The Italian job
Some time back I wrote of the SLIM car, suggesting that it must have appealed to those troubled about their weight and on a diet. Now we come to the FAST, which must surely have been just the job for those who like to do their motoring rapidly, as most young Italians do, except when seeking bottoms to pinch!
In fact, the initials stood for Fabbrica Automobili Sport Torino, of Turin. Obviously a sportscar, the FAST came into being in 1919 when Arturo Concaris, who had made aero-engines but no doubt sensed the decline in aviation after the end of the war, decided to turn, like many others, to producing motorcars.
Anyway, the FAST car had a promising specification and apparently did quite well in local races in which it took part. The engine was not unlike that of the 3-litre Bentley born at about the same time, in as much as it had an overhead camshaft operating the valves through rockers, the camshaft being driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gear at the front, with a cross-shaft driving the magneto and a large water pump feeding coolant to both head and cylinder barrels.
Unlike the Bentley, the FAST had only two overhead valves per cylinder, but it did have a small sump beneath the base chamber from which a small oil-pump fed lubricant to the engine, and there were aluminium pistons (which WO Bentley pioneered for his pre-war DFPs) on the H-section con-rods. There was a main bearing between each crank-throw, and an updraught carburettor on the offside of this compact power-unit.
The dimensions of the engine were at first quoted as 84mm x 135mm bore and stroke (compared with the Bentley’s 80mm x 149mm), giving a swept-volume of 2993cc. Later the stroke was given as 130mm and the capacity as 2882cc. Power-output was originally declared as 70 bhp at 3000 rpm, but it was made clear that this was by no means the limit and the smaller engine was said to produce 82 bhp at the same crankshaft speed.
One unusual feature was that the outside exhaust pipe on the nearside of the bonnet ran into a larger pipe which had a conical entrance-piece, intended to assist the exit of exhaust gases from the combustion chambers. The rest of the FAST closely followed typical 1919 design practice, with a unit three-speed gearbox mounted on a ball-jount at the front and on two arms at the back. The bevel-driven back-axle had two sets of expanding brakes and the half-elliptic springs were outboard of the chassis frame.
The British concessionaire was the racing driver Giulio Foresti, who raced a chain-drive Austro Daimler/Mercedes at Brooldands. He was announced to be driving a FAST in the 1919 Targa Florio, but it failed to materialise.
Foresti was a strong man. When later he drove “Djehno” at Pendine Sands and it overturned (in much the same way as “Babs” did when Parry Thomas was killed) he was thrown out, bruised, cut and shaken; but they say that as he staggered away from the wreck he saw that a spectator or photographer had fainted with shock, so he paused to fling the man over his shoulder before continuing…
Prior to this, Foresti had driven a 3-litre Itala in the 1921 Targa Florio, a 2-litre twin-cam Ballot into third place in the 1922 Targa Florio, and a sleeve-valve Peugeot in the same race in 1924. In 1928-29 he became a Bugatti team driver. Foresti, who had previously held agencies for Itala, Diatto and Isotta-Fraschini cars, handled the FAST agency from the Bryanston Garage at Crawford Place off the Edgware Road and St James’s Street in London. But Arturo Concaris ran out of finance and the FAST never made it to the London Motor Show.
Foresti moved out of the St James’s Street showrooms, making the excuse that his premises were too small, and in any case after he joined Malcolm Campbell as assistant to Leo Villa there would have been no place for his agency — especially as Captain (later Sir) Malcolm himself was an agent for the 3-litre Gregoire-Campbell!
The Italian Company had been bought by Alberto Crasi by 1923. It seems that four-speed gearboxes were installed for touring and sports models of the FAST; but production lasted only for two more years. When Parry Thomas was acting as consultant to Invicta, he put an 84mm x 135mm FAST engine into an Invicta chassis which he proposed to race in 1925. It did not appear, but one wonders whether it was in this experimental Invicta that Thomas drove to Pendine for the last time, before being killed there in his 27-litre Thomas Special “Babs”. It appears, incidentally, that this Italian engine had been found too inflexible for a production car, even in those times, although balanced against this is the thought that the Invicta was intended to be essentially a top-gear motor car. WB