Veteran-Edwardian-Vintage, April 1986

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The 100 hp lsotta Fraschini

The question as to which was the very first sports car is one which can well give rise to much discussion. and no very definite conclusion. Some will opt for the 60 hp Mercedes dating from 1903. and who shall deny them their erudite opinion? Hard on its heels, or its wheel tracks, come such formidable last cars as the Prince Henry Austro-Daimler and the Prince Henry Vauxhall. To others, the first contender would seem to be the great. indeed legendary, 30/98 Vauxhall, which was with us before the First World War. The smaller-engined Alfonso Hispano Suiza might well be included among the nominations, and there were the typically Teutonic 100 hp and 200 hp Benz. Before the Kaiser conflict the 20/50 hp Talbot was in the running, surely, for after all, was it not the first car to accomplish the not-easy task of covering over 100 miles in one hour? And what of those sporting Alpine Eagle and London-Edinburgh 40/50 hp Rolls-Royces?

It is not my intention to take sides in this matter but simply to say that in the context of Edwardian sporting motor cars (the term “sports car” had scarcely been invented in those faraway times) a great car that has tended to be overlooked was the 100 hp lsotta Fraschini. This fast and technically advanced model was a product of the Milanese firm of Fabbnca Automobili Isotta Fraschini whose expansion dates from 1905, after tentative operations by Cesare lsotta and Vincenzo Fraschini that began with the importation into Italy of Renaults and Mors from 1899 onwards. We are told that these two pioneer Italian motor traders were making their own Mercedes-like 24 hp chain-drive car by 1902, having been assembling Renaults in Milan and putting custom bodies on these chassis for a year or more.

With the expansion of automobilism all over Europe, IIsotta Fraschini, with fresh finance, opened a new factory on the Via Monterosa with the intention of making large and powerful motor cars, for those to whom cost was hardly a consideration, suitable for undertaking the Grand Tour. To attain this ambition the two partners brought in the skilled Giustino Cattaneo, who had designed for the pioneer firm of Bernardi before moving on to work for Florentia and Zust. He was pined by Antonio Chiribiri, later to build cars of his own, which were not unknown in racing, even unto Tazio Nuvolari driving them. For four years. approximately from 1907 to 1910, Lorraine-Dietrich had an interest in this newly constituted Italian manufacturer, and there were links with New York when an Import Company was opened there.

If Italy at that time was a comparatively poor country, the worth of its cars was appreciated by others, and lsotta Fraschini built up a strong export trade and was soon among the three largest Italian car producers, along with Fiat and Itala. Advanced design was undoubtedly a help here. Vincenzo’s brother Oreste Fraschini had designed effective four-wheel-braking by 1909, using transverse shafts with universal joints, actuated by the brake rods, to expand the brake shoes, and these became standardised on all Isottas from 1910 onwards, a significant piece of pioneer engineering. Moreover, there had already been overhead-camshaft lsotta Fraschini racing cars and at the 1910 Paris Salon Cattaneo showed his latest design, the magnificent Type KM 100 hp chain-drive sporting chassis.

It had a four-cylinder 130 x 200 mm 10.6-litre engine with four overhead valves per cylinder operated by a vertical-shaft-driven overhead-camshaft, Lubrication, however, was by troughs and dippers. This exciting motorcar was said to have a power output of 140 bhp at 1,800 rpm, and a top speed of 90 mph, and as presumably it had brakes in keeping, it must be regarded as a very significant fast car of the Edwardian years. The chassis weight was just over 46 cwt. In fact, did not go into production, and then only in small numbers, until 1911. Some say that only ten of these great cars were built between then and the outbreak of the war that killed off such Edwardian grandeur and turned the KM’s designer to aero-engines

