B20 s. 2 on the road



Lancia made over 3,000 B20 coupes, starting in 1951 and finishing by 1958. Contrasted with the roadsters or the sedans, the coupes offer sporty rides and Lancia refinement. They were Lancias’ only real production car used in competition prior to the Fulvia. They are also quite gorgeous.

Among Aurelia fans, there have been many heated discussions on which coupe is the best – for Lancia made several variations in their 7 year production run. The obvious changes were to the motor (increased from 2 to 2.5 liters), the rear suspension, and the level of detail refinement. Most Americans have a preference for the 4th series, as this was the first one available in LHD, and also the first to be imported here in any numbers. The most commonly experienced B20 in the marketplace is probably the 6th series. They represent Lancia refinement at its apogee, akin to the Flaminia in production at that time – as substantial as bank vaults on wheels.

The early cars are rarely experienced, particularly the first and second series 2 liter B20’s. These were the versions used by the factory in the early competition successes, only to be replaced at the tail end of their success with the 2.5 liter 3rd series, with more powerto meet the Alfa and Fiat 8Vu that had come on strong after Lancia’s early successes in 1951-52.

But the real mark of Lancia’s competition success with Aurelias came with the early B20’s – with their smaller motor, IRS, and yes, lighter weight. For in competition, weight can be more important than power and the early B20’s are the lightest.

There is very little current information on driving an early B20 – the cars are mostly tucked away in Europe and rarely experienced by the English speaking press. So after a three year restoration effort, it seemed time to report the experiences of a particular 1952 s. 2 B20, sn. 1739, finally on the road.

This particular car was brought over from Italy sometime in the late 1950’s, and in fact was registered in Chicago in 1962. On a run to NYC in 1963, it blew up its motor and was left  for repair. By 1976, it had not been fixed, and was purchased briefly by me, and then bought and stored by an old Lancia friend in Pittsburgh for a later restoration. It came back to me some three years ago, still unrestored, but far more complete with the parts to do the work. Having finished the car now, here are some impressions.

General Qualities

Overall, the car is a rather delightful piece of early 1950’s history. Now just fresh off the restoration – it will need some time to get all the bits finished, the loose rattle here, the slight adjustment there. A handmade car needs miles to “bed in” and to get that “all of one” feeling – it doesn’t come instantly. It seems to take the first year of running such a car to sort it all out, and so this report is a bit early. The car has about 600 running miles from its re-birth. Still, out of the box (as this one is) it still gives a pretty clear set of impressions.

The car had not run since 1963, the restoration rebuilt everything on the car. Every screw, knob, fitting, pipe, bearing, etc. Nothing left untouched. All the systems, all major aspects of the car are now working quite nicely.

The motor works well – starts up cleanly, idles well, and revs freely. Each trip, each set of miles, it just gets better and better as the rings seat in a bit more. After a few miles, the gear box has opened up a bit, and now second gear is responding nicely. When warm, its like butter. When cold second gear is stubborn, but third and fourth are fine. The early gearboxes up through the 4th series have a tighter range of motion, and more mechanical feel.


The car is painted in a light tan color, and has a light tan mohair interior. The combination gives a feeling of airiness overall that to the car that feels more spacious. There are still some minor issues with some of the trim, but all in all, the bones are good and the car is a beauty.

The seating on the right (RHD) was initially a challenge, but one gets used to it. Some outside mirrors will help – there is a bit less visibility out of the back than in the alter cars. The natural lessening of the seat cushion close to the door (it gets thinner and smaller just where you need the support, at the back outside of the cushion) can be addressed with a wood spacer under the driver's seat cushion (on the outer side, but hidden underneath).

The earlier cars have subtly different bodies– the s. 1 and s. 2 have little tail fins, more pronounced on the s. 2. The rear end of the later cars is more elegant and refined, best in the s. 3 and 4, but the fins on the s. 2 are something special too. There is a line, starting at the “teardrop glass” headlights, the top of the fender, bottom of the window, all the way to the rear, ending in the fin…. The interior part of the car is different, starts from the grill in the front to the trunk in the rear. The car is about how those two messages work with each other and this expression, perhaps less classical than the later cars has an enthusiasm to it, a bit more lighthearted. Of course, these things are personal.

The detailing in the early cars has a bit more charm in the bits – again, the headlights carry the line of the car a bit more thoroughly, the taillights are flush with the rear fender. Trunk access is from inside the car, not with the turning banana light. The trunk seems smaller than the late cars- after the spare tire and a toolkit, there isn’t really room for a suitcase. Thank goodness for behind the seats.

The doors don’t have that magic latch snick of the later cars – they are more crudely secured with a big catch and clunk sounding more like an early Pininfarina Ferrari than a Lancia. Pleasant and different.


