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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Jay Leno on Lancias...

Lancia must be one of the most unappreciated marques – I don’t know why. I was fortunate enough to buy a 1958 Lancia Aurelia before the prices went crazy.

It was not in running order when I got it, but that’s not a bad way to buy a car because I work on the assumption that you’ll have to rebuild the whole thing anyway and if it’s not running you’ll save a good amount over a car that is.  

But it wasn’t until we started restoring it that we realized what an amazing vehicle the Lancia Aurelia is. It was almost worth buying for the gearbox casting alone. The car is so much more advanced than a Ferrari of the period. Ferraris had live axles: the Lancia Aurelia had inboard brakes, a four-speed transaxle and a V6. The Aurelia was one of the first cars to use a V6 engine or transaxle rear suspension, and among the first to use radial tyres.

 People wonder why these companies fail or go out of business.There’s an interesting history to Lancia. During WW2 Gianni Lancia, the son, joined the Communist Party for a short time in order to fight fascism. Consequently, when the Americans came over with the Marshall Plan and gave tremendous amounts of money to Fiat and Alfa Romeo, they looked at Lancia and said: ‘Communist? Good-bye.’ And Lancia was turned down for aid.  

Consequently it suffered under a tremendous disadvantage. Besides having a car that was more sophisticated and labour-intensive to build, it had to do it without any financial help from the Americans, unlike Fiat and Alfa Romeo. Also, like a lot of really great cars, there was far more in the way of effort and craftsmanship put into the car than was needed to sell it.

When you open the hood of a Lancia Aurelia the hinge clicks up and catches itself. It’s really a thing of beauty. Every dipstick looks like it was hand carved, everything is made of aluminium – even the container that holds the windshield washer fluid, instead of being a piece of plastic, is a beautiful aluminium piece that has obviously been hand-made and then welded along the seam.

We took the gearbox apart and it was like opening up the back of a watch. We had to replace a lot of bearings but everything was available. And it went together with such precision.

The Aurelia is such an amazing car to drive. It’s not overly fast, although in the ’50s it was probably one of the fastest ways of getting from point A to point B comfortably. It’s a classic GT sports car – big comfortable leather seats, four-speed transmission, V6, transaxle. It’s a pretty amazing car.

Only in the last five years have prices started to go through the roof. I’ve seen them go from the ,000-40,000 range and suddenly they’re 0,000. It’s a lot of money but to me the thing that justifies a car is if you can’t recreate it for that price, then it’s worth the money. It would cost you a fortune just to make the transaxle for the Lancia Aurelia.

The thing that really makes the Lancia from the ’50s stand out is that you could take any part of it and put it in a museum and people would look at it and admire it. It’s as pretty underneath as from above. I had it up on the lift and people would come by and go, ‘What is that? That’s pretty isn’t it?’ –  people that don’t know anything about cars – just because it looked intricate and nicely made.

There was no reason to make it that good, that labor intensive. They just did because it’s what they did in those days. It was a tremendously expensive car; you probably could have bought an XKE and an MG and a Triumph for what the Lancia Aurelia cost back then.

We had to source parts from Italy but there is a wonderful Lancia club and they do a great parts scheme. I’ve got quite a few parts from England too. There’s a guy called Peter Harding who makes replacement alternators for the Aurelia. It’s fantastic… just what the English do best.

You could maybe compare this Lancia to a Bristol. It was extremely expensive so not everybody could afford it, but those that could, really appreciated it. People who didn’t know, didn’t know, and people who did thought ‘Wow, look at that – that’s a Lancia Aurelia.’


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