow angle to one another. The narrow angle allows the use of a single overhead camshaft rather than the two that are required with wider angle V engines.
V4 engines would be a trademark feature of Lancia cars right up until the 1970s. Lancia also pioneered V6 and V12 layouts. The rational behind these engine layouts is that the opposing banks of cylinders cancel one another out and reduce engine vibration leading to a smoother, more refined experience for the driver.
After world war two the Lancia Aurelia continued the company’s tradition of innovation. As well as being the first production car with a V6 it had the transaxle mounted to the rear of the car – a layout that would later be copied by Ferrari amongst others. The Aurelia was a successful competitor in motorsport in the 1950s with a class win at Le Mans in 1951 and a one, two, three finish in the 1952 Targa Florio. It remains a popular car with collectors due in no small part to its curvaceous 1950s styling.
The final Lancia to use a V4 engine was the Fulvia which was in production from 1963 to 1976. This car was available as a three box saloon dubbed the Berlina, a Coupe and an alternative coupe styled by Zagato and badged as a Sport. The Fulvia Coupe is an extremely attractive little car and is regarded as one of the all time great driving machines. It was successful as a rally car taking the International Rally Championship in 1972.
The Fulvia Coupe was succeeded as Lancia’s main rally car by the purpose-built Lancia Stratos in 1972. This became a dominant force in world rallying, taking the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
In 1969 Lancia was bought by Fiat leading to ever increasing part sharing between the two marques. By the 1980s Lancias were essentially restyled and rebadged Fiats. Relatively few of these cars were sold in Europe due to a scandal involving rust on the 1970s Lancia Beta. The scandal led to Lancia withdrawing from right hand drive markets in 1980 and subsequent Lancias, such as the world conquering Lancia Delta Integrale, were sold in left hand drive only.