Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Luck of the Irish French!

Among Anglo-Saxons, it has been the Irish who are traditionally credited with better than average luck. Within Lancia circles, it will be the French who assume the "Luck" mantle, once this story gets around.

We learned of the story over a barbecue meal and a "red" at Bill Jamieson's, where a small band of Lamdba types had gathered to meet Jean-Pierre and Daniele Callay, who were visiting Melbourne. Jean-Pierre is a member of the Lancia Club of France and whose of us who attended the French Club's rallies in, for example, 1991 or 1996, will well remember the Callay's fantastic genuine "Mille Miglia" Lambda.

Needless to say, much of the serious conversation centered around aspects of the car and Jean-Pierre had come well armed with both modern and contemporary photos and articles featuring the car. The First Mille Miglia in 1927 was also the first competition event in which Lancia entered a team. Not an "official" Lancia factory team, because Vincenzo still harbored fears of alienating his "establishment" market base, if the cards became too closely identified with the mad racing brigade. So, the Lambdas were in fact entered in the Mille by Lancia agents and while the event was won by an OM, with the first Lambda coming forth, Vincenzo Lancia was encouraged to enter larger unofficial teams for the 1928 and 1929 events.

For the 1928 Mille Miglia he had three shortened Lambdas with Casaro bodies and many special mechanical features were prepared by the factory. Similar cars were built for the 1929 event and Jean-Pierre's is one of these, being vettura number 20621- 10639. Mechanical changes for the MM Lambdas included more substantial front brakes - Jean-Pierre producing photos of the bigger shoes and drums - the bonnet was extended 17 cms, etc. We were also shown contemporary photos of Jean-Pierre's car carrying the number 79 with Strazza at the wheel. Later photos showed the car when it was entered in the 1929 Spa-Francorchamps race by the Belgian Lancia agent.

The conversation next drifted to when Jean-Pierre had first become interested in Lancias. He described how he had become interested in old cars during the sixties, owning first a TC MG and a Speed 20 Alvis. During this time he had become aware of the Lambda and on selling a property in 1984 he decided the time had come to acquire one. He then heard that a dealer had one on his books and enquired. The car was for sale in Brittany, some 500 kilometers away and so Jean-Pierre decided to have a look at it. Frankly, Jean-Pierre was not terribly impressed; the car was owned by a man who bought it soon after the war as a "non goer" and it had remained that way ever since. The motor was in pieces and the car was generally very shabby. Jean-Pierre considers the price too much and decided against buying it and later told a friend about the car.

However, over the next few weeks he continued to think about the Lambda and contacted the dealer again. The card had not been sold, but, cautioned the dealer, the owner had previously refused to accept the price he had quoted. Un daunted, Jean-Pierre returned to Brittany, looked at the car again and decided to buy. The owner agreed and the car was taken home.

Jean-Pierre was aware that the car differed from the standard Lambda, but to just what extent, he was not sure. Perhaps it had been modified by an enthusiastic owner? Anyway, armed with the vettura and engine numbers, he went to Torino and visited the Lancia factory to research the history of his Lambda.

Yes, said the young lady given the task of looking up the production details, it was made on such and such a date and was first registered by the Lancia factory and was one of the "MM" cards! A well-known Lancia expert there at the time initially dismissed the idea, but rechecks of all the numbers finally convinced them that it was one of the special Mille cars!

Still dazed with the realization of his good luck, Jean-Pierre returned home and commenced a dedicated and through restoration. This was completed in 1988 and he and his wife Daniele regularly use the car in club events. They competed in the 1988 Mille Miglia and have been accepted for this year's event in May (eg. 1999).

The story makes winning Tattslotto with a ticket found in the gutter look pretty ordinary. Well, to me, anyway.

Paul Vellacott

Saturday, February 11, 2006


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Retromobile 2006

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On the way to heaven!

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Friday, April 02, 1999

Mille Miglia 1999

Thursday, April 02, 1998

...leaving Brittany

Wednesday, April 01, 1998