The Greatest Lancia
The creation of the Lambda a century ago represents a major turning point in Lancia's history, not only for its commercial success but also because it set a new technological paradigm for the Marque as a whole.
Legend has it that Vincenzo Lancia's idea for a chassis-less automobile came to him on a boat trip, observing how the boat's hull was a strong, self-supporting structure. Although Lancia filed the first patent for a unitary-construction car in March of 1919, work on what would become the Lambda didn't start in earnest until early 1921, when Vincenzo Lancia first told his technical staff his intention to create a car like no other.
Although the Lancia Lambda pioneered the unitary construction concept, its structure doesn't actually resemble a modern steel unibody, as the technology to build such a thing did not quite exist yet.
road-holding and handling characteristics were at least a decade ahead of the whole industry
Instead, the Lambda's structure is a skeleton made of 2 mm thick pressed steel elements: the two sides with cutouts for the doors, the front bulkhead, and a series of transverse elements united by a transmission tunnel, which acted as a stressed member. To reduce weight, holes were cut on non-stressed areas. The resulting structure not only was much more rigid than anything seen before but was also very light: the original Lambda torpedo weighed only 850 Kg.
This would have been already enough to set the Lambda apart from every other car available at the time. Still, together with independent front suspension, it produced a vehicle whose road-holding and handling characteristics were at least a decade ahead of the whole industry.
And that's what made the Lambda's enduring reputation as a sporty, fast road car, as its engine wasn't a powerhouse, even for the time: the 2120 cc V4 engine produced 49HP at 3250Rpm, quite a heady engine speed for the day. The V4's cylinder block and crankcase were cast in aluminum with iron cylinder liners and, since the vee angle was just 13°, a single cast iron cylinder head could be used.
The coachbuilding industry didn't exactly love the Lambda, though, as its peculiar construction made it difficult for them to work on it.
Presented at the Paris motor show in late 1922, the Lambda reached its first customers in mid-1923. With over 10.000 (11.503) examples sold over 9 series until 1931, of which around 40% were exported, the Lambda proved a remarkable commercial success for the small company Lancia actually was.
Initially, Lancia offered the Lambda exclusively as a torpedo, but soon an optional removable roof called "ballon" became available. Not much really changed between the 1st and 4th series of the model, apart from minor technical improvements, while the fifth series introduced a four-speed gearbox in place of the original three-speeder.
Among the most coveted Lambda variants, we can certainly count the two-seater roadsters known as "Spider Casaro." Low-slung, rakish, and a bit lighter than the standard torpedo, it's unclear how many have been made by the Turinese coachbuilder. The coachbuilding industry didn't exactly love the Lambda, though, as its peculiar construction made it difficult for them to work on it.
Since having a custom body was still popular with buyers, Lancia started "corrupting" the original concept by offering the Lambda also as a platform chassis, from the 6th series onwards, allowing the creation of unique masterpieces by Stabilimenti Farina and many others.
Although the last Lambdas were made in 1931, the company continued on the path of innovation and technical excellence it established well after that
Since such custom bodies often added considerable weight to the resulting vehicle, the last three series of the Lambda were equipped with uprated V4 engines: 2.3 liters (59 HP) for the 7th series and 2.5 liters (69 HP) for the 8th and 9th series.
From 1926, the factory also offered an enclosed saloon body made with the then-fashionable "Weymann" construction. The system comprised an ultra-light wood framework with special metal joints between each timber piece, all covered in synthetic leather. One such vehicle once belonged to Vincenzo Lancia himself and currently resides in the Turin's National Automobile Museum collection, where I shot this video's footage.
Although the last Lambdas were made in 1931, the company continued on the path of innovation and technical excellence it established well after that, and that's what makes the Lambda the most important Lancia of all.