This marvelous overhead photograph clearly shows the layout of the new Lancia D50 Grand Prix car at its inaugural race appearance at the Spanish Grand Prix, the last race of the season, held on the Pedralbes city circuit in Barcelona on October 24, 1954. The 1954 Spanish Grand Prix is sometimes confused with the Penya Rhin Grand Prix which was then a non-championship race for sports cars, held the day before on the Pedralbes course.
The D50 was a truly ground-breaking design. In many ways its innovations rivaled those of the Mercedes-Benz W196 which also appeared in 1954 and was present at Barcelona as well. The D50 was in many regards the brainchild of Vittorio Jano, the superbly talented engineer who was the design force behind Alfa Romeo’s very successful prewar racing cars. Jano’s design for the D50 included a far more rigid and modern chassis which used its new V8 engine as a stressed member while offsetting it in the chassis so that the driver sat next to the driveline rather than on top of it, thereby also lowering the car’s center of gravity. In addition, Jano reduced drag with sponsons placed between the front and rear wheels in which the fuel tanks were located, thereby reducing the D50’s polar moment of inertia and maintaining the balance of the car as fuel was consumed by keeping the location and weight of the fuel within the wheelbase.
At the Spanish Grand Prix Alberto Ascari set pole position and led the race until he retired with clutch problems. Gianni Lancia had enticed Ascari away from Ferrari at the end of 1953, along with Ascari’s close friend and Ferrari teammate Luigi Villoresi. Ascari had immediately seen the possibilities of the new Lancia under the new 2.5 liter engine rules which would come into effect for 1954 and knew that the D50 would be superior to anything at Ferrari or Maserati and on a level with Mercedes.
The challenges for the D50 were twofold: reliability and finance. Outright speed was not a problem, but the team cars were continually beset with the kind of teething troubles common to most new approaches. Along with these, Lancia was running out of money, caused by the expense of building the D50s which reduced the needed engineering attention for its road cars which possibly accelerated a slump in sales. By mid-1955 the Lancia family was starting a process to sell the company before bankruptcy intervened, a transaction which was completed in 1956 with a sale to Carlo Pesenti, a wealthy Turin industrialist. Both the death of Ascari in a testing accident in May 1955 and the next month’s bad publicity for racing resulting from the Le Mans disaster, along with the steps to sell the company, hastened the decision to close the Lancia racing department.
On July 26, 1955, with financial assistance from Fiat, six D50s and many spares were transferred to Ferrari in an emotional ceremony. This allowed increased development attention for the D50 at Ferrari, with assistance from their new consultant Vittorio Jano who came over from Lancia, and the resulting Lancia-Ferrari would carry Juan Manuel Fangio to the World Championship in 1956.
Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com