Aurelias were Lancia’s first significant post-WWII product. It was a radical automobile, featuring the first production V6 engine, fully independent suspension (front and rear), a rear transaxle and inboard rear brakes. 

The production of this (and most Lancias) was unusually positioned between the mass production model of Fiat and Ford-ism on one hand, and the hand-crafted, artisanal production efforts typical of Ferrari and Maserati on the other. Lancia had their own unique blend of these different methods. Far from one-off handmade cars, 18,200 Aurelias were made from 1950 to 1958. On the other hand, Lancia customized production in many ways – constantly improving and revising the Aurelia over its  lifespan. The range of these changes are many, especially in detail. Understanding why and how they were done is part of the charm of these cars. 

Descriptions of the Aurelia model line have been published in Bernabo’s Aurelia GT book, in Italian, but also summarized on the web.  (http://www.viva-lancia.com/aurelia/index.htm ). There are also full  descriptions in both  Nigel Trow’s book, “Viva Lancia”, and Wim Oude Weerninck’s excellent history, “La Lancia”. On the web, additional information can be found on the Viva Lancia site (http://www.viva-lancia.com/). Instead of a full history, I would like here to explain the changes in the models and how Aurelias add to our understanding of automotive production.

Was the constant development of the Aurelia the source of the downfall of Lancia – as yet another way to spend more and make fewer numbers? That certainly is the conventional wisdom. But might there be another way to consider this? Without ignoring the fact that these changes certainly were expensive, and that there was clearly a lack of control over the number of changes, might we learn something else from all their work? Could these constant changes, for reasons of improvement or customization, be alternatively a model of success instead? Let us, for a moment, consider them not as flaws, but something else – a rather striking example of Lancia’s prowess and adaptability. They certainly were clever enough, and in today’s world of “as you want it” production, might we consider this as an advanced lesson in how to manage alternatives and options in the midst of production? Perhaps we have something more to learn from those wizards of Torino. 

Alfa Romeo is an interesting comparable, but not at all the same – the pre-war Alfas are highly hand made, and custom automobiles. The post-war Alfas (Guiliettas for example) are mass-produced machines, using the Fiat process. The transition models, such as 6c 2500’s and 1900’s are similar to Lancias, and incorporate aspects of both modes of production. 

However, unlike Alfa, Lancia was always committed to having aspect of both models of productions. In fact, the history of Lancia is a series of vignettes on this notion, on how to combine mass-production with hand assembly. From the Lambda in the 1920’s  through to the Fulvia of the 1960’s, each Lancia model represents another take on how to make this happen. 

Aurelias have older thinking in combination with forward-thinking. Lancia was always improving their product with cutting-edge engineering.  The evolution of the model range can be understood as that dynamic of “new vs. old playing” itself out. First the range of cars:


As with all Lancias, it started with the sedans. The sedans came in two clear groups, the early and later sedans. Lancia identified them as first and second series cars, relatively simple differences. The early series sedans starteds with the B10, and includes the B21 and B22 as the same car with higher performance. The B10 used the 1800 cc motor, the B21 and B22 benefited from a larger 2 liter motor being developed. The B12 got a 2.2 liter motor.  The berlinas can be distinguished by the front headlights (sloped glass in the earlier series). All the berlinas (even the second series) use essentially the same transmission, the early  indirect drive type. The front suspensions were all the same, but for the rear suspension, the early sedans used the IRS with coil springs, and the second series B12 had the later deDion tube. 


The build quality on the later B12 sedan is higher, but so is the weight. While the early sedans have characteristic Lancia lightness, the later B12 is more roomy, and more “Flaminia” like, and is very reassuring in its solidity. 

The factory recognized the differences between these two major model runs, B10 and B12, by calling the B12 the “series II” Aurelia officially. They issued a separate parts book for it, and at that time, started to revise their part numbers as well, in an effort to modernize their documentation. But why the strange numbering? Why didn’t Lancia number their sedans in order -  B10, B11, B12? It is hard to know, but perhaps Lancia were thinking that the cars would be named as alternatives to the B10 - and thus the first produced variation was the B20 and the next alternate sedans (with more power) were numbered B21, B22. They probably realized after the B22 that this was confusing, so the completely revamped series 2 Berlina was called the B12. So the fun has already started – there was no B11! 

