Vincenzo Lancia, although initially a bookkeeper, was fascinated by machines of all kinds. He learned how to fly an aircraft and developeded a deep love of cars which led him to the dizzy heights of being chief inspector for Fiat at the early age of 19 in 1899. He tested and raced cars for Fiat and although he was an extremely fast driver he was often thwarted by mechanical failures which may have had something to do with the fact that he became determined to build his own cars.
In 1906 he set up his own company, Lancia, along with a friend called Claudio Fogolin, a racing cyclist and another ex-Fiat man, to create racing cars. His cars were lightweight and fast for the day but his first real production car was built in 1907 – the 12 HP Alpha ( alternatively known as the type 51) which was first launched at the 1908 Turin Motor Show.
This car was capable of the then high speed of 56 mph and was available in a variety of body styles ranging from Landaulet to 2 seater sports models, one of which he raced in 1908 at a track in Savannah, Georgia, in the United States. The engine was a straight four-cylinder 2544cc engine and over a hundred of these cars were sold altogether, some for road use and some intended for racing.
Lancia developed from this early beginning into a company that has often been at the forefront of innovative engineering. For example the first mass produced V-6 engine, the first vehicle electrical system, and the first five speed transmission system were all introduced by Lancia.
Sadly Vincenzo Lancia suffered a fatal heart attack in 1937 at the early age of 55. His most enduring legacy however is perhaps in the field of world rally championship titles; Lancias have a record that tops that of any other manufacturer in the world.