Addenda to the Aprilia Section of Clive Beattie’s ‘FIFTY FIVE YEARS OF DIRTY HANDS’

(Originally published in the ALR Newsletter #200 September 2013.)

In Clive Beattie’s “Fifty Five Years of Dirty Hands” Chapter 22 there is some excellent advice and tips on many aspects of the Lancia Aprilia. When the book was originally published there were no illustrations available to accompany the text. Using my limited knowledge and the Lancia Co. instruction and parts manuals I felt it would be interesting to add some illustrations and also a few details of when some of the many changes occurred.

The following is his original unaltered text with my notes in italics


The Aprilia motor is another fine little unit that deserves a description and a few repair hints. The motor and gearbox are an integral unit, mounted in the frame on a pair of leaf springs at the side, and a rubber and steel bush at the rear with a bolt going right through from the tail shaft tunnel walls and a spacer to pick up the centre of this bush clamped in the gearbox rear cover.

(Prior to construction no. 3001 the rear of the gearbox is mounted via a fabric strip to the body)

The motor, a narrow vee of 72mm x 83mm in early models (1st series) and larger bore for later models 74.61 x 85mm (2nd series). It has a single overhead camshaft chain driven from crankshaft up to a sprocket with a vernier coupling on the end of the camshaft. It is tensioned by a spring loaded jockey pulley on a spur bearing that is part of a lever screwed to the front of the block. These parts are all drilled for oil pressure supply. Oil pump and distributor drive are taken off the crankshaft by a gear immediately in front of the chain sprocket.

The cylinder block and upper half of crankcase is alloy, and cast iron sleeves are cast in place, like the Lambda motor. The crankshaft, like all Lancia motors, is machined from one piece and hardened, and the Dural con rods run direct on to the big end journals. These rods needed full oil pressure to ensure lubrication, and older motors that had reduced oil pressure would tend to burn these rods out at their big ends. They were a bit fragile and have been known to break and wreck the crankcases.

The post war type had a much sturdier rod, still Dural, and had steel backed shells fitted to them. (p/no 38-2153 - From 1st series engine no. 7701 in mid 1938)

Main bearings were brass-backed shells and clutch thrust was taken on No.2 main bearing. A plate type self cleaning oil filter was originally fitted; being operated through a ratchet lever coupled to the clutch operating rod top. This is a full flow oil filter and the motor is protected from damage if this filter is blocked by a relief valve and spring to direct the oil into the oil gallery directly. This valve should not be confused with the pressure relief valve on the side of the block to control the oil pressure in the system, which also registers on the gauge.

The cylinder head is cast iron with inlet manifold ports separate to each cylinder, and the exhaust out the opposite side, also separate. The valves work in seats cut in the head metal direct and valves, which have double springs, run in cast iron guides. Camshaft is in a bolted-on box with three bearings and a quite complicated rocker set-up using double rockers and side shafts with small push rods to operate some valves, while others are operated direct from a shoe face in contact with the cam. The whole is lubricated by oil pumped from No. 1 main bearing. Spark plugs are set deep into the head and are in an oil bath all the time, the high tension spark being delivered to them via bakelite tubes. These tubes tend to break down in time and sparks will escape from them and will cause an explosion of gases built up in the rocker cover. It usually fires the oil cap out, with sufficient force to dent the bonnet metal. A modification using Peugeot adapters can be made up and work very well.

The distributor is an ordinary four lobe Marelli, with one pair of ignition points, and timing marks are stamped on the flywheel and crankcase, using the same A/A and 1-4 (1-3) as before. The flywheel is all steel with integral ring gear and never seems to give any trouble with starter operation.

The clutch is a single plate type of Lancia design and the pressure springs set around the outside of the pressure plate and a double hairpin type. These tend to lose their tension in time and may be re-tempered quite satisfactorily. Later cars used a heavy square section spring only. (From construction no. 5416. 2nd series have a larger 192mm diameter pressure plate)

The release bearing is on a sleeve and is a withdrawal type pulling the pressure plate away from the flywheel.

The gearbox on these cars is a four speed and one reverse crash type box, and is about the neatest gear set-up I have ever seen. No synchromesh is provided, and it is not needed. One car I owned had a worn first speed gear, and if you accelerated hard enough it would hop out of first straight into second without any assistance from the driver. An interlocking mechanism is incorporated in this box that is unique. A small rounded dowel (38-20008) is fitted into a sliding hub which forms third and fourth speed couples and on which first and second gear couples slide. This dowel drops in and out of grooves cut in the output shaft spline, and prevents incorrect movement. The gear lever is threaded into its ball socket to facilitate removal of the engine gearbox unit from the car.

An open tail shaft (38-231 & 38-233) carries the drive through fabric joints to the pinion with a centre support half way, and the whole drive unit at the rear is mounted on two cross members mounted to the main frame through rubber and steel bushings.

The wheels are carried on flanged short axles in two ball races in a housing that is the outer part of an arm (see Tavola 16, B) which turns at right angles through a rubber enclosed ball bearing that supports it to the outer frame section and extended inwards to the drive housing to a steel and rubber bushing clamped in a part of the pinion front housing. The outer race in the rubber shroud is a special bearing having no separator between the balls. This section of the arm and extension is hollow (N) and a torsion bar (t), splined at each end, is mounted under a torsional stress to clamped inner splines in the arm outer section (C) and the pinion housing inner section. Adjustment of this torsion bar to give correct car height and control of the main spring is important, and an alloy plate with the measurements to set the car height to when installing these bars, is riveted to the car side member immediately above this clamp on the arm.