Not only was this 100 hp Isotta Fraschini a very grand car but it was one that can be said to have had an indirect racing pedigree. For in 1907 a 40 hp Isotta Fraschini driven by Minoia had won the Florio Cup and the following year Trucco was victorious in the testing Targa Florio race, with an Isotta of the same size. Nor was this all, because in America the Savannah Challenge Trophy and the Briarcliff Trophy were won by Louis Strang ‘s Isotta Fraschini and he was victorious also in the Lowell road race, and Herbert Lytle drove a car of this make to first place in the Sweepstakes at the Long Island Motor Parkway and was second in the race for the Vanderbilt Trophy, achievements that must have helped the Italian Company’s exports to the USA, overseas sales being quoted at 75% of the total output by 1909. The racing engine of 1907/08 was a 7.4-litre four-cylinder with overhead valves and camshaft, it is said with the camshaft prodding directly onto the valves. I have been unable to find drawing-office evidence of this latter fact but the use of overhead valves with an oh-camshaft was in any case advanced technology at this time and Catteneo made use of it/or the 100 hp production model with two inlet and two exhaust valves in each large cylinder, giving a total port area of 17.72 sq.in. This multivalve arrangement is being used for an increasing number of modern engines, if not for altogether the same reasons that engineer Cattaneo and a few others employed them way back in 1910.

Certainly the use of an overhead-camshaft to operate four-valves per-cylinder was unusual at the time when the Type KM Isotta Fraschini was introduced. The first use of hemispherical combustion chambers is usually attributed to the Belgian Pipe, in the year 1904, but its inclined valves were operated by push-rods and rockers. MOTOR SF’ORT’s readers must have been bored almost to tears by emphasis on the fact that in 1912 Peugeot came up with twin overhead-camshafts operating four-valves-per-cylinder for its 7.6-litre Grand Prix cars, thereby changing the concept of racing engine valve-gear for evermore. Before that Fiat had used single overhead camshaft engines for its 1907 GP cars, a layout which was followed in 1908 by Clement-Bayard, and the 7.3-litre Prince Henry Benz engine of that year had four-valves-per-cylinder inclined at 60-deg, but operated by push-rods from camshafts on opposite sides of the crankcase.

So the use of an overhead-camshaft to operate multiple oh-valves was an advanced item of design on the 100 hp Isotta Fraschini when It made its show debut in 1910, Isotta’s adoption of the oh-camshaft for racing dating back to 1905, according to one authority. To this advanced design was added, in the case of the Type KM Isotta, enclosure of this valve gear, within an aluminium casing, dual-ignition by twin high-tension magnetos, a four speed gearbox with direct-drive on fourth speed, cased-in final-drive chains, and those four-wheel brakes, with a transmission brake for good measure. Formidable! The chassis price was £1,200 in England. 9.000 dollars in America. One of these exciting Isotta Fraschinis was supplied in the summer of 1911 to Lord Vernon. who drove one of the 1908 GP Mercedes at Brooklands and so knew a quick motorcar when one was available. The bodywork of his was an open tourer in chocolate brown, lined in blue, the coachbuilder being Sala of Milan.

Another of these 10.6-litre Isotta Fraschinis was used by Mr. Humphrey Cook for his debut in motor racing. Cook became a very successful competitor after the war with a Ballot and 30/98 and TT Vauxhall cars named “Rouge et Noir”, and he then put considerable finance, quoted as £75,000, into the ERA project, racing one of these cars with great competence although by then no longer a young man; in fact, he scored the first ERA race victory when he was over 40 years of age. Incidentally, the agents in this country for Isotta Fraschini at that time were the Motor Manufacturing Company and Alfred Burgess Ltd, of The Mall, Church End, Finchley, in North London and the KM seems to have had several shapes of radiator, including fiat and round-fronted ones and a very Teutonic-looking vee radiator. etc.

For Brooklands, Cook’s Isotta Fraschini retained its front-wheel brakes and the chain-drive chassis was given the usual pointed-tail body, painted black with red bands, and a radiator cowl. It made its debut at the 1914 Whitsun Meeting, in the second heat of the Private Competitors Handicap. It was flagged away last, the handicappers taking no chances with the newcomer, with its 10,618 cc engine. A bad bout of misfiring resulted in a lap-speed of only 71.73 mph, the car only picking up on each lap at the end of the Railway straight. Out again for the 16th 100 mph Short Handicap, Cook found himself sandwiched between two Mercedes, and giving four seconds to Dewis’s Sixty, which like the lsotta was rated at 41.9 hp. Although the lap-speed was up to 78.55 mph this was insufficient to gain a place. In the 100 mph Long Handicap Cook had to give Dew’s, Mercedes a six-second start and the apparent ignition trouble made his car slower than before.

