Too many historic cars are lost to the scrap heap. The most famous Lancia in the world has been given a new life, rescued from rust and rot thanks to restoration specialist company Thornley Kelham. The Lancia Aurelia B20GT has impeccable heritage and now it is impeccably restored.
The story of the Lancia starts in 1951.
It was purchased new by Giovanni Bracco, a wealthy race car driver and associate of Gianni Lancia, the second-generation boss at Italian carmaker Lancia. Within three months of purchase, Bracco had driven the Lancia to second place the Mille Miglia, first place at the Caracalla Night Race, and first place in its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Later that year it won the Pescara 6 Hour Race.
The Lancia was originally painted black.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
Despite the success, Lancia and Bracco saw room for improvement. The car’s roof was lowered in an effort to improve the car’s aerodynamics according to news reports at the time.
When the car arrived on the line for the 1951 Carrera Panamerica, its roof was lower but Bracco’s driving skills weren’t able to keep it on the road, crashing out on Day 4. The following year, the car arrived at the same race ready to compete with a new driver – Paredo.
Paredo was a Mexican architect who had bought the car from Bracco, rebuilt it, and drove it 2,000 miles from one end of Mexico to the other and secured a ninth place finish in its class.
Following the race, the car’s history gets a little less certain.
The car featured a lowered roof for the 1952 racing season.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
The car was eventually discovered in the U.S. then it was shipped to Italy. Simon Thornley of Thornley Kelham found out about its existence while the car was en route. Its path to Italy involved a stop in the U.K. In a bonded warehouse in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, Thornley began investigating the Lancia to confirm that it was indeed the fabled race car of Italian and Mexican racing fame.
A release from the company tells the tale:
“The engine and chassis plates seemed correct, filled in holes in the bonnet matched up to bonnet straps fitted in period and a lever next to the passenger seat seemed to fit with an internal system for adjusting the rear suspension, which was said to have been fitted to this car.
Underneath the peeling white paint, the hump back rear – grafted on at some point in its life – and the rust, all signs pointed to the fact that this was indeed B20-1010: the very same car that dominated Europe’s rally scene in the summer of 1951.”
Thornley entered into a partnership with the current owner of the Lancia to restore the car back to its condition in 1951 right before it crossed the line to start he Carrera Panamerica with Bracco behind the wheel, keeping it as original as possible.
The car’s engine matched the original car.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
The car moved from Southend to the Thornley Kelham shop in the Cotswolds where it proved quite puzzling. It had a lowered roof, but had been “extensively reprofiled to give it a beetle-like appearance; very hump-backed with bulging sides.” Its rear glass was wrong, the trunk lid and floor were not original, it’s fuel tank wasn’t the right one, and the interior was covered in a think coating of undersea.
It was clear that this car had been Americanized – a late 1950s/early 1960s ‘lead sled’ conversion to be exact. All those parts that looked strange were all from another car and had been skillfully grafted onto the Lancia.
Workers kept as much of the original body as possible. Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
The Thornley Kelham team set to work. They removed the entire rear and crafted a new one used specs gleaned from 3D scanning the original fiberglass molds for the car. The metalwork team salvaged what they could while keeping the car structurally sound, and straightening it.
Then, Lancia experts were called in to sign off on the model. Once the blessing had been received, the car when to paint.
In its heyday, the B20-1010 was originally black. In a move typical for its day, the car was painted red for its 1951 Le Mans race before it was painted black again for its Carrera Panamerica debut. So, the restoration team first painted the car black, then red, then black again.
Signwriting was entrusted to Mark Amis who recreated the car’s Panamerica look using period images and extensive research into matching brand logos and colors.
The badging and paint on the model was recreated to be authentic.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
Research also played a big part into making the interior up to snuff. The team discovered that this particular model was fitted with Lancia Ardea seats in its heyday. Using images from its race at the Carrera Panamericana, Rob O’Rourke re-trimmed the interior to its original specification.
Well over 4,000 hours and three years of work later, the ex-Bracco Aurelia B20GT was complete.
Thornley Kelham has committed to making nine one-offs of the fabled car.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
“The restoration of this ex-Bracco Aurelia B20 GT was a very special moment for our business. Its discovery was a real spine-tingling revelation, and restoring it clearly came with huge responsibility. With the input of a number of high-profile Lancia experts, the generosity of enthusiasts all over the world, the dedication of its owner and the talents of our team in the Cotswolds, we are proud to have preserved an enormously important piece of Lancia history,” said Thornley.
“Decades of modifications and misuse made this perhaps one of the most difficult restorations we’ve ever done, but the Bracco story is infectious, and now it’s available for enthusiasts the world over to enjoy once more.”
The Oulaw version of the car features the famed sloped roofline.Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham
The team did not stop there. They created the Thornley Kelham’s limited-edition Aurelia ‘Outlaw’. The one-of-nine cars each feature a lowered roofline, like the Bracco car, but come with a number of bespoke upgrades, including a bored-out fuel-injected Flaminia engine, modern disc brakes and nitrogen-filled front suspension. Each car is designed – both inside and out – to the exact wishes of its owner.