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Some cars are so celebrated in their own lifetimes that they condemn their successors to almost certain failure, at least in the eyes of enthusiasts – who are often not to be confused with those who actually buy the cars.
Materially and measurably better in most respects, but much less widely fancied, it replaced the Aurelia in 1958 but has never achieved the same widespread fame or adulation – or the fancy price-tag a B20 can command today.
I have loved and championed Flaminias for decades (and owned a few), but I’m under no illusions as to why the car-collecting world will always favour – and place a much higher value on – the older vehicle.
Beyond the obvious technical similarities, there is much kinship between the two.
The Aurelia and Flaminia occupy a curious middle ground between exotic, large-engined coupés of the Ferrari/Maserati/Aston Martin stamp and the world of fairly ‘ordinary’ but still prestigious cars from the likes of Mercedes-Benz and even Rover, combining some of the magic of the former with the usability of the latter camp.
Like Bristols, these are ‘connoisseur’ cars; that’s a word that tends to summon an image of some twerp in a velvet smoking jacket admiring his automobiles like works of art in a chandelier-lit motor house.
Who knows, maybe some Lancia collectors do just that, but to me the term means cars that are not necessarily about raw excitement but all-round driver appeal and technical refinement, combined with aesthetic beauty and functional excellence.
But if these classic V6 Lancias share those values, our perceptions of the two cars remain very different.
The Aurelia B20GT’s story is suffused with tales of innovation and motorsport glory.
It also features a retinue of high-profile racing-driver owners who apparently paid out their own hard-earned cash to buy what was widely accepted in the ’50s to be the best all-round road machine to which anyone could aspire.
Yet a sense of failure, flabbiness and missed opportunity pervades the Flaminia saga. Not that it was a ‘sell-out’ car for the company.
Many consider it to be the high point of the firm’s build quality. Here, then, was a big Lancia built to the same financially ruinous high standards as the Aurelia – only more so, if anything.
It was also a car that appeared at a casual glance not to have moved the game on technically.
That was not quite fair. Studied more closely, the Flaminia was effectively all new or heavily revised.
The most important news, other than the three-box shape with outboard headlights, was Professor Antonio Fessia’s unequal-length wishbone up front, a big shift in policy from the company that had effectively invented independent front suspension.
It alienated hardcore Lancia traditionalists still wedded to the idea of sliding pillars, who were determined not to approve of the Flaminia.
Things started well, however, with a rapturous 1957 reception from the press and public, most of whom could never have afforded what must have been one of the world’s most expensive 2½-litre saloons at the time.
The introduction of Touring, Zagato and Pinin Farina-bodied ‘specialist’ two-door versions gained even more positive attention in 1958, as Lancia spread its bets when it should have been rationalising.
In some respects, Touring’s GT got closest to what the B20 had been, but the four-seater Pinin Farina Coupé seemed the most natural commercial successor.
The last of the 3424 saloons was sold in 1970, but the 1958-’67 Coupé accounted for the lion’s share of Flaminia production at 5282 cars. Lighter and slightly shorter than the saloon, the Coupé came with 119bhp and 128bhp ‘3B’ 2.5-litre engines; later there was a 2.8-litre 3B, with a three-choke Solex carburettor and 136bhp.
Of the B20s, the Series 4 had the best power-to-weight ratio and, on 118bhp, was probably more lively than any Flaminia Coupé, thus adding weight to the argument that the newer car struggled to make any advances for Lancia.
Impressive results throughout the ’50s in events such as the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, the Targa Florio and many others had already proved the mettlesome character of the B20.
It seemed an athlete compared to the louche and luxurious Flaminia, which, even in Zagato form, accrued no racing history to speak of.
The Flaminia had its glamour, of course, but it tended to be more of an early 1960s style statement for the Bardots and Mastroiannis of this world, rather than the hard-driving Hawthorns and Fangios that had given such credibility to its predecessor.
While the Flaminia is closely linked to the misplaced optimism of the Pesenti era after the Lancia family sold out in 1955, the fact that the Aurelia was conceived by legendary engineer Vittorio Jano, under the guidance of Gianni Lancia, gives it an emotional advantage the later car cannot compete with.
