Vittorio Jano studied at the Instituto Professionale Operaio in Turin, Jano initially took employment as a draughtsman for car and truck company Rapid, before moving to Fiat in 1911.
Working for the most prominent automobile pioneer of the era, his reputation grew quickly, and Alfa Romeo, seeking to use motor sport as a promotional platform for their production cars, were quick to pounce. Tasked with creating a winning race car from scratch, Jano did just that, his P2 taking victory in its first race, as well as winning at the Grand Prix of Europe in 1923.
He went on to design the first true single seater racing car, the P3 Monoposto, which also took victory first time out at the Italian Grand Prix of 1932. It was a pioneering design, light in weight, and allowed the driver to sit much lower in the cockpit due to the use of twin driveshafts to drive the rear wheels.
This was followed by a move to Lancia shortly after the death of Vicenzo Lancia in 1937, which, Second World War notwithstanding, ultimately led to the creation of the Lancia D50 in 1953.
The D50 was another pioneering design, lighter still, and featuring an engine mounted at twelve degrees in order to reduce the frontal area of the car, it allowed the driver to be seated even lower still. It was the first racing car to use the engine as a partially-stressed member.
Its fuel tanks were situated either side of the cockpit, in between the front and rear wheels. This allowed for significantly better weight distribution and improved handling. Introduced for the final round of the 1954 season, the car qualified a full second quicker than Juan Manuel Fangio’s hitherto all-conquering Mercedes, but failed to finish the race. Nevertheless a clear marker had been laid.
1955 provided further evidence of the car’s pace, though a series of accidents and mechanical mishaps kept it from regular wins.
Tragically, the team’s lead driver Alberto Ascari was killed driving a Ferrari road car at Monza. Lancia withdrew from motor racing – the company had at any rate fallen into financial trouble.
But what could have spelled the end for Jano’s career and his innovative design turned into an opportunity to join another famous Italian marque. Enzo Ferrari spied the opportunity to bring in both the D50 and its designer into his own Ferrari racing team.
The results were immediate; Ferrari won five of that year’s eight races, with Fangio taking the driver’s title, all using the Lancia dressed with the prancing horse motif.
Working alongside Carlo Chiti, Jano’s final championship came via the 1958 Ferrari 246, the last front-engined car to win a Grand Prix, but more significantly was the first to feature a V6 engine. Jano was the key player in the development of Ferrari’s V6 and V8 engines.
Sadly, Jano fell ill in 1965 and, following the death of his son that same year, took his own life.