Paul Libovitz is living proof that cherished memories can mean much more than cold, hard cash. When his grandfather, Cecil, passed away in 1969, Paul’s father gave him the choice of two Lancia Aurelias – a stately saloon and a racier, newer GT. Paul, then aged 20, would have been forgiven for opting for the sporty, pale blue GT, valued at £300, but it was the muddy green saloon, slowly rotting away in a dank garage and worth £60 that had long ago captured his heart.
“It was an old banger by 1969. My father said ‘which one would you like?’ and I said I will have the saloon – I remember being in the car with my grandfather whereas the GT was a later purchase and I never got any emotional attachment to it,” says Paul, leafing through a collection of old photographs of the Lancia.
I loved the car and I never saw another one anywhere
“I was eight years old when my grandfather bought the car in 1957 and it always appealed to me. I spent a lot of time with him and got on well with him and used to enjoy sitting beside him because of his style of driving, which was enthusiastic! He was quite entertaining and those things stick in your mind. I loved the car and I never saw another one anywhere – not many came over from Italy.”
Now, exactly 50 years after his much-loved grandfather took delivery of the Aurelia, Paul cares for it like the family heirloom it has become. The Lancia Aurelia B22 was mechanically advanced for its time, featuring a transaxle gearbox, dual Weber carburetors and telescopic dampers, and was no slouch for a 1950s motor, boasting 90bhp and capable of topping 100mph. All of which was a major factor in Cecil, an engineer by trade, opting for the car over a British 50s saloon.
“He bought an AC 2-litre new in 1948, I think, and by 1957 it had really rotted badly; he replaced it with this car because it was of mechanical interest to him,” says Paul. “My grandfather was never concerned about washing or polishing the car. He wasn’t interested in the outside of the car and couldn’t care less about the paintwork. All that concerned him was that all the mechanicals worked as they should do. He always had spare parts in a basket behind his seat.
“The car had quite a nice engine. At the time Lancia was a premium brand – the Italian equivalent of a Mercedes or a Rolls-Royce, always used as Italian government vehicles and more upper class than an Alfa Romeo. They were over-engineered though, so they never really made any money on the cars.”
Paul’s Aurelia was first registered on November 28, 1953, a few months after Queen Elizabeth II was crowned; Ian Fleming had published the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale; and Winston Churchill was Prime Minister for the second time. By the time it passed into his hands, Paul knew fairly quickly that some major work was needed on the car.
It was capable of doing 100mph – not that I was! – which is impressive for a 1953 car.
“The throttle stuck wide open as the car was going round Shepherd’s Bush green – that gave me a bit of a fright,” he laughs. “I did drive it for a fair while after I got it though, and I remember going to see a young lady in York and, coming back on the A1, I had a dice with an MGB and saw him off. It was capable of doing 100mph – not that I was! – which is impressive for a 1953 car.
“Grandfather didn’t use it all the time – he had bought a Fiat 500 and then a DAF 55 by the 1960s. The reason he never got rid of it was that my grandmother died in 1960, and that was the car she always rode in, so he never parted with it. He kept it in a dank garage for a number of years, which is why it rotted,” says Paul, whose house in Norwich is dotted with Lancia memorabilia, including an entire front grille hanging on one wall.
Living in London at the time, and working as a salesman at a sports car specialist dealing in everything from Lamborghinis to MG Midgets, Paul paid £1,040 to have the car restored in 1972 – less than the cost of a new MGB GT. Not that the process ran smoothly after the original restorer disappeared into the Staines night.
“I took the car to a place just outside Staines, went back six to eight weeks later and he had disappeared – the place was abandoned and my car was abandoned there with it,” says Paul. “I had a guy come and take it away because I was worried about it being vandalised. A chap named Brian Collins saw it – he was a heating engineer by trade and he’d always been a Lancia lover. He’d restored an Aprilia and decided to go into business restoring Lancias. He phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to sell it. I said no, but he could restore it if he wanted.”
It wasn’t the only time Paul has had to rebuff offers for the car over the years.
“I had a chap phoned me up about 10 years ago and wanted to know if I would like to sell it. He was looking for one for the Mille Miglia. I declined!” he says. “The car is eligible for the Mille Miglia, but the entry fee is £10,000, which I can’t afford! It’s the sort of thing I would like to have done about 20 years ago.”
So what happened to his grandfather’s Aurelia GT, which Paul passed up in favour of his true motoring love? “Brian, who restored my car, bought it and sold it to a doctor in New York. A lot of people weren’t interested in them, but if you wanted one, you really wanted one,” says Paul, who worked on and off in the motor trade during a varied career that also saw him work as a taxi driver, chauffeur, village postmaster and painter and decorator.
His work in the motor trade saw Paul united with the other great motoring love affair of his life – a jet black 1963 Morris Minor Traveller that he bought in 1975 and still owns today. “I was working at the garage and I quoted this chap £200 for the car over the phone,” he remembers. “When he turned up I had to stick by what I said. The governor came down and said ‘it’s not worth it’. I said it is worth it so I bought it myself. I left it in the showroom overnight to take home the next day, and three people came in and asked about it!”
It’s always been a good servant, always started and if it did fail there was always a simple fix
Having almost always had a demonstrator or work car to use daily, the “Moggy” remained a useful and reliable workhorse, and Paul “never saw any reason to get rid of it”. “I just kept it because it’s such a wonderful thing. If I got rid of it what would I get for it? Not much. It’s always been a good servant, always started and if it did fail there was always a simple fix. You can move house with a Traveller!”
Both cars reside in lock-up garages close to Paul’s terraced house, conveniently kept dry and (relatively) warm by heating pipes that run the length of the block. And neither of them are going anywhere soon. “You grow an attachment to these things and some of it’s nostalgia,” says Paul, whose neat home is full of period furniture and a myriad of clocks.
“It’s not that I don’t like modern stuff, but I was brought up in that era and it does tend to fix you – as you get older you get more like that. “It’s like my furniture – I can look at the car and think ‘that was my grandfather’s’. When something has been with you a long time, it becomes part of you. I look on it as a family item, definitely not as an investment – you need to insure it, garage it and run it, which all costs money.
“I’m a little bit in awe of it because it’s not quite my generation. I passed my test in 1967 – it’s not my era, so it’s a bit of a challenge. The Morris isn’t a challenge, it’s very simple, but the Lancia is a much more powerful car – I’m cautious of it.”
As for the future, Paul hopes the Lancia will remain a part of the family.
“I hope there will be someone in the family who will take it and look after as I have done,” he says.
For now though, the Lancia, and the Morris, will continue to be lovingly cared for as they have been for the best part of half a century.
Pictures by Simon Finlay.
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