During World War I the Italian car manufacturer Isotta Fraschini turned to the production of aircraft engines, but with the cessation of hostilities the company returned to exploiting a prewar development – their excellent eight-cylinder motor.
The resultant ‘Tipo 8’ of 1919 was the first straight-eight engined car, soon becoming the darling of the world’s rich and famous and establishing an enviable reputation in the all-important American market. There, Isotta Fraschini was second only to Rolls-Royce, testifying to the prestige of the Italian marque.
In 1924 came the Isotta Fraschini 8A, an evolution with revised chassis and suspension plus a larger engine. The standard chassis came with a very long wheelbase, but the needs of sportier drivers were served by models that had a shorter wheelbase designed to take a beefed-up motor and racier bodies. The 8A was a pleasure to drive, having so much torque that it could be started from a standstill in second gear (of three) and go from walking pace to maximum speed in third gear, though owners were more interested in the car’s smoothness and reliability.
The ‘Tipo 8A’ featured a variety of stylish and elegant bodies meticulously crafted by great coachbuilders. Never were the results more aesthetically pleasing than in some of the delectable open- topped 8As from companies like Castagna and Fleetwood. One of the most impressive manifestations was the crouching Flying Star Roadster.
Production of the Tipo 8A ended in 1931 with the arrival of the more powerful Tipo B, but the Great Depression was hitting hard and it was no time to be trying to sell an automobile in the USA that actually cost more than America’s finest, the Duesenberg. Sales flatlined and by the mid-1930s Isotta Fraschini had turned away from cars to concentrate on marine and aero engines.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1919 (until 1931)
5,902 cc; 7,372 cc Straight Eight
Top speed was guaranteed to be at least 90 mph (145 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The ultimate stamp of approval in 1920s America was conferred by high-profile Hollywood stars; and they certainly loved the 8A – Clara Bow drove one and Rudolph Valentino had two.