At the Summer Meeting it was evident that Humphrey Cook had got the measure of his big car, and although it was on the scratch mark in the Private Competitors’ Handicap it lapped at a best of 91.38 mph, fastest in the race, and finished second to Capt Lindsay Stewart’s 3-litre Schneider. In the 100 mph Long Handicap at this Meeting it went even better, its quickest lap being at 92.06 mph, taking third place. Then, in the 100 mph Short Handicap it pulled out a lap at 92.74 mph, proving that it was a genuine 100 mph car, and won from the Straker-Squire and the Schneider, at 87 3/4 mph, discomforting the “bookies”, who had quoted odds of 10 to 1, usually reserved for non-finishers! Presumably they thought Cook would require more distance in which to work up speed …

Cook ran the Isotta at the Inter-Varsity Brooklands Meeting, but had to be content with third place in the One-Lap Handicap behind Lionel Martin’s little Singer and an Austin, because he missed a gear-change going onto the Home banking, but he nevertheless averaged 77,03 mph for the standing-start lap. Running in the Two-Lap Handicap he made no such mistake, gaining the Isotta Fraschini’s second Brooklands’ win, from a fast Vauxhall and a baby Mathis. Cook had little time left in which to enjoy the sport pre-war and although he drove the car again at that fateful 1914 August Bank Holiday Meeting, it was down on speed and non-started in the last race for which it was entered. It did not reappear again after the Armistice — W.B.

Fragments on forgotten makes: No 69: The Seabrook

The last article in this series was about a light-car, the Dawson, that was too ambitiously ahead of its time, with its overhead-camshaft engine, to compete with the lower-priced and less-complicated lightcars of the 1920s. This discourse follows on. as it were, inasmuch as the Seabrook light-car set out very much in the same technical pattern as the Dawson, although in this case it was even less successful. until its manufacturers had a change of heart.

Both the Dawson and the original Seabrook light-car belonged to the exciting, if daunting. period just following the Armistice, after the first World War, which prompted the ambitious to go ahead with advanced engineering ideas in a climate of financial depression, strikes, and supply limitations that did not encourage such projects, few of which flourished, at all events as their instigators had hoped they would. It was in these rather gloomy days that someone planned the post-war Seabrook. It was a distinctly optimistic design which, as with the Dawson, used an overhead-camshaft engine for a comparatively small car, at a time when Rolls-Royce still had side-by-side valves, Daimler had long relied on Knight double sleeves to attain the required degree of quiet in which top-priced luxury cars should function, and only the new 37.2 hp Hispano-Suiza was able to woo customers successfully with an .aero-type” ohc motor-car engine, away, that is, from purely sports-type cars such as the 3-litre Bentley. It was into that outlook that the unknown designer of the Seabrook ventured to project his smaller engine of this advanced type. .

By the autumn of 1920 there was one of these advanced Seabrooks on the road, registered LA 4755, a London number consistent with the Seabrook Company being at Great Eastern Street. Before the war the Seabrook brothers, had imported that American RMC, remembered for the under-slung chassis used for some models, and had indeed, exhibited one of these at the first post-war Olympic Show. in 1919. Production then ceased in America, and the Seabrooks had to branch Out with a car of their own. They certainly chose an ambitious design! Cylinder block and upper crankcase of the 69,20 mm 11,795 cc) four-cylinder engine were of aluminium. into which cast-iron cylinder liners were inserted, sealed at the top with c&a washers, at the base with rubber rings held in four-bolt flanges, the liners, extending some way into the crankcase, being free to expand as they heated up. The cylinder head was also of aluminium, seating on additional washers resting on the liner-sealing ones. The head was bolted to the cylinder barrels and carried the bearings for the valve rockers, and it had cast pedestal-brackets which took the bronze camshaft bearings. The overhead-camshaft was driven by a vertical shaft at the front of the engine, with bevel-gearing at its base and more bevels at the top to turn the camshaft. The lower half of the bottom bevel was used to drive the oil pump spindle. The magneto. mounted vertically and driven from the top-drive for the oh-camshaft. towered above the cam-cover, its contact breaker therefore fully accessible, as with the magneto on a Riley Nine engine and the magneto mounted as a vee with the dynamo and drive from the camshaft of the OHC Rhode light-car. On the Seabrook engine another bevel-drive turned the big fan pulley, the Whittle belt of which drove the dynamo as well as the four bladed cooling fan, the former being on a hinged bracket to provide for belt adjustment, after slackening off a knurled-nut. The dynamo was low down on the near-side of the engine. The crankshaft ran in two plain bearings and there were two-ring aluminium pistons. The lubrication system was by pressure to the main bearings and by trough and scoops on each big-end. In these early stages the make of carburettor to be used had not been finalised but the Y-shape inlet manifold was cast into the oft-side of the cylinder block, and hotspotted with the entire water return feed to the radiator The Seabrook name was cast on the water-hot-spot packet. The coolant circulation was by thermo-syphon. the tan blades being contrived so as to set up a high-speed air flow through the radiator The high-set magneto enabled short ht leads to run to the sparking. plugs in the off-side of the head, and the advance-and-retard control rod was incorporated in the bonnet-slay between dashboard and radiator, the control being on the rh side of the dash panel The engine

