In 1908, Fiat introduced a chain-driven Grand Prix racing car which they dubbed the SB4. It was used in competition and that is where Sir Ernest Eldridge from Britain saw it perform. Impressed with its capabilities and potential, he purchased the car with the intent on transforming it into a speed record breaker.
Powering the car was a mammoth 18-liter engine. Though extremely large, Eldridge desired more. He had it replaced with an airplane powerplant that was liquid-cooled and displaced 21.7 liter. The six-cylinder Type A-12 Bis produced an astonishing 320 horsepower at a mere 1800 RPM. The engine was extremely powerful, but it was also very heavy and long. In order to accommodate the extra size and weight, Eldridge lengthened the SB4's chassis using parts from a London bus. The power from the engine was sent to the rear wheels via a chain and braking was done by a hand brake which stopped the rear wheels.
On July 12th of 1924 the modified racer, now called the Mefistofele due to its ominous smoke and explosions produced by the engine, set the world land speed record in Arpajon, France after achieving a top speed of 234.980 km/h (146 mph). The record would remain for 32 days. However, it is believed that this was the last land speed record set on public roads.
In 1969, the Mefistofele was purchased from Sir Eldridge's heirs by Fiat's boss Giovanni Agnelli. It was then shipped to Italy, where it was treated to a major restoration and added to the company's historic collection. It currently resides in the Centro Storico Fiat in Turin.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2011
Mephistopheles, the powerful, giant record-breaking car from 1923, is to put its pace to good use again this weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The monster car, built by Sir Ernest Eldridge on the base of a 1908 Fiat SB4 Corsa and powered by a WW1 Fiat A12 aircraft engine (the A-12 Bis), is the only one of its kind in the world, and will be going up the Goodwood Hill twice a day over the Festival of Speed weekend.
Part of a group of big racers, it's in a batch called, 'Pioneering Giants' and will also be on display in the Cathedral Paddock.
Eldridge modified the car by lengthening the chassis (the wheelbase was lengthened to 11ft 5 1/8thins), using parts derived from a London bus, and adding the aircraft engine converted to deliver 320 HP. On 12 July 1924, Mephistopheles - so called due to the bangs and puffs of smoke that it emitted when capturing the world land speed record - reached the extraordinary figure of 234.97km/h (146.01mph).
Since 1969 it has belonged to Fiat's historical collection, and recently underwent a long and intensive process of restorationSource - Fiat