GREAT RACING MARQUES. H.-FIAT.
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
THE Italian motor industry is not very imposing either from the point of view of the number of firms manufacturing cars, or their total production ; and the eitremely enviable reputation possessed by it throughout the world must be attributed entirely to the inherent mechanical genius of the Italian people, and the beneficial results of imposing racing successes. In this latter field no firm has been more enterprising
than the and few can boast such a magnificent list of successes.
It was in 1904 that Italy first claimed recognition as one of the world’s great automobile producing countries, by entering a team for the Gordon Bennett Cup Race. As is well known, each country which challenged for the cup was allowed to send a team of three cars, of which every part had to have been made in that particular country. For the 1904 race, which was run over the Saalberg course near Homburg in Germany, Italy chose three Fiat cars, to be driven by Lancia, Storero and Cagno. Success did not attend their efforts on that occasion, but it was not long delayed. The Gordon Bennet Race had been run on June 17th, and on September 4th Italy held her first international race for the Florio Cup, and had the satisfaction of seeing her own industry triumph. The winner proved to be Lancia, who covered the 231.25 miles on his 90 h.p. Fiat in 3h. 12m. 56s., at an average speed of 72 m.p.h. Fiat had won an important race, and at a higher speed than any big race had been won before, and had won its place as one of the great racing firms. The next year the Gordon Bennet Race was held in France, over 343.61 miles of a very difficult circuit in the Auvergne
near Clermont-Ferrand. Three Fiats, again represented Italy, and were driven by Lancia, Cagno and Nazzaro. The opening stages of the race provided a terrific duel between Lancia and Thery, the previous year’s winner, on the Richard-Brasier, which lasted until Lancia went out while in the lead, with a broken valve, leaving Thery to win the race. Nazzaro and Cagno, however, got home second and third on their Fiats.
Some details of these successful racers of 22 years ago may be of interest. The 100 h.p. Fiat had 4 cylinders, cast in pairs, of 180 x 150 mms. bore and stroke (15,310 c.c.), with Simms-Bosch low-tension magneto ignition, and honeycomb radiators, which were not yet common. Transmission was by a 4-speed gear-box and side chains.
The next year the Gordon Bennett race was replaced by the Grand Prix, the chief difference in the rules being that each country could enter as many cars as it liked. The first race was a two-day contest, run over a distance of 769.9 miles on a circuit near le Mans. Three Fiats driven by Lancia, Weilschott and Nazzaro were entered, and the latter succeeded in finishing second, covering the course in 12h. 46m. 26s. on his 120 h.p. Fiat. This car did not differ very materially from those used the year before, but the stroke was now 160 mms., making the stroke-bore ratio .81 : 1, and the capacity 16,293 c.c. The engine attained somewhat over 1,000 r.p.m., and as a distinct innovation in racing practice, the cars were fitted with detachable rims. The racers weighed 19.8 cwt., and were capable of about 90 m.p.h., so that the tyres of those days and the ease of changing them were important factors in a race. Fiat had by now won a very considerable measure of
fame, but in 1907 they were destined to enjoy one glorious year which proved them the greatest racing firm of the day. As the Grand Prix was always to be held in France, Italy and Germany both organised great international races, for the Targa and Coppa Florio, and the Kaiserpreis respectively ; and in 1907 Nazzaro succeeded in winning all three of the great European races.
The Targa and Coppa Florio, in which Fiat cars finished first and second, was run over 277.2 miles of the Sicilian course, and won at 33.5 m.p.h. Then came the Kaiserpreis, which was divided into two sections, an eliminating race and a final. In the first part, the Fiat cars finished in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places against teams from England, France, Belgium and Germany ; and in the final they got home 1st, 5th and 6th, Nazzaro covering the 300 miles over the Hamburg circuit in 5 hours, 34 minutes, averaging 53.8 m.p.h. The final triumph of the year came in the French Grand Prix. Fiat entered three cars, driven by Lancia, Nazzaro and Wagner for this race, which was over 482.5
miles of the Dieppe circuit. In spite of a fuel allowance of 30 litres to 100 kilometres (about 10 m.p.g.), the winning Fiat averaged 70.5 m.p.h. for the full distance. The car Nazzaro used in these races was very similar to the 1906 model, but the bore was increased to 185 mms., and the stroke decreased to 150 mms.
