The Lancia D23 Race car

This past week I saw a story about a relatively new car museum in the Netherlands, the Louwman Museum.  I looked up some further information on that museum and I discovered that they have what is proported to be the only Lancia D23 still in existence.  Previously, on Auguest 22, 2011, I had posted some information about the Lancia D24 and D25 models, but I had not mentioned the Lancia D23 model.

The origin of the Lancia D23 goes back to the Lancia B20 GT Aurelia.  This was a very successful car.

Bracco Finishing 2nd In a Lancia B20 GT Aurelia at the 1951 Mille Miglia

Bracco then took his Aurelia to the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana.  While I have noted that Bracco finished second in the 1951 Mille Miglia in a Lancia, he went on to win the 1952 Mille Miglia while driving a Ferrari.

Bracco Took His Lancia Aurelia B20 GT to the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana

In addition to the car that Bracco had in the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana, Felice Bonetto was entered in a sister car to the Bracco entry that year.  From the Lancia B20 GT Aurelia, Lancia developed the Lancia D20.

Biondetti at the 1953 Mille Migia in a Lancia D20

Note that the Lancia D20 was a coupe design, while subsequent Lancia racing sports cars were open cars.

Piero Taruffi in a Lancia D20 At The 1953 Targa Florio

At the 1953 Targa Florio Lancia started four Lancia D20 cars.  A Lancia D20 driven by Umberto Maglioli won the race and another Lancia D20 driven by Gino Valenzano finished 4th.  The other two Lancia D20 cars driven by Bracco and Taruffi were classified as DNF due to accidents.

After a very bad showing at Le Mans,  where all of the Lancia D20 cars DNFed and the cars were slower than the Gordinis and Jaguars on the straightaways, Lancia decided to make substantial changes to the D20.  The supercharger was removed from the engine and the engine capacity was increased to 3.0 litres and open top bodywork was used.  These modified Lancia D20 cars were re-named the Lancia D23.

The Only Remaining Lancia D23 on Display in the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands

If you look carefully at the above image you can see a black & white photo of a Lancia D23 on the wall with car # 50.  That is a picture of Giovanni Bracco’s Lancia at the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana.

This Car Has The Same Paint Scheme as the 1953 Monza Car #4

The Lancia D23 debuted at the Monza Grand Prix in 1953.  There were two cars entered – Car #2 driven by Froilan Gonzalez DNF’d due to clutch failure while Car #4 driven by Felice Bonetto finished second behind Luigi Villoresi in a Ferrari 250MM.

The Two Lancia D23 Cars Entered in The 1953 Monza Race

The photo below shows the start of the 1953 Monza race with Bonetto getting off to a good start.

Start of the 1953 Monza Race With Bonetto’s Lancia D23 in the Middle and Eventual Winner Villoresi’s #12 Ferrari 250MM to His Right.  If You Look Carefully You Can See Gonzalvez’s Car At The Back Of The Grid

Froilan Gonzalvez’s D23 Before DNFing Due to a Clutch

Felice Benetto On His Way To 2nd Place at Monza

Lancia entered two Lancia D24s and one Lancia D23 in the 1953 race at Nurburgring. Fangio/Bonetto shared D24 #4 and Manzon/Taruffi drove the other Lancia D24, while Bracco/Castellotti competed in the lone Lancia D23.  This was a poor race for Lancia as all of these cars DNFed due to mechanical woes.

Car #7 Is The Lancia D23 while #5 (Fangio) & #6 (Manzon) Are Lancia D24s At Nurburgring

In November 1953 Lancia entered a five-car team in the La Carrera Panamericana.  Juan Manuel Fangio, Piero Taruffi, and Felice Bonetto were provided with Lancia D24 cars.  Eugenio Castellotti and Giovanni Bracco were supplied with Lancia D23 models.

Looks Like A Red Painted Lancia D23 Before Being Stickered Up For La Carrera Panamericana

About 250 miles into the fourth leg of the race, Bonetto was entering Silao.  While taking a curve at a high rate of speed, his Lancia D24 slid off the road a hit a light post very hard killing Bonetto.

