The Lancia Car Manufacturing Company was founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia in partnership with his close friend Claudio Fogolin.
The talented duo first met when they both worked for Fiat of Turin as engineers whose particular analytical skills were best used by Fiat as test drivers.
In the little time that Lancia and Fogolin had between testing the latest Fiat prototypes and being the first to discover they faults, they discussed their ideas on how they would like to see cars produced.
These discussions became gradually more intense leading to the fateful decision to make their dreams a reality, their theories fact. The one tenet that Lancia and Fogolin were determined on was that their cars would be different from those of Fiat, - a little more emphasis on design and making for a more comfortable. A doctrine that Lancia adhered to- from day one.
With limited financial capabilities, the partnership set up their workshop in Turin, and it was from there that the partners got down to producing their first masterpieces.
Through hard work and determination with just a few months, the first Lancia was ready for the review, which, while it was a work in progress was known as the Tipo 51, but when revealed was titled the Alpha.
The reason behind the title switch was that Lancia and Fogolin decided that they would name their cars after the engine that they fitted in the car, a practice that would continue for many years until they eventually worked their way through the entire Greek alphabet reaching Omega ( the final letter) in 1921.
Lancia and Fogolin had no illusions in these early days of their development that they would be capable of handling the construction of the chassis and body of their cars, and were happy to farm out that work to the many first class coach builders operating close to their workshops in Turin.
Two years later the fledgling company released their next model, the Beta, taking the opportunity to introduce their first racing car, the Torpedo fitted with a Beta engine onto the racing circuit, where it took a commendable third place in the testing Targa Florio event, held in the mountains of Sicily near Palermo.
For the next two decades, Lancia were in a state of constant development, introducing new models and engines, with each new model boasting technological advances and design improvements.
For example, in 1914, Lancia released the Theta, the first European-produced vehicle to be fitted with an entire set of electric components as standard.The most significant advance was that the Theta was equipped with a push button starter, signalling an end to the practice of cranking the engine to get it to turn over, a practice that had plagued car owners since the first “ horseless carriages” were introduced.
Needless to say, the Theta proved to be an excellent seller, remaining in production for around six years, in demand all over the World.
In 1921 Lancia launched what was probably the best car in their fifteen-year history, into which all of the positive experience had been poured. The Lambda, the first car in the world to be fitted with an aluminium block V4 engine linked to a transmission installed in a tunnel on the floor.
The brainchild of rising Italian designer Giovanni Bertone, the Lancia Lambda not only looked imposing sitting on a ten foot ( three meters) wheelbase it also boasted extraordinary handling thanks to its in-house developed independent front suspension and stress-bearing body.
The Lancia Lambda remained in production for nine years, through nine series, during which time 12,000 were sold, a remarkable achievement for an independent car manufacturer.
The Lambda worked wonders for Lancia, not only enhancing the company’s standing immeasurably but allowing them the financial freedom to diversify their production methods to suit the demands of a changing market.
During the late twenties and early thirties, Lancia made a conscious effort to present increasingly luxurious cars onto the European market.
One of the methods employed involving adopting a principle developed by Rolls Royce of providing a chassis and drivetrain on which the customer could individually specify the design and characteristics of the body that would be constructed for them by one of a number of Italy’s finest coachbuilders who worked in close cooperation with Lancia.
Ever sensitive to fluctuations in the market, in the early years of the Nineteen Thirties, Vincenzo Lancia began to suspect and rightly so that the market for these super luxurious saloons was about to decline rapidly.
As early as 1931, changes to design policy could already be detected at Lancia, with the release of two models that were smaller, simpler and accordingly less expensive than any car issued by the company during the Twenties.
That was the direction that Lancia would take for the coming years as fascism gripped Italy and the clouds of war grew increasingly.
Lancia was holding their own in a challenging market, when, completely without warning, Vincenzo Lancia passed away at the age of just 56 after suffering a massive heart attack.
Lancia’s long term partner, Claudio Fogolin nine years older than Lancia and already contemplating retirement instead found himself facing the daunting prospect of running the company on his own.
To offer whatever help they could, Vincenzo’s widow Adele and eventually his son Gianni joined the company to reduce some of the weight placed on Fogolin's not so broad shoulders.