IK-REBUFF0’5 /924 COPPA FLORIO IT ALA “E. K. H. K’s” own veteran racer, truly a car with a history.
ON the 10th September, 1905, Raggio driving a 100 h.p. Itala, won the race for the Florio Cup at Brescia, covering the 312 miles at an average speed of 65.39 m.p.h. It was the second race which had been run for the Cup and the first of a new series ; for, starting from 1905, the donor, Vincenzo Florio, decided that his cup should be competed for seven times, and in the end become the permanent property of the firm which had won it the greatest number of times out of the seven.
Time passed, the war came and went, and at irregular intervals races for the Cup were run off and various victors carried off the palm. At last, by 1924 six different firms had won the Cup, and in that year it was decided to run off a final in which, if any of the six firms proved victorious, it would become the permanent owner of the Trophy. Itala, of course, was one of the six, by reason of Raggio’s victory of 1905, and the Italian firm decided that they must run again. In the long interval of nineteen years, however, much had happeend. Other firms had grown and become financially powerful, while Itala had kept on more or less in the old way, just building fine cars in that modest little factory known to all railway travellers to Turin. Since the war the firm had made no attempt to compete in the building of the highly expensive Grand Prix type racers of the day, but had contented themselves With running modified versions of their 3-litre sports model in the Targa Florio.
When, therefore, it came to entering for the final of the Coppa Florio, which was to be run in conjunction with the Targa over the Sicilian circuit, they decided that they would again use something of the same sort which had annexed the 3-litre class prize in 1921 and 1922. It was originally intended to run three cars in the race, but actually only one was ready in time, and this was entrusted to Rebuff o. Thus on the morning of Sunday, 27th April, this driver set off round the Madonie Circuit in a lone attempt to reap the fruits of Raggio’s victory of nineteen years before. It cannot be pretended that in competition with teams of racing cars from the houses of Mercedes, AlfaRomeo, Peugeot, Fiat, Ballot, Hispano-Suiza and the C
rest, Rebuff o appeared particularly fast. In fact, he was not in the first dozen at the end of any round. but he completed the five circuits, taking 9 hours 41 minutes and 56 seconds for the journey of 355i miles, which is an average of 34.6 m.p.h., and faster than the winner’s speed over a shorter course in 1919 and 1920. He was placed fifteenth, and thus ended Itala’s attempt to gain permanent possession of the Coppa Florio.
A one-time “Blue-Bird.”
It was not, however, the last chapter in the history of the car. At that time Malcolm Campbell held the Itala concession in England, and some time during 1924 the Coppa Florio car came into his possession. He decided to use it personally, and the motor, robbed of its coat of scarlet paint, became one of the” Blue Bird ” series. The car appeared at Brooklands on the occasion of the B.A.R.C. Easter meeting of 1925, and in the hands of its new owner proceeded to win the Founder’s Gold Cup Race, averaging 78.05 m.p.h. for the 8i miles. Thereafter it was a fairly regular appearer at Brooklands meetings that season, though success did not seem to come its way again.
Then for some time I entirely lost sight of the car, except for one short interview with it at, I think, Duxford aerodrome. Apparently in the meantime it was fitted with a 2-seater touring body and sold by Malcolm Campbell. According to its registration book it passed through many hands, but I saw no more of it until one day I met it coming out of the Park at Prince’s Gate and wa.s reminded of Rebuffo’s Itala, which I had almost forgotten for some years.
It cannot have been more than a month or two after the latter incident that I saw an advertisement for an Itala which I thought must refer to Rebuff 0’s car. At any rate, I hurried off to see it, and found sure enough the Coppa Florio racer waiting to be sold. Having come and seen, I was conquered, and shortly afterwards I had become the owner of this car, which had once been fairly much in the public eye, but which now seemed completely forgotten.
I took over the Itala one black and pouring wet evening on the wrong side of the Brompton Road, the car being fitted with completely smooth headed tyres. Not ideal conditions, it must be admitted, in which to try an unknown_ car, but by the time I had got across the Park I had already acquired a great confidence in the Itala ; and inspecting it critically I decided that even if it was only the best that could be done at the time, it was not an altogether unsuitable car for the Florio. The engine is a 4-cylinder side-valve unit, with a bore and stroke of 83 x 130 mm. (2831 c.c.) and sidevalves in an L— head. The exhaust valves are surmounted by high caps ribbed for cooling, and the plugs a r e inserted
in passages in the water jacket so that they are directly in the centre of the cylinder head. From the engine a short shaft takes the drive to the 4-speed gear-box, which carries its right-hand lever on an extension independent of the chassis ; and from the gear-box a short open propeller shaft drives to the back axle. The wheelbase is short, the track wide and the chassis enormously sturdy, with the radiator and engine set far back. The foot-brake operates in the four very large ribbed drums on the Rudge-Whitworth road wheels, and the long outside hand-brake lever, innocent of ratchet, works a brake on a drum on the propeller shaft, which is capable of locking the back wheels with consummate ease.
