Vincenzo Lancia was born on 24 August 1881 in Fobello, Val Sesia, Italy. Vincenzo was the son of Cavalier Giuseppe Lancia, who had made his fortune in the preserved food industry. Since they were quite well-to-do, Vincenzo’s family would spend the summer in their villa in Fobello and the rest of the year in Turin, in a property they owned in corso Vittorio Emanuele.
Cavalier Lancia had already mapped out the future for each of his four children: Giovanni, Arturo, Maria and Vincenzo, who was affectionately known as Censin. Vincenzo was earmarked to become a solicitor. At school, however, Vincenzo proved to be a disaster. He was certainly bright enough, but he simply couldn’t apply himself in his studies.
Eventually his father reluctantly gave up on the idea of making a lawyer of him. Instead, at the age of twelve, he was sent off to college in the hope that he would at least gain a diploma in accounting. The young Vincenzo Lancia was distracted from his studies, however, by the workshop opened by the Ceirano brothers in the yard of the family home. They built and sold bicycles under the name of Welleyes, because at the time English names had more clout with the public.
Vincenzo Lancia was a regular visitor to the Ceirano workshop and before long he became a novice mechanic. When the two brothers eventually started work on their first automobiles, the young Vincenzo was fascinated by engines. He left school and succeeded in obtaining his father’s permission to go to work for the Ceirano workshop. He was taken on as an accountant (seemingly at the insistence of his father, who considered the position of accountant to be slightly less demeaning than that of mechanic), but instead of working on the company’s books, he busied himself repairing engines.
In 1899, having secured financial backing, the Ceirano brothers began producing a small car designed by the engineer Aristide Faccioli. The Welleyes automobile was a great success, but the Ceirano brothers simply couldn’t keep up with demand. In July of that year, they accepted Giovanni Agnelli’s offer, and for the sum of 30 thousand lire they sold their entire plant and the patents for the Welleyes car, which would soon be the basis for the Fiat 3.5 HP. Lancia, then 18 years old, as was Felice Nazzaro, who had recently joined the company, were both taken on by Fiat as test drivers.
In its early years, Fiat took a very active part in competitions, with Lancia and Nazzaro behind the wheel. Nazzaro was a real stylist when driving. Lancia, on the other hand, was impetuous but also quicker, whenever he wasn’t hit by mechanical failure, that is. Meticulous and demanding at work, away from the workplace Lancia was light-hearted and jovial. A big, strapping lad when he was young, he grew to become a large man with a passion for good food, drinks with friends and the opera. He was quite a music buff, and was particularly fond of Wagner.
In 1906 Vincenzo Lancia started building cars, and on 29 November the same year, together with his friend Claudio Fogolin, he founded Lancia. In 1922, by now a successful businessman, he married Adele Miglietti, a secretary, with whom he was to have three children: Anna Maria, Gianni and Eleonora. Vincenzo Lancia continued his personal involvement in the development of new models, often test driving the cars himself.
Vincenzo Lancia died prematurely on 15 February 1937 at the age of 55, the victim of a heart attack during the night. At first he thought it was nothing and did not want to wake his wife, and it wasn’t until seven o’clock in the morning that the family doctor was sent for, who came as quick as he could, but by then, tragically, it was too late.