Vincenzo Lancia started as an apprentice for Giovanni
Ceirano's motor works in Turin that was soon acquired by FIAT, Soon Lancia was driving
racing cars alongside of their chief driver, Nazarro. In 1906 Lancia started his own firm
Automobili Lancia but ironically chose not to compete in racing. He died from a heart attack on 15 February 1937. He was 55 years old, and his wife Adele Miglietti with son Gianni who
became managing director took over management of the firm. Gianni had inherited his father's love
for racing but not his reluctance of involving the family firm. Soon they were racing
modified versions of their great Aurielia sports car, considered by some to be the
greatest sports car ever built. Gianni's attention eventually turned to Grand Prix racing and plans
were made to build a new car designed by the famous Italian designer, Vittorio Jano.
||The car designed by Jano was quite ambitious in
design and in many ways more advanced than the W196 of Mercedes. The four-camshaft V8 was
used as a stressed member in conjunction with a tubular space-frame chassis. The engine
was offset with the propeller shaft running to the left of the driver. The most visually
striking aspect of the car were the twin pannier-type fuel tanks located on faired
outriggers between the wheels. Jano's objective was two fold, improved airflow between the
wheels and a constant weight distribution as the fuel was consumed during the race. Output
for the V8 was a reputed 260 bhp, 3 more than the Mercedes-Benz while the Lancia enjoyed a
280 lb weight advantage.
A vast expenditure for such a small company was
lavished on the new racing team as evidenced with the signing of the top Italian driver
Alberto Ascari. Initially planned for the 1954 season they did not debut until the last
race at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. In the hands of double World Champion Alberto
Ascari the car was fastest in practice. In the race Ascari passed into the lead on lap
three setting the fastest lap in the process before retiring due to clutch problems. All
seemed set for the next season and the battle with Mercedes.
The opening race of the season in Argentina saw
the three Lancias challenge for the lead before retiring with various mechanical problems.
Ascari was able to win a couple of minor races, beating the Maseratis and Ferraris at the
Turin GP and later the Naples GP. The battle was rejoined with Mercedes at Monaco but
Ascari's challenge ended when his car crashed and plunged into the harbour just as he
gained the lead. Ascari was rescued only to die four days later in a sports car. Ascari
was the star to bring glory to Lancia, his loss devastated the team. This coupled with
financial pressures caused the Lancia family to sell controlling interest in the firm and
shutter their racing team. Through the intervention of several parties including Fiat the
remnants of the team was given to Ferrari. The Scuderia's main contribution to the car was
the talents of ex-Mercedes driver Juan-Manuel Fangio.
Photograph by Jessie Alexander
With the withdrawal of Mercedes the path was clear for the Lancia/Ferrari to win the championship. The D50 while going a long way to bolstering Ferrari's flagging efforts was still looked upon as an alien design and Jano's relationship with Ferrari was strained. Further development of many of the key features in the D50 was abandoned and sadly most vestiges of the original car were soon erased.