The early car has a more open feel. Part of this is the dashboard (used up to the s. 4 instrument change), located forward (by an 1 1/2")  than in the later cars, and give more room. But the real difference is in view out - I’m not quite sure why this is, but there are different mounting details for the windshield – held in place between alum trim, not with the later rubber gaskets. The mouldings are thinner and give a greater openness of view. It has a sense of view and panorama, and as someone with a tall frame, it is nice to see the sky from inside. Light paint (not my wife’s favorite) also helps keep the car airy. The view from inside is like the image in the early B20 brochures, a panorama view and is seductive.

Impression of speed

The car is not faster than the later ones but moves well enough. The old American expression of “no substitute for cubic inches” is probably true. Overall speed seems to be about 10 mph off from a strong s. 4 car, as the earlier car is geared differently. You don’t seem to notice, but cruising is around 70-75, not so much 80. Third gear seems to top out around 65, not the 75 of the later car, and you use 4th gear more readily. The good thing is that the gearing matches the car – so while you lose a bit of speed, it still all feels just right.

For the US Aurelia fan, the 4th series is most popular with LHD with the de Dion for its usability and comfort on long roads. In that, one can drift around corners all day long, steady, secure and with great confidence. In contrast, the cars with the IRS are a different animal. The smaller engine and the lively rear end make a different feeling car.


The 2 liter motor is a bit different from the 2.5 liter motor used in later B20’s. The engine has a lust for revs  - its presence is "backstage", smaller and less intrusive – with total smoothness over 3000 rpm. It has an ability to pull from down low (1000-1500 rpm) and spin up to 4000 freely and lightly. Above 3000 rpm, there is no vibration whatsoever - you could wonder if there is a motor in the car at all. There is a bit of low end driveshaft rumble around 1500-2200, and the motor could be a bit smoother from 2000-3000. That may have to do with fuel pressure – its running 5 psi now, and it should be around 3. The carbs have no accel pumps, and may be quite sensitive to fuel pressure. There is a tiny bit of play in the carb linkage – and with the two one barrel carbs, tightening that up may help – although its pretty smooth now.

This motor isn’t all high end. It has a most delightful slow character. It starts up from cold very nicely, and idles very calmly. You can drive it low down like a sedan. Its a docile motor, easy to run. The car will start from stop in second gear, and the motor is happy both high and low in the rev range.

This car came with some homemade header pipes. They look like the later 3:1 exhaust manifolds from the 2.5 liter motor, but they are welded up, not cast. Perhaps these influence its willingness to rev. Exhaust restriction in the standard Lancias was carefully considered, and it makes a lot of difference. Our Appia sedan had a stock exhaust, and when finally replaced with a newer one with a slightly larger diameter, the motor now revs more freely and pulls another 5 mph overall. Exhaust size (here about 1/4” in the pipe diameter) makes a difference in these torquey engines.

Trans and Gearing

The differential ratio in the s. 2 is 9/40 and compared to the later B20’s, is shorter:

                Ring and pinion            ratio            final drive ratio

s. 1, 2                 9/40                 4.44                3.82

s.3                    9/38                4.22                   3.62

s.4                    11/47                4.27                    3.67

The 3rd and 4th series are about 4-5% taller than the 1st and 2nd series – and you don’t really notice the lesser power in the smaller engined cars . The gear ratios are (as in all Lancias) really well spaced. The lovely third gear is a better gear in the later cars (read Nigel Trow on this), but in the earlier car, it doesn't stretch quite so far, getting to around 65. Shifting into fourth is fine too - the gap between third and fourth seems less than in the later cars. While the overall speed seems down (maybe about 10%), the car feels very well balanced and the ratios good. The factory were always wizards on gearing – and in the s.2 one uses 4th a lot more. But because of the ability of the engine to pull both high and low, it is Ducati-like,where you get to a situation, and then choose which gear you want. You have choices.

The rest of the trans is like the other Aurelias up through the s.4 – very good when warmed up, a bit slow when cold. Very tactile and reassuring. No sense you are 6’ away from the transaxle – you feel like you are right on top of it. The early transmissions have a wonderful short throw to them, very mechanical feel.

The car is fitted with a Nardi gear shift, and after reinforcing the floor, the shift is very solid. Test reports at the time complained about gearbox whine. While there is some noise from the differential, I find it rather reassuring, not intrusive. First gear is fairly loud tho, and not to be used for general driving around.

Steering and Suspension

One of the pleasures of a full rebuild is that one gets to experience the car as it was originally, without excuses. The steering in the car is incredibly direct – with no slop in the linkage or the steering box. Rebuilding the steering box is recommended. The car has very little self centering, if any at all, and goes wherever pointed with a real minimum of roll.

