The origins of the Lancia Lambda, widely considered as Vincenzo Lancia’s greatest masterpiece, date back to December 1918, when a patent application was filed for an innovative car. This patent, registered in March 1919, was for a streamlined motor car with no conventional ladder frame but with a monocoque bodyshell – a world first. Giuseppe Farina later recounted that Vincenzo Lancia’s inspiration for the new structure came from the robust hulls of ships on which he travelled to the United States.
The official presentation of the Lancia Lambda took place in October 1922 at the Paris Motor Show. The monocoque body was reinforced by a substantial transmission tunnel and integral seatback bulkheads – although it did not have the stressed roof of later designs from other manufacturers.
Another innovation on the new car was independent front suspension. The extremely rough Italian roads of the time had previously caused a leaf spring to break on the front axle of the Lancia Kappa driven by Vincenzo Lancia himself. Lancia asked his lead engineer Battista Falchetto to design the new car with front suspension that could absorb impacts from bumpy terrain better than a rigid axle. The classic Lancia sliding pillar suspension was the result.
To improve the car’s dynamic behaviour the front mechanical section – engine, clutch and gearbox – needed to be as short as possible. This led to the extremely compact narrow-angle V4 engine with single overhead camshaft. The car had four-wheel brakes, uncommon at the time but remarkably effective in this new Lancia.
The Lambda was built in nine series. Its engines had three displacements: 2121cc for the 1st to 6th series; 2375cc for the 7th series; and 2569cc for the 8th and 9th series.
It was never marketed as a sports car, but even the early cars were capable of 70mph, and excellent roadholding enabled a modified version to finish 4th overall and first in class in the inaugural 1927 Mille Miglia. Over 11,000 Lambdas were made up to the end of production in 1931.
The innovative monocoque body did, however, have one significant drawback: a severely limited ability to fit bespoke coachwork. From 1925 and the 6th Series, the monocoque was replaced by a more conventional chassis in two wheelbases – which is where our Snapshot comes in. This is a 1929 8th series long-wheelbase Lambda with limousine coachwork, with division, by Garavini of Turin. It is believed to have been supplied new to Argentina and imported to the UK in 1990. After years of hard usage as a taxi, it was comprehensively restored to the fine condition seen here. The name of the coachbuilder was a mystery until the door catch plates were sent off to be replated and `Carrozzeria Garavini Torino’ appeared from under the layers of paint. This car has since won many awards.