The Isotta Fraschini factory produced Italy's most famous luxury automobiles. The company was founded in 1900 in Milan and continued operations until 1948. They were a favorite of the royalty and wealthy of Europe and they were eventually exported for sale in the United States. The Tipo 8 was introduced in 1919 with a new straight eight engine, developing 50 horsepower at 2200 rpm. This was the first time a straight eight was used in series production in Italy. It was also among the first to use an overhead camshaft and one of the earliest proponents of four-wheel brakes.
This example has a torpedo body designed and built by the great Italian coachbuilder Cesare Sala, and was originally commissioned by Queen Marie of Romania. It was purchased for just under $20,000. The opulent Tipo 8 model was very popular with royalty and American movie stars such as Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow.
The car spent many years in Harrah's Reno, Nevada collection, and later the Imperial Palace museum in Las Vegas. In 2001, the car was auctioned and purchased by Rob Meyer, who in turn sold it to the current owner in 2003. By this point in history, the car needed an interior restoration and hadn't been run in many years. The owner revived the engine himself, a job that entailed fabricating a number of parts.
The result of the work was a worthy example representative of its legendary name among classic automobiles.
In 1919, the Isotta-Fraschini introduced the Type 8 and its new inline eight-cylinder engine, designed by Giustino Catteneo. This was the first production straight eight on record. The power plant produced 85 horsepower from the 6.2 liters in 1922 and although it wasn't very powerful, it was very quiet and smooth.
Like many other vehicles of the era, Isotta-Fraschini cars emerged from the Milan factory as rolling chassis and were then given prestigious bodies from the many talented coach-building firms. Many elegant body styles were created, going to celebrity clientele that included Rudolf Valentino, Clara Bow, William Randolph Hearst, Jack Dempsey, Pope Pius XI, and Benito Mussolini.
In 1902, Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini created the Isotta Fraschini Company. This decision was made after years of successfully importing French vehicles to Italy. Automobile production was very new and this led to the creation of hundreds of independent automobile producers world-wide. It was also a very unique time in history since the automotive market was evolving, and so were the designs. This was true for the Isotta Fraschini Company, and they were rewarded for their unique creations by continued success. The elegantly designed automobiles were popular with the rich clientele. Their creations were reliable, stylish, and quick. At Targa Florio in 1908, one of their automobiles won.
In 1912 the Isotta Fraschini Company introduced a straight eight cylinder engine but would not go into production until 1919 due to World War I. During the war, the Company shifted its resource to building airplane engines. When the war was over, the eight-cylinder engine was used to power their Tipo 8, making it the first straight-eight cylinder engine to go into production. The 5.9-liter engine was capable of producing 100 horsepower, an extremely difficult accomplishment at the time.
In 1924, the engine capacity of the engine was increased to 7.3 liters, giving the vehicle between 110 and 120 horsepower depending on the configuration. The name was modified to reflect this change and was dubbed the 8A. The company claimed the vehicle could accelerate to a top speed of 90 miles-per-hour.
The vehicle could be had in a variety of flavors and sizes. The standard model sat atop a 145 inch wheelbase while a sportier version was fitted with a 134 inch wheelbase. The price to own one of these magnificent creations was not cheap, weighing in around $20,000.
In 1931 a four-speed gearbox and a refined engine was introduced and the name was changed to 8B. As with most businesses at this time, the Great Depression and a second World War had taken its toll on the company. The company had shifted focus to creating airplane and marine engines during World War II. After the war, several efforts were made to jump-start the vehicle production but all attempts failed. The factory was forced to close.
By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2005