The 1923-1931 Lancia Lambda pioneered the unit body method of car construction which today is used by the majority of automobiles.
"No one can look at the history of motoring without seeing the Lancia Lambda as a major technical milestone," wrote the late Michael Frostick. "Leaving aside its novel engine, its independent suspension, and a whole host of other minor innovations, its unique unitary construction, in which body and chassis were one, came a good ten years before Mr. Budd succeeded in selling his idea for a monocoque to Andre Citroen."
Exactly where Vincenzo Lancia, that brilliant pioneer, got the idea of a unit body-chassis is unknown. The only tale commonly repeated is that it glimmered aboard ship on the Atlantic, possibly from the way a ship's hull holds its structure together -- which is probably about as true as the one about Isaac Newton and the apple.
No matter, for the fact is that on the last day of 1918 Lancia filed for Italian patents on a car in which the body was "a self-supporting shell without a separate chassis," and had it in production four years later. If the Lambda represented a tremendous risk on the part of his company, it also emphasized Lancia's clean-slate approach to design.
One of his objectives was an extremely low center of gravity while retaining adequate ground clearance and suspension movement. Such a layout precluded the conventional separate chassis and body as known at the time. Lancia adopted a welded and riveted steel shell with a central open-bottom tunnel for the driveshaft and another tunnel at right angles to it for the rear axle, which simultaneously strengthened the overall shell.
The tunnels in turn allowed for low-mounted seats, and footwells designed so that the seat cushions could rest even lower. The shell was made stronger by extending the sides upward -- with the smallest possible doors -- to form the body, while a removable hardtop provided weather protection and more rigidity.
The independent front suspension was a sliding pillar system with a transverse leaf spring; the engine a narrow, long-stroke V-4 of 2.1 liters developing 49 horsepower. The first Lambdas had three-speed gearboxes, but a four-speed was developed in 1925.
For more on the 1923 Lancia Lambda, continue to the next page.
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