Lancia D50

Total Production: 6 1954 - 1955
The Lancia automobile company was an Italian-based company created in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia. It remained in production until 1969, when it became part of the Fiat Group. The company has a legacy of building reliable and unique production road-going automobiles and for their accomplishments in racing, particularly in rally events. They won the World Rally Championship in 1972, 1974-1976, 1983, and 1987-1992. They are the most statistically successful marque in the sport.

After the close of the Second World War, Lancia, backed by the enthusiasm of Vincenzo Lancia's grandson, Gianni, worked aggressively towards building competitive racing machines. Vittorio Jano, of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari fame, was recruited to aid in the creation of a sports-car for the Lancia marque.

When most designers were using engines in straight (inline) configuration, Jano chose to use the 'Vee' configuration. The resulting engine was placed in the D50 and made its Grand Prix racing debut in 1954 at the Spanish Grand Prix. This was Lancia's first attempt at contesting a Grand Prix race, and they were doing it with Jano's 'V'-configuration engine, a rather bold step. The car and its mechanical components were not the traditional Formula 1 style, which had the crowd stunned, as the vehicle proved it was a capable machine, with Alberto Ascari driving it to pole position.

The Lancia D50 was a technological marvel that had a very compact engine design, excellent weight distribution, and superior handling. Many of the F1 cars of the day were designed to slide through the corners. The car was less prone to accidents, spinning, or going off course. The compact V8 engine was able to be placed directly between the wheels. It was shorter than smaller engines, such as a straight six, and had a low center of gravity. Its boxy design meant that it could be used as part of the spaceframe chassis, providing structural rigidity as a stressed member. The five-speed transaxle was placed in the rear and integrated as part of the rear axle. By having the engine in the front and the gearbox in the rear, weight was evenly distributed. The driver was positioned in-between these two components and left little room for the fuel and oil tanks. In keeping with the weight-distribution concept, the fuel and oil tanks were placed alongside the vehicle, flanking the driver on either side. In traditional designs, the fuel tanks were located behind the rear axle, but this design would not have accommodated Jano's quest for weight distribution. The large panniers that held the fuel and oil actually improved the vehicle's airflow. They were positioned between the two tires, so the additional surface area was not sacrificed.

Located at all four corners were the popular drum brakes. The suspension was comprised of a tubular double wishbone setup and a rear DeDion axle. The total ensemble weighed a mere 1350 pounds and had a top speed of over 185 mph. The eight-cylinder engine produced an impressive 260 horsepower with the help of four Solex carburetors. The rear-mounted five-speed manual gearbox sent that power to the rear wheels.

In the capable hands of Ascari, the Lancia D50 was piloted to two pre-season victories. One of the more memorable races for the D50 was at the Monaco Grand Prix. Ascari was negotiating his car into the lead position when he missed a chicane and crashed, sending himself and the car into the harbor. He had gained the lead, but it had resulted in a premature retirement from the race. Ascari survived; a few days later, on May 26, he was testing a Ferrari sports car at Monza and crashed on the Curva di Vialone, a high-speed corner on the course. The accident claimed his life, bringing to a sad close the life of the two-time World Champion.

Lancia found themselves without a world-class driver. Lancia sold their project off to Ferrari, as the prospects in the sport had gone bleak, and the experience had brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Ferrari made minor changes to the car and, with the retirement of Mercedes-Benz, was able to claim the 1956 World Championship with the help of the very capable Juan Manuel Fangio.

Six cars had been created, but when the program was canceled, many of the cars were destroyed. Only two were spared. They currently reside in Italian museums where they spend most of their time. They are rarely brought to the track; replica's were created from several of the remaining engines and transaxles that survived.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2007