Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

Lancia across the USA — 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Dilambda. What would you choose to drive nearly 3000 miles across the USA in two weeks? Massimo Delbò picked a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet – which wasn’t without issues…


Photography Evan Klein

USA COAST TO COAST

EPIC USA COAST-TO-COAST ADVENTURE IN A 1930 LANCIA DILAMBDA CABRIO


Going West. Who hasn’t dreamed, at least once in their life, of crossing the USA from ocean to ocean? For me, this desire stemmed from a mix of beautiful and inspiring ‘on the road’ books, Hollywood films, and stories of the legendary pioneers who made the journey in their Buckboard wagons. I didn’t even once envisage the journey being from West to East. No, to my mind a proper Trans-Am odyssey has to follow the sun.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

As for the car, forget a practical rental. It has to be a classic, even better if it’s pre-war, to add some atmosphere to the adventure. As for my companion, I met Filippo Sole (coincidentally, his family name means ‘sun’ in Italian) a few years ago; he is ten years younger than me and crazier in his approach to life but we share many ideals, including a love of pre-war classics. He restores his mostly with his own hands.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

We first talked seriously about a coast-to-coast trip in late 2019, proposing to use Filippo’s 1938 Lancia Astura Cabriolet Pinin Farina. Then Covid hit and the project was put on hold; the car won its class at Pebble Beach in 2021 and, as we left the stage, we promised ourselves that Spring 2022 would be our time. The choice of car changed: here you see Filippo’s freshly restored 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet by Carlton, chassis number 27-611. It is a one-off car, sold new in England to Sir Douglas Montgomery Bernard Hall, 2nd Baronet (1891-1962). It was he who commissioned the London-based Carlton Carriage Company to complete the rolling chassis with a sporty-looking body. The resulting Dilambda was nicknamed ‘Blue Shadow’ – ‘BS’ was noted on the original registration document – likely because of the two-tone grey-blue exterior with blue interior. Two more English owners and three different body-colour combinations later, in October 1940 the Dilambda was damaged during a German air raid and sequestered by the Ministry of Supplies. No-one knows what became of it until October 1970, when a series of pictures show what remained of the car, with much of its front bodywork missing, being towed and worked upon. The fact that many of its components are stamped with the original production numbers (still clearly visible today) tells us that much was salvaged in spite of the poor condition in which it was found. Even so, the remanufactured front end, taken from another car, ended up being quite different from the original.

‘The Dilambda made it, but we spent several hours working on her, and sometimes ended up on a tow truck’

Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

The Dilambda, painted dark brown, was then registered in England to Arthur Keeling and in 1972 given a new, undated licence plate. It was sold to Italy in 1984 and in long-term ownership until 2018, when Filippo bought it. The car was still fitted with its original engine and what was believed to be its original body, plus a pile of old parts detached from the car during its 1970 restoration, but it needed some work. Only when Filippo began stripping it down did he realise that everything from the firewall forwards was not original, but had been adapted to fit the rest of the body.

‘Driving through Monument Valley is a memory that will stay with me forever’

Historical research turned up the original logbook and – incredibly – a full set of pictures of the car, including the interior, taken in the 1930s by the first owner and still part of his descendants’ family archive. A specialist appraisal, testing the negatives, proved the veracity of those photographs. Shortly after its restoration, the car was shown at Villa d’Este and won the Coppa d’Oro.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

Following its success, the Dilambda was loaded with spare parts and parked in a container to be shipped to the USA’s East Coast. Then all we needed was to work out our route: it should be a relaxed tour, not defined by a specific road, but a journey heading West while visiting as many car friends as we could and passing through as many iconic areas of the USA as possible. We needed decent weather in the North and no threat of extreme heat in the desert. Late March and early April seemed fine. Or so we hoped…

In the event, the timing proved to be a bit of a climate disaster. After weeks of mild temperatures, we got snowstorms in the North-East, sandstorms in Monument Valley, and a swealtering heatwave as we arrived at Los Angeles. But we weren’t travelling without support. Photographer Evan Klein and his assistant Brian Brantley brought a van, full of spare parts (which we never used) and tools (rather more extensively used) plus their camera gear and all our luggage.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

