The Lancia Astura That Has Pride Of Place In Indian Racing History

Images: Makarand Baokar & CMSC

Harit Trivedi’s striking red Lancia Astura racer always manages to regale the crowd at whichever historic vehicle event it is entered into. Harit Trivedi will almost always let rip the noisy little engine of this rare automobile. On the move, this racing bolide still has what it takes to set the pace. A rare and unique piece, this Lancia Astura has a fascinating history.

Unveiled at the 1931 edition of the Paris Salon, the Astura was Lancia’s flagship model, featuring a narrow-angle V8 of 2.6-litres, developing 72bhp. Just two Asturas were made in 1931, with series production starting in 1932.  By 1939, at the end of production, more than 2,900 of the Lancia Astura had been produced. Although the Astura was a big and prestigious product, mostly seen with elegant and luxurious tourer and saloon body styles, a few were modified into motorsport specials.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
Hardly recognisable as a Lancia Astura, this racing machine seems to be a very professional redesign from really early times

An overall tenth at the 1934 Mille Miglia, inspired the racing team of Carlo Pintacuda and Mario Nardilli to enter their modified Astura and win the 6,000km long Giro Automobilistico d’Italia, ahead of an Alfa Romeo and another Astura that same year. And on 8 July (1934) three Asturas participating in the 10 Hours of Spa, in Belgium, finished second, third and fourth, behind the race winning Bugatti.

Results like these must have inspired whoever it was, to subject a Lancia Astura to the metalworkers saw. Shortened to a wheelbase of about 2.6 metres, from the Lancia Astura’s original 3.1, this car has been identified as Chassis # 30-1007, indicating that it is one of the early Asturas. It is the seventh chassis of the first series, dating the manufacture of the vehicle to early 1932. This car may very well be one of the oldest surviving Lancia Asturas in the world.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
The same car in racing action at the Alipore track in Calcutta, some time during the 1950s (pic courtesy Calcutta Motor Sport Club)

We don’t know when exactly this car arrived in India, but an Englishman apparently raced the car in Calcutta in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. In the 1950s and the 1960s Calcutta had a very vibrant racing scene with India’s oldest motorsport club, Calcutta Motor Sports Club (CMSC) actively organising race meets through the year, first within Calcutta, then at the Alipore Mint airstrip, and later at Kanchrapara and Barrackpore. This Lancia Astura is known to have competed against other serious racing machines such as an Allard J2, several SS and Jaguars, including a SS100, as well as a Bentley, a modified Lagonda, even an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
Modified into "street legal" specifications, the car has lamps, mudguards and a pair of spare wheels at the rear

Legend has it the infamous British lady racer Fay Taylour (who was interned during WWII as a fascist sympathiser), came to India and drove this car in a race, as did Jack Wilkes, a famed motorcycle rider from Calcutta (who is known to have raced in the 1952 edition of the Isle Of Man TT, on a BSA).

For a long while the Lancia Astura was owned and raced by Calcuttan Alan Ramsay, who then sold the car around 1956, when he acquired an Allard J2 from Englishman Jimmy Braid. The latter had been campaigning the car since the summer of 1952, having purchased the Anglo-American hybrid from Desmond Titterington in the United Kingdom. The Lancia was then raced by an Indian, Tutu Imam, who also competed, around the same time, in a modified Lagonda.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
In profile, the car looks light, trim and very purposeful

At some point the Lancia’s V8 blew up and was therefore replaced by the 1.6-litre engine from a decrepit SS Jaguar 1 ½-litre saloon. The car next came under the care of Mike Satow, who headed Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) in Calcutta and was a significant player in the Calcutta racing scene. Satow, who was technically very competent, maintained several of Calcutta’s racing machines, and the Lancia Astura was one amongst them.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
Sadly, the engine in this bolide is a relatively modest 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit from a SS 1 1/2-Litre, installed after the original Lancia V8 expired

When Satow retired and moved back to the UK, he sold the car to someone who kept it in a cigarette factory in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. This factory was shut down and later abandoned. The Lancia remained in a corner, with trees growing through it. Eventually, the Lancia was ‘rediscovered’, hoisted over the wall and taken to Hyderabad, where it was restored. The new owner, Kumar Verma, then migrated to the US, but before that he sold the car to Mumbai-based collector Harit Trivedi after having taken part in a historic vehicle event in Bangalore.

Lancia Astura Harit Trivedi vintage cars classic cars
As can be see, it's a bit of a tight fit in there

Although the engine and gearbox are from a SS, from around 1937 or so, the chassis, axles, wheels, hubs, and steering are all original Lancias. Being a significant car in India’s motorsport history, the Lancia Astura was invited to take part in the 2008 Cartier concours event in Mumbai. Since then, Trivedi has participated in several events with this striking looking car, happy in the knowledge that a true piece of Indian racing history is under his care.


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