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History of Italian cars, part two

Join Life in Italy in this second venture into the automobile industry

In 1914, after the murder of Archduke Francesco Ferdinando in Sarajevo, Austria declared war on Serbia. Indeed, it was the beginning of World War I. And yes, it affected the development in the history of Italian cars.

During the wars

Most European car companies had to convert their production to something more lucrative. Of course, it was warfare. At the end of WWI, the industry re-converted to civil vehicles. While Italians were trying to return to everyday life, a new struggle was born. In 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the “Fasci Italiani di Combattimento”. Later in 1922, Mussolini’s party marched on Rome. Hence Fascism was born.


FIAT 509 Sport Monza 1926

Senator Giovanni Agnelli wasn’t one to think small. He created the Lingotto, aka the factory. In 1925, it produced a new model the Fiat 509. In one year, it sold over 90000 units. The poet Gabriele D’annunzio compared the 509 to a woman. The poet said they both had grace, slenderness, and the vitality of a femme fatale. In 1932, Fiat launched the “Fiat 508 Balilla”, replacing the 509.

Under Fascism, Fiat wasn’t free to expand its production in foreign countries. Benito Mussolini wanted a low cost car for people. So he asked Senator Agnelli to build a car under 5000 Lire, an idea with great propaganda impact. So impactful in fact, that Hitler copied the idea.

On the Italian side, in 1936, Fiat sold the new Fiat 500. A true icon in the history of Italian cars.

Lancia Lambda

History of Italian cars: few more names

Alfa Romeo

In the decade after the end of WWI, Alfa Romeo expanded his racing activities. In 1923, it scored its first victory. From that day, the green four-leaf clover became the symbol of the Alfa Romeo racing cars. In the decade before WWII, this manufacturer was already a famous brand worldwide. Even Mussolini was an old alfista.


Enzo Ferrari drove for Alfa Romeo.But the real birth of Ferrari is on September 1, 1939, when Enzo Ferrari founded the “Auto Avio Costruzioni”. The “Auto Avio Costruzioni” later became the “Scuderia Ferrari” -in 1947.


During WWI, Lancia’s military vehicles were a huge success. Vincenzo Lancia worried about the reconversion of Lancia’s plants.The first model was the “Lancia Kappa”, produced from 1919 to 1922. But

Lancia’s first masterpiece dates back to 1922 with Lambda. At that time, as fate would have it, Lancia had a visit from Flocker. The American didn’t take long convincing Vincenzo of the possibilities upon entering the U.S. market.

So, in 1928, Lancia birthed the “Dilambda”. Dilambda’s engine was an 8-cylinder V 24° with a maximum power output of about 100hp. About 1700 Dilambdas units sold. But, tellingly, the exit of the car coincides with the collapse of Wall Street and the ensuing financial crisis, and that the Dilambda’s selling price was prohibitive in 1931, costing 58,000 Lire, while later, an Artena would cost 24.500 Lire.

Furthermore, in 1931, the Artena and Astura replaced the Lambda and the Dilambda. The Astura became the official government transport for high dignitaries of Mussolini’s regime. Mussolini himself loved the Astura and had a custom 1939 Lancia Astura designed by Pininfarina in which he paraded several times through fascist Italy streets.


The Pininfarina company was born in Turin on May 22, 1930 thanks to Battista Farina. In the first years of production until the outbreak of World War II, the company became known for its craftsmanship of a small number of special bodyworks designed for Alfa Romeo, the Hispano-Suiza, the Lancia, and the FIAT. Of course, today the Pininfarina brand is international. And many of its designs appear on famous cars.

Indeed, the history of Italian cars is not over. Not yet.

Read more at History Of Italia cars, part one.

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