The route was nearly 3000 miles, and we set aside two weeks from our Fifth Avenue, New York, start to our destination in Beverly Hills, visiting collector Bruce Meyer. Along the way we would call at the Fred Simeone Museum in Philadelphia, Nicola Bulgari’s NB Center at Allentown, Pennsylvania, Mario Andretti in nearby Nazareth, Dallara USA and the Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, dealer and collector Mark Hyman in St Louis, McPherson College in Kansas (home to an illustrious Automotive Restoration Technology Program), and on via Albuquerque, Monument Valley, Las Vegas and LA’s Petersen Museum.

The question often asked is: why? Well, aside from personal pleasure, which is surely a good enough excuse, there were things we wanted to find out. Would it be possible for a 90-year-old car to cope for so many miles? And what happens to a concours-winning car when it’s driven so far before returning to the show field and being judged? Some American friends were concerned about truck drivers, as we would be slower than the 18-wheelers and they would need to pass. We can now say that none of them was ever aggressive, always giving us extra space, especially when pulling back in ahead of us. In fact, the only time we got honked at was by a Tesla driver, upset because he thought we were turning right too slowly on a red light. For some, autonomous driving is clearly the best option.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

In terms of reliability, the Dilambda made it all the way, but it’s only fair to admit that we spent several hours working on her, and sometimes ended up calling a tow truck. Our main issue was the shaft driving the water pump, which would work loose as its fixings were becoming rounded with use, leading to uncomfortably high water temperatures. The fix was not that difficult, we just needed to build up the metal with a welding machine – but to reach the pump you have to dismantle a good part of the engine.


‘It should be a relaxed tour, not defined by a specific road but a journey West while visiting as many car friends as we could’

‘It should be a relaxed tour, not defined by a specific road but a journey West while visiting as many car friends as we could’

It happened more than once. The first occasion involved a couple of hundred miles on a flatbed to a workshop; the second time was a Sunday, and we tried to work in a parking lot, without much success but creating quite a lot of curiosity. And so we needed another tow truck, which took us to a friend’s workshop, where we solved the problem properly.

This brings us to the main point of the journey: friends. Forget the car, forget the budget, forget everything else, the success of this adventure is down to the friendship of so many people. Without them, life on the road would have been a lot more difficult. We might not even have made it to our destination. Members of the classic car community were always happy to help. The NB Centre in Allentown hosted the car after its arrival in the USA, cleaned it, charged the battery and carried out a comprehensive pre-journey check. They even filled up the tank with racing fuel just to play safe and helped us load the car for its only journey eastwards, when it was delivered to the front of our Manhattan hotel.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

But they were not alone. IndyCar builder Dallara USA moved some of its cars from the workshop to let us check ours during our stay in Indianapolis; Mark Hyman, in St Louis, welcomed us into his shop and lent us a mechanic for the whole day. And while we were fixing the water pump shaft at McPherson College, we were given a contact for a former student, now working in Albuquerque, ‘just in case’. Little did they know that this gesture would practically save our journey: it was there that we finally cured the water pump problem.

Obviously there are moments that will last forever in my memory, such as shooting day and night in New York’s Times Square surrounded by thousands of people, and discovering that in a city where no-one gives anyone a second glance, people were crazy for the Dilambda. ‘What is it?’ was always the first question – we discovered that the name Lancia is not so familiar in the USA.

While snow was dumped on Pennsylvania, and temperatures plummeted to -15ºC, we had icicles inside the car and, as we arrived in Nazareth to visit Mario Andretti, the front of the Dilambda was completely iced over. Witnessing a videocall between Andretti and his ex-Daytona and Targa Florio partner Arturo Merzario, all in Italian and so rich in memories, was a special moment, too.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

I fell in love with the beautiful hills of Kansas, and driving through Monument Valley is a memory that will stay with me forever. As for the sandstorm there, suffice to say that the red stuff was still appearing in the most unusual places even by the end of our journey.

