1927 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8AS Tourer Coachwork by Carrozzeria Castagna Registration no. SV 4498 Chassis no. 1390 Engine no. 1413
The Isotta Fraschini was Italy's prestige car, just as Rolls-Royce was Britain's and the Hispano-Suiza France's. All were rivals and each claimed the title of 'best car in the world'. Founded in Milan in 1899 by partners Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini, Isotta-Fraschini started out as Renault agents and exhibited the first car of its own, a single-cylinder, 5hp model, at the 1901 Milan Expo. The company was soon making a name for itself in competition and would continue to enjoy success for many years. In June 1902 Vincenzo's brother Oreste Fraschini took 2nd place in the Sassi-Superga Hillclimb while six years later the marque scored a resounding victory in the tough Targa Florio race and took 2nd place in the Vanderbilt Cup. In 1913 three Isotta Fraschinis were entered in the Indianapolis 500 race, becoming the first cars with four-wheel brakes to compete in that event. Records show that among the Isotta Fraschini drivers in 1920 was a young Italian named Enzo Ferrari.
Isotta-Fraschini built many fine cars prior to WWI but is best remembered today for the Giustino Cattaneo-designed Tipo 8 and its derivatives. 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-litre, 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. By contrast, Rolls-Royce did not fit four-wheel brakes until 1925. Conceived as a chauffeur-driven luxury conveyance, the Tipo 8 was aimed at the United States market where it was the choice of such world-famous film stars as Rudolph Valentino and 'It Girl' Clara Bow. Other Isotta owners in the United States included press baron William Randolph Hearst (Orson Wells' real-life model for 'Citizen Kane') and world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Customers closer to home included the Queen of Rumania, the King of Italy, Pope Pius XI, Benito Mussolini and a host of European princes, while King Fuad of Egypt, King Faissal of Iraq, the Aga Khan and various Indian maharajahs all bought Isottas. The company's claim that it produced 'The Aristocrat of Automobiles' was no idle boast.
The Tipo 8 remained in production from 1919 until 1924 when it was superseded by a redesigned 7.4-litre version: the Tipo 8A, which in turn gave way to the revised Tipo 8B in 1931. With a chassis price in the USA of $10,000, the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8B was even more expensive that a V16 Cadillac. Weighing 30cwt (approximately 1,520kg) the Tipo 8 was produced only in chassis form, leaving specialist coachbuilders to supply appropriately luxurious, custom-built bodies. These included formal town carriages, elegant limousines, 'torpedo' tourers, cabriolets and sporting two-seaters; and because of the engine's output (around 110-115bhp in the case of the Tipo 8A) most could reach 100mph even when burdened with the weightiest of bodywork.
For a few years in the mid-1920s, the company also offered high-performance versions of the Tipo 8A the limited edition Tipo 8AS/8ASS which came with a modified engine producing 155-160bhp and were the closest Isotta came to making a sports car. Driving a Tipo 8AS, Duke Pio Arate di San Pietro finished in 1st place in both the 1925 and '26 Targa Abruzzo races.
Like many companies, Isotta Fraschini fell victim to the Depression and the fact that its one model was aimed at the top end of the market. With one third of all Tipo 8/8A/8B production going to the USA, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing economic meltdown hit Isotta hard. It is thought that fewer than 100 examples of the Tipo 8B were built, compared with 320 of the Tipo 8 and 950 of the 8A. Pre-war car production ceased in 1935, the firm concentrating thereafter on aero engines and trucks.
Chassis number '1390' carries four-door open tourer coachwork by Carrozzeria Castagna, which together with Cesare Sala, another of Italy's premier coachbuilders, was responsible for bodying the lion's share of production. The car was delivered new in April 1927 to Isotta Motors Co in New York, USA and purchased at auction by the current owner in December 1988. Its history was incomplete at that time but its last known owner was recorded in Angelo Tito Anselmi's book on Isotta Fraschini as Basil Scully of West Groton, Massachusetts. The vendor telephoned Mr Scully who revealed that he had bought the car in January 1946 for $85 from a scrap dealer who 'knew nothing of the car's history and cared less' (see purchase receipt and letter on file). Mr Scully had a motor trade business and only drove the Isotta around his premises before putting the car away in the garage, always with the intention of restoring it. There are three photographs on file depicting the Isotta when it was delivered to Basil Scully, while correspondence on file shows that he sold the car to the Old Philadelphia Motor Co in November 1986. The only other known owner is Judge John North of Easton, Maryland who owned the Isotta in the 1930s.
After the auction, the car was delivered to restorer John Foy of Barley, Hertfordshire. The engine was seized so John filled the cylinder bores with diesel and left the car in the barn for six months. When tow-started, it spluttered into life within seconds, demonstrating to everyone's relief that the engine was not terminally damaged. The Isotta was then dismantled and completely rebuilt over the next eight years. Since 1996, 'SV 4498' has been driven occasionally; sometimes on the Continent where it attended the Isotta-only concours d'élegance at Rapallo in 1998 and the marque's 100th anniversary celebrations in 1999/2000. On another occasion it traveled to Barcelona where the owner cheekily tagged onto a Hispano-Suiza rally around Spain. The car usually makes an annual outing to Royal Ascot and spends most of the rest of the time in West Cork, Ireland.
We are advised that, although very long (nearly 20 feet from front to rear bumper) the Isotta is surprisingly easy to drive, at least when it is under way, with first gear of the three-speed 'box rarely needed. Accompanying documentation is contained within three folders, two of which are devoted entirely of restoration invoices while the other consists of the aforementioned history, various publications and a substantial quantity of marque-related literature in copy form. A spare engine (number '1113') taken from a crashed Tipo 8AS is available also (see next Lot).
Offered with UK V5C registration document, this magnificent Isotta Fraschini represents a rare opportunity to acquire a fine example of this celebrated make, welcome at all the most prestigious concours d'élegance events.