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1956: Ferrari-Lancia D50

by

Antonio Eiras

The Lancia D50 was the last major project of Vittorio Jano, Italian engineer who became famous in the period between the Great Wars, as responsible for the Alfa Romeo P2 and Type B of Grand Prix.

 

Invited by the Lancia Family to project the brand in the world of motor racing, Jano designed a faithful model at the image of quality and technical refinement that characterized the products of the Turin factory.

 

The D50 was most likely the first competition vehicle to use the engine as a structural element of the chassis, thirteen years before Colin Chapman present the same concept on the also innovative Lotus 49-Ford. The front suspensions of the Lancia, overlapping trapezoids, where supported thereby in the front of the engine block, while the rear face of this was connected to the multitubular chassis, immediately in front of the cockpit. The engine was found tilted longitudinally, forward and to the right, so as to allow the engine shaft to pass on the left side of the seat, which can thus be placed very low, close to the pavement frame.

 

In order to avoid the change of vehicle behavior due to the variation of the fuel level, through the races, Vittorio Jano replaced the massive tank, traditionally placed in the tail, by two smaller tanks placed on either side of the car, between the front and rear wheels.

 

To save space on the chassis and allow a further reduction of the distance between axles, the brakes, drum ones, they were placed inside the wheels. The 5-speed gearbox was placed in the rear end of the chassis, behind the clutch, and for the rear suspension was chosen a rigid Pont de Dion.

 

The technical complexity of the project required a long period of construction and delayed its debut in competition. However, when it was presented at the Spanish GP, held at the Pedralbes Circuit in Barcelona, at the end of the season 1954, it caused huge impression and, at the hands of reigning champion, Alberto Ascari, won the pole position and dominated until the abandonment.

 

The Lancia stood out from its competitors by its dimensions, very compact and by the unusual technical refinement. The engine, 8 cylinders in V with 2.5 liters of capacity, turned out to be very easy to use, debiting around 250CV at 8.000rpm. But what Jano could not predict was that by conceiving a neutral vehicle, theoretically more effective than its competitors, he raised unexpected problems to his drivers, although experienced, to drive a car whose grip limits they had not perception, until it's too late!

 

This proved dramatically in the opening race of 1955 Championship, in Argentina and only the enormous talent and strength of will of Ascari led him to win two smaller non-championship races and to take a brief leadership in the following GP, in Monaco.

 

After the death of Italian champion, the team, disheartened, left the competition before the end of the Championship. Meanwhile, the serious financial problems that the Turin brand faced, forced the Lancia Family to ask for state aid and, in return, the eight D50 models that were built were made available.

 

Delivered to Fiat, only one original D50 survives, while the rest were sent to the Scuderia Ferrari, who was using the uncompetitive 555 and received the Lancias with open arms. As part of the technical staff of Maranello team, Vittorio Jano attended the distortion of his model, with the construction of a conventional chassis around the engine and with the adoption of a single fuel tank placed in the tail.

 

Christening Lancia-Ferrari D50, the "new" models, heavier but also more predictable and easy to drive, allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to win his fourth title and to the Comendatore team to return to win, a fact to which the abandonment of competition from Daimler-Benz, at the end of 1955 Championship, contributed greatly.

 

For the history, there remain the five victories in Grand-Prix, a World Drivers title and a project with enormous potential, but that remained unfinished.

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