Ex-Nathan Clark and Gerry Albertini, one-of-two Lancefield bodied Isottas, offered publicly for the first time since 1961
1931 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Two-Door Faux Cabriolet
Coachwork by Lancefield
Chassis no. 1677
Engine no. 1677
Original UK Registration No. GT 2454
Cesare Isotta and Oreste Fraschini founded their company in 1900, displaying their first primitive 5hp, single-cylinder car at the Milan Exposition in 1901. Progress was rapid, speeded by the company's involvement in motor sport, celebrated victories including the 1908 Targa Florio and a sensational second place in the challenging 1908 Vanderbilt Cup. The firm built many fine cars prior to The First World War, but is best remembered today for the Giustino Cattaneo-designed Tipo 8 and its derivatives.
Developed prior to WWI and introduced in August 1919 as the result of Isotta's switch to a one-model policy, the massively built Tipo 8 was the world's first series-production straight eight. Its magnificent engine was a 5.9-liter, overhead-valve unit producing 80bhp at a lowly 2,200rpm; a nine-bearing crankshaft, alloy cylinder block and magneto ignition were features. Chassis details included a three-speed gearbox, multi-plate clutch, semi-elliptic springing and coupled four-wheel brakes.
Conceived as a chauffeur-driven luxury conveyance, the Tipo 8 was aimed at the American market where it was the choice of such world-famous film stars as Rudolph Valentino and 'It Girl' Clara Bow. Other Isotta owners included press baron William Randolph Hearst and world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. In 1924 the revised Tipo 8A was introduced, which featured a 7.3-liter engine producing around 115bhpmaking it the most powerful straight-eight in productionand Isotta's highly regarded three-speed synchromesh transmission. Improvements to the chassis and suspension were implemented also.
In the USA, where Isotta Fraschini was the second most popular foreign make after Rolls-Royce, the price of an 8A exceeded even that of a Duesenberg Model J. The chassis alone was priced at $9,750 while coachbuilt models could cost upwards of $20,000. With one third of all Tipo 8 production going to the United States, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression hit Isotta hard. An improved Tipo 8B featuring a four-speed transmission was introduced in 1931 but it is thought that fewer than 100 examples were built compared with 320 of the Tipo 8 and 950 of the 8A. After Henry Ford's plan to save the company failed, Isotta Fraschini was bought by aircraft manufacture, Count Caproni di Talideo in 1932. Pre-war car production ceased in 1935, Isotta Fraschini concentrating on aero engines and trucks thereafter. There was an abortive comeback attempt in 1947 with a rear-engined V8, but the project foundered after relatively few cars had been completed.
GT2454 was built relatively late in the 8A production run. First registered in the London on November 11th, 1931, the car was fitted handsome coupe bodywork from English coachbuilder Lancefield. Operated by the Gaisford Brothers on Lancefield Street in London, early commissions mostly came from Rolls-Royce and Bentley with more than 150 Rollers ending up clothed in Lancefield's handiwork, but they also built bodies for Delage, Stutz, Lagonda, and on two occasions, Isotta Fraschini (the other example, a Sedanca de Ville, is on permanent display at the Schlumpf Collection). Less conservative than many of the other British coachbuilders of the day, some of their trademark features were helmet fenders, teardrop step plates in place of running boards, gun-turret tops, and ample louvers along the lower bodywork.
GT2454 was bought new as a present for a gentleman's lucky girlfriend. A young woman with a need for speed, she must have given the big coupe quite a bit of stick in her tenure of care as she had managed to throw a rod through the block only a year after receiving the car. As was sometimes the case, the Isotta was laid up after the incident. In the mid-50s the car was rediscovered and restored by Jack Barclay Ltd., shortly thereafter turning up in 1959 at the Halfway Garages (Padworth) Limited. An ad in Motor Sport magazine listing the Isotta as having 13,000 miles from new and with an asking price of £1,250nearly £400 more than a 1931 Bentley 4½ Blower, s/n MS3938, that was listed in the same adcaught the attention of noted R.J. Reynolds tobacco heir Gerry Albertini. A collector of some note, a September 1959 Motor Sport article entitled 'White Elephantitis' detailed Mr Albertini's collection at the time, which included the ex-André Dubonnet Hispano Suiza H6C Tulip-bodied roadster and the Isotta offered here.
The car only remained in Albertini's care for a few years before it was on sale again with Halfway Garages. Advertised in much the same way as it had been previously in Motor Sport, it was purchased by Nathan Clark in 1962. In the late 60s the big coupe was shipped to New York.
A patron of dance, and its young female participants, Clark kept the Isotta in New London, Connecticut, home to the American Dance Festival. Serving on the board of the festival, he would attend the annual event in his regal motorcar and shuttle himself and his companions between New London and New York City where he maintained brownstone in Gramercy Park with a hot tub that he had installed in the living room. When the festival moved to Durham, North Carolina in 1976, Clark had the Isotta placed in storage with only 14,056 miles on the clock, gathering dust and hidden in plain sight behind glass on a main road. He never saw the car again.
Like an Indiana Jones-discovered Arch of the Covenant collecting dust in a nondescript government warehouse, the Isotta sat undisturbed for 37 years, the Clark family diligently paying each storage bill. With a bit of air in the tires, the old girl was brought out into the open air again for the first time since the Gerald Ford administration for the photography featured herein. Like a time capsule, everything was left in the car as it was when it was parked including old American Dance Festival brochures and a 1974 copy of The New York Times.
Having emerged from its place of rest, the car now shows phenomenal patina. The interior is a symphony of richly aged wood and leather, although there is a bit of shrinkage on the door panels. The dash features a full complement of gauges, including a Coley oil pressure gauge, Isotta temperature gauge, a later Smiths fuel gage, and Jaeger clock and speedometer. A once present sunroof hole in the headliner appears long covered. Under the hood the engine has mellowed to a lovely bronze hue. The handsome coupe coachwork has huge potential with a bit of refurbishment.
A fantastic candidate for preservation or restoration, it represents an extremely rare opportunity to acquire one of the only Isotta Fraschini coupes in existence. Offered public for the first time in half a century, it is unlikely that the chance to obtain it will repeat itself in a generation. With a bit of refurbishment it will no doubt be ready to attend another dance festival and it will no doubt be just effective in achieving Nathan Clark's objectives now as it did then.
- Please note that the title for this vehicle is in transit.