‘There’s nothing difficult here; it excels as a keen driver’s car’ The List Your dream drive made real A lifelong Lancia fan who’s owned many of the marque’s greatest hits, will Paul Greenway discover the same brand values behind the wheel of his dream Aurelia? Words Emma Woodcock. Photography Jonathan Fleetwood.
1958 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT dream on trial
‘If it’s good enough for Fangio’ – Lancia enthusiast meets B20 GT
The List We put Lancia enthusiast Paul Greenaway in an icon – the Aurelia B20GT
Contrasted against biscuit beige gravel, the deep grey and chrome flares of a 1958 Lancia Aurelia leave Drive-My-EN/UK user Paul Greenway in a trance-like state. A Lancia Motor Club member of three decades’ standing, he owns a Fulvia Sport Zagato and has previously owned two Delta Integrales, a Beta Monte Carlo and a 2000 Volumex HPE. Fans of the marque don’t come much more committed – and today he’ll drive his dream model. Paul explains, ‘People in the club have always told me so much about the Aurelia. I’ve been told I need to try a Lambda, an Augusta and more, but the B20 Aurelia, being a grand tourer, is the one I had to try first. If it’s good enough for Juan-Manuel Fangio...’
Walking around the car, he’s already enjoying the Felice Mario Boano styling. ‘The whole car is a highlight. I think it’s the traditional coupé shape; it looks so simple and effective, especially when Lancia removed the tailfins for Series 3 onwards.’
Built in the final year of production, this B20 is a Series 6 machine and benefits from the enlarged, 2.5-litre engine and de Dion tube rear suspension that Lancia introduced on the earlier Series 4. ‘The company tried to find a happy medium with the Series 6, mixing the performance of the Series 4 with the comfort of the Series 5. It’s got a little bit more ventilation than the early cars and more sophisticated suspension too. It’s the ultimate evolution of the Aurelia, even if it isn’t the quickest.’ After a brief tutorial from Charlie Metcalfe – one of the team at The Hairpin Company, where this car is currently in stock – Paul receives the keys and reaches for the slim door handle.
‘Flicking through 3500rpm, the 60-degree V6 sounds ever more like a Mille Miglia competitor’
As the door swings open, the Aurelia reveals a cabin that’s a fascinating mix of time-served concepts and novel styling cues. ‘You can tell they went overboard with the smaller touches,’ says Paul. He folds himself into the bench seat and starts to explore. ‘The glass is thick and there’s a real slickness to the window winders, while the chrome ashtrays feel really robust.’ Combining English wool with blue highlights and a body-colour dashboard, the overall cabin suits Paul too. ‘The interior is simple but well-engineered. It’s spacious enough and sleek enough at the same time.’
He continues, ‘The driving position feels a bit upright, and I’m not sure about the column shift… I’ve never used one before and it’s just a bit different.’ It’s not the only new experience Paul is facing today. ‘I would have preferred a smaller steering wheel. That, a bucket seat and a Nardi floor-mounted gearshift would be preferable for a Series 4 Aurelia – my favourite variant of the model – but the larger-diameter steering wheel in this car could suit the long distance, grand touring focus of a Series 6.’ With a turn of the key and almost no throttle, the B20 erupts into a bassy thrum and pulls out of the farmyard.
Threading away from Hairpin’s rural headquarters, mud-strewn minor roads occupy Paul’s mind more readily than the finer points of the Aurelia experience. ‘These are narrow lanes and there could be cars coming the other way,’ he gasps. ‘That’s my first thought!’ Thanks to his extensive experience with other Italian classics, left-hand drive is less of a concern and thoughts turn back to the Lancia as Paul leaves Compton Bassett. ‘I’ve only been driving for around a half a mile but I’m getting a feel for the car already. My thoughts aren’t that I’m behind the wheel of a £90,000 car; they’re that I’m behind the wheel and I’m enjoying myself. The Aurelia makes you feel at ease immediately.’
‘It’s the ultimate evolution of the Aurelia, even if it isn’t the quickest’
Physical effort is another story, the unassisted steering making him work for his drive. ‘This is hard! It’s heavy at very low speeds and there’s a little bit of play too. Driving one of these around Turin or Milan in the Fifties must have been tough work…’ The pedals are less punishing, especially compared with other classics Paul has tried. ‘I’ve driven Lamborghini Countaches and other cars with heavy clutches, and the B20 is nothing like that. The brakes are sharp too. With drums all round I expected the feel to be spongier, but it stops very well.’ Even the visibility impresses, and Paul is soon zig-zagging through rural passing places without worry.
The road unknots as we travel south, trading its olde worlde charm for a straighter, wider path that lands in a new build housing estate. It’s a world that Lancia chief engineer Vittorio Jano could never have imagined but Paul has few complaints. ‘The turning circle seems especially good, particularly as we go around this tight mini roundabout, and manoeuvrability is far better than I expected.’ Road manners also impress, as Paul explains. ‘Back in its day, I can imagine the Aurelia was seen as a quiet and refined machine. This example is so easy to drive – and it keeps up perfectly with modern traffic as well. There’s a good reason both Fangio and Mike Hawthorn owned one – they appreciated how good and how smooth a car the B20 could be.’
The same fluency is easing Paul’s learning process and he soon relaxes into the woollen bench seat, our speed rising to match the gentle sweeps ahead. ‘It’s very easy to drive. The Aurelia held its own on the narrow country lanes where our drive started but it’s better suited to these open roads.’ The unusual suspension set up plays a key part in that composure. ‘It rides well; there’s a little tramlining when we cross rutted tarmac but otherwise it’s smooth and very comfortable. It’s like a large Fulvia!