Castellotti Finished Third in the 1953 La Carrera Panamerica in a Lancia D23

At the end of the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana, Lancia finished 1-2-3 with Fangio in first place, Taruffi about 8 minutes behind in second, both in Lancia D24s.  Castelotti in the lone finishing Lancia D23 finished in third position.  The other Lancia D23 of Bracco was classified as DNF due to the failure of a wheel.  However the death of Bonetto certainly ruined any victory celebraton.

Giovanni Bracco’s Lancia D23 After Suffering From a Damaged Wheel At the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana

I am not sure how many Lancia D23 cars ever existed, but I would say that they were decent race cars, with great lines, and they were an important stepping stone for the more successful D24 and D25 models.

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20 Responses to The Lancia D23 Race car

  1. Pingback: foto of the day. Aurelia B20. « IEDEI

  2. areopagitica says:

    Your accounts of the D23 Lancias fill a void in the internet history. Please allow me to quote your results as I do a summary for my own blog, Looking Back Racing.

  3. areopagitica says:

    In other accounts it was said that the Bonetto tragedy in the Carrera was a result of his flying over a crest and striking a low hanging balcony which considering the nature of the car would have inflicted head trauma, to put it delicately. Of course I was not there to have verified this rumor.

    • I too was not there, but as a result of your comment, I looked into Bonetto’s accident in more detail. The account that I used as a basis for my post was included in book “The Carrera Panamericana ‘Mexico'” edited by R.M. Clarke, but it includes various articles that were published at that time. The account of Bonetto’s accident that I used was printed in “Autocar” in December 4, 1953. To quote the account in its entirity:
      “Bonetto, who had driven a beautiful race, had covered about 250 miles of the fourth leg of the race when he entered the ancient city og Silao. While taking a bend at high speed his Lancia skidded and struck a lamp post with shattering force. Brave, vivacious Bonetto was killed and with his life went any joy the gallant Italians might have found in Mexico.”

      Another much briefer account in the same book was based on an article in “Motor” on December 2, 1953:
      “Maglioli made fastest time on Stage 4, Fangio next, and it was during the continued duel with Taruffi, not a length away, that Bonetto ran wide on a corner, crashed and was killed.”

      This story is reasonably close to the earlier story.

      As these accounts were written at the time of the event, I thought them to be correct. However your comment has caused me to look at another reference that I have acquired “Carrera Panamericana – History of the Mexican Road Race, 1950-54” which was written by Daryl E. Murphy. On Page 69 of that book the following account of Bonetto’s accident is included:
      “Tragedy struck Lancia on leg four into iLeon when Benetto (sic), leading the race, was momentarily distracted when he saw teammate Taruffi off the highway near Sialo (sic). When he looked back at the road, he saw an unavoidable dip, and hit it at 150 mph. The car was thrown against a house and a protruding flower box caught the head of the 50-year-old driver, who died instantly.”

      This account is closer to the description of the accident that you noted. At this time, I do not know what is correct, therefore I am reluctant for you to quote me, as I cannot be sure that the information that I used in my original post is correct. Possibily everything is correct – that Bonetto slid of the road on the corner because of the dip in the road, the car slid, hit a light pole, and continued to slide and ended up against the side of a house that had a protruding flower box. Maybe the stories were just incomplete.

      Sorry that I can not provide further clarification.

