1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Imperial Landaulet
Chassis: 655 Engine: 664
A Brief History:
In 1898, Italy’s most famous make of luxury car began through the partnership of Cesare Isotta, a lawyer, and Vincenzo Fraschini, a noted car enthusiast. The two entered a into a business together to import Renault and De Dion-Bouton cars and Aster engines into Italy. In 1900, they released the first car bearing their name sake, a small 2-seater similar in concept to a Renault, but bearing a 5hp Aster engine. After approximately five years of creating increasingly more powerful automobiles, the company hired Giustino Cattaneo as its chief designer in 1905, the man responsible for the design and development of all Isotta Fraschinis through 1933.
Between 1905 and 1914, Isotta Fraschini marketed approximately fifty different models, thanks to the brilliance of Cattaneo. However, the first World War lead to a distinct decline in production, as was the case with many other European manufacturers. Afterwards, with severely depleted funds, Cattaneo created the postwar policy of focusing solely on one model, a luxury vehicle designed to compete with the best that Britain, France, and America had to offer. The result of this effort was the spectacular Tipo 8, released in 1919. It featured an in-line 8-cylinder engine, the first of its kind to be put into series production anywhere in the world.
The Tipo 8A was introduced in 1924 with increased engine size and power, as Cattaneo was attempting to counter criticism that an Isotta was easily outperformed by a Hispano-Suiza. The new engine had a capacity of 7370cc giving 110hp. As Cattaneo had so hoped, the Tipo 8A was one of the most sought after, and therefore priciest models available on the European and American markets. In fact, about one-third of the 1,380 Tipo 8s, 8As, and 8Bs built in the production run were sold in the United States. The chassis started at $9,750, and coach built models retailed for upwards of $20,000 as of 1924, even more expensive than the Duesenberg Model J.
Though Isotta Fraschinis were reveled and highly sought after in the early 1920s, by the end of the decade the Great Depression led to the loss of the US as a viable marketplace. In 1931, Cattaneo released the upgraded Tipo 8B in an attempt to draw American interest back into the company. Magnificent though it was, the car was simply released at the wrong time, and only 30 were sold. The last 8B was completed in 1935, and the remainder of the factory components scrapped. After Cattaneo retired in 1935, the company came under new ownership through World War II. Starved of funds by an unsympathetic Italian government, Isotta Fraschini was liquidated in September 1948.
The Golden Years:
During the pique of its sales, the Tipo 8A automobiles were owned by the upper echelon of both the European and American societies. Adjusted for inflation, an Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A would cost roughly $280,000 today, more than a great deal of supercars on the market. This was due largely in part to the fact that Tipo 8As were only available for purchase from the factory as chassis, thus requiring the owners to send them to wildly expensive coach builders.
For example, the Maharajah of Patiala spent 7,000 pounds Sterling to have the coachmaker Windowers equip his 8A with Saloon coachwork and a camouflage-painted body, as it was only used for hunting. Baroness Maria Antonietta Avanzo, the famed female Bugatti race car driver, had a coupe-spider crafted specially for her directly from the factory. Other owners included Pope Pius XI, who receive his Tipo 8B as a gift from the people of Milan, Prince Luigi Grimaldi of Monte Carlo, the Empress of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, the Queen of Romania, the King of Italy, Aga Khan, Benito Mussolini, and a host of other European and Middle Eastern kings and princes.
In the United States, Tipo 8s and 8As were owned by many famous celebrities, such as Rudolph Valentino and the “It Girl” Clara Bow, the world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the real-life inspiration for Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane. Clearly, the company’s claim that it produced “the Aristocrat of Automobiles” was no joke. As each of the Tipo 8s and 8As had custom coachwork, no two models were ever the same, further reinforcing the air of complete luxury and indulgence for which Cattaneo strived.
The Automobile Offered:
The Tipo 8A was, without a doubt, one of the world’s most prestigious automobiles: they served to represent power and wealth. This particular 8A, chassis 655, appeared to remain with the factory from new. According to Angelo Titto Anselmi, the car was sold to Filippo Bolzari of Milan but it is unknown whether the car was ever actually delivered to him, as there are no viable records citing delivery. Though very little is known about its purported original owner, the car appeared to remain with the factory throughout its history. It was kept in the basement of a warehouse off site from the factory. This remote location is believed to be responsible for it surviving destruction along with the factory during WWII.
Chassis 655 had its coachwork done by Cesare Sala, one of Italy’s premiere coachbuilders. Sala, together with Carrozzeria Castagna, did the coachwork for more 8As than any other firm at the time. This is in part due to the fact that Carrozzeria Sala, the predecessor to Sala and Castagna, had a board of directors containing Oreste Fraschini, brother to Vincenzo.
The car had additional coachwork updates performed by Carrozzeria Riva. They added solid sidemount covers and special woodwork around 1926. The secondary coach tag found directly underneath original Cesare Sala tag is further evidence of Riva’s contribution. Furthermore, this is the only Isotta Fraschini that had 2 coach builders in its construction. According to The Isotta-Fraschini Society, from whom we have a signed letter of authentication, the coachwork on this chassis was likely assembled in January of 1924, making this the earliest known Type 8A and possibly the first example built. This along with needing and example to demonstrate may have been the reasons for Isotta Fraschini keeping this car in their ownership.
In 1993, the Isotta-Fraschini name was revived by coachbuilders Fissore in partnership with Audi. They eventually sold the namesake to Finmeccanica, an Italian company active in the areas of defense, aerospace, and security, wherein chassis 655 was discovered hidden away at an old Isotta-Fraschini-owned location. Its current owner purchased it directly from Finmeccanica and had it imported to the United States for the first time in its life in July of 2016, 92 years after its creation. Finmeccanica told the current owner that the car was produced in 1924 as a demonstration chassis for the factory. As these cars were designed to be driven by chauffeurs, Isotta-Fraschini held training sessions for future drivers, and used this particular chassis as the sample. It also gave them a complete, coach built example to demonstrate for prospective customers.
The rarity of this automobile, in combination with its completely original and untouched appearance, make it a very valuable and sought after addition to only the most prestigious of pre-World War II collections. It is absolutely unique and, according to The Isotta-Fraschini Society, the earliest known surviving Tipo 8A in existence.
This Isotta-Fraschini comes with a binder of documentation, including the Bill of Sale between Isotta-Fraschini and Finmeccanica, as well as the Bill of Sale between Finmecanica and the current owner. The binder also contains The Isotta-Fraschini Society Certificate of Authentication and its accompanying list of known Tipo 8s, 8As, and 8Bs. Finally, there are photocopies of the pages within Isotta Fraschini where chassis 655 is mentioned and photographed (pages 92 and 336).