B20 - the classic Gran Turismo coupe

The history of the B20 coupes has been well documented, but one of the larger mysteries is who designed the car? While the car bodies were largely manufactured largely at Pininfarina, Pininfarina never claimed authorship of the design and did not put their insignia on the car. 

The early versions were made in both Viotti and Pinfarina’s plants, and it is rumored that Belice Boano, who worked for Ghia part time, was responsbile for the design. It was modified and refined by Pininfarina in the fall of 1951 at the Paris show, and these refinements became the basis of the second series cars that were officially introduced in 1952. Later, Pinfarina changed the design both for the rear end of the third and later seris, as well as the vent windows of the sixth series.  

A total of 3871 were made from 1951 to 1958, averaging about 500 per year. While the factory did not label them as different series, their limited documentation (Owners Manuals, for example) does identify six different groups of B20’s by serial number. Within the Lancia community, B20’s have become classified as being developed in 6 different series. Initially, there seems no easy way to lay out the differences – but with familiarity, they begin to make sense. As with all Lancia things, if you place yourself in the shoes of their maker, things are a lot clearer. First, the commonalities:

All the B20’s were about the same size, with almost the same wheelbase and chassis. There were  some modest dimensional differences, but in general, the cars were essentially the same (front V-6 engine, rear transaxle, two door coupe of fastback design, etc). They differ in evolution and in subtlety. 

Here are some shots of a remarkably sound 4th series 1954 B20, with its original leather interior: 

The major changes were four: 

- engine size and power: Series 1 and 2 had the 2 liter motor derived from the early sedans. The later cars had (series 3-6) get a 2.5 liter motor of 110-118 hp. The exact details of these motors (horsepower, cams, carburetion, compression) changed almost for each series as Lancia continues to refine the motors.

- rear suspension and transmission: all the cars had transaxles. The series 1st - 4th series cars had the same transaxle design (smaller, with indirect final drive, similar to the sedans). In the 5th and 6th series  cars, Lancia changed the transmission from the smaller transaxle to a larger, more robust transmission. This transmission was used with only minor changes in the early Flaminias, introduced in 1957. The other major change the use of an IRS with coil springs in the earlier cars (s. 1-3),  changed to a deDion rear suspension in the later cars (s. 5-6) 

- aesthetic development: the earlier B20’s were more handmade and the aesthetics a bit less resolved. The 3rd and 4th series were perhaps the most resolved, and the 5th and 6th the most refined. Some major differences were: 

•	1st and 2nd series cars had sloped headlights like the sedans, and tail fins. Later cars had a more refined and smooth rear design, with larger rear windows. 
•	1st series cars have grilles with a hole for a starting crank, and aluminum bumpers with rubber strips. The bumpers were then changed for chromed steel.
•	the early cars (1-3rd series) had the heavier rolled rims for wheels. All have the same size tires. 
•	1st series car had instruments from the Berlina. The 2nd to the middle of the 4th series has grey plastic instruments, with counter-rotating rev counter. The remainder of the 4th series have lovely white on black Jaeger instruments, common to Ferraris, the 5th and 6th have Jaeger instruments similar to Flaminias. 
•	the dashboard for the early cars (up to the change of instruments in 4th series) is curiously about 30mm further forward in the car than in the later cars with a changed dashboard. 
•	1st through 3rd series had a large aluminum floor panel in the trunk for lightness, deleted in the later cars. 
•	LHD was only available from the 4th series on. 
•	4th series cars had tinted windows, uniquely so. 
•	5th and 6th series cars came standard with Nardi wooden wheels. The floor change was more readily available in the later cars. It seems to have begun with the 2nd series. 
•	6th series cars had vent windows and taller interior space. Typically the 6th series cars had a chrome strip down the bonnet, and different hub cabs and wheel covers. Their dashboards were painted in with two-tone color schemes, and featured a chrome trim strip. 

- weight:  B20’s were known in the 1950’s as the connoisseur’s car, with refined performance and handling. By the end of their production run, detailing was to exemplary standards and refinement is as high as any car in Europe. But the weight was also increased. The earlier cars were lighter and simpler. Overall, one may be looking at about 600 lb weight gain from a 1st  or 2nd series car to a 6th series car. 

