Pebble Beach Best of Show won by 1924 Isotta Fraschini

Pebble Beach Best of Show won by 1924 Isotta Fraschini

Published Aug. 19, 2015 3:49 p.m. ET

After importing French cars to Italy for a couple of years, Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini formed Isotta Fraschini in 1902. The company grew rapidly and four years later they were the second biggest car manufacturers in Italy. In 1908, an Isotta Fraschini won the Targa Florio. Over the years the four-cylinder engines grew in size and in 1912 a completely new straight eight engine was unveiled. When the production of this 'Tipo 8' started in 1919, it was the first ever straight eight to hit production. The delay between the unveiling and production was caused by the First World War, in which Isotta Fraschini concentrated on building airplane engines.

With almost 100 horsepower available from the 5.9 liter 'eight,' the Tipo 8 was one of the most powerful cars available. Fitted with graceful and stylish bodies, the Isotta Fraschinis were most popular with the world's rich and famous. In the United States it was the second most popular foreign marque, beaten only by Rolls Royce. In 1924 the slightly revised Tipo 8A was introduced, which most importantly featured a larger and more powerful engine. The new 7.3-liter unit was good for around 110-120 horsepower. Revisions to the chassis and suspension were also carried through.

The standard model featured an extremely long wheelbase of 145 inches, but for the sportier drivers there were the 'S' and 'ss' models which had a slightly shorter wheelbase at 134 inches. These short wheelbase versions were often fitted with a higher compression engine and a longer final drive for high speed driving. The car’s three-speed gearbox was more than enough, with the Tipo 8 being able to accelerate smoothly from a walking pace to top speed in third gear. Each car came with a guarantee from the factory that it was capable of 90 mph.

All this Italian refinement did not come cheap. A price of $20,000 US for a completed car was no exception and, with that, it exceeded even the price of America's finest, the Duesenberg. In 1931 a more powerful Tipo 8B was introduced, equipped with a four-speed transmission. Unfortunately the big depression had very bad effects on the sales and halfway through the 1930s the Italian company turned their focus completely to marine and airplane engines. After the War, four rear-engined saloons were constructed in collaboration with Rapi and Lampredi, two of Italy's finest engineers, but nothing came of it and the factory was forced to shut down.

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