In 1908 the Grand Prix was run at Dieppe, the race being for 478 miles and for cars with the bore limited to 155 mms. The competing Fiats, in the hands of the same drivers as in 1907, had the maximum bore, and a stroke of 160 mms. Their novel features, however, was overhead valves, set at 45° and operated by pushrods. These engines attained what was then the delirious speed of 1,500 r.p.m., and the cars were capable of a genuine 100 m.p.h. During the race both Nazzaro and Wagner led the field for a time, but none of the three cars were able to finish the race, as Nazzaro broke his crankshaft, Wagner a gear-box pinion, and Lancia had magneto trouble. It was in this year that there appeared the famous racing Fiat, “Mephistopheles.” This car was brought
to Brooklands by Nazzaro to race against the famous 90 h.p. Napier” Samson.” The Fiat not only succeeded in winning the race, but in setting up a Brooklands lap record at 121.64 m.p.h. Fifteen years later, in 1923, this car was acquired by E. A. D. Eldridge, who fitted it with a new Fiat 6-cylinder aero engine of 160 x 180 mms. bore and stroke (21,714 c.c.). Thus equipped, Eldridge took the Fiat to Arpajon in 1924, and there, sixteen years after his first appearance, Mephistopheles proceeded to capture the world’s kilometre record at 146.7 m.p.h.
The 1908 race had proved such an overwhelming victory for German cars, that for the next three years the French decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and the A.C.F. did not organise its Grand Prix. In 1911, however, a race called the Grand Prix de France, as opposed to the Grand Prix de l’A.C.F., was run over the le Mans circuit. Few manufacturers, however, had racing cars built, and in all a somewhat motley collection of but 14 machines faced the starter. Of these, only one car finished, and this was a Fiat touring chassis, which covered the 402 miles in the hands of Hemery at 56.5 m.p.h.
In 1912 a determined effort was made by the A.C.F. to revive the Grand Prix, and a great 2-day race was organised for 956 miles on the Dieppe circuit. Fiat built a set of racers for it, in which all their experience of the old days was concentrated. With huge 4-cylinder engines of 150 x 200 mms., with overhead valves and camshaft and chain drive, these 14-litre racers were tremendously high but tremendously fast. Contrary to expectation, the Fiats ran in the race with what the spectators admitted to be positively gyroscopic steadyness, and at the end of the first day they held the lead. But their weight and speed were too much for their tyres, and on the second day they ate them up with such rapidity that Boillot was able to snatch the lead and win the race, while Louis Wagner on the Fiat had to be content with 2nd place. With the defeat of these Fiats, the last of the monsters disappeared from road racing.