The difference in character is significant. The later 5th and 6th series cars are wonderful sophisticated grande tourers. Experience with the early cars is much more lively, akin to a Guilietta Sprint with 6 cylinder motor. The 3rd and 4th series cars are seen by some to be the best of both worlds, with the larger motor, but only moderate weight gains. Through careful manipulation of gearing ratios, Lancia does a very good job of providing a similar feel under acceleration throughout the B20 range. 

The rationale for all the changes in B20’s is Lancia’s continued commitment to excellence and to refinement. Interestingly enough, Lancia had two different notions of refinement, and they play themselves out continuously through Lancia history. One notion, typically found in the original production model, was the refinement of an idea -  accomplished through engineering and design. This gave light weight, good spatial utilization and nimble performance. Their lead designers continually aim for this ideal after the Lambda breakthrough in the 1920’s. 

The second approach was refinement through development: in addition to solving all the mechanical issues in a car’s production, this tended to include answering the marketplace’s demands for more comfort. Thus Lancia added weight to all their cars during production development, and often increased engine sizes to maintain the original performance standards. Both of these trends can be seen in almost any Lancia model’s history.

Specials, One offs, and the B50’s

Early Lancias (from the beginning of the company’s history in 1906) were always available to customization upon request. This was simply how the high-end market worked at the time: if you wanted something unique (bonnet scoop, leather interior, special trim), they would make it for you. 

The Aurelia continued this practice: the factory made the sedans, and provided a chassis to custom coach builders. This chassis, the B50, was shown on the earliest Aurelia publicity sheets and was available for one-off production. And it was heartily used. There were a vast number of one-off Aurelias made by the various carrozerias at the time. One can easily find some 500 or so specials that were made. Like all one-off’s on Lancia chassis, from the 1920’s on, they provided elegance and beauty, but with modest performance. The one-off bodies simply could not compete with the low weight  of the production berlinas. 

How many were there? Work by Bill Stebbins (ref: his chart, 1988)  suggests the following:

		1950	1951	1952	1953	1954	1955-on	Total

B50		305	179						485
B51		54	44						98
B52				86	12				98
B53				86					86
B55,56, 60 						14+1**	15
B15*				61	20				81*

								Total:	862 specials 

    *  The B15 is a stretched Aurelia limousine , and was probably outsourced by the factory. 
        While listed as a production model, for these purposes, I have considered it a special. 
  **  These figures don’t fully agree with Bernabo’s conclusions - there is  a difference of about 15 cars overall. 

And in this lineup was a broad range of specials - there were special sedans, coupes, estates, and unique show cars – such as the PF 200. Each unique, many shown at the Auto Shows of the time. There were also some “series” B-50’s, as Pininfarina made a 4 seater cabriolets that were quite popular and many survive today. The last “B50” platforms  as development chassis for the Farina prototypes of the Flaminia, the Florida 1 and 2. 

While only about 5%  of Aurelia production was in these specials, it is a significant number when compared to production of other companies. Neither Ferrari or Maserati made this many specials in the 1950’s – their total production was less overall. Lancia’s position as a producer of cars in series and in specials was secure. By the end of the Aurelia run, B20’s and B24’s were essentially made by Pininfarina as standardized coachbuilt variants, an approach used by Lancia more fully throughout the 1960’s in their next models, the Flaminias, Flavias, and Fulvias.  

B24’s - Spiders and Convertibles

The B24 stands for the open two seater Aurelia. These cars came in two types – the earlier 
dramatic B24 Spider of 1954-55 and the later more sophisticated B24 Convertible(1956-1958), both of which were designed by Pininfarina, who also made their bodies. The stunning Spider features a wrap-around windshield, split bumpers,  side curtains and a difficult to use top. Lighter than the convertible, it was the more sporty of the two. However, it had a more awkward seating position, one befitting a prototype and not a series car. Both these cars were fully designed by Pininfarina and assembled in their factory on chassis provided by Lancia. 

The Convertible was a more conventional car, less of a prototype. It was easily differentiated from the spider with its vent windows, roll up side windows, and a more conventional, less striking look, but with a more relaxed driving position, being somewhat more considered than the Spider. 

