1923-1931 Lancia Lambda

1923 Lancia Lambda

Displayed at the Paris Auto Salon in November 1922, the 1923 Lancia Lambda was instantly recognized as a new approach to cars. "Even those with no engineering interests had only to look at it to know that it was different," wrote Lancia historian Nigel Trow. "It was low and angular, with a quality of unity, of being 'all of a piece.' It looked deliberate, something that was designed from scratch by a team that knew exactly what was wanted. The car was a total departure from all previous practice."

Of course, not everything about the car was new, but certainly nobody else clapped so many innovations onto one model. The engine, for example, was unprecedented: a V-4 banked at a tiny 13-degree angle (later 14 degrees), with a flat cylinder-head face and combustion chambers in the block. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.

The torpedo body, with pontoon or sweeping cycle fenders, looked more like a fanciful doodle than a production 1923 automobile. The brakes, to cite another attribute, operated on all four wheels. Designed by engineer Battista Falchetto, they were unorthodox in the extreme: conventional manufacture at that time tended to dictate rear brakes only.

This was, incidentally, an example of Vincenzo Lancia's standards governing the car's development -- he merely told his engineers that the brakes, whatever they were, must be capable of hauling the car down repeatedly from 100 kilometers per hour (62.5 mph). Falchetto suggested the use of front brakes by taking Lancia for a test drive in which the standard was met by a car fitted with front brakes only. Only later was it realized that front brakes do 80 percent of the work on any automobile.

The Lambda was faster over a twisty road than anything Lancia had hitherto produced, including the big Tri Kappa, an eight with twice the horsepower. It was soon being raced by privateers all over Europe. In 1924, the Lambdas of Riva and Gauderman finished 1-2 in the under 2,500-cc class in France's Routes Pavees race; another Lambda won the Indian Tourist Trophy at Simla in 1925; the Circuit of La Spezia in 1926; the Tunis-to-Tripoli race in 1927.

When Italy's famous open road race, the Mille Miglia, was instituted in 1927, a trio of Lancias took the first three places overall. The following year saw a Lambda entered by the factory, which prepared it merely by fine tuning a production model; it held second place most of the way and would have finished second to a more powerful supercharged Alfa Romeo had the engine not dropped a valve toward the finish.

Gismondi, the Lambda driver, actually held the Alfa in average speed, thanks to Lancia's superior brakes, handling, long-range fuel tank, and modified fuel supply to prevent fuel starvation when ascending the mountains.

To follow the Lancia Lambda story to 1931, continue to the next page.

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