Classic and vintage restoration specialist Thornley Kelham has revealed the full story behind the restoration of arguably the world’s most famous Lancia. For years, a legendary Lancia Aurelia B20GT competition with an impeccable racing heritage and a unique lowered roofline was thought to be lost forever. But, after a chance encounter at a storage facility in Southend, the Thornley Kelham team’s journey began to return one of the most famous Lancias to its former glory.
The car was bought new in 1951 by Giovanni Bracco, a wealthy privateer and partner of Gianni Lancia himself, and took the world of racing by storm a few days after it left the factory. That year, in 3 months he placed 2North Dakota in general in the Mille Miglia, 1S t in the Caracalla Night Race and 1S t in class at Le Mans 24 hours. Later that year, he would win the Pescara 6-Hour Race, also with Giovanni Bracco at the wheel. However, the most intriguing was the lowering of the roof line of this car, which according to the latest news reports was an exercise carried out by Lancia itself to help improve aerodynamics.
The car lined up in the 1951 Carrera Panamericana with its roofline just lowered, but Bracco pulled out of the race on Day 4 while in a strong position. The following year, he returned to the Panamericana with a new driver at the wheel. The Mexican architect, Paredo, had bought the car from Bracco, rebuilt it and went on to finish 9th in class on Mexico’s grueling 2,000-mile border-to-border race. From there, the history of the car is scarce and it was thought that it had been lost for years, until it was found in the USA. USA
Simon Thornley learned of this discovery through an industry colleague, Mark Donaldson, as the car was in the process of being shipped from the United States to Italy, entering the EU through the United Kingdom. And so it was, at a customs warehouse in Southend, that Simon tentatively began to investigate whether it really could be one of the most famous Lances in the world.
The engine and chassis plates looked correct, filling the holes in the hood that fitted to the bonnet straps installed over a period and a lever next to the passenger seat seemed to fit with an internal system for adjusting the rear suspension, which it was said that it was installed in this car
Beneath the peeling white paint, the back of the hump, grafted at some point in his life, and rust, all signs pointed to the fact that this was indeed B20-1010 – the same car that dominated the rally scene. from Europe in the summer of 1951. Now, in partnership with its owner, Thornley Kelham’s challenge was to restore this car to the condition in which it lined up in the 1951 Pan American Race with Bracco at the wheel, preserving as much originality as possible.
Back at the Thornley Kelham catering facility in the Cotswolds, the team set about learning as much as possible about this car. The back was baffling; This car certainly had a lower roof, but it had also been extensively redesigned to give it a beetle appearance; very humpbacked and with bulky sides. The rear screen looked bad, and the boot lid was not an Aurelia item.
Similarly, the trunk floor was incorrect with a non-Aurelia fuel tank, and the entire interior was covered with a very thick layer of sealing. It was clear that the rear of the car was an Americanization, a “lead sled” conversion from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The rear screen, trunk, and part of the rear wings of an unknown automobile had been skillfully grafted into the B20GT.
The entire rear had to be removed and the Thornley Kelham team designed a new one to the specifications obtained from 3D scans and fiberglass molds. The metalworking team was also responsible for making the body structurally sound, salvaging what they could from the original, and strengthening it when necessary. With most of the original floor missing, this was not a bad feat. Getting the correct profile was a big part of the project, and the car was only ready to paint once it received the blessing of a panel of Lancia experts.
Painting this famous Aurelia was a daunting process, but the team agreed that it should emulate the history of the car as much as possible. The B20-1010 was black in the period, but, as was traditional for Italian cars, it was painted red for its start at Le Mans before being painted black again for its debut in the Carrera Panamericana. So the Thornley Kelham team started painting it black, then red, and then black again. With the topcoat applied, sign writing was entrusted to Mark Amis, who perfectly recreated the Pan-American look of the original car using vintage black-and-white images and extensive research of brand logos to match colors.
Much of the interior was unrecognizable, but careful investigation eventually led the team to the discovery that this Aurelia was equipped with Lancia Ardea seats in that period. Using images from his career in the Pan American Race, Rob O’Rourke began the process of perfectly tuning the interior to its original specification.
Considering the extensive bodywork, interior trim, mechanical restorations, and paint, the Thornley Kelham team spent over 4,000 hours and over three years restoring the former Bracco Aurelia B20GT. Not only was it a passion for the team, but it also led to the creation of Thornley Kelham’s limited edition Aurelia “Outlaw”. Each of the nine cars features a low top line, like the Bracco car, but it comes with a host of bespoke improvements, including a Flaminia fuel-injected engine, modern disc brakes, and nitrogen-filled front suspension. Each car is designed, both inside and out, according to the exact wishes of its owner.
Simon Thornley, co-founder of Thornley Kelham, said: “The restoration of this former Bracco Aurelia B20 GT was a very special moment for our business. His discovery was a true tingling revelation, and clearly restoring it carried great responsibility. With the input of several high-profile Lancia experts, the generosity of enthusiasts around the world, the dedication of its owner, and the talents of our team in the Cotswolds, we are proud to have preserved an enormously important piece of the history of Lancia. . Decades of modifications and misuse made this one of the most difficult restorations we’ve ever done, but Bracco’s story is contagious and is now available for enthusiasts around the world to enjoy once again. “
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