Vincenzo Lancia (1881-1937) is known in the early twentieth century as a versatile man. In the Fiat racing stable he proves to be an excellent driver, in addition he is a gifted technician. At the age of 25 he hangs up his racing career and starts working with Claudio Fogolin, an ex-test driver of Fiat, his own car brand.
A key driver for the young Lancia to start building his own cars is his frustration at the weight and clumsiness of the cars he had raced. That is why he uses aluminum for the gearbox housings and lightweight steel for the chassis in his first own models. In addition, he pays a lot of attention to the torsional rigidity of the construction. As a former racing driver, he knows better than anyone how important this is for the driving characteristics.
When naming his creations, Vincenzo is inspired by his classically trained brother Giovanni. Each model is given the name of a letter in the Greek alphabet, and in 1921 it is the turn of the Greek letter 'l': the lambda. That year Lancia starts developing a car that has been of great importance to the car industry through a combination of technical innovations.
For example, the Lancia Lambda does not have a separate chassis with a 'loose' body on it. It is the world's first car with a self-supporting body. This results in an enormous weight saving, and also ensures a much improved torsional rigidity. Lancia came up with the idea for a self-supporting body during a boat trip. In doing so, he becomes aware that the construction of a ship's hull is much stiffer and lighter than that of a traditional car.
Soon after he set foot again, he records his ideas and in 1919 acquires the patent for the self-supporting body. Project Lambda starts in March 1921 and the prototype is ready in September that same year. Together with three employees, Vincenzo starts a series of test drives, which are very positive. Not only because of the self-supporting body, by the way. The Lancia Lambda is also the first car ever to have an independent front suspension with struts and coil springs. The system used will later be known as sliding pillar.
As if the modern chassis is not enough, Lancia also provides the Lambda with a very modern engine for that time. The V4 with a block angle of 13 degrees has an overhead camshaft and an aluminum cylinder block. Despite the modest displacement of 2.1 liters, the modern four-cylinder delivers a respectable power of 50 hp for that time. Especially considering the modest weight of 1000 kilos.
Another important innovation is the introduction of an oil filter. This prevents internal contamination, which considerably increases the life of the engine. During test drives on narrow Alpine roads, where fellow passengers cling to their seats with fear and trembling, Vincenzo likes to demonstrate what his Lambda is capable of.
Not only Lancia's passengers are impressed. The car turns out to be ten times as stiff as an average car, and you can feel it while driving. Especially after its presentation at the Paris Salon in 1923, the car received rave reviews. Between 1922 and 1932 Lancia builds 12,998 Lambdas, of which about 35 percent is exported. Unprecedented for an era in which most manufacturers are mainly nationally oriented.
During its life, the Lancia Lambda undergoes various changes. For example, the cylinder capacity gradually increases from 2.1 to 2.6 liters and the power increases to 70 hp. In ten years' time, the Lambda has been delivered with all kinds of different bodies: from convertible to limousine. In 1932 the career of the groundbreaking Lambda comes to an end, but by then Vincenzo Lancia and his brand are already a household name in the international car world.
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