The Lancia D50 Grand Prix Car

Lancia, Monaco Grand Prix, Ascari, Castellotti

Grand Prix photographs in color from the 1950s are comparatively rare, primarily because most magazine and other publishers would not print color at that time. In this image the factory Lancia team cars are shown lined up in the pits during practice for the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix which would take place on May 22nd.

These were the Lancia D50 which was a quite innovative design for that time. The D50 had been designed by the famous prewar Alfa Romeo engineer Vittorio Jano who created a new V8 2.5 liter motor with four overhead camshafts which was a stressed member within the chassis and offset to allow a lower driveline. Also, to achieve lower polar moment of inertia and, hence, improved cornering performance, Jano placed the fuel tanks in side sponsons located between the wheels which had the added advantage of reducing aerodynamic drag. On the other hand, his design made the cars rather less predictable when they reached the limit of adhesion, requiring drivers of outstanding ability.

The D50 had been promised for the 1954 season but delays in its development, combined with Lancia’s limited finances, resulted in only one appearance at the end of that season for the Spanish Grand Prix on the Pedralbes circuit at Barcelona where Alberto Ascari demonstrated the car’s potential by qualifying on pole and leading the race after the start before retiring.

However, four cars were on hand for the first European Championship race of the new 1955 season to challenge a similar four-car lineup from Mercedes-Benz. The Lancia drivers were Italians Ascari (#26), Eugenio Castellotti (#30) and Luigi Villoresi (#28) plus Monégasque Louis Chiron (#32). The Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss were in the front initially until Fangio retired. On the 81st lap Ascari, who was running in second place behind Moss and about to overtake him as the British driver was having mechanical problems, made a mistake at the Chicane where the road returns to the harbor front. Ascari went through some hay bales and his car vaulted into the harbor. The Italian driver soon appeared on the surface and was quickly rescued. Moss then retired and the eventual victory went to Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari 625, followed by Castellotti’s Lancia. The other D50s finished fifth (Villoresi) and sixth (Chiron). The four Mercedes all failed to finish.

A Lancia D50 for Castellotti appeared again at the Belgian Grand Prix, but subsequently Lancia could no longer finance a Grand Prix team and its cars and spare parts were turned over to Ferrari. But that’s another story…

Ascari’s accident had an unfortunate sequel. Four days after his swim at Monte Carlo, he showed up at Monza where his friend Castellotti was testing a new Ferrari 750 Monza sports car. Asking to try the Ferrari  for a few laps, Ascari borrowed Castellotti’s helmet and set out. On his second lap he evidently lost control in the fast Vialone left hander behind the paddock (now the site of the Ascari Chicane), the car rolled and threw him out with immediately fatal results. His accident at Monza had certain eerie similarities to his father’s fatal crash during the French Grand Prix at Montlhéry 30 years before. Alberto Ascari was one of the best Grand Prix drivers of all time.

Photo by Günther Molter ©The Klemantaski Collection

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3 comments

  1. Carol Thompson · · Reply

    Did you know it took a lot of money to get Ascari

    On board and brought mentor Villoresi with him,,>

    Monaco,,1955,,Chiron was really old, and Villoresi

    For that matter(naturally Comm, Ferrari felt Alberto

    Had betrayed him as current World Champion of 1953

    BUT when I first got interested in GP racing he was winning

    For Maserati and Ascari” new boy,,”,,this would be 1948/49

    Reading of the wins in British Autocar..then Fangio came along

    The British press ran out of adjectives

    the unknown from Argentina;

    jim

    Like

  2. Carol Thompson · · Reply

    Peter

    I remember so well the 1954 season

    And waiting for the new Lancia to

    Make its debut,,the factory sent me

    Press photos then of car being tested

    In bare metal.

    Mercedes won at Reims, something

    We expected but finally the Lancia

    Came to Spain finally last week of

    October and Ascari put the car on

    POLE,,astonishing,,!

    Sorry I did not see it then, had to wait

    Til 1957 in its final configuration but

    ‘that vee-8 screaming,,could hear it

    Coming thru woods, miles before finish

    Line at Nurbuegring..some sound!

    Faithfully

    Jim sitz

    Like

  3. Carol Thompson · · Reply

    Peter

    Ascari crash at Monza 1955.

    That car was to be driven by Phil Hill

    For 1000 kilometer race,,he was on the

    Boat with Ginther with word to skip Monza

    And come direct to Modena instead

    That event would have been Phils debut with team , but had to wait for Le Mans

    Couple weeks later,,

    Jim sitz

    Like

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