The car is from another place and takes you there. With its independent attitude, it presents a clear notion of how things ought to be done, and a determintation to do them well. It was doing its own thing, in its own way. The car ran all the way home, without missing a beat, nary a rattle. Not one. Magic.

Once home, it was time to look it over more thoroughly. A visit to the carwash and several layers of dirt later, the Appia was still as it had seemed. This little sedan had 48,000 miles on it, original paint, no dings, and no rust. But that doesn't tell the full story of this charming piece of history. The car itself seemed seven years old. Doors open and shut just like new. The seams are perfectly straight. The interior is flawless, with the mohair showing some dirt by the driver's door and no other wear. The instruments work fine, except for one of the indicator lights is a bit dull. The turn signal sticks a bit now and then. The rubber mats show no wear, and there are even second rubber mats on top to protect them. There were four pin holes through the back seat where the safety pins held the quilt over the seat top. That's all. The interior light works like 1959.

The engine bay has a bit of flaking paint, but is all original. The ignition wires still have the Lancia number tags on them. There is a bit of metal showing on one valve cover, and yes, it does need a head gasket. The coil and condensers look original, but you almost hope they aren't. But a new rotor, cap and points were put on in the past five years, so all is well there. The trunk has the original whitewall spare on the unused rim. The tools are all there with their proper Lancia numbers . The rubber mat for the trunk looks about a week old, and yes, the battery compartment still has its little door and latch, just as it did. .

The paint does shows age - it is a bit dim and badly oxidized but with some buffing, most of it may come back. There are some small pinhole rust where the paint has been punctured by stone chips in the front. the paint has given up at the seams, where the metal has shown thorough, but there is no rust of the metal itself. A  buffing wheel and some clear coat should fix most of this.

Yes, the car is not perfect. The exhaust hangars need to be replaced, the pinion seal is leaking, and there is a little pitting in the chrome. The aluminum shows corrosion, and the little metal fittings going into the jackpoints need to have their rubber o-rings replaced. The starter needs bushings, and yes, the driver's seat is a bit bouncy. Just like a used car.

There were some other fun bits with the car: the original Blaupunkt radio came with the owner's manuals and warranties. The paper work on the car is impeccable: it came with the Owner's manual, a Parts book (with those wonderful drawings !), The original bill of sale from Hoffman is only part of the story - there are the three cars before that also included, with the trade-ins given for the Triumph, and Fiats. but most wonderfully, there is the Lancia invoice to Hoffman, a neat piece of printing in the old world way with handwritten details of whitewall tires, radio, and the colors of the cars. its a bit revealing of the care that went into the car.

There is also a booklet with a strange collection of Lancia technical drawings for Aurelias, Flaminias and Appias, probably for dealers. Along with the car came a pile of car  literature for most of the 1950's: Alfas, Lancias, Fiats, DKW, Borgward, Saabs, Morgans, Bentleys, Porches, Mercedes, Jaguar, etc. There is still a lot to sort through, and I wonder what Furman Stout was thinking at the time.

It is rather special being in a car like this, one almost forty (now fifty) years old, that goes over rough city streets without a rattle. The car scoots in city traffic just fine, keeps up with the current pace of traffic. How much has really changed? While it runs out of steam at 70-75, you find that doesn't really matter as the car meets today's needs as well as it did so many years ago.

There is nobility in this. This jewel-like small sedan was for people of moderate means, yet who still valued the Lancia ideals. Not equipped with the full sophistication of its bigger sisters, the Appia has no less quality. In many ways its simplicity works better and the car is stronger for it. People talk of Appia build quality in the same breath as Bentleys. Of course it is for a different social group, and this quality without elitism is a good thing. The Appia represents quality above fashion, of substance above trendiness, and understatement and modesty. Seemingly an older car, it actually is closely related to rethinking now underway for an urban car. The car may be old, and some of its solutions dated, but its ideas still run strong.

We found pictures of the Appia when new, parked in front of its garage in 1959. This garage is the same one where we found the car just this year, and these pictures have a chilling air to them. They remind one of Furman Stout sheltering this car for 37 years. There is irony seeing a little car amid midwestern bungalows, carrying forth with its message.

At night, I sneak downstairs and polish another bit of chrome or aluminum. Our family is now the custodian of this bit of history, and we must guard it well. Some days our child sits in the back as we go for a drive, with smiles. The journey of an underdog is never complete but there will always be a home for the "the little one that could."

Postscript (2004):

The Appia is pretty much as it was in 1996. It goes on excursions, and gets modest use around town. Its unchanged, and still happy. 

Work done to the car includes a redo of the brake master cylinder and front cylinders (too much sitting around…) and some exhaust pipes, but nothing too serious. The car does well on the road, without problems. It can do upwards of 75-80 mph, The engine hums away, and knows of no problems.

Adjusting the front suspension took out some excessive pogo-ing, and the car rides quite smoothly. What we can teach good engineers of fifty years ago? They really knew their stuff.