was in unit with the gearbox, the web between accommodating the cone clutch, in which the friction material was bolted to the flywheel, the idea being that. when the clutch was driving, the thrust of the single large coil spring would be balanced, In lieu of a spigot bearing, the cone slid on splines on the gearbox driving shaft, which was hollow and in one with the constant-mesh gear. and it carried the long bush forming the spigot-bearing for the gearbox driven-shaft There was a plan to lubricate this spigot from the tail-bearing of the crankshaft, if found necessary. The oh-camshaft and rocker gear were enclosed in a wide alloy cover, retained by one disc nut. The Seabrook’s four-speed-and-reverse gearbox had some unusual features and was lubricated with thin oil. its lever being mounted in a ball socket on the lid of the box, which suggests American influence. The gearbox had a big oil-filler, and ridges on the box helped to hold the floorboards in place. The brake lever was universally-jointed on the left of the gearbox and was arranged so that by moving it sideways the ratchet was over-ridden, enabling it to be used for racing starts (as on much later MGs with a different arrangement) and the brake rods were of ribbon-type, which predated those on Arnilcars . The drive went via a long propshaft with fabric universal-joints to a shorter torque-tube attached to the chassis frame: shades of the Austin 7 to be! The back axle of the prototype Seabrook was without a differential. There was a belt-drive for the speedometer behind the gearbox, one pulley being part of the boss for the front u I and the driven pulley, on the o s of the gearbox, being formed of thin steel plates. Even now we have not exhausted the Seabrook ‘s ingenious features. The chassis had U-shape side-members, the rear-mounted petrol tank, from which feed was by Autovac, being attached to the upper flange of these side-members, where the bottom flange was cut away. Rear suspension was by wide-leaved cantilever Wines. unusual with a wheelbase of only nine feel, the front springs being conventional hall-elliptics. except that the forward ends of the springs slid in a slot machined in a cylindrical housing within the front dumb iron. Oil for the back-axle was put in through a filler at the front of the torque-tube, and it seems as it perhaps a bit too late the designer realised that it would be all too easy for the Seabrook owner to overfill the thing, as he went to considerable pains to prevent oil seepage on to the brakes.

The brakes were like those of the forthcoming 8 hp Talbot-Darracg. the pedal operating a pair of shoes in one large brake drum, the lever, through those ribbon connections, a pair in the opposite drum this bring possible because of the solid axle. Perhaps the designer had a guilty conscience over this economy of retardation, because instead of securing the brake linings with rivets, as was then usual, he contrived to have these attached, most unconventionally. with tiny U-bolts, for quick replacement.

Steering was by full-worm-and-wheel. the box mounted actually on the engine crankcase in such a way that oil was splashed from the crankshaft onto the gears and the sump-filler was on the steering boo so that every time the engine was replenished, which was more often then than now these gears were lubricated Michelin disc when carried 760 x 90 tyres. the rake of the steering-column was adjustable, there was provision for spring gaiters, and it was intended to have a detachable instrument panel, for accessibility of the wiring, etc.

There were certain similarities in this Seabrook to the Dawson that formed the previous article in this series, the engine dimensions being the same_ But whereas the Dawson was a high, typically touring kind of small car with a rather too-aggressive bull nosedradiator. the lines of the prototype Seabrook were such that anyone with a liking for sporting cars would have given it more than one glance. It was low-built with a shapely radiator, and the prototype had a racy two-seater body with low sides and a vee windscreen. There is evidence that this body may have been cobbled -up quickly, the carpenter not having quite finished things in the region of the dashboard, although hood, rear-mounted spare wheel and a Klaxon were fitted.

