The story of our competition 1951 Lancia Aurelia B20

We’d like to tell you something about our competition 1951 Lancia Aurelia B20 which we have displayed at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach 2022.

Lancia Aurelia B20
Lancia Aurelia B20
Lancia Aurelia B20

This car has an incredible history that started with owner and F1 Grand Prix driver Felice Bonetto registering for the 1951 Carrera Panamericana. The Carrera Panamericana was a road race originally held between 1950 and 1954 and it was cancelled due to the extreme levels of danger for both drivers and spectators. With an average of six deadly accidents every year and almost thirty fatalities in five years, it became one of the most dangerous and legendary races in motorsport history.

After the Mexican section of the Pan-American Highway was completed in 1950, an eight-stage, six-day road-race across the country was organized by the Mexican government to celebrate this achievement and to attract international business. The 1950 edition of the race ran almost entirely along the new highway, which crossed Mexico from north to south with a total distance of 3,507 kilometres (2179 miles).

The amount of prize money for the winners contributed to a situation where every competitor went flat-out to catch that big reward, or they would die trying. The two winning Ferrari crews won a total of 37.667 USD in 1951! 

The adventures of this special built competition Lancia with chassis number B20-1300 already started during the cross-continental trip from Europe to the Americas, only a few weeks after it was finished in the Turin factory. The car was sponsored by Road & Track magazine in exchange for a road test from Texas all the way to Mexico City. A team from Road & Track were to collect the Aurelia at the airport in Dallas just days before the start of the race and drive it to Mexico to hand it over to Bonetto.

All the hiccups, mishaps and other inconveniences during this trip were described in detail in the January 1952 issue of the magazine and read like an adventure novel with an engine fire on one of the airplanes and the Mexican army being called for help to find an airplane. The Road & Track headquarters managed to convince the Carrera race organization to grant B20-1300 an exception to be half a day late for the registration and technical inspection (FIA event).

When one of the journalists finally made it to the drop-off point in Mexico with only hours to spare, there was more bad luck ahead. From being leaders in the race, the Road & Track sponsored Aurelia ran into terminal bad luck and had to be towed to Oaxaca because of a blown head gasket and water in the cylinders. After the race, Bonetto decided to leave B20-1300 behind in Mexico. In hindsight this might look surprising because Lancia only made five of these specially commissioned competition low-roof race cars, but for Bonetto it was relatively easy to get his hands on the latest machinery as he was a factory team driver. Shipping a broken-down racecar back to Europe was simply not worth the effort.

B20-1300 returned to the fierce racing conditions in the 1952 edition of the Carrera Panamericana with the new Mexican owner Enrique Ortiz Peredo and co-pilot Manuel Armida. The car finished ninth overall behind a Porsche 356 Super, a Ferrari 212 and Phil Hill in 3-litre Ferrari and Luigi Chinetti in a Ferrari 340 Mexico. It even managed to finish ahead of two of the three compressor equipped Lancias from the factory team.

The car then showed up at Circuito Avandaro in Mexico before disappearing under the radar. It would take decades before we at Strada e Corsa learnt about the car’s whereabouts and started a quest to retrieve it from at least 43 years of hibernation.

This story and the effort it took to get the car from a dusty warehouse in Mexico to our workshop in Haarlem, was described in the Sept/Oct 2021 edition of Vintage Motorsport magazine.

Upon arrival in The Netherlands, we decided to preserve the car’s patina as much as possible and to only recover the brown-burgundy body colour with the hand-painted sponsor logos. That way we get to enjoy this fantastic special equipped comp.

Aurelia in an as close to original condition as possible, to show the world this fascinating and tangible piece of motorsport history from the era of fierce road racing battles. We will eventually restore the car to the condition it was in when it started the legendary race, driven by one of the great names in post-war racing.

To take a close look at our Lancia Aurelia B20 competition Low Roof or to have a conversation with us about this car, your car, a restoration project you have in mind or just some good old-fashioned car talk, please feel free to contact us. Please also visit our Fiat 8V parts shop.

Lancia Aurelia B20