      Steve McKelvie

  4. Ralph Oliver says:

    As a journalism student at Texas Western College (just back from combat in Korea) on Nov. 21, 1953, I as asked by Prof. John J. Middagh, to help cover the finish line at the Pan American Road Race. I was to assist Ed Engledow. Juan Fangio of Argentina was driving a Lancia D24 and came across the finish line at Juarez Airport first. Ed and I had positioned ourselves about 100 years north of the finish line as we figured that would be about where he would get the car stopped. We were right as he came right up to us and stopped, surrounded by Mexican fans. Ed got on top of the Lancia (yes, it had a top on it) with his Speed Graphic. He began snapping photos. Fangio was sitting still for a few minutes, apparently trying to unwind and catch his breath as he had crossed the finish at top speed. Ed handed me some film plates and told me to ride with Fangio back to the press box where a Twin Beech was waiting to fly the film across the border to make the newspaper deadline. I asked Fangio for a ride. He reached over, caught me by the back of my jacket and pulled me halfway into the car. He drove carefully through the crowd of fans with one hand on the wheel and the other holding my jacket, with my legs dangling outside and being crushed and bruised. I remember getting $16 for my work that day, but never forgot the ride with Fangio and I’ll never forget the grease on his face. I also remember that behind him was only a large gasoline tank, filling the entire area.
    Ralph Oliver (retired archaeologist)

    • Hi Ralph,
      What a wonderful story and memory to have! You were very priviledged to have that ride. It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today.
      Steve McKelvie

      • Ralph Oliver says:

        Steve, I am 83 and still have a great memory as I made a career working with Native Americans as an archaeologist, specializing in prehistoric material culture. Regarding the Fangio story (above), I recall specifically that Ed handed me the 2 film plates and told me to give them to Fangio and ask him to take them back to the press box where he would go for interviews. When I handed them to Fangio, he did not accept them and that’s when he grabbed me by the back of my jacket collar and pulled me halfway into the Lancia, holding me as he drove through the crowd of Mexicans until we reached the press box. Then he released me without comment and that’s the last I saw of him. I hurried back to the finish line to help Ed with the photography and watched the other drivers come in (including the Lincolns and Ford). It was a cold November morning and we were drinking bourbon with RC Colas. I kept the press ID arm band for years, but it was lost. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I always was in awe of race drivers
        Thanks, Ralph

  5. Frans Smits says:

    Clemente Biondetti at the 1953 Mille Miglia.
    Did you know that Biondetti after the engine was broken 4 kilometers before the finish he pushed the car 4 kilometers to the finish. And still finishing at the 8th position!
    Clemente Biondetti four times overall winner Mille Miglia.

  6. Ralph Oliver says:

    Steve, I recently contacted the archivist for the old El Paso Herald Post as I am sure there would be photos of Fangio and the Lancia, perhaps with my legs dangling from the car as he turned the car and drove back toward the press box. I did not get a response. I wrote the young lady again and still no response. Unfortunately this is what happens to history; she claims to be an archivist, yet cannot accommodate a simple request, especially when I gave her the date of the incident and offered to pay for her time. As a highly paid consulting archaeologist for oil and pipeline construction companies, I have still spend thousands of hours at my own expense in responding to requests for information regarding prehistoric Native American history. I feel that professional people have an obligation to society to impart as much knowledge as possible to those who have an interest in their field of expertise.

    • Hi Ralph,
      That is disappointing when people do not cooperate before things are lost to history. I had a similar experience this summer when I contacted an automotive museum about a certain event. I know from their own listings that they have a file on this event. The museum is probably 800 or 900 miles from me, so it is not easy to go and have a look at the file. I asked them about the contents of the file to determine if it would be worth the time and effort of the drive or perhaps there might just be several pages that they could photocopy for me. But I got no response at all to my email. Very disappointing.

      I can imagine your frustration of not being able to get a picture of you with the great Fangio.

      Steve McKelvie

      • Ralph Oliver says:

        Thanks Steve for replying. Think I’ll continue to pursue this subject and see if anything turns up.

