Huge Fiat to be reborn

One of a pair of remarkable 28.3-litre four-cylinder racing Fiats built in 1910/1911, unseen since the 1920s, is being re-constructed 

The most exciting vintage-world news is that Duncan Pittaway is assembling one of the Fiat S76 racing cars of the pre-WW1 era. These enormous cars were produced to out-do what Duncan calls “the girly 200hp Benz”.

The Blitzen Benz had been doing very well in many events, including taking the Land Speed Record at Brooklands in 1909. It was presumably to counter this that during the winter of 1910/11 Fiat built two cars powered by enormous four-cylinder 190x250mm 28.3-litre engines. The story has been pretty well documented, to the time when the S76s disappeared. Neither of these machines was like the later 21.7-litre Mephistopheles or the S61 10-litre racing Fiat, both in the company’s wonderful museum in Turin. The monster S76s, with their chain drive and stub exhausts, had not been particularly successful apart from Pietro Bordino in car No1 winning the Saltburn race meeting in 1911 and breaking the World one-mile record at 116.15mph.

Car No1 had also been taken to Brooklands in 1911 and again by Arthur Duray in 1913, maybe to try for the lap record or beat the LSR (Hemery, Benz, 127mph). But Bordino and Duray were perhaps not sufficiently acquainted with high speed round the Track in both directions.

In late 1911 a Russian prince, Boris Soukhanov, bought car No1 and it achieved a one-way 132.27mph at Ostend, driven by Arthur Duray in 1913. Its owner then disappeared during the Russian revolution but this preposterous Fiat, so tall that it was necessary to stand on its dumb-irons to fill its radiator, survived, was modified and continued to race as a Stutz-engined Fiat special in Australia, until being badly crashed in 1924.

As regards car No2, not much is known of any competition history. It was kept by the works in Turin throughout WW1 and, shortly after being photographed with a Fiat 501 tourer in 1919, was scrapped in 1920; only the engine was retained.

There the story ended, until Duncan Pittaway, having already acquired the remains of the No1 car from Australia, was told by an ex-museum employee that the No2 car engine still existed, and he was also able to acquire this. Inspection of a surviving airship engine and examination of the original drawings of the airship and car engines showed that we were all mistaken in saying the car had an airship engine. As with the S61 and S74, Fiat had indeed designed and built special power units for the S76s. So they were serious in this project.

It is apparent that two S76 cars were built during the winter of 1910/11, with detail differences in chassis, body and engine design. Both had OHC engines although, car No1 had two inlet and two exhaust ports, whereas car No2 had three inlet and four exhaust ports, clearly seen in the contemporary photographs. 

Both S76 car engines show direct development from Fiat’s S61 and S74 racing-car engines, with wide aluminium crankcases, relatively small sumps for semi-dry-sump lubrication, 16-valve cylinder blocks, starting-handle dogs, and flywheels designed to take Hele-Shaw clutches.

The later 1912 airship engines had very much simpler OHC eight-valve cylinder blocks, taller narrower cast-iron crankcases, enormous 15-gallon sumps and a geared, camshaft-operated, starting mechanism.

Duncan is reconstructing car No1, as he feels the identity lies with the chassis, and hopes to have this magnificent Fiat complete by the summer and running soon after that.