Coming from an unbroken line of innovative and superbly engineered cars stretching back almost 50 years, excellence would have been expected of the new Aurelia saloon in 1950.
Nonetheless, that it had the world’s first production V6, a transaxle, and pioneered semi-trailing-arm rear suspension made it a fascinating, groundbreaking and refined car even by Lancia standards.
It was inevitable that a high-performance version would emerge with a smaller, prettier, lighter body than the matronly factory Berlina; enter, at the 1951 Turin Salon, the B20 GT – a 2-litre fastback 2+2 based on a shorter wheelbase than the saloon.
Good for 100mph on 75bhp, it introduced the world to the idea of gran turismo motoring; a fast, compact car that could cover long distances at high speed, cruising as effortlessly as any of the big 3- and 4-litre machines of the period on the Autostrada Del Sole, yet showing them all a clean pair of Michelin Xs on the Susten or the Stelvio passes.
You could race, rally, sprint or hillclimb your B20 on Saturday, take your mother to mass on Sunday (without spoiling her hairdo), then drive to the office on Monday morning returning 27mpg.
Lancia saw that it was on to a winner, and over the course of the following seven years the B20 went through six generations of development, many of the improvements a direct result of lessons learned in competition.
The internecine nature of the Italian coachbuilding trade has tended to cloud the issue of who styled the B20.
Marque authority Wim Oude Weernink states in La Lancia that Mario Felice Boano created the body for Ghia. Then, after 98 examples (built by Viotti), Pinin Farina began to develop the definitive outline.
Made up of 100 hand-beaten and welded steel panels, this Farina body was built on a subcontracting basis for Lancia (Maggiora and Bertone built some), which is why the B20 never had PF badges.
After 500 cars the Series 2 got five extra horsepower, bigger brakes, chrome bumpers and a more pronounced ‘fin’ for the rear wings.
The 2.5-litre engine came in on theSeries 3 from 1953, at which point the definitive rounded tail design emerged, plus wraparound bumpers for what was potentially the fastest of the B20s.
Most agree that the fourth series is the best compromise, because it combined the bigger engine with the more stable handling from the new de Dion rear axle and retained some of the detail charm that was lost in the fifth and sixth series.
The ’56 Series 5 had slightly less power and a beefed-up transaxle, plus bigger brakes. The 1957-’58 sixth series is instantly identifiable by its vented quarter-lights on the doors.
Both have a shade less urge than the Series 4, and were slightly heavier, but still highly desirable, even if lacking some of the raw driver appeal of earlier versions.
Yet Chip Connor ’s sixth-series Aurelia, looked after to perfection by Lancia specialist Thornley Kelham, has driver appeal to burn.
It is a left-hand-drive car featured some years ago in C&SC (March 2010) when it was maroon and belonged to Ryk Heuff.
With most of the accepted modifications, including the Nardi twin-Weber conversion and the floor gearchange, like any ‘proper’ Lancia it feels a compact entity rather than a mere collection of parts.
Ditto the Flaminia. Beautiful in a delicate shade of Ivorio, Steve Arnold’s1962 Coupé is one of the first 2.8s.
It is by no means a big car, but whereas you almost walk into its airy cabin I had forgotten how much you need to stoop to enter a B20 with any dignity.
And how little room there is for your left elbow, to the extent that I felt the need to drive with the window lowered.
Sitting on its flat, wide seats the vastly more commodious Flaminia Coupé gives panoramic views all round and has space for full-sized people in the back.
It is a late-’50s design but feels like a preview of the ’70s compared to the narrow, hunched quarters of the Aurelia.
The cars share handsome, dinner-plate-sized instrumentation, floor-hinged pedals and a similarly random selection of expensive-feeling but unlabelled switchgear.
Even in period the B20 made no pretence of being a hot rod, yet the deep and silky boom of its exhaust, the metallic precision of the gearlever action and crisp pick-up of the V6 as it hunkers down to its task are instantly engaging.
The Flaminia Coupé feels as if it goes just as well but seems remote and aloof in comparison; the raw enthusiasm of the earlier car is subtly filtered out.
Pulling the equivalent of two extra passengers in all-up weight, its engine is smoother and more subdued from the inside, has slightly more tappet noise from the outside and should give, roughly, the same in-gear speeds even if it feels fractionally less willing to let the revs wind out in second and third.