The most stressful moment came as we arrived in Los Angeles, having come from Las Vegas. The ambient temperature was well above 40°C, the car was scorching hot and we were frantically trying to avoid traffic jams. To cool everything, radiator included, Filippo had the smart idea of going through a car wash. When we finally reached the Petersen Museum we both felt the need to kiss the tarmac.

But we weren’t all the way just yet. Coast to coast meant ending up at Santa Monica pier, but closed roads changed our plans to Malibu, 20 miles away, where we parked among the surfers, looking incredulously at the Pacific – and the odometer. It read 2831 miles more than when we had started out 13 days earlier. Because of a breakdown, we’d had to skip our planned stop at the Route 66 Museum in Oklahoma. We’d had to stop every 2½ hours to refill the tank, as we never wanted to get down to the last quarter. The Dilambda’s preferred cruising speed was an indicated 65mph, more like 55mph in reality, but on some occasions we powered on for several hundred miles at a time with the needle hovering around 75-80.


Across the USA 3000 miles coast-to-coast in a 1930 Lancia Type 227 Dilambda Cabriolet

The seats were amazingly comfortable and we never wished for something more modern, even after 12 or 13 hours on the road. The roof, even under the most challenging conditions, remained watertight, but I wore my ear-muffs and was teased by Filippo – until he realised what a great idea they were, and bought some too. As you might expect of such an old car, steering was always a two-handed affair and the gearchange set the boundaries between man and boy. Still I wouldn’t change a single thing.

To summarise the journey, I can’t think of any words better than those of Prince Scipione Borghese after the 1907 Peking to Paris race with his Itala 60hp. ‘We were asked to answer if it was possible to go from Peking to Paris by motor car and, in doing so, we proved that it is not. At least, remaining comfortably seated behind the wheel and without some planning.’ And without some friends who have a workshop, I would add.

Clockwise, from top left A colourful reception in Las Vegas; Octane columnist and US TV icon Jay Leno meets Lancia owner Filippo Sole; road closure at Santa Monica meant a date with the coast at Malibu; Octane meets collector Bruce Meyer in Beverly Hills.

Clockwise, from left The instantly recognisable Monument Valley left an impression (and lots of sand); Filippo playing the cowboy with his Lancia; amazing welcome at McPherson College, students of which will keep classics running for the next generation; the gently beautiful scenery of Kansas.

Clockwise, from top right Wintry weather in Pennsylvania; a break at the Brickyard; racing legend Mario Andretti takes the wheel; repairing the water pump in the spotless St Louis workshop of Mark Hyman; breakfast at Nicola Bulgari’s NB Center, located in what was a drive-in – watching Humphrey Bogart seemed only natural.

Clockwise, from top right What 3000 miles from coast to coast looks like; drawing a crowd from the off, at Times Square, New York; photographs from the Lancia’s early days, taken by the first owner, shortly after buying it in 1930.

Article type:
Review
218
+1
Lanciadave 17 days ago #

Magnificent! I am now envious of such a great drive in such a great car. I am curious to know two more things; What was your impression of driving the slightly unusual DiLambda engine (at least in reference to other Lancia models), and what was the cure that finally fixed the waterpump and its shaft? Being a Lancia fan I cannot help but squeeze in one more, was the refitted front end used during the restoration, or was something created? At any rate, Thank you for sharing your experience with us along with your lovely automobile.

Dave

+1
Filippo Sole 14 days ago #

Hi Dave!!! This is Filippo, the owner and driver!

It’s been quite easy to drive, not as smooth as an Astura but always a pleasure. We fixed 2 times the water pump shaft adding hard metal by welding and then grinding it to make the correct square shape. Unfortunatly the first time the metal added was too soft but the second time worked well. We had this second fix in Albuquerque.

As for the front end I used parts of of the refitted one (consider it was refitted in 1970).

From now on I will drive a coast to coast roadtrip every year as it’s been one of the most exciting adventures of my life!!!

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