Drive of the Phoenix
The ‘Steady Special’ Lancia Astura is driven for the First Time in over 50 Years at the London Classic Car Show
Following a six-year restoration costing hundreds of thousands, the renowned 1934 Lancia Astura ‘Steady Special’ will be driven for the first time in more than 50 years, gracing the Grand Avenue at this month’s London Classic Car Show, from 15th – 18th February, 2018.
The historic Lancia has been painstakingly restored and rebuilt to the unique design penned by its owner, the late Ronald ‘Steady’ Barker, ex-VSCC president and legendary Autocar road test editor and racing driver.
The project, which has finally made Barker’s dream a reality, was overseen by Michael Scott (Scottie), Steady’s long-time friend, founder of the renowned 96 Club and TIGOSE (The International Guild of Specialist Engineers) and current owner of the Lancia.
The Astura started life as a rather sedate six-seater limousine before it was acquired over sixty years ago for £75 by Barker who set about shortening its chassis and replacing the body with a lighter sportscar shell complete with a DB2 bonnet – in typical Steady fashion it became known as the ‘Short Arsed Tourer’. Steady competed with the reborn sportscar in VSCC race meetings, setting lap records at Silverstone, Oulton Park and Prescott in the early 1950s.
A Lancia enthusiast throughout his life, Barker only sold the Steady Special to Scottie in 1958 for the princely sum of £400 so that he could buy ‘the real thing’, an ex-Mille Miglia Lancia. Scottie painted his new acquisition ‘Italian red’, fitted it with an ‘ugly’ hood and promptly drove it down to the South of France on holiday.
On his return home, he entered the car in a VSCC competition at Silverstone but it was deemed ineligible due to its ‘non period’ Aston Martin bonnet – Steady had got away with this, while VSCC President. The Steady Special was fired up for the last time in 1976 before being sold on to a fellow Lancia Club member who removed the body shell but did little else to the car before putting the ‘skeleton’ back on sale in the mid-80s.
In 1990, Steady bought the engine and rolling chassis. It was during this second period of ownership that Steady designed, ‘on the back of a fag packet’, the body that he considered would be acceptable to the VSCC as a PVT Tourer.
The die was cast for the Steady Special’s third incarnation. However, it was not until 2011, some years after Scott also became a second-time around owner of the car, that the total ‘ground up’ restoration process began, with the fabrication of an all-new aluminium body fashioned to Barker’s own design.
Following a couple of false starts – and Steady’s death in 2015 at the age of 94 – Scottie enlisted the skills of the internationally-renowned 8C Alfa Romeo restorers Traction-Seabert to complete the works – with no expense spared – to their own exacting standards.*
Scottie said of the transformation:
“Here we had a car that was crying out to be restored, but also the legacy of sketches drawn by Steady some sixty years ago, illustrating how he imagined the Lancia should look.
I am delighted that Paul and Terry† and their exceptional team at Traction-Seabert have been able to bring Steady’s vision to life.
I’m hoping to race or even rally the car – the VSCC can’t refuse me now!”
The Steady Special, now resplendent in period indigo paintwork, will be one of a hundred ‘specials’ forming the centrepiece of the 2018 London Classic Car Show and can be admired in the paddock and on the Grand Avenue at Excel London from February 15th to 18th.
(*Another famous ex-Barker Astura, a 1933 Castagna ‘aerodinamica’ also owned by Scottie and also completely rebuilt by Traction-Seabert, has won five concours titles in the last 18 months, including the prestigious ‘Coppo d’Oro’ award at the Villa d’Este 2016 concourse in Lake Como, ‘The Vitesse – Elegance Trophy’ at Pebble Beach and the Best in Show title at last year’s Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court.)
(† Paul Grist, owner, and business partner Terry Butler.)