During the 1950s European built open two-seaters became increasingly popular in the United States. Since in the US the effects of the post war depression were far less dramatic than in Europe and there was a considerable difference in wealth it was an attractive export market for European car manufacturers. A segment of the US car market which was neglected by the local manufacturers was the sportscar and especially young car buyers formed a ready market for the lively and affordable open two-seaters which British manufacturers offered.
The popularity of these cars in the US attracted other European manufacturers to compete for a part of this market. A country with at least as much tradition in producing open two-seaters as Great Britain was of course Italy. Obviously Italian manufacturers were interested to sell their cars in the US, but they had a harder time on this market than their British and German counterparts. In part this had to do with the language barrier, but also limited series production, availability of parts and reliability issues formed factors.
Lancia, in dire need of capital, decided to attempt to enter the US sportscar market after a contact with Maximilian Hoffmann, an European car dealer and importer in the US of German origin and responsible for the successful introduction of Porsche in the US. The car was to be an open two-seater based on the chassis of the B20 GT 2500 of the fourth series. In 1954 this car was developed and tested and in 1955 it was presented to the public at the Brussels Car Show.
It was named the Aurelia B24 spider. The body was designed and manufactured by Pininfarina and it was breathtakingly beautiful. The elegant flowing lines of the B24 spider are considered to be some of the best work of the master coachbuilder and have influenced the designs of a number of other cars.
Most notable element of the design was the panoramic windshield, styled after the American fashion at the time and wrapping itself over the beginnings of the doors at the sides. Other styling features were the traditional shield-like Lancia grill in front cutting the bumper distinctly in half, the hood scoop indicating a powerful engine and the voluptuous rear end.
It was an uncompromising design and as a consequence it wasn't all that practical. The main drawback appeared when it started to rain: the car had to be stopped, the separate side windows taken out of the boot and fitted and then the simple cloth hood had to be attached and erected. And even after that the car wasn't weather-proof because water leaked between the edges of the windshield and the side windows. But who cared, the spider was meant for the warmer climates anyway and it was a small price to pay for its drop-dead looks.
As you can see here Pininfarina did offer a matching hardtop for those who needed more protection against bad weather. It was an expensive extra at the time and as a result it's very rare.
Underneath its stylish skin there was the 2451 cc V6 Aurelia engine with 118 hp @ 5000 rpm. It propelled the 1060 kg car to a maximum speed of 185 kph. The spider body was fitted on the shortened chassis of the Aurelia GT 2500, complete with its 4-speed transaxle gearbox and De Dion rear wheel suspension, and the car measured 420 x 155 x 129 cm (length x width x height).
The Aurelia spider wasn't the commercial success that Lancia had hoped. It was only produced in 1955 and just 240 (59 right hand drive and 181 left hand drive) left the factory. Reportedly 50 of these cars ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean when transport ship Andrea Doria sank on its way to the US. Main reason for its failure was its price; unlike the popular mass produced British sportscars this virtually handbuilt car was expensive, even for American standards. In the US it competed with cars like the Mercedes 190 SL (also introduced in 1955) but it took almost 50% more money to buy one.
Currently the Aurelia B24 spider is a sought after classic. Probably not very well known to the general public but enthusiasts are prepared to pay very high sums of money to buy one. Obviously this model is rare, but a high percentage of produced cars have survived to this day and some people even claim that a number of spiders have been salvaged from the wreck of the Andrea Doria. So Aurelia spiders do appear on shows and other events once in a while, but owning one takes some luck and a very well-filled wallet.