- the open cars followed the mechanics of the B20’s almost exactly. While on a shorter wheelbase, all the mechanics are identical to the same year’s B20: the B24 Spider was based on a 4th series B20, the B24S Convertible on the 5th and 6th series B20’s. There are a few exceptions, of course: 
- the B24 Spider was also available with a detuned “America” engine, unique to this car only, provided with a special camshaft. 
- there were minor differences between the 5th and 6th series Convertibles. Typically, the 5th series seats were similar to the Spiders’, fairly large and flat, with a small covered panel between  them. The 6th series seats were more like bucket seats, with nothing separating them. The gas tank of the early convertibles (5th and first 150 of the 6th)  was just behind the seats like the Spider, but was in the trunk in the later convertibles. Convertibles came only as LHD cars (S = sinistra), the Spiders came both right and left hand drive. 


The big things that changed through the evolution of the Aurelia are the motors, the transmission, rear suspension and body lines. In each of these we can see the Lancia pursuit of perfection, regardless of the cost of either execution or development. 

Aesthetic changes are well documented, often due to commercial concerns and the need to continually update the product for the marketplace. Within the flexible means of production that Lancia had available to itself, it was fairly easy to consider styling changes. With B20’s made by hand at Pininfarina, design changes to the body were straightforward. The Berlinas were produced by Lancia with stamping machines, and in fact, there were only two major body designs there, so that part of the story is straightforward as well. So the real story is underneath, in the large number mechanical changes over just a few years. 

In the motor, several variations play out in the range of the Aurelia. To the casual observer, they vary first by size: the first Berlina motors are 1754 cc in size, and then increased up to 1991 cc. This size motor is also used in the 1st and 2nd series B20s. The later Berlina motors (2nd series B12s) are upsized to 2261 cc,  and the later B20’s (3rd to 6th series) to 2451 cc’s. 

This makes sense – the Berlina motors were typically more lightly stressed than the more performance oriented B20’s, and are undersized as well.  However, in addition to this from this, Lancia then spun off a number of developmental changes surprising to any rationally minded production person. The scope is so broad that its a sign of creative minds not encumbered by restrictions of economy or any central control.

The first move was fairly straightforward in 1951, when the size of the Berlina motor was raised to 1991 cc’s. That motor went in the B21 sedan, up  from 56 to 70 hp. Still in the same body, they then increased the motor’s power again with cam and exhaust headers (from from elegant looking 3:2:1 headers to more efficient, but less pretty 3:1 type) to gain 90 hp for the B22 sedan. A couple of years later, they redesigned the sedan entirely with new motor, engine, rear suspension, and a new body. 

In the B20 coupes, a similar change in the motors took place. In  1951, they used the Berlina’s 1991 cc motor in the first B20 coupe, but changed the carburetion from one to two single barrel carbs to achieve 75 hp. Then, a year later in the 2nd series B20 (1952), they changed the heads to get 80 hp. The new heads featured a valve orientation  “skewed” to the crankshaft, for better breathing. This more effective design was used in all later B20’s, but not in Berlinas. These all kept the older valve design, parallel to the crankshaft, probably because it had less wear in the rocker shafts. 

The 2nd series B20 engine is special to this writer. It has similarities to the 1st series engine, the same size and sharing some but not all of its components. The heads are 2 liter size, but with the skewed valve orientation and thus unique to this series only (731 examples). Carburetion is different from both earlier and later B20’s, with again a unique intake manifold.


By 1953, Lancia changes the motor for the B20 (3rd series) one more time: upsized to 2451 cc’s, it has newer larger combustion chambers, but with the skewed valves. The camshaft similar to one in the peppy B22  Berlin, but curiously with a bit less lift. Carburetion is changed to a single 2 barrel Weber for 118 hp. This engine is used in the remaining B20’s.

In short, the B20 1st series engine is fairly similar to the early Berlinas, but with some minor enhancements. The B20 3rd series engine is the start of the line of the 2.5 liter engine used in all the remaining B20’s and the B24’s. Thankfully, after that, things settle down in engine development. The engine configuration is basically set after the 3rd series. The 4th series engine is basically the same, save a change to shell bearings. The 5th and 6th engines are the same, but with minor changes to jets and venturis (with the same carburetor size). They have valve train improvements, and oh yes, a different camshaft.