The brakes are still bedding in. The shoes were cut to the drums, so they should be just fine. They have good stopping power, no problem there. Curiously, the s.2 rear drums are different from some of the other Aurelias – its not clear how many different drum sets there were, but more than one would imagine.

The suspension also is working in. There is a slight clunk on bad bumps, probably from the heavy headlight glasses against the headlight rims. In the rear, the car is fitted with the factory lever shocks, and they too are working their way in.

Can you kick out the rear? I can’t yet give a full report of its manners, but certainly this can happen. It has “come out “ a few times for me, mostly provoked. And you can provoke it – it doesn’t like if you let off the throttle in a corner. This is similar to the de Dion cars, but the earlier suspension is most unhappy with “letting off the throttle”.. It doesn’t “stick” like the de Dion cars, that’s to be sure. But if you keep your foot in it, its more lively, more controllable, and more direct. I don’t know the upper limits of its adhesion.

In the IRS car, the driver is more of the equation. The relationship is more tactile – it is more lively and you are more in control. That’s probably why the racing drivers preferred it – it responds more quickly to serious skill levels, and doesn’t quite tolerate inadequacy like the de Dion does.

It is something more direct and you need to pay some attention. You can control it, it can control you – the responsiveness is pretty interesting – I don’t have enough miles on it to really say when and how one uses it, but unlike the later cars, you can’t forget about the rear end. Its part of the picture.

I have had wonderful times in the later de Dion Aurelias where on the right roads with long turns you can hang it out there, drift around, keeping it on the edge for quite some time. If you find the right corner, you can keep it drifting all day on throttle. But for quick cut and thrust, the de Dion is slower, more cautious, maybe a bit laden down.Along with a good feeling of “plantedness”, there is also sluggishness. Some of that must be due to the weight of the later cars, but perhaps it is also attributable to the suspension workings.


In the IRS car, that feeling of “plantedness” is less, much less, but the feeling is replaced with liveliness and a sense of participation. Sometimes you notice this by the ease of transitions and the smoothness of its glide from one direction to another. One can’t be sure if it’s the weight or the suspension for this. But if you get going too fast, or come into a corner with trailing throttle, you have to pay attention. To get it right, you have to be on your game if you are going to press at high speeds, or for that sake, even medium speed on tight roads.

As has been noted before, the later de Dion cars are fine up to 8 or 9/10ths, without an issue. After that, well, they have a rather distinct moment, unless you have that gentle drifting corner. In contrast, the earlier cars are less forgiving, to be sure, but they are more agile as well. Kind of youthful, with indiscretions, perhaps, but also a sense of spirit. Puts a smile on your face- “oh you’re that kind, are you?”. I wouldn’t recommend trailing throttle, or letting off the throttle on any serious curve with high speed. That isn’t for any Aurelia, as it just rises up on these skinny tires, and while you think about rubber contact area, its certainly straining. On the s. 2, that is even more so, and one has to keep the foot in it.


The biggest pleasure in driving the car is just the lightness of the whole thing. You think abou a turn, a corner, a shift of direction, and it just flows there. That magic Aurelia "directability" is there, but even more so. It flows into corners, without the sense of roll of the later cars. For us middle-aged sorts, its like being 15 years younger, and I'll take that any day. So one looks for corners, places with curves, places just to experience the dynamics of the car yet again. Its intoxicating and delightful. It feels like a Guilietta with a larger motor. Silky. You feel like a high school kid, looking for turns, off ramps, and any way to find corners. They aren't so easy to find in Chicago, and needs the countryside. One can only imagine how it would feel in hilly Europe, much less Italy!

The Aurelia 2.5 liter and the Flaminia motors have a strong bulge of torque in the mid range, but still seem to always have that "held back" feeling. Whether that is the motor, the suspension change, or the weight is not clear - but there is no way to shed the weight of the later cars. Yes, firm up the front suspension(which helps a lot), and the car "fits" its chassis better, but it still has its slightly slower response than one might like, in the twisties. On a nice country road, the later cars flow nicely, but on tighter roads, there is a conversation when you shift direction. More knowledgeable people would call it a "lag" or something more precise. 

In the B20 2 liter, that "conversation" has disappeared. You turn, it goes. There is no hesitation, no roll, no setup. Rather you go together and at the same time. Much more direct, more fluid. The directness of competition cars is similar. It seems that the early B20 has those genes as well. I don't know how much, as the car hasn't been pushed at all. If one compares the later Aurelias to the Flaminia, one can use the same measure to compare the earlier Aurelia to the later one.

The trade off is that the earlier cars are more handbuilt than the later cars, with a bit less refinement of the rest of the car - everything else is different from the later cars, having more charm and less usability. The instrumentation is less informative (no water temp), the wipers work even more tenderly, its all a bit older and cruder. You wouldn't think another two years of development for the s. 4 would make such a difference. But the s. 4 is Flaminia-like in its build quality and in refinement. The s. 2 is more like a late 1940's car - its all there, and works, but think early Ducati, not later. Everthing is a bit more touchy than in the later cars.

