After the Second World War Lancia engaged in an unprecedented assault on the tracks, with highly advanced racing cars. Although founding father Vincenzo Lancia was an avid racer, his company concentrated on building innovative road cars, leaving the racing to the likes of Maserati and Alfa Romeo. His son, Gianni, could not resist the thrills of racing and appointed Vittorio Jano to design a sportscar for Lancia. While at Alfa Romeo, Jano had designed some of the finest racing cars ever constructed and in his new job he did not disappoint.
Lancia's pioneering V-engines found their way on the V6 engined racers like the B20 Aurelia GT car and the D23/4 sportscar. Combining Jano's engineering expertise and the advantages of the V-engine, these cars were immediately competitive. A final step was taken with the introduction of Lancia's first ever Grand Prix car in 1954. In good Lancia and Jano tradition, the new 'D50' Formula 1 racer was unlike anything else on the grid at its debut in the Spanish Grand Prix. Alberto Ascari stunned the gathered crowd and the other competitors by claiming the pole position.
So what exactly had Jano put together? An exceptionally compact racer, with all weight concentrated between the wheels and a very low centre of gravity. The key element of the D50 was the all new DOHC V8 engine, which was shorter than the straight six or eight engines used by Maserati and Mercedes-Benz. Its squarish dimensions also made it possible for the engine to be load bearing part of the spaceframe chassis. The engine was angled at 12 degrees to allow the propshaft to pass left of the driver's seat. Fitted as an integral part of the rear axle was the five speed gearbox, improving the weight balance.
One of the most unusual features of the D50 were the fuel and oil tanks, which were mounted in two big panniers between the wheels. Traditionally the fuel was carried in big tank behind the rear axle. In this location the fuel load affected the handling of the car, which conflicted with Jano's quest for balance. As a side effect, airflow was also improved by the panniers. At the front the D50 was suspended by tubular double wishbones and the rear a common DeDion axle was fitted. Braking was taken care off by four finned and drilled drum brakes.
The D50's unique configuration made it a completely different car to drive than for example the Maserati 250F, which was born to slide. With a superior amount of grip, the Lancia did not slide at all and if it did, there usually was no preventing a spin. Ascari started 1955 off on a high with two victories in two pre-season Italian races. At the Monaco Grand Prix, he was about to take the lead when he crashed out and plunged into the harbor. Unfortunately this remains the D50's main claim to fame. Ascari survived, but died a few weeks later testing a Ferrari sports car.
Without a lead driver, Lancia's future all of a sudden looked grim and despite the car's obvious potential, the Formula 1 project was sold off to Ferrari. Motor racing had brought Lancia successes, but also moved the company on the verge of bankruptcy. Fortunately, Fiat stepped up and purchased the assets. In the year's to come Lancia would grow out to be one of the most successful names in rallying, but it would never return to Formula 1. In very slightly modified form the 'Ferrari' D50 took the 1956 World Championship, in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio.
When the racing program was abandoned many of the remaining spares were destroyed and only two of the six cars originally built have survived. Both cars are located in Italian museums and in the past fifty years have only very rarely been seen out on a track. Remarkably a number of engines and transaxles did survive and in recent years have been used to construct at least seven replicas. The builders were given full access to the original cars, which helped them to build the replicas to a stunning original level. Today they enthusiasts can once again enjoy the rumble of Jano's superb V8 engine.
Pictured is one of the six recreations construct in recent years and to our knowledge the only one built to Ferrari specification. This means that the fuel tank is relocated more conventionally to the tail of the car and the 'side-pods' are filled with the exhausts pipes exiting on both sides through four megaphones. To give it a more authentic look, the car has not been given a perfect finish. It is seen here in action in the hands of Alain de Cadennet at the 2006 Goodwood Revival where in particular the exhaust note entertained the many spectators.
Some beautiful recreations of this car are now campaigned in Europe, but as they have been painstakingly copied they are now hopelessly outpaced by the Maserati's that have been further developed over the years. This is part of a major problem in historic racing, the level to which contemporary technology has to be maintained. It is known for instance that Cooper-Bristols are now capable of producing much faster lap times in the hands of (pseudo)amateur drivers than Mike Hawthorn was able to squeeze out of these cars. I have the impression that ERA's were also never faster as they are now. Hoepfully this will not stop people, who can afford it, to come up with "new" old cars, so that at least we can get impression about how the past must have looked. Compared to the Maserati this particular Lancia-Ferrari is a rather small and looking square, but it is very niece piece of technology. I think however that concept of outward fuel tanks would have been banned as soon as a serious accident would have happened. Please can we have some pictures of the replica's on this site?