Having been beaten by a comparative midget of only 7 litres, the Fiat engineers had learnt their lesson, and went back to Turin to build a racer after the new school. In 1914 the Grand Prix was for 41litre cars, and was held at Lyon. Fiat entered a team which were equipped with what was the most novel fitment appearing in this race—front wheel brakes. But although the cars showed a good turn of speed, the great Italian firm had once more to serve its novitiate before it could compete successfully with the new small, light racing cars, and only one racer in the hands of Paguano stayed the course. The lessons learnt might have been successfully applied the next year or so, but for the fact that a little trouble which happened just then in Europe put a stop to motor racing. Shortly before the war, was built the famous 200 h.p. Fiat, of which tradition relates that the radiator was so high that the mechanic had to climb on to the dumbiron to see into the radiator filler. This car had 4 cylinders of 190 x 265 mms. bore and stroke (30,064 c.c. and chain drive. The car was sold to a Russian prince, who sent it to Ostende, where in the hands of Duray it covered a flying kilometre at nearly 143 m.p.h. It
was prevented from making the return run, however, and the war put a stop to any further attempts. It was not until 1914, therefore, that Eldridge and Mephistopheles gained for Fiat the coveted record. The first important race after the war was the 1919 Targa Florio, in which Masetti and Ascari both entered 1914 Grand Prix Fiats as amateurs. Ascari’s car fell 100 ft. down a ravine after missing a turn, but Masetti succeeded in finishing fourth. It was not, however, until 1921 that the recommenced a serious racing programme. That year they built a set of 3-litre racers, with 8 separate steel cylinders in line, and 4 overhead valves per cylinder operated by 2 overhead camshafts. These engines had roller-bearings throughout, and attained 4,600 r.p.m. Two of these cars started in the Targo Florio driven by Minoia and Bordino: but the winner of the race proved to be Count
Masetti on his 1914 Grand Prix Fiat, who averaged 36 m.p.h. for the 268 miles. The winner in the 2-litre class proved to be Bergese, who was driving a 10-15 h.p. Fiat, and who averaged 33 m.p.h.
The 3-litre Fiats were also entered in the first Italian Grand Prix which was run that year at Brescia, and which proved a duel between them and the Ballots, which had done so well in the French Grand Prix. Of the Fiats, the two driven by Bordino and Sivocci fell out, leaving Louis Wagner on the third car to finish third behind two of the Ballots. One of these cars also started in the 1922 Targa Florio in the hands of Biagio Nazzaro, but, unfortunately, ran off the course when running third. There were four other Fiats in this race, of which two were standard 10-15 h.p. chassis, with special 1,500 c.c. engines of 65 x 112 mms., with overhead valves operated by two overhead camshafts, and two were standard 10-15 h.p. cars. Of these Bergese’s special model dropped out
with engine trouble, but Giacconi on the other O.H.V. car succeeded in finishing fifth, with Lampiano on the on the 10-15 h.p. car fourteenth. For the 1922 French Grand Prix, which was for 2-litre cars, Fiat built a set of entirely new racers. These machines had 6-cylinder engines of 65 x 100 mms. bore and stroke (1,992 c.c.), with 2 valves per cylinder, set at 45° to the vertical, and operated by 2 overhead camshafts. The engines turned at something like 5,000 r.p.m., and developed about 90 b.h.p., and the cars, which were capable of some 115 m.p.h., were beautifully streamlined. The three racers were driven by the veteran Felice Nazzaro, his nephew, Biagio Nazzaro, and Pietro Bordino, and soon showed that they had an overwhelming superiority in the matter of speed over any of their rivals. A few laps from the finish they occupied the first three places, and then the back axles of Bordino’s
and Biagio Nazzaro’s Fiats broke off short, the latter driver being killed, Felice Nazzaro, however, the winner in 1907, got home first, covering the 499 miles of the Strasbourg circuit at 79.2 m.p.h.
The Italian light car Grand Prix of 1922 was the opening race on the Monza track, and for it Fiat *ntered a team of four 1,500 c.c. 4-cylinder racers, with engines similar to those used in the Targa Florio. Throughout the race, the Fiats never lost the lead, and finally finished solid in the first four places. Bordino, the winner, averaging 83.25 m.p.h. for the 373 miles of the race.
A week later the Italian Grand Prix for ,2 litre cars was held on the new track for 497 miles. The three Fiats started, with Giaconni replacing Biaggi() Nazzaro, and the small number of competitors was attributed to fear of the redoubtable Italian cars. Giaconni broke his clutch on the starting line, but the other two Fiats never lost the lead, and finally finished first and second, victory going to Bordino, who averaged 86.89 m.p.h.
1923 opened with a Fiat success when de Seta won the 1,500 c.c. class of the Targa Florio, and also succeeded in finishing 6th in the general classification at a time when cylinder capacity counted for much more even on the Madonie circuit than it does now.
