Chassis Num: 489
Engine Num: 500
High bid of $280,000 at 2015 RM Auctions. (did not sell)
The Isotta Fraschini automobile bears the name of its founders, Cesare Isotta, and Vincenzo, Oreste and Antonio Fraschini. Before the Milanese friends and brothers founded Automobili Isotta, Fraschini & Company in 1900, they assembled Renaults.
They were among the early pioneers of the overhead camshaft engine, with an engine designed by Giustino Cattaneo. Isotta Fraschini introduced the Tipo 8, the first production automobile to be powered by a straight-eight engine, at the Paris Salon in 1919 and began delivering them to customers in 1920.
Isotta Fraschini also marketed deluxe limousines to the new American aristocracy. Early film stars Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino drove Isotta Fraschinis.
Isotta Fraschini was a pioneer of eight-cylinder engines, offering the world's first mass-production, inline, eight-cylinder engine in 1912. This dedication to new technology and luxury appointments made the brand popular in the United States, where among foreign brands only Rolls-Royce outsold them for a time. Isottas were also wildly expensive, a rolling chassis retailed for a then-stratospheric $10,000 each by the mid-1920s.
Seriously affected by the economic crisis of the 1930s and by the disruptions of World War II, Isotta Fraschini stopped manufacturing automobiles in 1949.
It is believed that approximately twenty surviving complete Tipo 8 Isottas of all body styles remain in existence. The original owner of this chassis (number 489) is not known. In the 1970 book The Custom Body Era
, Hugo Rfau recorded many of his recollections while working alongside Ray Dietrich, Frank Pease, Ralph Roberts, and Roland Stickney as a young office assistant/draftsman at the coachbuilding firm of LeBaron. Pfau mentions Mr. George Piperno, an enthusiast of Isotta and LeBaron, who had 'five or six with LeBaron bodies.' Four of Piperno's Isotta Fraschini's are known, of which three survived World War II. Further evidence which suggests this car may have been owned by Piperno is a rendering by a LeBaron colleague (Mr. Roland Stickney) of Pfau. The image is unmistakably this car, along with his firsthand identification of this car as the first of several LeBaron-bodied Isottas built for Piperno.
Mr. William Pollock purchased this car at some point after World War II. The car remained in the Pollock Collection from 1954 to 1961, as is noted in classic car registers. By 1968, the car was listed as being with Alfred N. Rodway, of Cleveland, Ohio, who kept in his museum, Rodway's Classic Era. It is believed that Rodway performed a cosmetic restoration at that time, finishing the car in the two-tone color scheme of black and red to highlight the signature LeBaron 'spade' that sweeps down the length of the hood. At that time, several pieces of the interior were reupholstered.
In 1970, Mr. Walter Weimer of Washington, Pennsylvania became the car's next caretaker. He owned it for five years before selling it to LaVerne Johnson, of Gregory, Michigan. The Johnson family would retain the car for the better part of four decades. In 2000, they commissioned Clark-Patton Inc., of Plymouth, Michigan, to perform a mechanical restoration, which reportedly included an engine rebuild. Further work was later performed by Brian Joseph, which included the relining of the clutch's friction linings, replacing the transmission pilot bearing, cleaning the clutch splines, adjusting the clutch, inspecting the brakes, and installing new tires.
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 2006