The World’s First Production V6 Was Born in Italy, This Is Its Fascinating Story

Italy is the country where the most outstanding sports cars were created, where automotive design became an art form, and also the place where Lancia developed the first mass-produced V6.
Lancia Aurelia Coupe V6 16 photos
Lancia Aurelia Berlina B12Lancia Aurelia Berlina B10Lancia Aurelia GT BerlinaLancia Aurelia Coupe B52Lancia Aurelia GT ConvertibleLancia Flaminia BerlinaLancia Flaminia SportLancia Flaminia GT designed by TouringLancia Flaminia Speciale 3C designed by PininfarinaLancia Flaminia 3C Sport ZagatoLancia Flaminia 3C Sport Zagato 2.8-literLancia V6: The 2.5-liter VersionLancia Aurelia Coupe B52 V6Lancia Aurelia Coupe V6Lancia Flaminia Sport V6
Today, the V6 is the most popular of all vee-configuration engines, powering everything from mundane sedans like the Camry to the latest Formula One racing machines, where it’s aided by a high-tech hybrid system. These units are favored over eight- or twelve-cylinder variants because they provide plenty of power in a lightweight and compact package, which allows manufacturers to use them in a wide variety of models.

Its origins date back to the start of the 20th century when a couple of prototypes were produced in the United States and France but the first widely used version was made by Lancia and debuted on the Aurelia at the 1950 Turin Motor Show.

The Aurelia versions

Lancia Aurelia Berlina B10
The man behind this innovation is Francesco De Virgilio who wanted to solve the balance and vibration issues that plagued the company’s smaller V4, a powerplant that at that point had been used for almost three decades. After years of experimenting with various vee-angels, he came up with a 60-degree design displacing 1.8 liters. Its crankshaft employed four main bearings and its six crankpins were also spaced at 60-degree intervals for an even-firing sequence. The unit featured aluminum heads with two valves per cylinder, actuated via rockers by a single camshaft driven by a double-row chain.

Since it was created with smooth operation in mind, the six-cylinder which powered the heavy Aurelia B10 sedans only produced a meager 56 hp but over the following years, it was continuously revised and became almost three times more capable.

A year after the first Aurelia was introduced, the two-door B20 GT coupe took to the road and it was equipped with an improved 2.0-liter version that used a higher compression ratio, larger valves, and two single-choke Weber carburetors that helped boost power to 75 hp. That year, the modified B21 sedan and B15 limousine were also released. Both models were offered with the larger V6, albeit with a milder 70-hp configuration that employed a single Solex carb, just like the initial 1.8-liter.

Lancia V6\: The 2\.5\-liter Version
Things progressed fast at Lancia during that period so in 1952, the second series Aurelia B20 GT and a new sedan codenamed B22 were launched. These cars used the last 2.0-liter adaptation which had the compression ratio increased once again and benefited from a new cylinder head with repositioned valves. Consequently, power grew to 90 hp under the hood of the B22 where it got a new, more aggressive cam profile and a larger, double-choke carb.

In terms of displacement, the next iteration of the first mass-produced V6 was fitted on the 1954 new B12 sedan, a thoroughly redesigned model. The engine was enhanced to 2.3 liters, and it used a single 45-mm (1.77-inches) Solex carburetor for an output of 87 hp.

The largest of the first-generation units powered the 1953 B20 Series III. Bored out to 2.5 liters, it came with improvements such as larger valves or the upcoming B12’s crank and could make a respectable 118 hp. However, with 78 mm × 85.5 mm (3.07 in × 3.37 in) bore and stroke, it had a severely undersquare design.

The Flaminia versions

Lancia Flaminia 3C Sport Zagato
The next chapter in the evolution of Lancia’s V6 started in 1957 when the all-new Flaminia replaced the Aurelia as the company’s flagship. The extensively upgraded the motor’s displacement was only slightly increased, without exceeding 2.5-liters. Moreover, bore and stroke now measured 80 mm × 81.5 mm (3.15 in × 3.20 in), making it much less of an undersquare design.

Since the new model was larger and significantly heavier than its predecessor power stood at only 102 hp, so performance was the last thing it could be associated with. This problem was addressed with the second series produced in 1961 where a higher compression ratio led to 120 hp.

From 1958, those who wanted a sportier Flaminia could choose from three gorgeous coupe bodies designed by Pininfarina, Carrozzeria Touring, or Zagato. For years later, the powerplant of the Touring and Zagato received three Weber carbs, earning the 3C moniker. With this latest upgrade, the V6 could now make 140 hp which meant that the lighter cars reached a top speed of 124 mph (200 kph).

It received its last major revision in 1963 when it was bored out for the last time, becoming a 2.8-liter unit with an output of 129 hp in single carburetor configuration and 150 hp when fitted with three carbs. On the most performance-oriented member of the Flaminia lineup, the SuperSport Zagato, it made 152 hp thanks to even larger 40-mm (1.57-inch) Weber carbs.

The story of this historic engine ends in 1970, after two decades of service. Its innovative design inspired many engineers and in the years that followed, several iconic units with a similar configuration were created. Sadly, following its acquisition by Fiat in 1969, Lancia never got to develop a successor and its future models were fitted with six cylinders built by other manufacturers. In spite of this, the Italian carmaker and their passionate engineer Francesco De Virgilio earned their place in the history books for building and perfecting the first mass-produced V6.


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