Another from our regular Club Call feature. A look at the history of a famous Italian marque, and the Lancia Motor Club - from Issue 119 (February 1999).
THE LANCIA MOTOR CLUB
IN TODAY'S MOTORING WORLD where manufacturers carefully and jealousy protect their right to the
continuity of popular model and range names...and numbers, one young Italian, in 1907, stole the march on
the rest of the world by adopting the letters of the Greek alphabet to distinguish individual models - Alpha ,
Beta (1909), Gamma (1910) and so on.
Vincenzo Lancia, son of a wealthy soup manufacturer, fascinated by the new expanding world of the automobile served an apprenticeship with Ceirano. With the FIAT's takeover of Ceirano in 1900, Lancia was appointed chief inspector at FIAT and soon after commenced racing their cars eventually starting his business and setting up his own factory in Turin in 1906. Such was his connection with FIAT that he continued to race for them until 1908, scoring second places in the 1906 American Vanderbilt Cup and the 1907 Targa Florio.
Lancia became known for his innovative specifications and engineering, not wild flights of engineering fancy, but practical problem solving aimed at simplifying manufacture and production, improving the product, increasing its acceptability and appeal in an increasingly expanding and competitive market. 1907's offering, the Alfa, a 4 cylinder 2.5 litre 4 cylinder was shaft driven, had a 4 speed gearbox and three quarter elliptic rear suspension. Lancia engines first came along, in monobloc form, in 1909 in 3.1 litre capacity to be succeeded by a 3.5 and 4.1 litre version, the latter having its water pump mounted in one of the engine brackets. In the same year a 15hp model won its class at a Modena race meeting running on Rudge Whitworth detachable wire wheels. The 2.6 of 1911 featured a 4 speed rear axle mounted gearbox, electric lighting was introduced on the 1913 Eta and a year later a complete set of electrics was introduced on the 4.9 litre Theta, as standard - electric lamps, Rushmore dynamo, electric engine starter, Klaxon horn with most of these controls mounted on the steering wheel centre boss. This significant step forward was claimed to be "the first standardised installation by a European manufacturer."
Overhead camshaft V8s designed around a narrow angle V configuration of only 22 degrees entered the Lancia picture, along with a 6 litre ohc V12 which proved to be uneconomic to manufacture. However, the narrow angle allowed the V form to be accommodated within a single cylinder block - it was a engine design form that would be successfully exploited by Lancia for some decades to come. All of this feverish research, design, engineering and production activity had happened from 'start-up', in little more than fifteen years -what an exciting atmosphere it must have been.
But for the start of the Twenties, Lancia would play another ace. The inspirational Vincenzo Lancia had built around him a team of competent engineers and engineering draftsmen, many, like himself benefiting from the experience acquired down the road at Big Brother FIAT. Developed and on the road in 1921, shown to the public in '22, in production in '23 - referred to the 2.1 litre single engine block V4 powering the new lightweight four passenger steel chassis body unit. The space frame-like pressed steel construction was based on the chassis frame and the body frame being fabricated to form a single unit which when panelled in steel formed an immensely strong monocoque. With a wheelbase of over 10ft, the static/kerbside laden weight was under 15cwt, the developed 45 horsepower propelled the Lambda at between 70 and 75 mph and gave the car a touring consumption of around 26mpg. It was said to have held the road in "an extraordinarily efficient manner" , it's exemplary ride and handling attributable to the Lancia / Falchetto sliding pillar independent front suspension.
What followed, up to the introduction of the now famous Aprilia and Vincenzo Lancia's death in 1937 was equally exciting, decade by decade. Lancia could never be accused of submitting to conformity - quality of engineering and engineering ideals were never forfeit to achieve cost cutting simplicity in design or production. The Aprilia happily endured until the October of '49, thereafter the Appia and Ardea and the works of Vittorio Jano and Gianni Lancia, the first of which was the legendary Aurelia, kept the Via Monginevro and later the Bolzano plants engrossed. Fulvia and Flavia survived the Lancia absorption by FIAT in 1969, the Fulvia deservedly so, until long into the Seventies.
Lancia's history of competition success through the three decades from the Fifties into the Eighties is already well documented, suffice that it lists wins by many of the greatest names in the sport, in circuit racing, long distance endurance racing, international rallying and grand prix racing.
Sadly the marque is currently not present in the UK as an official Lancia dealer/trade organisation, other than a small number of franchised service outlets administered by FIAT UK. Its a factor that has only served to increase enthusiasm for the marque and has sporned a 'service and parts industry' of independents dedicated to satisfying Lancia owner requirements. Similarly this state of commercial play has laid additional emphasis on the important part played by the Lancia Motor Club in flying the marque flag in the UK.
The Lancia Club was formed on the 21st June 1947 at the Royale Restaurant , Bennets Hill, Birmingham by a group of 17 Lancia enthusiasts returning from attending a hill climb meeting at Shelsey Walsh. The cars at this first meeting were a Dilambda, 5 Lambdas and an Augusta.
