French fancy: the 1937 Lancia Ardennes

French fancy: the 1937 Lancia Ardennes

Lancia Ardennes a familiar Italian great, à la Française – made before Lancia’s own Aprilia.

Story by Gary Axon

OBSCURATI French fancy: the Lancia Ardennes


If you’re a regular reader of Auto Italia, by now you’ll be used to turning to this back page every month to get your fix of unfamiliar and esoteric Italian machinery. Please don’t be disappointed, therefore, if you think we’ve finally run out of suitable Obscurati subject matter because, at first glance, this month’s piece looks very familiar. Appearances can be deceptive, though, and the car you see before you isn’t a Lancia Aprilia, the revolutionary aerodynamic V4 family saloon that was launched in Italy in February 1937.

Rather, it is a French-built Lancia Ardennes, launched in September 1936, somewhat curiously five months ahead of the Aprilia in its homeland. Although clearly closely related to the celebrated Aprilia, the Ardennes was manufactured at Lancia’s satellite French plant in Bonneuil-sur-Marne, located about eight miles south-east of Paris.

Lancia had established its French manufacturing base there in 1931 to circumvent the high import taxes on cars made in Italy. It was for this reason that Lancia used the ‘Ardennes’ name in the important French market. Essentially the Ardennes was a near-identical twin of the Italian-made Aprilia. However, the Val-de- Marne-built car was equipped with a number of locally-sourced components that differentiated the model from its Turin-built sibling.

These included larger headlamps (to counterbalance the dimming effect of the yellow bulbs required by French legislation), changes to both external and internal trim (such as the seat upholstery) and alternative taillights, ‘borrowed’ from the Ardennes’ chief local rival, the Citroën Traction Avant (although a handful of Ardennes were also fitted with oblong rear light units).

Regardless of the Ardennes’ advanced engineering and its many appealing qualities, the locally-built Lancia failed to find much favour with French buyers. Just 1620 examples were built near Paris between 1936 and 1939 (in contrast, Italian Aprilia production exceeded 20,000 units pre-war). The outbreak of war in September 1939 brought French Lancia production to an abrupt halt, as Italy’s connections with Nazi Germany tainted the reputation and appeal of Italian marques in France. Despite the model’s progressive unitary bodywork construction, Lancia made more than 7500 additional ‘traditional’ separate chassis available to coachbuilders. Whilst most of these were supplied to Italian carrozzerie such as Touring and Bertone to create handsome coupes and cabriolets, Lancia France also supplied simple standalone Ardennes platforms to the Parisian coachbuilder Pourtout, which made 32 Ardennes cabriolets, plus at least one fastback coupe (pictured left).

Although now exceedingly rare, two examples of the Lancia Ardennes can be found on display at the fascinating Musée Automobile Reims- Champagne located near the magnificent Reims cathedral in the champagne capital of France (pictured below).

French fancy: the 1937 Lancia Ardennes

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