The Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cars of the 50’s. Produced for only two years, it is particularly rare nowadays but especially sought after by collectors. Derived from the Aurelia B20 GT, the famous coupe driven by ‘Arturo Benedetto Giovanni Giuseppe Pietro Archangelo Alfredo Cartoffoli dé Milano’ in the Tournesol Affair, it takes the dynamic and technical qualities while offering a superb body designed by Pininfarina: a winning concept that would make it a legend.
Since the early 1950s, the Aurelia had existed only as either a sedan, a coupe or a cabriolet, establishing Lancia’s reputation for refinement and sportiness. The management of the Piedmontese manufacturer was however looking to the American market that the English had already started to overrun with their inexpensive little roadsters. With this in mind a « Spider » version was decided, mainly for the US market.
To Seduce the Americans
To seduce the clientele from across the Atlantic, Pininfarina would endow the Aurelia B24 Spider with a typical American feature: a panoramic windshield that had already made the success of the Chevrolet Corvette (C1), introduced in 1953. The V6 of the Aurelia GT was slightly reworked to fit under the lower bonnet of the new Spider. With its 2.4 litres of displacement, it developed 108 hp for the US version, nicknamed “America », and 118 hp for the European version. The American version, in left-hand drive, called the Spider B24S (S for ‘sinistra’ which means left in Italian), while the European version, the B24, came in only right-hand drive: in the 50s, many luxury cars and sports cars in Europe preserved the pre-war right hand drive configuration.
The car’s style was an immediate big hit: the balance of the lines was perfect, with enough curves to suggest power, and the grille beautifully framed by bumpers very stylishly split in two parts. It turned out to be a real spider with minimalist equipment, even spartan. This did not prevent Lancia from positioning it very upscale, with an elitist price tag.
A real spider
If the Aurelia B24 Spider’s lines were seductive in addition to its sporty behaviour, it remained inaccessible for many American drivers who preferred less expensive options like either the Corvette or any of the English roadsters. That explains its weak sales: only 240 units were manufactured between 1954 and the end of 1955, of which 181 B24S « America » and 59 B24, right hand drives.
The production of 240 cars does not mean that 240 cars made it on to the road. The last 30 copies of the B24S America made in the Lancia workshops were put in the holds of the steamer the Andrea Doria to cross the Atlantic. On July 25, 1956, as the Italian ship approached the US east coast, a thick fog greatly limited visibility. The Andrea Doria collided with a Swedish steamer, the Stockholm, instantly killing 51 people. Quickly, the decision to abandon the liner was taken, limiting the loss of life. However, the Italian ship would eventually sink, taking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean the 30 Spider B24S in its holds as well as the concept car, Chrysler Norseman, heading towards the American car shows.
A rarity today
Despite this loss, many of the Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider have stayed the test of time: it is estimated that there are still 150 examples in circulation. From 1956, the Aurelia B24 Cabriolet replaced the Spider. More comfortable, more practical and better equipped, it also sold for a cheaper price. But it lost the purity of the Spider’s lines with full bumpers on the first hand, and its traditional windshield on the other. Produced between 1956 and 1958 in 541 units in total, it is much less sought after today than the Spider.
An Aurelia B24 (right hand drive) is estimated today at more than 500,000 euros while a B24S (left hand drive) can reach beyond one million euros. Suffice it to say that it is not within the means of everyone. Just like at the time when it was new, it is reserved for the financial elite. One good Lottery ticket however and you could enter into the small circle of B24 Spider owners.