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IN THE MID-50S, AMERICAN CARS WERE displaying an exuberance of wraparound windshields, swoopy chrome trim, and tail fins destined to reach a reductio ad absurdum by the end of the decade. And Italian automaker Lancia wanted in on the action.
Heritage. The firm had a history dating back to 1906, established by Fiat racing drivers Vincenzo Lancia and Claudio Fogolin. Wikipedia notes, “Lancia is renowned in the automotive world for introducing cars with numerous innovations.” These included independent front suspension and unitary construction of the Lambda (1922), five-speed gearbox of the Ardea (1948), and V-6 engine of the Aurelia (1950).
And in 1955. R&T, November 1955, celebrated introduction of a two-seat roadster from the marque, the Lancia Spyder: “The Spyder derives component-wise from the much respected Aurelia Gran Turismo model which first appeared in Europe in 1951. Integral chassis-body construction is used on both cars, but the Spyder has a wheelbase shortened by 7 3/4 in. Pinin Farina (of Nash fame!) has given the new car a trim, steel body—pleasing if not distinctive—but has retained the familiar shield-shaped Lancia radiator grille.”
Spyder Styling. Not distinctive? Was R&T already inured to wraparound windshields?
Not completely inured: “An interesting styling touch are the bumpers, which are split in the middle with turned up inner ends giving the car an ‘expression’ slightly reminiscent of G.M.’s Le Sabre.”
R&T continued, “Since the car is intended primarily for the U.S. market, a good many compromises have obviously been made to satisfy the American appetite for luxury. Significant items include: a Corvette-shaped windshield, large, thickly-cushioned seats, a relatively roomy, carpeted trunk, and a built-in heater-defroster system.”
Curiously, this latter was not standard in those days.
Power for Style. “The 2.5-litre powerplant merits special attention,” R&T wrote, “for being the only production V-6 engine in the world today. It is a light compact affair with the cylinders arranged in a 60º V; heads are aluminum with inserted valve seats, and the block is also aluminum with cast iron detachable liners. Pushrods and rockers actuate the inclined overhead valves.”
Today’s typical V-6s, Honda’s J variant, for example, have added overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Cubical compactness of the powerplant enhances its popularity in front-wheel-drive layouts.
With the Lancia’s rear drive, R&T noted, “The clutch and 4-speed gear box are mounted in a unit with the differential, and a deDion rear end is used; consequently, the drive-shaft attaches directly to the engine via a narrow tunnel, giving maximum floor space.”
Superb Ride and Handling. “Lancias,” R&T noted, “have always been acclaimed for their roadability, and the Spyder can match the best. The car rides firmly but without jouncing the occupants, and even over railroad tracks and washboard surfaces all four wheels stick firmly to the ground without loss of control.”
Cornering is amazingly flat,” R&T reported, “and we were especially impressed with the silence and traction of the 165 x 400 mm Michelin tires fitted as standard equipment.”
Radial tires were not ubiquitous as they are today.
“Steering (with a beautiful wood and aluminum wheel) is very sensitive, and a small, though negligible, amount of road shock can be felt.”
“Organ Tone” Exhaust. R&T said, “Engine and gear noise was noticeable most of the time, especially with the top up, but never seemed objectionable…. For those who care, it might be added that the ‘organ tone’ of the dual exhaust is little short of musical!”
’Nuff said; I’m sold.
Brief But Memorable. As coda, I have vivid memories of having ridden in a Lancia Spyder, albeit only briefly, at Giant’s Despair Hillclimb back in the mid-50s. This was the same period as my (oft-repeated) first sports car ride in a Type 44 Grand Sport Bugatti. Heady times indeed. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022