The spring (M) is an extremely supple transverse type; hung on a wire rope (T) and bearing combination shackle at its outer ends (O), and seating on the centre section with double rubber and steel bushings clamped under the diff housing (S). This spring should never be dismantled from the car without a spreader to keep it extended to its outer limits. A broken wire rope shackle that has the effect of letting the spring suddenly rebound will turn this little car over. These springs will contract to an arc of about a 2’6” radius. Torsion bars (t) have fine splines, and often these splines, if not clamped properly (C), will cut out and then a very strange motion will be imparted to the car, making it unstable. These parts need constant attention or supervision to see that they do not deteriorate in any way.

Lubrication of these spring hanger bearings is carried out by unscrewing the dome nuts and filling with grease and screwing back on again. Axle couples to wheels are through a shaft with special large diameter universal joints on needle rollers (G), and a combination spline and ball assembly in each shaft to allow lateral movement. These joints need constant attention. Attempts to fit other type joints to these shafts usually result in failure, as angular movement in rotation is considerable.

The crown wheel and pinion are a hypoid type and pinion is mounted on two double row ball bearings; the front one locked into a housing bolted to the two halves of the main case (prior to construction no. 3001 there are three bearings, 2 single row roller & a double row thrust ball bearing) . Adjustment shims at this point locate the pinion to correct mesh with the crown wheel. Crown wheel is bolted and lock plated to a diff case mounted on two large double row ball bearings, and shims behind these races control crown wheel position. Oil seals are the glanded type and should be replaced with modern type seals, if possible. The front pinion housing outer ring will machine out easily to take a seal of this type. No gasket should be used between the two diff housings. Use gasket putty only.

The brakes on earlier Aprilia and Augusta too, were standard Lockheed type using inch size components, but later Aprilia used Sabif, (2nd series from construction no. 12778) the same as used on Aurelia cars. Rear brakes are inboard (E) and may be got at without dismantling axle housing, although drums can be difficult to draw off their splines sometimes. Adjustment of shoes is by snail type cams.

The front suspension on later Aprilia cars is practically the same as used on Aurelia and, except that rebound springs are used at both upper and lower ends instead of rubber buffers, and the piston rod spring-mounted at the top, most parts are the same design and the same repair instructions will apply. The earlier cars had a much smaller unit than the later ones. (In all there are four variations of the front suspension, two 1st series & two 2nd series)

Steering box is very like the Aurelia too, but uses only a segment of gearing on pitman shaft although eccentric bush adjustment is the same. Early pitman arms and shafts had a fine spline and needed watching to keep it clamped tight. Later cars had a much heavier spline. (From construction no. 3001) These cars were subject to wheel wobble if parts of the steering loosened up. The frame to axle bolts needed checking for tightness and frames were subject to cracking around engine mounting bay.

Front suspensions needed constant lubrication and filling of front shock absorbers by a special gun and fittings was essential for proper ride control. No needle valve was fitted to control oil flow in shock absorber (units from construction no. 13714 do have a needle valve) and I have had to build up pistons in the shock absorber unit with white metal to bring them up to closer fit in the inner bore of the main support tube to improve the ride of these cars.

Fuel tank is at the rear of the car and supply to the carburettor is through an engine mounted pump on an alloy extension with a bell crank to two push rods, one to the pump from one side of the crank, and the other to an eccentric on the vertical drive to the distributor. Too many wear points were the downfall of this set-up and most cars finished up with electric pumps. An elaborate fuel gauge was fitted with a loom of wiring running from a float operated switching unit in the tank to a dash instrument that lit up figures progressively, until at low point it flashed on a warning of low fuel content in the tank. Later cars had a rear shock absorber control which loaded the plate type shock absorbers by a hydraulic method. (SIATA units from construction no. 6601 to 11370 then Houdaille)

The fan and water pump system on this car was unique in that the generator and fan assembly was mounted in a square section right in the middle of the core of the radiator.

It was driven by V belt from crankshaft to pump to fan. Water pump was an alloy casting bolted directly to the bottom of the radiator bottom tank and had a pressed steel pulley to take V belt. These pumps were very fragile, and early ones used a series of cork washers to seal the shaft; later ones had a sealed type double row race. (Later 2nd series) There were far too many small parts in these pumps, and I have never been able to come up with a satisfactory method of repair. A new pump is the only answer to this problem.

Lancia Aprilias were produced in two series. 1st from 1937 to mid 1939 and 2nd from mid 1939 to 1949.

During that time, as well as the major changes from the 1st to 2nd series, there were numerous alterations and updates. Some of them are noted above. The construction number referred to is not the chassis number but the factory reference numbers. Berlina models, tipo 238 & 438 started at 1 and ran continuously to the last 2nd series car at 20082. Platform chassis have a different system.

Tipo 238.

1937     1 to 3900

1938     3901 to 8307

1939     8308 to 10354

Tipo 438.

1939     10355 to 10969

1940     10970 to 11711

1941     11712 to 12271

1942     12272 to 12668

1943     12669 to 12725

1944     na

1945     12726 to 12727

1946     12728 to 13660

1947     13661 to 15159

1948     15160 to 17647

1949     17648 to 20082

(data from “50 Anniversario Aprilia”)

Fifty Five Years of Dirty Hands chronicles the life of the late Clive Beattie, the doyen of Lancia in Melbourne and a recognised authority on the overhauling of mechanical parts of Aurelias and earlier model Lancias.

The book is published by the Australian Lancia Register. For enquires to purchase the book please contact Robert Bienvenu at

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1st series head with modified plug adaptors & later cam chain.

Left, early clutch. Right, later clutch.

Early, pre 3001, crown wheel & pinion with three bearings.

Original 1st series front suspension used up to 3000.

Final 2nd series front suspension, used from 13714.

2nd series water pump with modern seal.