GREAT RACING MARQUES
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
AMONG the Continental cars which were made in the early days of the century, some have by now attained great commercial importance, others have disappeared altogether, while a few have avoided these two extremes and gone on in their own quiet and aristocratic manner, recognised by all connoisseurs as possessing a special virtue born of a long tradition. Among such is the Itala, a car which was somewhat the rage when the nineteen hundreds were still in single figures and which still represents a very fine example of Italian engineering.
It was on the 7th August, 1905, that the first racing Itala appeared, the occasion being the Circuit des Ardennes race in Belgium. The experts were impressed with the appearance of the car, and expressed the opinion that from a technical point of view it was nearly as good as the Fiat. Everyone, however, was surprised when the newcomer proceeded to show a clean pair of heels to all the other competitors and took the lead in the early stages of the race. It was not destined to retain its position, however, as a broken oil pipe caused its premature withdrawal.
Nevertheless, about a month later, on the 10th September, the Itala sprung a still greater surprise. On that date was run the second race for the Florio Cup over a course near Brescia, the competitors having to cover three circuits measuring 104 miles each, making a total distance of 312 miles. For this event three Italas were entered, with Ceirano, Fairy and Raggio as their drivers. The racing cars were 100 h.p. 4-cylinder machines, with multi-disc clutches and shaft drive, a feature of which Itala was an early and very enthusiastic exponent, and were said to be capable of 100 m.p.h. As soon as the race started it was seen that the Italas were very fast indeed and stood a good chance of victory if they could combine it with reliability. On the second round Ceirano punctured and had to run several miles on the rim, which was so badly damaged that his Itala
had to be withdrawn, while at the time he was occupying third place. His two team-mates, however, continued, and in the end Raggio got home first, covering the 312 miles at an average speed of 65.39 m.p.h., while Fairy finished seventh. Raggio’s average was the highest at which a long distance race had ever been won at that time, just beating Gabriel’s record in the Paris-Madrid race, and the seal was set on the fame of the Itala in its first racing season. Raggio thus won the Florio Cup and the Salame Cup for the most consistent running, while Ceirano, as some recompense for his hard luck, won the Italian Cup for the best time over the first 300 kilometres, his average for the distance being over 70 m.p.h.
At Le Mans.
The next year the first Grand Prix race was run at le Mans, and for this event a team of three Italas were entered, their drivers being Fairy (as before), Cagno and the Chevalier Florio. This year the nominal horsepower of the 4-cylinder engines was 110; those were the days when it was considered that the best power-weight ratio was obtained with as short a stroke as possible, and the Itala engine had the smallest stroke-bore ratio (0.8: 1) in the race, the dimensions being 180 x 145 mm., giving a capacity of 14,856 c.c. Ignition was by a lowtension magneto, and the cars had multi-disc clutches, 3-speed gear boxes and, of course, shaft drive. In the race, however, they were not able to repeat their performance of the year before. Fairy dashed off at a great pace and covered the first kilometre from a standing start at an average speed of 52.4 m.p.h. ; but while trying to overtake another competitor on a bend, he overturned, luckily escaping with minor injuries, though his car was put hors de combat. His two teammates were also forced to retire before the end of the first of the two days’ racing. Although not successful in the Grand Prix, however, the Itala scored an important success that year. In 1906 was run the first Targa Florio over the mountainous roads of Sicily, and for this event
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