In spite of the success of the 6-cylinder racers, Fiat determined to build something even more advanced for the 1923 Grands Prix. With this end in view, they constructed a set of straight-eight racers of 60 x 87.5 mms. (1979 c.c.), fitted with a supercharger. These engines attained 6,000 r.p.m., and developed 120 b.h.p., while the cars were capable of some 125 m.p.h. on the road. The supercharger, however, which leant them so much power, proved also their destruction. In the French Grand Prix at Tours, all three cars, driven by Bordino, Giaconni and Salamano, held the lead for a time, but all three were eventually put out of the race by troubles due to the use of a supercharger. The Fiat engineers’ comment on this race was typical. “We are beaten,” they said, “but we will race again” ; and the three Fiats were ready at the start of the first European Grand Prix, which was held that year on the Monza track. During the practice period one of the cars, containing Giaconni and Bordino, had overturned, the former being killed and the latter breaking his arm. Nazzaro therefore took Giaconni’s place, and Bordino started with the use of only one arm. In spite of this fact, and having to rely on his mechanic for all his gearchanges, Bordino took the lead at the outset, and held it until he had covered rather more than half distance, when a tread came off one of his rear tyres, and the effort of holding the car with one hand proved too much for him, and he had to retire. The other two Fiats, however, driven by Salamano and Nazzaro, were never headed, in spite of the formidable competition of the
American Miller cars, and finally finished first and second, Salamano averaging 91 m.p.h. for the 500 miles. In spite of this brilliant victory, the year’s disappointments were not over for Fiat. Two of the 4-cylinder 1,500 c.c. racers, fitted with superchargers, were entered for the J.C.C. 200 miles race, and were driven by Salamano and Malcolm Campbell. They took the lead at the outset, but both went out, on the 13th and 15th lap respectively, with troubles very similar to those which had been suffered by the 2-litre cars in the French Grand Prix. Quite why these cars failed when the 2-litre
cars had been made reliable, as was proved by the European Grand Prix, it is hard to say ; but probably the very high engine speed necessitated by their gearratios being too low for the track was at least a contributory factor. In May, 1924, was held the seventh and final race for the Florio Cup, run in conjunction with the Targa Florio. Fiat entered a team of three cars for this double event, consisting of the two 1,500 c.c. racers, and a standard sports 40 h.p. chassis of the type 519 S ; during practice Salamano turned his 1,500 c.c. racer over, and so only Bordino on the other one and Pastore on the 519 S. were left to start in the race. In spite of the car
being most unsuitable for the race, Bordino performed magnificently, and at the end of the four rounds which counted for the Targa was lying fourth. At that juncture he collapsed owing to the heat, and the car was taken over by Nazzaro, who, however, overturned almost immediately. Pastore in the meantime covered nearly four rounds with great regularity, and then went out with clutch trouble. For the 1924 European Grand Prix at Lyon, Fiat entered a team of four cars of the same general type as in 1923, but developing 150 b.h.p. The cars started
in the race with Bordino, Nazzaro, Pastore and Marcheiso as drivers, as Salatnano had not yet recovered from his Targa Florio revolution. Bordino took the lead until the ninth lap, when his brakes went weak and he fell to fourteenth, finally going out with mechanical trouble, a similar fate overtaking Nazzaro and Marchiso ; Pastore in the meantime had run off the road and crashed his car.
This is the last big race in which Fiats have officially appeared in Europe. The next year, however, Bordino took one of the 2-litre racers to Indianapolis, for the famous” 500.” He suffered a lot of trouble in the race, however, and finally finished 10th, a performance which made him 18th in the American championship.
Although Fiat have not taken part in European races for two years, it is not to be supposed that they have abandoned racing altogether. Their racing department has been carrying out endless tests and experiments, and it is to be expected that before long Fiats will be seen once more in the great races.