Neither car is about top-end power but smooth torque and the sort of even yet responsive delivery that adds to the pleasure of every well-timed gearchange. It also makes them docile and biddable in town.
If not quite so sublime in its action as the Aurelia’s, the Flaminia’s gearchange is still delightfully precise and rather quieter, lacking the shrill whine of the B20’s bottom ratio. If anything it shifts more quickly, with stronger synchros.
There are no rattles or squeaks in either car, and they ride with a sophisticated assurance that speaks of many unseen and expensive refinements.
The Flaminia’s four-wheel Dunlop discs are superbly powerful and reassuring for a car of 50-odd years old. The big drums of the B20 need a heavier shove but are still good overall.
The handling you almost take for granted, and both cars devour roads that flow with the topography, taking the long, sweeping way through with an aplomb that is dazzling, deploying their modest power effectively where big, faster cars would have to back off.
The skinny tyres give no indication of how fluent and balanced these Lancias are, responsive to every whim and very safe, bereft of pitch and wallow yet with just enough roll to let you know you are cracking on.
The Aurelia’s steering is heavier but quicker; the later car’s is fairly light most of the time, lower geared yet still pleasingly accurate via a large, rather upright plastic wheel.
Where the B20 urges you to commit to corners, the Flaminia generates ample grip at both ends and very little understeer, just asking that you leave a little behind in reserve.
Both of these cars deliver high rewards to those who put in the effort but if, in the end, the Aurelia has more sparkle you can hardly blame Lancia for wanting to build a more refined offering to tempt buyers out of their Mercedes-Benz 300s and Jaguar MkXs.
It didn’t, of course. Seldom has a car been so widely admired yet so rarely bought as the Lancia Flaminia.
Technically more refined than the Aurelia it was also a bigger, heavier vehicle, hampered by a stubborn resistance on Lancia’s part to give it the 3-litre engine it deserved.
So why, after all that, does the Flaminia still attract me so much more than the Aurelia?
I’m not entirely certain. It’s not a money thing: £100,000 separates the insured values of the cars pictured here, but my preference is down to more than just a historical sympathy with a Lancia I can realistically own.
Neither is it a case of a poor boy being dismissive of the rich boy’s toy he will never be able to afford.
Ultimately, I think I just picture myself more readily in a Flaminia Coupé because it is a later car and more ‘my’ era.
Having said that, if it were an Aurelia B24 Spider we were talking about, I might be willing to shift my allegiances. Every man has his price.
Images: Olgun Kordal
Thanks to Thornley Kelham
Lancia Aurelia B20 GT S6
- Sold/no built 1957-’58/424
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, ohv 2451cc 60º V6, with twin-choke Weber 40DCF5 carburettor
- Max power 118bhp @ 5000rpm
- Max torque 134Ib ft @ 3500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual transaxle, RWD
- Suspension: front sliding pillars rear de Dion axle, leaf springs, Panhard rod, telescopic dampers
- Steering worm and sector
- Brakes drums
- Length 14ft 4in (4369mm)
- Width 5ft 1in (1549mm)
- Height 4ft 5½in (1359mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 8in (2642mm)
- Weight 2888lb (1310kg)
- 0-60mph 14 secs
- Top speed 110mph
- Mpg 24
- Price new £3346
- Price now £150,000*
Lancia Flaminia Coupé
- Sold/no built 1963-’67/2153 (2.8 3B)
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, ohv 2775cc 60º V6, with triple-choke Solex C35 carburettor
- Max power 136bhp @ 5400rpm
- Max torque 163Ib ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual transaxle, RWD
- Suspension: front unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear de Dion axle, semi-elliptic springs, Panhard rod; telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering worm and sector
- Brakes discs, with servo
- Length 15ft 4in (4674mm)
- Width 5ft 8in (1727mm)
- Height 4ft 8in (1422mm)
- Wheelbase 9ft 2½in (2807mm)
- Weight 3351Ib (1520kg)
- 0-60mph 12.7 secs
- Top speed 111mph
- Mpg 16
- Price new £3388
- Price now £45,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication