Experimental 1951 Lancia Aurelia restoration took 4,000 hours

Introduced in 1950, the innovative Aurelia is one of the most sought-after Lancia models made after World War II. Collectors pay a premium for cars with a documented racing history, and one-offs built as in-house experiments are fascinating, so it’s no wonder a 1951 coupe that ticked both boxes deserved a 4,000-hour restoration.

United Kingdom-based shop Thornley Kelham explained a wealthy privateer racer named Giovanni Bracco purchased this 1951 Aurelia new in Italy and took it racing almost immediately. It finished second overall in that year’s Mille Miglia, first at the Caracalla Night Race, and it earned first in its class (and 12th overall) in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. These were impressive results for the Aurelia, whose main claim to fame was being the first regular-production car equipped with a V6 engine, but Lancia was no stranger to podium finishes.

Its story took an intriguing turn when it showed up at the 1951 edition of the Carrera Panamericana with a markedly lower roof line. Bracco knew the Lancia family well, and he arranged to have its top chopped at the factory to make it more aerodynamic. He crashed on the fourth day of racing, sold it to a Mexican architect, and returned home. It re-appeared at the following year’s Carrera Panamericana and finished ninth before disappearing. Some speculated it was hidden in America; others assumed it had been crushed and recycled.

The first hypothesis was correct, but proving it was easier said than done. The car had received a redesigned rear end Thornley Kelham described as hump-backed and Volkswagen Beetle-like. Some of the original parts had been cut out and discarded, which made the restoration process exponentially more challenging.

The shop fabricated a new, period-correct rear end using 3D scans and fiberglass molds. It then painted it black, its original color, before giving it a coat of red, the color it wore when it was entered in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and finally spraying a second coat of black, the color it was painted in when it raced in the Carrera Panamericana. It was fitted with seats from an Ardea — Lancia’s V4-powered entry-level model — when it raced, so Thornley Kelham sourced a pair and re-trimmed it. Period-correct lettering added a finishing touch to the restoration.

The V6 engine and the four-speed manual transmission were completely rebuilt. All told, resurrecting this one-of-a-kind Aurelia required 4,000 hours of work spread out over a three-year period.

“Decades of modifications and misuse made this perhaps one of the most difficult restorations we’ve ever done,” explained Simon Thornley, co-founder of Thornley Kelham, in a statement. The shop is currently working on a project that looks even more ambitions than reviving the Lancia. It’s in the process of bringing a 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 purchased new and raced by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini back to life after decades of neglect.