As to true weight, one is best off using current scales and not relying on factory data. A running s. 2 has been weighed in England at 2420 lbs (wet, 1/2 tank of fuel), and a comparable s. 4 B20 weighed in at 2720 lbs. Just for interest, a B24 s.6 convertible was 2780 lbs. These are real, modern weights, not factory ones. So the earlier B20 is some 300 lbs lighter than the s.4, or about 12% overall. A series 6 B20 would weigh even more, reasonably as much as another 200 lbs more than the s. 4, or 20% more than an s. 2.

Other finds

After a day trip on back roads, I’ve gotten to know the car a bit more. One of its interesting features is the lack of any fumes in the car. This was never quite the case in a s. 4 with a Nardi kit. In that car, gas fumes came from the engine bay and exhaust from the rear. With a lot of fettling and fiddling, this was be minimized. On the other hand, the stock s.2 B20 is delightfully free of any odors. There is no exhaust back feed and with its stock air filter, no fuel smell either. Wonderful. Its not clear why this is.

The ventilation ports in the early car are different – more like other Pininfarina cars of that time. There are cable operated ventilation doors alongside the radiator which duct in  good cool air - a nice feature.


Surely the early car has less torque, less power, and shorter gearing – and for the long highway cruise, later Aurelias are superior. The later cars are more comfortable, less nervous, and steadier.

But the early s.2 has earned its place in my garage. It gives the feeling of driving a special car, one with an even stronger personality than other Aurelias. It is a piece of history and teaches me something every time it goes out.

For the shorter trip of a day or so, it provides great combinations of feedback and sensation, of view and vista. There is a delight driving it that I haven’t felt in a long time. You don’t have the feeling that it has to be driven a lot, for it is more like a thoroughbred, special when you use it.. Yes, it would be even more fun in a land of hills and curvy roads. The feeling is hard to put a finger on, to be sure. It is no surprise these early cars remain tucked away.   

Note from John Baker (another s.2 owner)

April 25, 2008

Hullo Geoff,

Nigel kindly forwarded your recent road test of your B20 second series. Beautifully written with much enthusiasm and feeling--most enjoyable and far superior to most modern motor magazine articles. Not one mention of terminal oversteer through a suburban roundabout! Your car looks superb and no doubt will go as well. I agree with your comments about the vision and the interior, both very good. I have improved my seating by the little trick of solid block foam rubber beneath the seat squab, so you are in effect sitting directly supported by the floor pan. I did not want to put bucket seats into the car. The engine is good and will rev and rev. I would love to try a Factory 110bhp engine and may attempt to make one, some day.  My car  will cruise all day between 3/4000 RPM  and it is very easy to allow the revs to go on and on. I have seen an easy 5000 rpm on the clock  and had to back off as the engine showed no signs of running out of steam. However I rarely go so far for all the known reasons. Following moderns, you know the sort, 250bhp, 80mph on the straight but brake to 40 or less for the first corner on their 245 section lavatory rolls is a pain because it is difficult to overtake. Early mornings in the cool air with little traffic is best, then one can appreciate Lancia cars; comfortable, excellent steering, very good brakes and an ability to cruise 65-75mph on back roads just the sort the car knew originally. A delight! It loves corners- I agree.

A run a couple of years ago against a friends' tweaked 1960 Giulietta left him perspiring and me observing. I use 30W in front suspension. On the rear I have fitted  telescopic Konis although I have the original dampers put away. Very good rear end results.

Gear box is slow until warm then rifle bolt, although second gear one can feel. Best, is to change by the feel in your hand and treat the box with consideration. I am sure you know what I mean. The ratios are a little low except on winding country roads when 3rd and 4th are just right. Built for mountain roads. My local hill is steep and narrow and on the few times I can get to the top without being baulked by a modern, the Aurelia is in its element.

My car weighs  spot on 1100 kgs, 2420 lbs with five galls fuel, no bodies. I am very pleased you have finished the car and I am confident it will provide you with much pleasure. I  sometimes sit in mine in the garage - it changes my mood! I would love a third series, but would not part with the second! Many congratulations. If I can be of help, just ask.

Very Best Wishes,

John Baker

Postscript from John:

The point at which the rear lets you know you have overdone it is when it starts to hop!  I agree, never take your foot off the throttle on a tight bend taken with enthusiasm.

The car beats moderns in roundabouts, but this can be embarrassing because one finds oneself on the outside lane with insufficient power to carry the act through and the modern then overtakes you on the inside usually accompanied by a puzzled look. A little later when the Aurelia revs have built up the process is repeated in the next roundabout! Silly but fun.