Lancia V-12 aircraft engine side

Lancia V-12 Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

Vincenzo Lancia was born near Turin, Italy in 1881. From an early age, he demonstrated an aptitude in mathematics that led him to become a bookkeeper by the age of 17. However, he was mainly interested in machinery and engineering, so he chose to be a bookkeeper for a small bicycle and auto repair shop, operated by the Ceirano brothers. There, he became more of a mechanic’s assistant than a bookkeeper. When the shop built an automobile, FIAT bought the business and made Lancia, who was only 19, chief inspector of their new factory and also a test driver. His driving skills impressed FIAT and they later made him a race driver.

Lancia V-12 aircraft engine

The Lancia V-12 aircraft engine displaying its individual cylinders and unique valve train. The engine was configured for pusher installations, which is why exhaust was expelled toward the propeller.

But Lancia wanted to design. In 1906, at the age of 25, he and another FIAT worker founded their own car company: Lancia & Company. Lancia and his company produced a number of vehicles and engines and became known throughout Europe. Always experimenting and innovating, Lancia took out patents for a narrow Vee engine configuration and an offset crankshaft in 1915. World War I interrupted plans to use the design for an automotive engine but gave Lancia incentive to build an aircraft engine.

The Lanica V-12 aircraft engine, sometimes referred to as the Type 4, was water cooled and had a 50 degree (some sources indicate 53 degree) cylinder angle. The engine’s individual steel cylinders were mounted to its aluminum crankcase. Each cylinder had one intake and one exhaust valve perpendicular to the cylinder axis. These horizontal valves opened into a small, rectangular clearance space above the cylinders that extended the combustion chamber above the piston. The valves were actuated by long rocker arms positioned in the Vee of the engine. A single hollow camshaft positioned in the middle of the Vee acted upon the rocker arms. The camshaft was driven from the crankshaft at the rear of the engine. The valve train was very similar to that used on the Duesenberg Model H aircraft engine.

Lancia V-12 aircraft engine Section

Sectional view of the Lancia V-12 aircraft engine showing a 53 degree angle between the cylinders. Note the long rocker arms, horizontal valves, and small space above the combustion chambers. This configuration was very similar to early Duesenberg engines.

Each cylinder had two spark plugs positioned opposite the valves. Two magnetos were positioned at the rear of the engine, each firing one spark plug per cylinder. One of the magnetos could be replaced by a distributor. Two Claudel-Lancia carburetors were mounted on each side of the engine. Each carburetor supplied air to three cylinders via a manifold that looped above the cylinders. A section of the intake manifold was jacketed to use engine cooling water to heat the air/fuel mixture as it travelled to the cylinders. Exhaust was expelled via a short manifold extending above each cylinder.

The hollow crankshaft had six throws and used a side-by-side connecting rod arrangement. However, to compensate for the odd Vee angle, each cylinder had its own crankpin that was slightly offset from the crankshaft’s center. Cast aluminum pistons and pressure lubrication were used. Cooling water was pumped into the jacket around each cylinder’s barrel via manifolds on each side of the engine. The water then flowed up into the cylinder head and finally into a manifold to be taken back to the radiator.

Lancia V-12 aircraft engine side

Side view of the Lancia V-12 illustrating the two carburetors and intake manifolds on the side of the engine. Note the two spark plugs for each cylinder.

The Lancia V-12 had a 4.72 in (120 mm) bore and a 7.09 in (180 mm) stroke. The engine’s total displacement was 1,491 cu in (24.4 L). The engine produced 320 hp (237 kW) at 1,380 rpm and was direct drive. A slightly larger version with a 4.75 in (120.7 mm) bore brought displacement up to 1,508 cu in (24.7 L). This version produced 380 hp (283 kW) at 1,420 rpm. The V-12 engine weighed 740 lb (335 kg).

Lancia V-12 aircraft engine top

A good view of the Lancia V-12 showing the two magnetos, open gear train, coolant manifolds, and hand crank at the rear of the engine used for starting.

The Lancia V-12 aircraft engine was built in 1916. It was installed in the Caproni Ca 37 and Ca 38 aircraft. These aircraft were fast light-bomber, ground attack prototypes. The aircraft never entered production, and it is not clear if the Lancia V-12 engine was installed in any other types.

At least one Lancia V-12 engine was shipped to the United States in late 1917. Thomas Evarts Adams, Inc represented Lancia & Company in New York and initiated the process of producing the engine in the United States. The engine was on display until early 1918 when it was then tested by the US government at McCook Field, Ohio. During testing, the engine did not develop the anticipated power. The V-12 produced 275 hp (205 kW) at 1,250 rpm and 305 hp (227 kW) at 1,400 rpm. Plans for producing the Lancia V-12 never moved forward. The end of World War I caused a large influx of surplus aircraft engines that left aircraft engine manufacturers with a very small market.

There is some indication that an additional version of the V-12 engine, sometimes referred to as the Type 5, was built with an increased capacity of 2,075 cu in (34 L). Some sources state that engines of both 50 and 53 degree cylinder angles were built. The sectional view has a 53 degree angle, but most sources state the angle was 50 degrees. Lancia continued to design narrow (as narrow as 22.5 degrees) V-12s for automotive use through the early 1920s, but none of the engines entered production. However, these engines led to a range of narrow V-8s and V-4s that Lancia did produce.

Caproni Ca 38 front

The Lancia V-12-powered Caproni Ca 38 prototype. The Ca 38 had a more streamlined fuselage than the Ca 37 but was otherwise very similar.

Textbook of Aero Engines by E. H. Sherbondy and G. Douglas Wardrop (1920)
Aerosphere 1939 by Glenn Angle (1940)
“To Build Lancia Airplane Engine,” Automobile Topics (17 November 1917)
Air Service Handbook by Iskander Hourwich (1925)
Los Motores Aeroespaciales: A-Z by Ricardo Miguel Vidal (2012)
The V-12 Engine by Karl Ludvigsen (2005)
Gli Aeroplani Caproni by Gianni Caproni (1937)

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