  7. Manel Baró says:

    Hello Steve.
    Looking for lovely Lancia sporstc/ racing cars of the 50’s, have just found your site and read with an smile the tender memories of Ralph Oliver. Let me thank you both for your valuable contribution to share these intimacies far more interesting than the repeated chronicles , an often inacuracies, you read around.
    Regarding Bonetto accident, the great U. Maglioli (Lancia #12) who travelled behind his team mates Taruffi and Bonetto (Lancia #22 and #34, respect.), explained the later entered Silao town at full speed without noting one of “vados” (fords) signs: “he car took off, swerved to the left were it slammed into a cement pillar and then the wall of a house…”
    As a lifelong enthusiast and occasional author of cars-related bios myself, I do also have frequently experienced the same lack of plain education exhibited without any shame, by individuals and institutionsm alike. Before read your comments, I was convinced that suffering such incivilian manners were a mere case of bad luck.
    Keep up with the good work

    • Manel Baró says:

      May I correct my previous comment about Carrera Panamericana?
      Of course the great U.Maglioli was not a Lancia driver in the1953 Carrera edition as wrongly mentioned, rather he covered the 358 km of the very last stage between Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez, at some 222 km/h average, behind the wheel of the mighty 375 MM Ferrari PF berlinetta #12.

      • Ralph Oliver says:

        Manel, I’m the guy who was pulled into the Lancia in Nov. 1953 at the Pan American Road Race at the Juarez Airport by Juan Fangio. I’ve been an archaeologist/adventurer for many years, but that event is close to the top of my list. In reconstructing events recently I remember handing the film plates to Fangio and asking him to take them back to the press box. He pushed them back towards me and said, “You do it!: His exact words. Then he grabbed me by the back of the collar and pulled me halfway into the Lancia with my legs dangling outside. I recently found a press photo where he was leaving Mexico City for that race, but there was no top on the car. I remembered a top, but could be mistaken. I do know that the car had a large gas tank behind the driver from one side to the other. Also I remember that Fangio had grease on his face and his goggles were raised up off his eyes. He held me by the collar as he inched through the crowd, very slowly, without changing gears, until we reached the press box. Then he released me and was swallowed up by the crowd. I never saw him again. It’s too bad that I never contacted him with that story as I think he would have remembered it. Thanks for your interest.

  8. Manel Baró says:

    Ralph, because the accident of Bonetto during the 4th leg, the three Lancias left, solidly in lead, covered the remainig legs at reduced pace carrying a team mechanic as passenger. Winner J-M Fangio crossed the finish line at Ciudad Juàrez with D24 spyder # 36, Gino Bronzoni so, probably memory serves you well and the car at C Juàrez Airport you remember was just one of assistance sedans carrying spare parts, usually fitted with a large tank behind the the front seats.

    • Manel and Ralph,
      Thanks to you both for the information that you two have brought to the discussion about the Lancia D24 and Juan Manuel Fangio. It is a pleasure to hear from you fellows.
      Steve McKelvie

    • Ralph Oliver says:

      Steve and Manel, I remember perfectly standing in the crowd about 75 to 100 yards north of the finish line at the Juarez airport and waiting for the winner. It was a cold November morning just after daybreak. The first car to cross the finish line was Fangio at top speed; he got the car stopped right beside me and the photographer. Fangio was the only one in the car. He sat there for about two minutes while Ed shot the pictures. No other car crossed the finish line until we had already got our photos and I rode with Fangio to the press box. I remember the Twin-Beech aircraft taking off and flying back to El Paso with the film to make a special edition. I’ve recalled that event over the years and am absolutely certain. If it was not Fangio, a mechanic would have been declared the winner. No one else was in the car except Fangio. I’m certain the El Paso Herald Post has press photos in their archives, but no one seems willing to dig them out.
      Thanks, Ralph

      • Manel Baró says:

        Hello Ralph, you have been very fortunate to watch such legendary race and drivers on the spot and as such, I do trust your word. Unfurtunately I have not seen any actual image of Fangio crossing the finish line at C.Juarez ,so far. Perhaps our readers will and can supply some additional info.
        Apparently, “El Paso Herald Post” has their archive open to researchers but I guess we can merely watch the printed pages, i.e.: not the images not published. A pity.
        Many tks for your words

      • Ralph Oliver says:

        Steve and Manel, thanks for listening to my recollections. I appreciate it. Ralph

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