The car continues to impress both for its originality and undisturbed nature. It speaks to how Lancia designed and built a simple yet sophisticated car for people of reasonable means. Simplicity can be a virtue, as it reminds us of how rich and fertile minds, directed  and focused, can produce amazing things.

Postscript (2009):

More of the same. This year, the front brakes are being redone. The wheels got repainted, and the car got waxed and polished as if it were going to the ball. Very pretty, once again. Yes, the timing was set, the points adjusted. Nothing major needed. A couple of years ago, the master cylinder was done as well. Some small grommets and springs were fixed, as the car gets the tender loving care it should have.

An original, untouched car

The Appia was built by Lancia at the same time they built the Aurelia, and later the Flaminia. It was in production from 1953 to 1963 (approx). The Appia was known for its strength, and ability to go on working forever. For us today, it is significant as a small car (1100cc), great mileage - around 30-35 mpg, and its capturing of the Lancia heritage in a simpler, more modest car without compromise. The Appia is about unbridled quality yet without complexity. Its as if an Aurelia came down to earth - this is what it would be. The Appia lacks little in sophistication or build quality, with simplicity and endurance as its main virtues.

Our family Appia was acquired in 1996, and this is its story:

The Family Car

Something had to be done. The family needed a car with room for three. Our family had grown, as we had a new child, but sometimes things change differently than expected.

As a youngster, I grew up around Lancias. My parents both had them. Friday nights were in the garage, listening to the sound of triple webers on a Zagato. Weekends were in machine shops, welding places, and the special parts of the city that spoke of cars, metals, and making. Those memories are hard to recover, and even harder to let go. Even now thirty years later, they seem like yesterday.

Both family Lancias were lost to rust. I ran through the whole range of Lancias in the years after: a rusty but wonderful old Flaminia sedan came in many shades of primer grey, and ran like a top, except when it snowed. Then it would fail to stop, leaving one with either waiting until it got colder or warmer. This was an Italian car's way of stating it was time for dinner. So Alfas became the vehicle of choice. Lancias were out of my life, but not forever.

Now armed with the excuse of a family, I started out for the holy grail of Lancias, a car to fit all needs: doesn't everyone need a family car? One evening, a chance look at the Lancia newsletter of the US club had some mention of an Appia sedan. The ad was brief, something about a series two sedan with low mileage.  But the car was in Indianapolis, near Chicago, and of course, out of midwestern courtesy, I thought I would touch base with other Lanciste in the area. I had no real interest in the car, but wanted to say hello.

I talked with Ben Richardson, who had placed the add on behalf of the cars owner. The car had belonged to Mr. Furman Stout, who had been driving a B20 around Indianapolis as far back as 1954. Ben got a Lancia then too, , and both of them joined the club. They both owned Aurelias and represented Lancia in the heartland, living near the Speedway.

So what was the Appia? Well, What a surprise: it turns out Mr. Stout had bought the Appia in 1959, had recently passed away and his daughter was now selling the car. The car was amazingly a one owner car. Truly. Not one of those "I'm the third or fourth owner, but one guy had it most of the time", but a real time piece. I had heard of such stories, and even seen ads for "one owner cars", but never had seen one.

Negotiations were gently done over the phone. My wife (with great understanding) pushed me over the edge - saying " don't wait, nothing like this comes along twice It is a very special thing. Just go ahead, do it". Armed with the knowledge that we would stay happily married even with the Appia, negotiations were undertaken. A price was agreed to, pending inspection, and a week later my family and I drove down. Driving through Indianapolis, going from one neighborhood to another, things looked worse and worse. The nerves got taut.

Finally we arrived and in the garage in the back, under old cloths, there it was. Sort of plain, dirty, with a sense of dignity nonetheless, the Appia held its own. It projected an aura, as if to say, "yes, I'm here, its about time you arrived". It knew that it held the upper hand.  

After a bit of fiddling, a new battery, checking fluids, and nudging a starter, the car fired right up. It ran. it braked. Air in the tires, injections of carb cleaner, and it ran rather smoothly. Just like the old days. I felt about 19 years old. Of course, we had to drive it home. After friendly discussions, our four month old son handed over the check, and bought his first car. So we packed up and started driving this 37 year old car 70 mph on the interstate, back to Chicago. It seemed crazy, but once you had seen the car, it made all the sense in the world. It projected the Lancia aura without any concerns. It was a world of its own.

Photos from 1959, in front of the garage in Indianapolis exactly where we bought the car in 1996.

The original title from Lancia to their US distributor, Max Hoffman, a mix of a printed form, stamped information and handwritten details. Just like the cars.

As the car is now, with faded paint, but pillarless door seams are still dead straight, now 50 years old.

The engine is a tiny 1100 cc Lancia V-4, smaller than the air cleaner. See the staggered spark plugs?