From 1950-1954, Lancia increased the Aurelia engine size three times, makes two head configurations (parallel and skewed), four different capacities (1756, 1991, 2261, 2451 cc), and I believe some 7 different block castings! Along with this were several different carburetion setups - a single barrel (on the original sedan),a double single barrel setup (on the early B20), a Solex two barrel carb (on the later sedans), and a Weber single two barrel (on the 2.5 liter engines). 

At the same time, Lancia was also involved in a pretty heady racing program. There, they developed the following during this same period:

- first, racing versions of the B20, with more power
- then lightweight (all alum) special B20’s, 7 total. 
- special supercharged B20 engines
- new racing coupes (D-20’s), with entirely new chassis and rear suspension, c. 1953
- racing open cars, D23 and D24, which won the Carrera Panamerica in 1953
- the sports racer, D25, in 1954 (?)  
- finally, in 1954/5, their entirely new and radical Formula 1 car, the D50. 

There were new engines designed from scratch, V-6’s with SOHC and DOHC, supercharged and not. There were 90 degree DOHC V-8’s in the Formula One cars in with different sizes. All in all, a lot was going on.  And this does not include Lancias work with unit bodies, space frame chassis, pontoon tanks, and other suspension tweaks too numerous to note. 

The range of changes

As has been noted above, the Aurelia was a car in a steady state of evolution. There were changes throughout its life - some more major than others. In looking over the range of changes, one can begin to see patterns, and to identify types of changes. 

Changes typically came in one of three varieties: The most readily identifiable changes were large ones to mechanical assemblies, such as engine size or the new transaxle design. Paralleling this, there were continued and steady modifications to detailed parts throughout the life of the car.  While it is difficult to unravel all of them, the modifications on the later cars are of a slightly different character - and seem more rationalized. The earlier cars were more handmade, a bit simpler. The later cars showed a different attitude towards manufacturing - standardized parts seemed to be more prevalent. Finally, there were large changes to the different models: often these were combinations of other assemblies repackaged to make a special model. For example, the B50 was  the chassis version of the B10. Over the years, Lancia became quite nimble at mixing and matching parts from production as needed. 

Almost every mechanical assembly on the Aurelia tells a story of continued improvement.  For example, inside the earlier transmissions, the third gear was changed in design three times from 1950 to 1955: there was first an improvement somewhere after the first series B20 (found in my 2nd series transmission). It was changed again in the middle of the 4th series transmission production, only to be changed the next year when the entire design of the transaxle was changed with no parts interchangeability. Perhaps communication in the factory between their different development groups wasn’t ideal.

Other changes in the later cars: the B12 and the series 5/6 B20’s represented a significant redo of the Aurelia. The driveshaft design was redone, brakes resized, the front axle was made more substantial, the list is quite large. But this was not new - the Aurelia had many different drum brake sizes - the B20 alone had four different sizes over its lifespan.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the interiors were more standardized, and the cars less customized, and more of a known entity. Still, the availability of options and customization of the Aurelia was pretty high: leather interiors could be had, should the customer want them. Floor shifts were available in the B20’s, and became more common in the later cars, as did the wooden Nardi wheels. Trim rings or hood scoops could be provided.

Aurelias were developed within a range of production paradigms. Certainly the sedans were products of a standardized and uniform manufacturing process. They were also available as traditional specials - one-off, customized automobiles, where Lancia provided a chassis to the coachbuilder. 

In the evolution of the B20, one can find aspects of these two versions of the Aurelia. Both influences exist throughout the model’s lifespan. The early ones are more unique, a bit less rational in their production, a bit cruder. The later ones were even-keeled, refined and predictable cars. The Aurelia in later years is more considered, thoughtful, and wiser. However, in these developments, one finds middle age, growing weight and less nimble responses. Is it a more mature car - surely. Are the earlier cars more sprightly, or simply cruder and less developed? One can find in the B20 the joys of youth and growth over time. 

(rev’d 2012)


Aurelias: the model range

Left, an early B22 sedan (similar to B10), and below a later B12 sedan.

Above, the V-6 engine snugly in place.

Two specials - one a Vignale bodied coupe, and the other a Pinninfarina B50. Both of these were in California.