Lancia Automobiles S.p.A. is an Italian automobile manufacturer founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia and which became part of the Fiat Group in 1969. The company has a long history of producing distinctive cars and also has a strong rally heritage. Modern Lancias are seen as presenting a more luxurious alternative to the models in the Fiat range upon which they are based. One of the firm's trademarks is the use of letters of the Greek alphabet as the names of its models. The Lancia CEO is Olivier François.
Lancia was founded on 29 November 1906 in Turin by Vincenzo Lancia and his friend Claudio Fogolin, both being Fiat racing drivers, as Lancia & C. The first Lancia automobile the "tipo 51" or 12 HP (later called Alfa) was made in 1907 and produced from 1908. This car had a small four cylinder engine with a power of 58 bhp. In 1937 Vincenzo died of a heart attack, and his wife Adele Miglietti Lancia and his son Gianni Lancia took over the firm. They persuaded Vittorio Jano to join Lancia as an engineer. Jano had already made a name for himself by constructing the Alfa Romeo 1750 Sport Alfa Romeo 6C, 2300, 2900, P2 Alfa Romeo P2 and P3 Alfa Romeo P3, some of the most successful racers of its time.
Lancia is famous for many automotive innovations. These include the 1913 Theta, which was the first production car in Europe to feature a complete electrical system as standard equipment. The first car with a monocoque-type body – the Lambda, produced from 1922 to 1931 also featured 'Sliding Pillar' independent front suspension that incorporated the spring and hydraulic damper into a single unit (and featured on most production Lancias until the Appia was replaced in 1963). 1948 saw the first 5 speed gearbox to be fitted to a production car (Series 3 Ardea). Lancia premiered the first full-production V6 engine, in the 1950 Aurelia, after earlier industry-leading experiments with V8 and V12 engine configurations. It was also the first company to produce a V4 engine. Also, Lancia pioneered the use of independent suspension in production cars, in an era where live axles were common practice for both the front and rear axles of a car. They also developed rear transaxles which were fitted to the Aurelia and Flaminia ranges. The innovativeness, constant quest for excellence, the fixation of quality, the complication of the construction processes and the antiqued machinery meant that all cars essentially had to be hand-made. With little commonality between the various models, the cost of production continued to increase extensively, while demand did not.
Lancia was not closely associated with any other manufacturer until the late 1960s. By this time, the company's expensive, high standards of production had become unsustainable. In aiming to produce a product of the highest quality, company bosses had sacrificed cost-effectiveness and when Fiat launched a take-over bid in 1969, they accepted. This was not the end of the distinctive Lancia brand, and new models in the 1970s such as the Stratos, Gamma and Beta served to prove that Fiat wished to preserve the image of the brand it had acquired.
During the 1980s, the company cooperated with Saab Automobile, with the Lancia Delta being sold as the Saab 600 in Sweden. The 1985 Lancia Thema also shared a platform with the Saab 9000, Fiat Croma and the Alfa Romeo 164.
After Vincenzo Lancia's son Gianni became director of the firm, it started to take part more frequently in motorsport, eventually deciding to build a Grand Prix car. Vittorio Jano was the new designer for Lancia and his Lancia D50 was entered into the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, where Alberto Ascari took the pole position and drove the fastest lap. In the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix Ascari crashed into the harbour after missing a chicane. One week later Ascari was killed in an accident driving a Ferrari sports car at Monza. With Ascari's death and Lancia's financial problems the company withdrew from Grand Prix racing. Altogether Lancia took two victories and ten podiums in Formula One.
Remnants of the Lancia team were transferred to Scuderia Ferrari, where Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1956 championship with a Lancia-Ferrari car.
Lancia has been very successful in motorsport over the years, and mostly in the arena of rallying. Prior to the forming of the World Rally Championship, Lancia took the final International Championship for Manufacturers title with the Fulvia in 1972. In the WRC, they remain the most statistically successful marque (despite having withdrawn at the end of the 1993 season), winning constructors' titles with the Stratos (1974, 1975 and 1976), the 037 (1983) and the Delta (six consecutive wins from 1987 to 1992). The Delta is also the most successful individual model designation ever to compete in rallying. All this gave Lancia a total of 10 Championships over the years.
Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion both won two drivers' titles with the Delta. Among other drivers to take several World Rally Championship wins with Lancia were Markku Alén, Didier Auriol, Sandro Munari, Bernard Darniche, Walter Röhrl, Björn Waldegård and Henri Toivonen. The history of the brand in rallying is also tainted with tragedy, with deaths of Italian driver Attilio Bettega at the 1985 Tour de Corse in a Lancia 037 and then Finnish championship favourite Toivonen in a Lancia Delta S4 at the same rally exactly a year later. These deaths would eventually lead to the end of Group B rallying.
During Lancia's dominance of rallying, company also expanded into sports cars in the late 1970s until the mid-1980s. Originally running the Stratos HF in Group 4, as well as a brief interlude with a rare Group 5 version, the car was replaced with the Monte Carlo Turbo. In 1982 the team moved up to Group 6 with the LC1 Spyder, followed by the Group C LC2 coupé which featured a Ferrari powerplant in 1983. The LC2 was a match for the standard-setting Porsche 956 in terms of raw speed, securing 13 pole positions over its lifetime, however its results were hampered by poor reliability and fuel economy and it only managed to win three European and World Endurance Championship races. The team's inability to compete against the dominant Porsche 956 and 962 sports cars led it to drop out of sportscar racing at the end of 1986 in order to concentrate on rallying, although private teams continued to enter LC2s with declining results until the early 1990s.