World War 1 (1914-1918) witnessed the first large-scale use of the armored car in warfare. Such vehicles offered protection for a modestly-sized operating crew and provided overwhelming force against regular infantry in a direct firefight. It was only the changing terrain of the war that limited the tactical usefulness of the armored car as the conflict devolved to its "Trench Warfare" status. Armored cars - heavy, large and cumbersome beasts - fared poorly on soft, uneven ground and proved cannon fodder to enemy artillery and machine guns.
The Italians, for their part in the war, manufactured the Lancia 1Z and the related Lancia 1ZM cars - both built by Ansaldo. The 1Z model first appeared during the fighting of 1916 and followed the same form and function of many of the war's armored car offerings - built atop a proven commercial truck chassis and armed with machine guns. A truck manufactured by Lancia made up the framework of the 1Z so the vehicle went on to bear the manufacturer's name as a result.
Externally, the car exhibited the general form of a standard truck of the period - the engine was held in a forward compartment with the driver immediately aft of this installation. Over the rear of the vehicle was set an armored superstructure. The initial production batch of 1Z cars showcased a flat-topped, cylindrical turret over the superstructure. In total there were three machine guns fitted and armor protection for the crew of six reached 9mm. Power for the 3.7 tonne vehicle was from a single gasoline-fueled engine outputting up to 49 horsepower. Road speeds reached 60 kmh with operational ranges out to 300 kilometers. Total production was ten cars built to this standard.
The original 1Z car managed a good-enough showing for its years of combat service so this led to another form emerging - the 1ZM. The 1ZM incorporated slight modifications to the base design , namely the lack of the roof-mounted turret and its associated machine gun fit. Spare tires were also carried along the sides of the hull (near midships) and the armor design at the vehicle's bow was changed some. The 1ZM was ordered through a production batch of 110 cars in 1917 and all were in inventory by the end of 1918 - leading the car to sometimes carry the designation of "Model 1918". At any rate, World War 1 ended in November of that year with the Armistice.
The terrain of the Italian Front limited the combat usefulness of the 1Z / 1ZM series so little operational history was made during this time. The vehicles were used in training by both Italian and American army forces during the war years and it appears that some might have fallen under German and Austro-Hungarian control. After the war, the Italian Army shipped some of the cars overseas to reinforce their colonial holdings, used in security roles against possibly restless natives. The nation of Albania operated a small stock of the cars for local government security.
In the lead-up to World War 2 (1939-1945), the Italians featured several examples of their Lancia cars in both the invasion of Ethiopia (Second Italo-Ethiopian War - 1935-1936) and in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). By this time, the design was largely outmoded in terms of frontline combat but could still find success against lesser foes.
With World War 2 in full swing following the German invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, the Lancia vehicles were still in play to a limited extent. These were primarily limited to the African Campaign where operators went on to include Italy, Afghanistan, Hungary, and Germany. In the German Army inventory, the vehicles were redesignated to "Panzerspahwagen 1ZM(i)".