The price of this fascinating Seabrook two-seater was to be in the region of £700. The foundry strikes and industrial unrest of 1920 set problems. especially for small concerns: and I do not suppose Seabrook made its own castings. Nevertheless, by Motor Show time it was hoping to sell this 11.9 hp two-seater at £765 a more staid two-seater with dickey for £775, and a four-seater version for £795. Of all construction, Seabrook managed to get a chassis, a sporting twoseater, and a de-luxe two-seater on to its stand at Olympia in 1920, but the elevated prices must have been against it, remembering that at that time a Bugatti of identical hp-rating, which had proved itself in racing could be had for only £85 more with an extra seat for good measure. If you had to take four people in your Brescia Bugatti. the price differential over doing this in a Seabrook rose to £105. although anyone prepared to make a body could have had the Seabrook chassis, assuming any were actually available, for £75 less than Jarrott & Letts were asking for a Bugatti sans coachwork. However. the 16valve Bugatti was rapidly establishing its qualities in voiturette racing. whereas the ohc Seabrook was very much an unknown quantity. And it remained so, because it was regarded as too expensive to put into production. Not that Seabrook gave up. The company decided to use another engine, saving as much of the chassis as was expedient. the engine chosen was a four -cylinder 63 x 120 mm (1,496 cc) Dorman. thus bringing the Seabrook into the light-car class, at a rated 9.8 hp. This engine was interesting as having overhead valves operated by camshafts and tappet-rods on both sides, a layout usually attributed to the Riley Nine that was not to make its debut for another five years. The chassis was much the same as for the more exciting 1920 Seabrook. but the combined torque tube and open-shaft drive was changed tor a long open propshaft, torque being taken by a torque member beside it. The chassis weight was probably reduced as 710x 90 tyres now sufficed. A Zenith carburettor had been standardised. The Meadows four-speed-and-reverse gearbox had a central lever working in a vertical gate, usually associated with the aircooled ABC light-car. Normal. compensated rod operated brakes were now fitted arid the chassis was extended to obviate body-sag. About a year elapsed in changing the design. and Seabrook had a busy time getting bodies on the revised chassis ready for the 1921 Olympia Show. But it was done, Stand 267 containing a sports model. for which the old 1920 body may have been adapted a two-seater, and an all-weather. Attention was drawn to the revised Seabrook by using two-colour schemes dividing the upper and lower halves of the bodies. The two-seater was in discreet stone and French greys, but the allweather was in chocolate, with disc wheels of the same colour black mudguards, and light yellow upper parts! Prices had been brought to an acceptable level, the two-seater cost ng £425. The Seabrook began to appear in the trials of its time. M. Summerfield driving one in the 1922 snow-bound ACU Western Centre event that finished at Clevedon and winning a silver medal in the MCC Land’s End that year in spite of climbing Porlock too slowly to qualify for a “gold” and fSting on another observed section.

Dorman ‘s Riley-like engine seems to have become unavailable atter John Dorman joined the gearbox manufacturers. Meadows, in 1921, and just prior to the 1922 Motor Show Seabrook changed its power unit yet again, this time using one of the new Meadows, of the same size as before but with conventional push-rod overhead valves. The chassis was lowered by two inches in time for the Show, for which this new 10.20 hp Seabrook was just available in time the sports model with disappearing hood augmenting the £395 two-seater and a saloon January 1923 brought a smaller model, of 1,247 cc, called the 9,19. priced at £275.

This was the period when almost every light-car maker brought out a sports model, even if this was sporting only in appearance Seabrook was no exception, and apart from its standard sporting two-seater, in 1924 it made a sports lob to special order, on what was now its 1224 hp chassis It had a high sided body, big outside exhaust pipe, the usual disc wheels. and a single headlamp at the buyer’s request the price coming out at £375. The make should, perhaps, be remembered for the Great Seabrook Mystery, as to who designed that advanced light-alloy ohc engine back in 1919.r 20. Otherwise ills recalled as one of the more handsome of the assembled small cars of its day. the makers taking showrooms in Cambridge Circus for a time and moving to South London in 1926. Two years later the Seabrook had become just another Lost Cause. — W.B.