In its aim to be considered amongst the very best automotive manufacturers in the world, Isotta-Fraschini would perform an all-out assault during its early years of existence. However, at the conclusion of World War I, the company would rely on just one, and there was very good reason why.
In 1900, Societa Milanese Automobili Isotta, Fraschini & Co. would be founded. In its early days, in order to get its feet wet in the automobile manufacturing business, the company would be employed building Renaults. However, after just a couple of years, Isotta-Fraschini would be ready to begin construction of its own chassis.
In that day and age in Europe there seemed just one direction a company could go to help its name achieve fame, recognition and improve upon designs and innovations and that was by going racing. Therefore, those early years of the company’s existence would be spent conceiving and building high-horsepower models meant to duel with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and others. It was clear the company could build successful models as Isotta-Fraschini would score victory in the 1908 Targa Florio.
Victories in races like the Targa Florio would result from some of the early innovations the company would introduce to automobiles, which would include four-wheel brakes, and, just prior to the outbreak of World War I, the first series boasting of an inline eight cylinder engine.
In 1912, Isotta-Fraschini would introduce to the world the first inline eight cylinder engine model car. The car would be quite popular and successful, but the Great War was just a couple of years away and the tensions were already growing quite palpable.
The price of World War I would be terribly high and the fallout from the war would be terrible in war-torn Europe. Therefore, Isotta-Fraschini would turn from its numerous models and sizes of engines and, instead, would focus almost entirely on its popular inline eight cylinder engine and its Tipo 8 that it would introduce in 1919.
The Tipo 8 would be very impressive car when it was introduced. Anchored by the inline eight cylinder engine capable of producing a very respectable amount of power for its time and many luxury refinements, the Tipo 8 would become a very popular model for Isotta-Fraschini.
While Isotta-Fraschini would be the first to introduce the inline eight cylinder engine in a motor car, the coachbuilder Carrozzeria Castagna would be just as identifiable with Isotta-Fraschini. Carrozzeria Castagnia would offer custom-appointed coaches for many of the major manufacturers and would be well known for their work designing and building coaches for Alfa Romeo’s 8C and numerous Mercedes-Benz models. However, the long inline eight cylinder engine powering the Tipo 8 was the perfect fit for the coachbuilder. As a result, the iconic long hood and cowl that would become the signature of the Tipo 8 would be born.
There was still more that the company could do with its Tipo 8. Isotta-Fraschini would introduce its 8A with its increased engine output. However, the engine would be tuned all the more and the 8AS, the ‘S’ signifying a tuned engine, would be introduced. The 8AS wasn’t a straight-forward increase in engine performance. The ‘S’ would only be added when the ordered car boasted of the updated 120 bhp 7.4-liter eight cylinder engine, a short wheelbase chassis, a rather high final-drive ratio and lightweight coachwork.
Given all that was involved in an 8AS model, Isotta-Fraschini would help advise the customer concerning certain elements but as with many other manufacturers of the time, the car would be entirely built to the customer’s taste. One such Tipo 8AS that would be built would be chassis 1581.
Chassis 1581 would be completed in 1930 and would emerge from Carrozzeria Castagna bearing an 8AS Boattail Cabriolet coachwork. It would obviously come with the 120 bhp 7.4-liter eight cylinder engine along with a three-speed manual transmission. Suspension would be comprised of a solid front axle riding on a semi-elliptic leaf springs. The rear axle would consist of a semi-floating design. Four-wheel Dewandre vacuum servo-assisted drum brakes provided the stopping power.
When the car was constructed by Castagna, the body would be comprised entirely of aluminum and would be broken down into smaller panels to comprise the whole of the body. The vast majority of the coach body is still adorned with the very same aluminum as when it left the factory and shows very little aging and deterioration. The actual finish of the car, which it still retains, was a green-grey livery with darker forest green pinstripes.
The sweeping fenders of this Boattail Cabriolet would be interrupted by a rather interesting design feature not readily seen on other designs. On either side of the car are teardrop-shaped step plates that actually double as storage lockers. As with the beautifully-light touches of chrome over the whole of the car, the step plate/storage lockers would be accented with varnished wood and blend beautifully into the rear wheel arches. The same kind of subtle touch would be incorporated into the small steps meant to allow access to the rumble seat. On the driver’s side of the car there are three, small wooden steps wrapped in chrome. Though a very necessary and function piece of the car they would be designed and placed in such a way so as to nearly blend in to the overall design of the car.
The early history of 1581 is relatively unknown. However, it would be anything but anonymous come the late-1970s. In either the late-1970s, or the early 1980s, this Tipo 8AS would become the property of the famous tenor Sergio Franchi. A photograph of around that time shows the car appearing as if new. The car would, however, undergo some restoration work but would be put on display at Pebble Beach in 1983. The car would remain with Franchi for more than two decades before it would come to be the property of its current owner.
To update the condition of the car, Byron Libbey of Libbey Restorations would be contracted to refresh the car. Much attention would be given to the chassis, suspension and coachwork. The engine would even be torn down partially. However, the engine would be found to be in excellent condition and would be reassembled after only some minor cosmetic adjustments.
All of the chrome would be re-plated, which would include the six wire wheels, the Stephen Grebel headlights, spotlight, bumpers, radiator stone guard and many other plated elements used throughout the car.
And if the exterior is something special to behold, then the interior could only be described as beyond description. The cloth top is clean, the grey headliner is in great condition. Everywhere one looks, the interior is filled with subtle, and yet, tasteful elements including oval etched glass courtesy lights, wooden-inlaid locking glove boxes, split windshield, glass ashtrays and an individually-adjustable single front bench seat. The green carpet interior and leather upholstery is beautifully accented by the inlaid wood throughout the instrument panel and the in the doors on either side.
Given that one of the largest markets for Isotta-Fraschini had been the United States it would not be all that surprising when the gear lever and other knobs can be found with both Italian and English markings. In fact, the plaque on the dash would indicate that chassis 1581 would actually be delivered by Isotta Motors Inc. via New York City.
An absolutely beautiful car inside and out, Libbey’s restoration work would go on to earn the car a Second in Class at Pebble Beach in 2009 and a Best of Show award at the Newport Concours d’Elegance. Included with numerous photographs and awards, this Tipo 8AS Boattail Cabriolet, chassis 1581, would be offered by RM Auctions in Monterey in 2012. Estimated to draw between $1,750,000 and $2,500,000, this rare and elegant Tipo 8AS certainly honors the Isotta-Fraschini reputation and is an exceptional example of one of the few 8AS models that would certainly fit the moniker ‘The Aristocrat of Automobiles.’
‘Lot No. 219: 1930 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8AS Boattail Cabriolet by Carrozzeria Castagna’, (www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarI…). RM Auctions. www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarI…. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
‘1928 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8AS News, Pictures and Information’, (www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10057/Isotta-Fraschini-Tipo-…). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10057/Isotta-Fraschini-Tipo-…. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
‘1929 Isotta-Fraschini 8A’, (www.supercars.net/cars/3107.html). Supercars.net. www.supercars.net/cars/3107.html. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
‘Isotta Fraschini’, (www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/features/isotta…). The Independent. www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/features/isotta…. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
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