The first 'official' club meeting took place at the Grosvenor Hotel, Caversham, Reading on the 7th of September 1947. At this meeting it was decided that the entrance fee would be fixed at fifteen shillings (75p) - including a car badge and that the subscription would be set at one guinea (£ 1.05) per annum. At the same trime Mr Neuman, the Managing Director of Lancia (England) Limited was approached to support the start of the Club. Suprisingly his attitude was unenthusiastic - all that he would say was that he would not stop the formation of the Club and then refused to allow the Club to use the Lancia emblem on its badge. So the first club badge bore only the words 'Lancia' and Motor Club on it, to avoid infringement of the manufacturer's copyright.
At this meeting it was ageed that competitions should be organised , but recognised that the RAC's Rule 20 stated that a club was restricted to running one race meeting annually, to which other clubs could be invited. This led to committee man Dr Tom Smallhorn meeting with Holland Birkett of the Hants and Berks Motor Club who helped to arrange the first competitive meeting at Overstone Park, Northampton. This meeting was the first of the '8 Clubs Meetings' which are still held annually.
During 1948, Mr Neuman accused the Club of being a commercial rival and because of this two founder members who were both involved ion the motor trade and who had been the driving force behind the formation of the Club - stood down. In their places, Air Commodore Buckle was elected President and Murray Austin ,Chairman. The latter gentleman used his expert powers of negotiation to help Lancia import new cars into England in time for the 1948 Motor Show. Problems were experienced because at this time, technically, Britain was still at war with Italy in the period before the Peace Treaties had been signed. The gesture improved relations between the Club and the manufacturer's representative and in 1949 the Club was finally recognised by Mr Neuman.
During 1948 the Club assisted in the formation of the Eight Clubs organisation in support of Holland Birkett who had appropriately been elected its first chairman. Two years later the Lancia Motor Club withdrew from the Eight Clubs to allow the Combined One Make Car Clubs to take its place, thus increasing the prospect of entries to an even more extensive calender of events. The Club's relations with Lancia (England) improved still further when Mr Neuman consented to become a Vice President of the Club. The culmination of this improvement was the '30/50' event, a joint celebration held at Loughborough and Donington Park circuit in 1978, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the club and 50 years of Lancia (England) Limited.
The Lancia Motor Club has over its 50 years gained a reputation as the 'The Friendly Club' and has grown to a membership of over 2600 including a significant number of members abroad. Membership which is on the increase has apparently been unaffected by Lancia's decision to withdraw from the UK market. Upwards of 30 regional centres organise monthly meetings ensuring that club members have reasonable distances to travel to their local events, in the UK and Ireland . For those who enjoy the competitive element , the Club has always encouraged and engaged in this aspect of motoring, receiving numerous invitations to compete in a wide range of motor competitions and club promoted events.
Over the years, the Club has developed a number of annual events aimed at the broad range of members' interests. Amongst these proven and popular events are the circuit days at Goodwood and Castle Combe, the combined National Weekend and AGM, driving skill tests, navigation rallies and a rally which takes place in the north west, the north east and Scotland - the popular 'Great Northern Weekend'. The Coy's International Festival and other historic events always attract a strong Club presence, as do the major national classic car shows. For the record, the Club has organised purpose celebrations of the Lancia marque here in the UK and has been invited to numerous prestigious Lancia events, in of course - Italy and elsewhere in Europe, notably 'Forbello 96' - a rally to celebrate 90 years of Lancia. In September '97 the Lancia Motor Club celebrated its own 50 years of establishment with a very full weekend at the Royal Agricultural College Society at Cirencester and Prescott Hill Climb, witnessing the largest collection of Lancias seen in one place at one time - enthusiasts coming from all over the world - Europe, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan. In an outward facing mode, the Lancia Motor Club has played a leading role in the formation of "The World Association of Lancia Clubs" hosting the Association's first meeting at '97 Cirencester 50th, during which it stated its aims - to co-ordinate the activities of the various Lancia Clubs' activities, covering all matters from avoiding event/date clashes to the re-manufacture of obsolete parts.
The Club claims to be the oldest and largest Lancia club in world, catering for Lancia enthusiasts and owners of Lancias made from 1906 to the present day. The proliferation of models calls for more than the usual number of 'in-house/ club' technical information/ spares advisors. Close on forty individuals comprehensively maintain this service to club members, covering well over twenty separate model or range categories. This group can offer first class advise based on their own skill and experience, further supported from within the group by model consortiums who coordinate the production and procurement of parts, in addition to organising events of a technical and non technical nature specific to their model.
A very comprehensive Club Library provides the member with the authoritative written word on model specifications, work shop manuals and other technical information. This is bolstered by access to a number of services, including a special tool hire scheme which enables members to actively involve themselves in the maintenance, repair or restoration of their Lancias.
The 'LMC' has become respected for the quality of its publications. The monthly magazine, Viva Lancia, received by members within the annual subscription cost has collected a number of awards from the professional automotive press for its quality and content, keeping the diverse club membership fully informed regarding all matters - Lancia. In particular a number of the 'model special feature' publications have been sold through the specialist automotive book trade.
Membership rates for the current year, 1999, are as follows: £28.00 (£26.00 if paying by Direct Debit) UK single membership; £31.00 (£29.00 if paying by Direct Debit) UK family membership; £33.00 for Overseas membership; £35.00 for Overseas family membership
CMM would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris Long, Lancia Motor Club's Press and Publicity Officer for his help in preparing this edition of Club Call.
Club Internet Address: http://www.lanciamotorclub.co.uk
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