‘The steering wheel feels good now too – and the big wooden rim is another similarity with my Fulvia, it doesn’t feel alien at all when it’s paired with the Aurelia’s driving position.’ The bench seat and absence of seat belts aren’t causing any concerns either. ‘I’m not really thinking about those things; the B20 is just feeling like a car you could absolutely and definitely jump in and drive straight away. If the Aurelia lineage had continued to this day, I could see the model translating into something like a Bentley Continental GT.’ In amongst modern traffic, the next miles pass in a contented hush.
Breaking the silence Paul muses, ‘I’ve not driven many cars from this era but the Aurelia is certainly quieter than my Fulvia, though you are always conscious of the exhaust burble in the background. That’s no trouble – it’s a lovely sound and you can tell this is a powerful engine.’ National speed limit roundels slide past the windscreen and, keen to prove his point, Paul shifts down into third and accelerates. ‘That’s a particularly good noise now! Lancia fans will lose their minds to hear this but it reminds me of a 3.0-litre Capri.’
Flicking through 3500rpm, the 60-degree engine – the first-ever V6 fitted to a production road car – sounds ever more like a Mille Miglia competitor.
Paul breaks into an even wider grin, flicking the wood rim through minor, shallow bends. ‘Giving it what for feels great – I’ve got some real confidence in the car now.’ Approaching Blackland, we stumble across a road to match, the tarmac running through a tightening right and into an endless, uphill horseshoe. ‘I’m not noticing any real roll or play and there are no real understeering or oversteering traits.’ He loads the car into a lengthy left and switches focus to what the Lancia’s chassis does well.
‘The car goes exactly where you point it; there’s nothing difficult about it. It isn’t out-and-out sporty – it’s not like a Maserati from the same period and my Fulvia is a more nimble machine – but it is very fluent; the B20 is more of a cruiser than a bruiser. Overall, the feel is very modern, especially given that it’s on such skinny tyres.’ Special praise is reserved for the steering. ‘The feel is terrific, with feedback that’s instant and impressive, and it comes alive at speed. Unlike the Fulvia! The B20 isn’t a performance car but it excels as a driver’s car.’
The road climbs steeply, cresting Morgan’s Hill to unveil a rustic panorama and long, undulating straights. Paul feeds in the power and the cabin once again fills with sound. ‘When I was reading up on the Series 6 I saw that it reaches 60mph in around 13 seconds, compared to the 10.8 seconds of the earlier Series 4. I arrived today thinking it might be less responsive – and Charlie did say it’s not particularly fast – but it’s quicker than I expected. That’s a pleasant surprise!’ Shifting back into fourth, the Aurelia exhibits elastic response that flows with the road. ‘There’s ample performance and it’s quite effortless – you don’t always have to change down to access it.’
Gearshifts certainly aren’t taboo though and, despite awkward first impressions, Paul is taking every opportunity to enjoy the rotated H-pattern. ‘I think I was reading too much into it at the beginning of today, and that was chiefly because I wasn’t used to it. There was a little bit of initial awkwardness in using the clutch as I changed with the column – and I did struggle with a few shifts – but that’s just relearning the co-ordination between hand and foot. Give yourself a day in the car and you’d have it well sussed out by the end.’ Quick and certain, Paul’s shift proves just that.
‘The spacing between each gear in the gate is pretty good and, as I’ve become more accustomed to it, it’s actually easier to use than the close-ratio dogleg transmission in my Zagato. You just pull the lever towards you for first and second, then let it fall into its neutral position to select third and fourth.’ Our time is almost done and we retrace our steps, carving back down the hill in the top two gears. The road narrows, the traffic thins, the verges turn to mud. We’re back at Hairpin headquarters.
As the Lancia rolls back into its designated spot between a wedgenosed Ferrari 512BBi and a candy-cane Le Mans Edition Mazda MX-5, Paul begins to reflect. ‘Park the Aurelia next to a Monte Carlo or an Integrale and there’s not necessarily anything that connects them all stylistically, but the B20 GT is still the symbol for Lancia. Ask any car fan of a certain age and they’ll know about the brand’s reputation for engineering excellence; they’ll know about the Aurelia.’ For Paul, that’s not the only way his dream drive has bridged the generational divide. ‘The Aurelia is a driver’s car, just like my Fulvia Sport Zagato and my old Integrales, and that’s where I could really feel the family resemblance.
‘Based on my time behind the wheel, yes the B20 does live up to expectations! The model is over 60 years old now, which is something you have to remember, but it’s a lovely car.’ The Series 6 we borrowed today has left its own impression too. ‘I like this example, especially for where it sits in the Aurelia market. It’s not a concours car and you could drive it, as opposed to polishing it and missing the point. If I had 90 grand to spare, then I’d absolutely buy it, yes! Give me even more and I’d like to try a Series 4 too…’ Paul’s love of Lancia does run deep, after all.
How will the Aurelia’s touring-centric persona compare to the more sporting Lancia fare Paul Greenway’s used to? Paul reckons the large wheel would lend itself to long-distance cruises. Column-change manual gearbox takes some acclimatization. Paul admires the first V6 to be employed in a production car. Paul’s steed is one of the 312 B20GTs built in the final year of production. At 2451cc, this was the largest evolution of the Aurelia’s 60° V6. Paul is smitten by the Series 6 – but he still wants to try a Series 4.