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Innovation, sophistication, plus simplicity

Lancia can lay fair claim to being the car maker with the most outstanding reputation for incorporating a broad range of innovative and sophisticated features in to their cars.

What is not generally realised is that, despite the Lancia reputation for innovation and sophistication, if something could be kept simple, it was. (Some would say that in a very few instances, things were kept a bit too simple - could the Lambda have benefited from a few more head studs!)

5 of the 14 Falcetto sketches

The Lambda, a giant leap forward

The Lambda, introduced in 1922 really established Lancia's reputation for innovative and sophisticated design. The Lambda was the first production car to incorporate independent front suspension, monocoque (chassisless) construction, aluminium engine block, over-head cam, four wheel brakes, remote central gear change, an integrated luggage boot, and a transmission tunnel. A whole range of features that many other car manufacturers did not take up until well into the fifties.

The Lambda's independent front suspension owes its genesis to Vincenzo Lancia. Signor Lancia was well aware of the importance of minimising unsprung weight and used pressed steel 'U' section front axles, rather than heavier cast steel, on models up to the 1919 Kappa. Following an accident cause by a broken front axle on a Kappa, Lancia realised that an independent front suspension would remove the risk of broken axles and improve handling by reducing unsprung weight.

Having identified a solution to the problem, Vincenzo Lancia did not slave over a drawing board to refine the solution, but handed the challenge over to his design engineers, the most out standing of who was, undoubtedly, Battista Falchetto. The story of how Ing. Battista Falchetto, on being asked by Vincenzo Lancia to come up with an independent front suspension solution to remove the hazard he had experienced with the Kappa's broken front axle, is now part of Lancia Lore. Ing. Falchetto worked well into the early hours of the next morning to produce sketch drawings of 14 possible independent front suspension (IFS) designs. That his 1921 sketches included virtually every type of IFS introduced by other car manufactures during the next thirty years is quite remarkable.

 

 On the left and right the 14 sketches by Falchetto. Vincenzo chose the 4th one from the bottom on the right.

The Aprilia sets the standard for modern cars


9 of the 14 Falchetto sketches
Aprilia hand throttle mechanism

Hand throttle mechanism of the Aprilia.

 

The Lancia Aprilia, which came on the market in 1937, was similarly way ahead of its time. As with the Lambda, Battista Falchetto was still the main 'architect', with Ingegnere Sola replacing Ing. Rocco as the chief engine designer. While the Lambda can be described as a remarkably intuitive leap in to the future, the Aprilia was more of a considered step into the future of the motor car. This, I think, reflects the confidence of a further fifteen years design experience during which the Dilambda, Augusta, Artena and Astura were developed.

The Aprilia monocoque saloon added such features as cross-flow hemispherical combustion chambers, independent rear suspension with 'perfect' geometry - not clumsy swing axles (e.g. VW) and inboard rear brakes.

Needless-to-say, the Aprilia's handling, even on old fashioned, but contemporary cross ply tyres can leave drivers in modern cars struggling to keep up on a twisty bit of road.

Aprilia engine

The Aprilia's generally sophisticated design also nicely demonstrates the Lancia design culture of "Keep it simple where you can". For example, I don't think Mr Ford's pathologically cost-conscious engineers could have come up with a simpler design for a hand throttle. Similarly, on what other car can you adjust the fan belt tension with a single 11 mm spanner without marking you dinner suit, should you be on the way to a ball?

Aprilia engine
 

 

Paul Vellacott,
 Email: paul@viva-lancia.com,
Australian Lancia Register,
Melbourne, August 2002

 

 Top of page

 Snippet 1: Vincenzo Lancia wins 1904 Florio Cup

 Snippet 3: The luck of the French

 Snippet 4: The racy appeal of the little Lancias!

 Snippet 5: The power of a clean drawing board

 Snippet 6: The Loosmobil

 Snippet 7: Foibles of the . Aprilia

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