The Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special 1905 coming to Sherborne

The British have long had a history of building “specials” which chances are, the first one may have been built well over 100 years ago. A special is just that, a car which is sometimes custom built with the use of components taken from many different makes.

issotta 1

Many of the specials built back in the period were constructed for racing originally and some of them are still used in vintage racing today. Others are still being constructed and what we have here is one that took many years to reach fruition, but finally did earlier this month. Graham Rankin who initially started the project and Mike Vardy who finished it up, took the 1014 cubic inch, Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special for its first ride ever and our friend Stefan Marjoram was there to film the occasion.

Fiat thought of building such a car and a drawing from 1905 by the company can be seen below. They had intended to use two four-cylinder engines joined together, with the same final drive arrangement but for some reason the car was never constructed.

Stefan Marjoram had the following to say about the Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special :

The car was never built by FIAT so there’s nothing left from any one original car. There’s a lot of discussion about whether a reverse chain is a good idea or not – perhaps FIAT decided it wasn’t. It was originally begun by Graham Rankin 20 years ago. He sourced the motor and worked on it for 13 years before selling it to Mike Vardy – who spent another 7 years to get it to where it is now.

Graham Rankin sent the following info along about the reverse chain drive and the IF engine in the following paragraph:

The reverse chain drive is “unusual”—in fact it is unique and has never been successfully employed on a semi-elliptical spring axle set-up before. The geometry and physics surrounding chain drive is complex and little understood by most people. In this instance where the chains drive forwards to the rear wheels there are some issues in relation to torque reaction under braking which we hope to have resolved by the use of very strong dampers keeping radius arms firmly parallel to the road.

Raymond Mays attempted something similar with the ERA Special in May 1950, borrowing parts from the BRM project and using the chain-cases as torque reaction arms. The suspension was olio-pneumatic but, because the mechanical moments were incorrectly calculated, the car actually proceeded like a kangaroo jumping into the air one moment when the loud pedal was clamped open, only to revert to earth another  moment later ! There was much politics involved I gather and the BRM parts had to be quickly returned (before they were missed !) and further development never took place.

The Isotta-Fraschini (Model V6—V for Vollo i.e. “flight” in Italian) aero-engine is 16 ½ litres, rated at 250 HP @1,650 rpm. Bore is 140 mm and stroke 180 mm—6 cylinders. Compression ratio is 5.1:1. Single overhead camshaft operating  two valves per cylinder. Torque is approximately 820 lbs/ft ! There is a gun synchronizer take-off at the front of the engine to avoid shooting off the propeller !

The engine came from the collection of Mr Gar Wood who bought up many surplus engines in the USA at the end of WW1 and used most in speed boats for Water Speed Record attempts. He was the American equivalent of Malcolm Campbell. When he died, the remnants of his collection were sold off and I was lucky enough to buy this one which had not run since (we think) 1921. The reason it was not used in a boat (mercifully—salt water is a killer !) was because of its long vertical stroke making visibility difficult, whereas vee engines (Hispano- Suiza etc) did not produce this problem and were consequently more popular.