Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Lord K's Garage #144: Isotta Fraschini

Meet the most luxurious Italian car of the Roaring Twenties:

Goddess of Speed

Established as an automaker in 1902 by Cesare Isotta and the brothers Fraschini (Oreste, Vincenzo and Antonio), from around 1920 to the early 1930s Isottas were more popular in the United States than any other foreign marque except for Rolls-Royce. One of the world's most innovative automakers, IF introduced four wheel brakes in 1909, and the Tipo 8 series, unveiled in August 1912, featured an in-line eight cylinder engine, the first of its type put into series production anywhere in the world.

1920s Isotta-Fraschini Ad

1922 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Sports Tourer

1922 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Sports Tourer (ads via aldenjewell @ Flickr)

The Tipo 8A series, introduced in 1924, offered 115hp, a redesigned frame and suspension and Isotta's highly regarded three-speed synchromesh transmission. In America, where nearly a third of Isottas were sold, the price of an 8A exceeded even that of a Model J Duesenberg; a chassis alone was priced at $9,750, and coachbuilt models were demanding upwards of $20,000.

1922 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8(Photo by sjb4photos @ Flickr)

1924 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Town Car

1924 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Town Car

1924 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Sedan

1924 Isotta Fraschini Straight 8 Sedan (ads via aldenjewell @ Flickr)

The Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A had the most powerful production straight eight engine when it was introduced in the mid-1920s. Most models were mounted on a very long 145 wheelbase chassis. There was an original guarantee that these cars would do 90mph, with the capability of running at both 90mph and 6mph in the same gear. About 950 Tipo 8As were built during the 1925-1931 model run.

Isotta Frschine Tipo 8A Van Rijswijk Dual Cowl Pheaton red 1925 vr1925 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Van Rijswijk Dual Cowl Phaeton (photo by stkone @ Flickr)

Famous Isotta owners have included Pope Pius XI, the Aga Khan, the queen of Romania, the king of Egypt and Benito Mussolini. Publisher William Randolph Hearst and boxer Jack Dempsey owned Isottas while film star Rudolph Valentino had two. Here's one, by the way:

True class

(Photo by sjb4photos @ Flickr)

Valentino ordered an Isotta-Fraschini for his use because he wanted a car built in his native Italy. He commissioned Ray Dietrich at LeBaron to design and build a special roadster body. As it turned out, LeBaron was not equipped to construct bodies, so the order was placed with Fleetwood in Pennsylvania to build a special roadster body for $25,000. Unfortunately, Valentino died at age 31, two months before Fleetwood finished the car. However, the roadster was so exceptional that it became the star attraction at the manufacturing facility. The car's unique design made it an obvious choice for duplication.

1928 Isotta Fraschini Super-Eight Convertible Coupe1928 Isotta Fraschini Super-Eight Convertible Coupe (via aldenjewell @ Flickr)

1928 Isotta-Fraschini

(Photo by sjb4photos @ Flickr)

1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Cabriolet by Castagna - fvl

1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Cabriolet by Castagna (photo by Rex Gray@ Flickr)

1930 Isotta Fraschini

1930 Isotta Fraschini ad (via aldenjewell @ Flickr)

By 1931 the company was struggling as the Great Depression in the USA had severely affected sales of expensive vehicles. Thus, in order to boost sales, the company introduced a new model, the Tipo 8B.

1930 Isotta Fraschini Flying Star (photos by dmentd @ Flickr)

The company was nearly saved by Henry Ford who was anxious to produce Isottas in Detroit and have his cars built in Italy, but the Italian government blocked this deal. Instead in 1932 the aircraft maker Count Caproni di Talideo, who considered the aero engines as indispensable for his own business, acquired the company. Car production virtually ceased that year and apart from a brief attempt at a rear engined V8 vehicle in the post-war period, Isotta Fraschini disappeared as a car manufacturer.

Rear engine Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8C at the Paris Motor Show, 1947 (via brizzle born and bred @ Flickr)

In the movie Sunset Boulevard, Erich von Stroheim chauffeurs Gloria Swanson in an Isotta Tipo 8A Town Car Landaulet, and James Dean drives an Isotta Tourer in Giant.

Source: Supercars

Headline photo: 1922 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8 hood ornament by sjb4photos @ Flickr

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Comment by Павел Скрыльников on June 25, 2012 at 2:26pm

Ilf and Petrov's Adam Kozlevich vould like this article so much, lord_k =)

Comment by Dan G. on June 22, 2012 at 12:16pm

I'll take a Flying Star, Please!

Very Nice! Thanks!

Comment by Cap'n Tony on June 22, 2012 at 10:04am

Gorgeous! I love the aerial.  I'll take three, Mack!

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