By Pete Vack and Lucas van Dobben
Of all the weird and wonderful marque enthusiasts, Lancisti are among our favorites. They are technically astute, very intelligent, well-spoken and articulate and yet have a burning passion usually reserved for Irish soccer fans. Recently when a reader wanted to know if one of our archived Lancia stories was still available (yes, they are), he attached a photo of his daily transportation in the sixties with his young son in the car. It was an ultra-rare Appia Zagato Sport. Are we on this? You bet. A correspondence began and became the story of one Lucas van Dobben and his life of Lancias.
Lucas van Dobben was born in Rotterdam Holland in 1941. But as the city was bombed during the war, his family moved to Wassenaar where he has lived ever since. Comparing notes on living in old communities he tells us that “The village we live in is situated between the Hague and Leiden is known as the Green Village. It’s separated from the seafront by a mile- wide strip of dunes. The oldest existing building is a part of the village church which goes back to ad 1125. Our Royal family also lives close to our home for the time being, as their original residence in The Hague endures a complete rebuild at the moment.” That more or less beat our local church of about 1620 here in Williamsburg.
Working with Lancia
Van Dobben’s passion for Lancias began in the 1960s when he went to work at the Lancia importers. “When I got married, the white Flaminia served as the ‘getaway’ car. Then we went on a honeymoon trip in our Flavia.”
Lucas’ father often told him to learn to be multilingual, and being a mechanic that spoke several languages helped him earn a spot on the Lancia factory rally team in 1970 and 1971 for the famous Tulip Rally.
“I was only one of two mechanics at hand who spoke some Italian and several times accompanied Lancia engineers to visit Lancia dealerships and instruct them how install factory modifications. This also earned me an invitation to work in the Tulip Rallys.” Pictures shown are from the 1970 International Tulip Rally taken at Grenoble France. First shows Lucas with two Lancia racing mechanics; he drove the spare 1600 HF Coupé. Second is Sergio Barbasio who was the pilot, third photo is Sergio with navigator Mario Manucci and two mechanics discussing service points and the last one me again with the boys.
The Lancia Importers
The people who manned the bodyshop, paintshop and the upholstery shop were indeed exceptional masters of their trade; a new aluminum Zagato body part was hammered and welded on without any fuss. A dent I made when fixing a hardtop on a Flaminia Touring was fixed immediately and the paintshop reprayed the former dent some four square inches and although it was a metallic paint, one couldn’t put his finger on where the damage was done. As for the upholsterer, when a client ordered a leather interior he or she was invited to accompany the man in charge to the suppliers to select the hides for the car. The bond with our Lancia owners was close.
Learning from Luigi
Lucas learned all about working on Lancias from the former gentleman chief mechanic Luigi Bena. “One trick every Lancia owner wants to learn is how we balanced the long Aurelia and Flaminia driveshafts. One only needs a blackboard chalk, a stroboscope, a hose clamp and several pieces of wheel balancing lead. Including driving up the ramp takes less than 15 minutes to get it done.
“At the time I worked with the Importers, Lancias were mostly bought by well-to-do people like Ministers of State, aristocrats, large company directors, airline pilots and sometimes the ones who just thought themselves famous in the Netherlands; all the way a funny lot. Keeping them all happy was our master mechanic Bena who came from Italy and was a very well-respected former employee of the Lancia factory. He was a keen driver, and did factory test drives and rallying in Aurelia B20s. When head of the technical department in Holland he sometimes contacted Lancia with advice on new models and sometimes production changes were made accordingly.”
Lucas too, met his share of unforgettable people. “I remember that as a young enthusiast during my Lancia years, Lancia author Wim Oude Weernink visited the showroom frequently and always asked for permission to look around in the cellar where all the Lancia sales fliers and booklets were kept. He was always allowed a copy when new announcements were made, must have collected a ton of Lancia paperwork during that time. He had – and still has – some very nice old Lancias including an Appia pick-up.”
In our conversation, I mentioned that I had written “The Volkswagen Buyer’s Guide”, and quickly learned that Lucas, too was involved with Beetle projects. One was a Beetle pick up with a camping tent, and another was a Beetle Woody. He also restored a Bobsy Vanguard Formula Vee.
“When the wife’s Bug was changed for a new Lancia Junior, I transformed it into a pick-up with a camping tent on top. We visited Spain and the UK with it and had lots of fun. Then with some friends, we used a Stevenson project to build three VW Woody Wagons.”
“I also imported an original Bobsy Vanguard Formula Vee which I completely restored and sold it to a German enthusiast. I still have a copy of an original Bobsy sales brochure stamped December 1964. But now I have space for an old Lancia just to drive around on little trips about town. The car will have company of two bikes and one is yes, Italian. An Aermacchi Ala Verde four stroke, just 250 cc, and a retro Triumph T100 Bonneville.”
He then recalled another Beetle project, the VW VEEP kit. This was a VW chassis with a body that looked like a Jeep. There is some irony here. “I was keen to import a whole bunch of them but due to road restrictions it’s still a lot of trouble to get a kit car legal.”
But really he was just beginning with Lancia.
Part 2: Lancia ownership, restoration, models, the Boss’s Lancia