1953 LANCIA AURELIA SERIES III
Registration Number: MBH 634C
Chassis Number: B20-2857
- In current ownership since 1974
- Comprehensively restored at a cost exceeding £160,000
- Interesting earlier ownership history
‘You will probably never read a negative report on the Aurelia B20 GT. And that’s because it is truly – genuinely – brilliant. Nothing from the same period comes close for polished road manners. And that’s before you even look at one’ (Motor Sport magazine, 2014)
Launched at the 1950 Turin Motor Show, the classic Aurelia was the first car ever with a V6 motor, advanced unitary construction design, 'sliding pillar' independent front suspension with semi-trailing arm layout at the rear, a two-piece prop-shaft and rear transaxle, and inboard rear brakes. The B20 Coupé broke cover a year later, a fastback '2+2' on a shortened wheelbase which, with its combination of sports car performance and saloon car practicality, introduced the Gran Turismo concept to the world. Lighter and higher geared than the saloon, the B20 was good for a top speed of over 100mph. Introduced in 1953, the 3rd and subsequent series B20s were powered by a 2,451cc, 118bhp version of the pushrod V6, while 4th-series onwards cars had De Dion rear suspension instead of the original semi-trailing-arm arrangement.
Stunning the motor racing world, a mildly race-developed B20 driven by chain-smoking, brandy-swigging Giovanni Bracco to 2nd in the 1951 Mille Miglia, beaten only by Luigi Villoresi's 4.1 litre works Ferrari. It goes on, class wins at Le Mans in 1951 and ‘52, a Targa Florio outright win in 1952, first overall in the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally of 1953, and in the Monte Carlo Rally of 1954. Racing drivers such as Fangio, Behra and Hawthorn all flocked to this beautiful and innovative fastback GT.
Despite its 2,600,000-lira price tag (a hefty sum in those days), the Aurelia was a runaway commercial success. Just over 3,000 were produced in 7 years, and Aurelia GTs are now highly coveted. It is then no surprise that the Aurelia is seen by many as the high watermark of Lancia's post-war efforts.
According to the Registro Aurelia, this beautifully restored Aurelia GT Series III was despatched from the works in April of 1953, finished in grey with a matching grey cloth interior. Little is known of its early years, but by 1965 the Aurelia had found its way to the UK, now registered to ‘Eric Birks Autos’ of Princess Risborough in Buckinghamshire.
Anecdotally, the car is believed to be imported prior to this time, at the behest of racing driver Brian Hetreed. Hetreed was in a group of amateur drivers including Nigel Price, Clive Aston and Mike Bond, who had links to Ecurie Chiltern, based at the Motorwork garage at Chalfont St Peter. Motorwork was the garage and race preparation workshop of Peter Whitehead, where Eric Birks worked, and during his employment had maintained the Aurelia. Though not a ‘work’s driver’, Hetreed was closely linked with racing of Aston Martins through Daunway Racing (an organisation owned by the Hon John Daunway, later Lord Downe) at a time when the company was not directly involved in racing. Hetreed sadly died in practice in May 1964 at the Nürburgring driving an Aston Martin DP214 prototype, aged 35.
Hetreed’s nephews, one of whom our current vendor taught at Cambridge in their youth, remember being driven around central London in a ‘racing Aurelia’ in 1963. Though the Aurelia has not been raced in many years, there is evidence that it might previously have been used for some form of motorsport in period. By 1967, the car had sustained crash damage to the front panel and to the front axle and mounting points, and the rear suspension had been altered. The spring and shock-absorber mounts had been modified to lower the ride and to change the camber of the rear wheels. The original engine had been replaced with a IV Series unit, engine number B20*0022*, also stamped on the block 'P.VETT.INT'. A Nardi gear-change and steering-wheel had been fitted, as were Borrani wheels and an air-scoop to the bonnet, possibly to accommodate a Nardi inlet manifold and a second Weber carburetor as was not uncommon in the day.
In 1967 the next owner, Robin Salmon, purchased the Lancia from Brian Hetreed’s widow. By this time the car was now painted in bright red, and supplied with the Series IV engine fitted by Hetreed. The engine was rebuilt by a mechanic working out of dealer Marshall’s in Cambridge, and at the same time the bodywork received ‘quite a lot’ of work.
After a couple of years Salmon passed the car to two fellow students in the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge, who in 1974 subsequently sold the car to our vendor. By now in tired condition, the Aurelia’s wiring had been “borrowed” from a Standard Vanguard, the interior had been substituted for white ‘Rexine’, and the original fittings generally changed to something ‘brighter, brasher and shinier’.
The Aurelia was driven over the summer of 1974, until when the MoT ran out being parked in a rented local authority lock-up. After 38 years of slumber, in 2012 the Lancia was finally exhumed, stripped, and on Valentine’s Day 2013 arrived at leading UK Lancia specialist Omicron for a comprehensive restoration.
Two years later, and following an investment of over £160,000, the Lancia finally returned to the roads once more. A detailed log supplied with the car outlines the extent of the restoration to the coachwork, mechanical and electrical components, and trim, but needless to say the Lancia has been returned to factory-fresh condition. A detailed restoration log is available upon request, as are invoices for the works completed.
Following restoration the Lancia was taken back to Italy for an extended trip in the summer of 2015, and has since been carefully stored and used sparingly. Beautifully finished in Grigio with a beige wool cloth interior, and available for sale for the first time in several decades, this is a truly exceptional example of Lancia’s definitive Gran Turismo of the early 1950s.