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Tradition considered

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Lancia has always involved tradition, but in a rather thoughtful way. Tradition suggests continuity, but how do you have radical innovation continuously? Seems a bit odd. That is the problem they had to solve, c. 1950.

The announcement of the Aurelia was the moment for  Gianni’s first new Lancia. Imagine the time, and the pressures: the new car was radically different from the old, not just in terms of engine configuration, but also in terms of complexity. It was the first new Lancia not developed under Vincenzo (leaving aside the Ardea). It was important that it be placed comfortably in the context of the company’s work to date and show how the past would be taken forward. This was also the new Italy, after the war, and Lancia was to help lead automotive design and production for this new society.

These conflicting goals must have caused the company’s publicists some moments of deep reflection, as they endeavored to resolve these opposing issues. Such moments are now not unfamiliar to the Lancia buff:  consider some 10 years later, with Fessia and the Flavia, among others, but in 1950, this was new ground to be broken.

With the Aurelia, Lancia published the small booklet, “Presenting the Aurelia”. In this document, the company confronted this dilemma thoroughly in text. An English version exists – mine is stamped in ink on the back cover “2 Aug 1952”, but was perhaps published sooner. I assume it was the same language as the Italian version and with a factory translation. The quality of the language is superior to the rough translations that sometimes appear in Italian sales literature or owner’s manuals. This piece has truly superior writing. It is worth looking at in detail, as there are interesting observations on the roles and conflicts of progress and tradition. The booklet starts out addressing these issues directly:

“With the appearance on the market of the new Lancia “AURELIA” there is one particularly interested aspect to be noted: the co-existence in the Lancia Company’s intentions  and plans of a great desire for progress side by side with an unfailing attachment to tradition. This is not actually a contradiction, because on the the characteristics of Lancia has always been to maintain their position in the forefront of international technical developments while preserving their own individual style”.

In short, Lancia recognized that progress and tradition normally are at odds, but suggests that there is a way to solve this:

“This is the reason for Lancia’s pre-eminence as, fortified by their past experience and knowing their own possibilities, they have always been both daring and conservative. …. Nothing that has been introduced by Lancia has ever been discarded once put into production: their models have remained on the market for years because the innovations and inventions have been fundamental steps toward the practical realization of positive and new requirements of modern motoring”.

Both daring and conservative…. Lancia states that these are reconciled, with new and positive progress. Seems as if belief in scientific progress can resolve the old and the new. How can this be?

“The Lancia tradition, being founded on sound principles and foresight, innovations that to many people seemed unorthodox were, and still are, for the Lancia Company, simply logical developments of fundamental principles.

Traditions in themselves are a source of strength only if they are good ones, able to to stand the course of time without becoming outdistanced by progress: Lancia traditions have never become crystallised into past history but have always represented an active and far-seeing evolution.”

They tell us that traditions are founded on principles, that innovations are logical developments, and that progress is evolution. Lancia is safe in their thinking, they only progress when it is right to do so. They then go on to affirm this with a reach back to their longevity and continuity. Its an interesting argument, to be sure:

“If, therefore, something new is announced, it follows that the greatest interest is aroused in the public, who know that when Lancia, without abandoning their principles, introduce some technical innovation they do so in the absolute certainty that by grafting the new on to the traditional, there will be no risk of withdrawals, false starts or experiments.”

While this is a slippery rhetorical argument, it does have soe credence. This established, they then note that in these new times, the agenda has changed somewhat. The Aurelia now has to meet new concerns, with both Italian and foreign demand for roomier and more comfortable car, still with Lancia characteristics of light weight, responsiveness, acceleration, speed and low petrol consumptions.

resolved it brilliantly….”), and that meeting these modern demands solves both new and old agendas.

Thus, the use of independent rear suspension, the 6 cylinder motor (still with a V-form, compactness and balance), gearbox and clutch to the rear of the chassis – saving space, and making more room inside.

So far as appearance is concerned Lancia have a particular attachment to Italian body style which they did not want to abandon, but, in the this too, they have for the first time departed from their typically simple and almost severe style, and have softened the body line with subtle curves suggested by the highest standards of traditional Italian coachwork.”

They departed from the simple and severe style…. with subtle curves, within the highest standards of traditional Italian coachwork, even with their particular attachment to a style…. All the pieces are there to make a full argument. This may be one of the less convincing parts of the brief, but it is delightful in the reading. One can almost see them trying to work this all out.

But in the end, some interesting principles are at work overall. The Lancia DNA has been declared – it is both conservative and progressive, and the work of Lancia is to reconcile the old and the new. This new product is surely part of the family.

Ironically, the new Aurelia would redefine the company, and change the picture far more than anyone ever imagined in 1950.  The next twenty years would produce many more changes in the path of Lancia. This brief moment, seemingly so radical at the time, would just be one event among many changes.

Booklet and first three pages

(scan courtesy of Huib)

Written by Geoff

December 26, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Aurelia

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