“There is no question about it. What still amazes me is how advanced they are even now in terms of road-holding, handling and performance, to say nothing of the extraordinary quality” – Lancia aficionado and collector Dr Michael Coucher speaking in 1989 of his own Aurelia B24 Spider America
The brilliant Aurelia was the model that saved the Lancia name in the Fifties. In time, the well-engineered car by Vittorio Jano and Gianni Lancia, with its advanced V6 and transaxle, would earn Lancia a whole new generation of lifelong friends among the world of motoring’s cognoscenti.
These were people for whom ownership of an Aurelia became a kind of religion, particularly the B20 GT coupé and Convertible and, most of all, the B24 Spider America.
The Lancia Aurelia B24S Spider America
The Lancia Aurelia B20 coupé was a landmark design when it was introduced in 1951 and was the first car to carry the letters ‘GT’, for Gran Turismo. It was a remarkably original and technically advanced design by Gianni Lancia and veteran engineer Vittorio Jano, with wonderful styling by Pinin Farina. It had the first series-built, double-overhead-camshaft, alloy V6, an engine mated to a 4-speed transaxle in the rigid, unitary construction body.
The new Lancia coupé was raced immediately and proved its competitiveness straight away: Giovanni Bracco and Umberto Maglioli finished second on the 1951 Mille Miglia, beaten only by a 4.1-litre Ferrari 340 America berlinetta. B20 GTs were raced throughout the 1950s.
While the first cars had 75bhp, 1991cc, twin-carb engines, in 1953 the third series saw the introduction of a 2451cc version of the V6 with new heads, a new block and a competition-spec camshaft. It only had a single Weber, but power was significantly increased to 118bhp at 5000rpm.
Arguably the finest Aurelia was introduced in 1954, the Series 4. The bodywork was changed in detail only but underneath the fastback lay a significant alteration to the rear suspension: a de Dion set-up with semi-elliptic leaf springs. In all, 3,871 B20 GTs were built over six series, with cars succeeding the Series 4 becoming softer and less focused. Production ended in June 1958.
The first roadster version of the B20 started life in 1954 on a shortened (2450mm vs. 2660mm) wheelbase and was known simply as the ‘B24 Spider’. ‘America’ was added later, as the US was clearly Lancia’s target market for the car. Many were left-hand drive, signified by the ‘S’ (for sinistra) in ‘B24S’.
Like all the best-looking cars, Pinin Farina’s Aurelia B24 Spider was a mixture of masculinity and femininity in exactly equal measure, curves that suggest both tense muscle and soft, yielding allure, plus a futuristic suggestion of a jet fighter’s canopy in its deeply curved screen.
The Spider America was only ever built on the chassis of the fourth (and finest) series of the B20 GT and, shorter wheelbase and 110bhp engine aside, was mechanically identical. Due to its light weight it was the fastest of all the Aurelias and handled well courtesy of the Series 4’s de Dion set-up. The generous, plushly upholstered leather seats were the only concession to the North American market. If not downright quick, it was unequivocally a performance car, capable of cruising at 90mph and, thanks to its oversized brake drums, also stopped well.
In total, just 240 were produced, only in 1955, of which 181 were left-hand drive. The following year it was replaced by the less sporting and softer B24S Convertible.
This Motor Car
Chassis ‘1044’ was probably delivered through Max Hoffman’s well-known agency on Park Avenue in New York City. Hoffman was the importer who popularised European sports cars in the American market, the genius who created demand for the 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ and Porsche 356 Speedster.
The Aurelia was delivered in Grigio (a very pale grey) with deep red leather. At one stage it was owned by Lancia enthusiast Victor M Ricci of Brooklyn. By the summer of 1963 it was in Illinois, registered to Eunice Griffith who it is believed owned it until 1995 when it was sold via ‘Le Patron’, connoisseur, bon vivant and dealer extraordinaire the late Raymond Milo. His client was another veteran of the classic car world, jeweller, dealer and collector Luciano Bertolero of Turin, Italy – the car’s birthplace.
Bertolero had the Lancia restored in his own workshop over a three-year period, including a mechanical and cosmetic overhaul as detailed by a 90-photograph album chronicling progress. He chose the model’s archetypal Azzurro livery for the spyder, with dark blue upholstery and soft top, selling it after completion to Milan industrialist Terenzio Longoni. The latter was then persuaded to part with it by an intermediary for a well-known Los Angeles collector, who kept it from 2001 until it was acquired by the current European owner at the beginning of 2015.
Prior to shipping to California, Borrani wire wheels and a Nardi twin-carburettor set-up were fitted at the request of the buyer, and the Lancia saw little use in his collection of rare European sports cars. It was shown at Pebble Beach in 2005 (display only) and has barely been driven, although model expert Tony Nicosia was entrusted to go through it slowly over a period of years correcting and improving minor details as found. The US owner recalled at the time: “Although we had ‘fiddled’ with the brakes, clutch etc over the years, in 2009 I had Tony – for no particular reason other than he was ‘light’ on work at the time – go through the entire brake and transmission systems. $23,000 later he was done. I have detailed billing from him. Over the years I had many other items attended to: restored the Borranis and bumpers, grill work, electrical tidy up etc. Everything I have done is supported with detailed invoices etc. No major engine work done. Various small things over the years. Tony said the engine did not require any work. Obviously, he test-drove the car when he worked on it.”
Bills on file dating from the recent past total $108,000 and the car has undergone further servicing work in the current ownership by US specialist Jan Vroboril and Italy's leading Lancia restorer, Gilberto Clerici.
It is now EU tax paid and UK registered.
Accompanied by an ultra rare Fontana ‘low roof’ hard top, this Italian beauty rivals anything created in Maranello or Modena for aesthetic appeal and drama. Liveried in authentic Fifties’ Lancia colours and maintained by experts, chassis ‘1044’ is ready to reprise the marque’s history of fast, well-engineered, responsive sports cars.
It would be a welcome addition to the Mille Miglia retrospective, the lawn at any exclusive concours d’elegance or outside your favourite café in Portofino or St Tropez (where film director Roger Vadim once courted starlet Brigitte Bardot in his). Perhaps no automotive design better sums up La Dolce Vita...