Model history: In 1931, Lancia introduced two models two replace the revolutionary but ageing Lamba; the Artena and the Astura. Powered by a 2-litre V4, the Artena served as the company's new entry-level model, while the larger, sportier and more luxuriously appointed V8-engined Astura catered to more demanding customers.
Like the Lambda's V4, the Astura Tipo 85 V8 used an unusually narrow angle (19°) between the banks of cylinders. This typical Lancia feature provided the benefits of both a V and inline engine in that a short block could be used in combination with one integral cylinder head. Fitted vertically in the head the valves were actuated by a single overhead camshaft.
Cast in iron, the Tipo 85 V8 displaced just over 2.6 litre. Breathing through a single Zenith carburettor, mounted on top of the engine, Lancia's new eight cylinder engine produced 72 bhp at 4,000 rpm. The V8 was mated to a four-speed manual gearbox that drove the rear wheels.
Whereas the Lambda had pioneered monocoque construction, Lancia opted to use a more conventional steel ladder frame for the Astura, allowing for a much broader choice of (custom) coach-work. Suspension was independent at the front through Lancia's patented sliding pillars, while at the rear a traditional live rear axle was fitted.
Named after a monumental castle built on a small island near Nettuno on Italy's west coast, the Astura was launched late in 1931 during the Paris Auto Salon. Production commenced in earnest in 1932 when no fewer than 798 examples were built. Later that year a second series was introduced but this was virtually identical to the original model.
A more thorough revision came in the fall of 1933 when the 'third series' was announced. The most substantial change was the introduction of the Tipo 91 engine, which boasted an even narrower V-angle and a displacement increase to just under 3 litre. The third series Astura was available with a 3,332 mm and 3,100 mm wheelbase.
A final, and fourth evolution of the Astura was introduced late in 1937. The Tipo 91 engine was carried over but now fitted in a new platform chassis that was only available with a 3,475 mm wheelbase. Further changes included the addition of hydraulic brakes, an auto lube system for the chassis and an electric power top for the convertible model.
Despite the difficult economic times, the Astura sold well through the 1930s. The sophisticated machine proved to be a popular choice with Italy's many coach builders. In particular with Battista 'Pinin' Farina, who quickly emerged as one of the leading designers thanks to his creations for the Astura chassis. Castagna and Boneschi also produced spectacular coach work for the Astura.
Production of the Astura officially ceased in 1939 but several examples are known to have been built during the War; the Astura was also the car of choice for many prominent government officials. All series combined, an impressive 2,912 Asturas were produced.
Boneschi of Turin produced three aerodynamic cabriolets on the fourth series Astura chassis. This example was sold to a Belgian coal-mine magnate and was retained by his family until well into the 1950s. Today it is the only survivor of its type and apart from a repaint, it is completely original. It is now part of an eclectic German collection and was shown during the 2009 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este.
Sorry, but Boneschi was a coachbuilder of Milan.
When Lancia introduced the Lambda specimen, Eugenio Minetti, the most important Lancia dealer of the period in Italy (Milan, Bergamo, Padoa, Bologna, Florence, Rome and New York), suggested to Boneschi, who was still an unknown and small coachbuilder, to produce luxury bodies for his wealthy customers. Boneschi made a fortune thanks to Minetti in less than 5 years. He coached all the Lancia chassis of the period (Lambda, Dilambda, Artena, Astura, Augusta and Aprilia).