It can be seen much more clearly in the photograph than in real life where the old racing body has been cut off just behind the scuttle and the new touring body added. In the process of course the original bolster petrol tank had to be discarded, and one of somewhat inadequate size has been substituted for it between the back dumb-irons, the pressure in which is kept up with a large aero type pressure pump by the luckless passenger. The car has a wonderfully assorted list of accessories which betrays its motley begetting. An enormous Solex carburettor and a Marelli magneto are adjuncts of the engine, the dynamo and switchboard are by Robert Bosch, the horn an English copy of one of his, the one headlamp, which is all that has survived the test of time, is by some unknown Italian maker, and the side-lamps by an equally obscure Englishman. Both the speedometer and rev, counter are Jaegers, but the latter is of the expensive kind which ticks, and the former is not ! However, if its equipment is Something of a mixed
bag, the car’s performance is certainly satisfactory. The flywheel consists of a very light spoked rim which now carries the teeth of the starter gear, and the acceleration is really rather remarkable for a side-valve unsupercharged engine. I imagine that the gear-box is standard, and although the final ratio is high, the car suffers somewhat from the Italian propensity towards providing a first speed which will take the machine straight up the side of a mountain. Once the big change of ratio from first to second has been made, however, the car’s get away is excellent, and the rest of the changes are snappy enough. Once top is reached one gets to the full the advantage of the high backaxle ratio which the light weight of
car fies, and can appreciate the fact that the engine does not have to turn very fast for a good road speed. In fact, its every day maximum under any conditions on the flat is 3,000 r.p.m., which means fairly exactly 75 m.p.h., while with a slight down grade or a following wind or a particularly good mood being displayed by “Musso,” as the old racer is usually called, the extra 200 revs, which bring the speed up to 80 m.p.h. can be attained. At this speed the car has all the delightfully tight feel of the thoroughbred, and gives an impression of complete stability, which is assisted by a spring-spoked steering wheel, which is one of the largest it has been my fortune to come across. The maximum speed, as I have already said, is quickly attained, and what was perhaps even more important on the Ma.donie Circuit, it is quickly lost when those large brake drums start to stop the comparatively light machine. While, however, Musso has got many of the pleasing qualities of the racing car, he is on the whole as well behaved a motor as the simplicity of his design would lead one to expect. Starting has been really very good, except for a period when pronounced sulkiness in this respect, coupled with perfectly even running, was at last traced to a broken ball-race in the magneto. Of course, I am sure that all chronic owners of second-hand cars will agree with me that each fresh mount one acquires has to pass through a period of being really fractious before it becomes used and resigned to its new owner. Thus, the first time that I took a long journey to the country with Musso, he decided on open rebellion. Coining homewards towards dusk, we were getting along splendidly, when suddenly the boom of the exhaust was broken by unrestrained explosions in the silencer. After the remaining light had been wasted suspecting the valves, it was at length discovered that the vernier
coupling of the magneto had jumped a tooth or two, leaving no sign that it was not quite tight. Not content with this piece of fooling, shortly after we had got going again Musso proceeded to get no more petrol ; and lengthy investigation in the dark finally diagnosed that the petrol pipe had broken off inside the petrol tank. As no one could be found to braze it on again at that time of night, Musso thus managed to avoid getting home till next day ; since when he has decided to reform and behave like a little gentleman.
Tamed and Trustworthy.
Day in, day out now, one can start up one’s touring 2-seater and set off on whatever business is on hand; and as one gets away and the boom of the exhaust, escaping through its small expansion chamber and enormous fish-tail reverberates behind one, realise that one is at the wheel of a racing car. You may not be capable of more than an ordinary sports car of to-day’s performance, Musso, but you have that indefinable something that tells one that you are the scion of a nobler line than most. Something in the manner of your running speaks of Signor Raggio’s thunderous progress on the 100 h.p. at Brescia ; of Cagno hurling his machine round the Sicilian circuit to victory in that Targa Florio of 25 years ago ; of Moriondo on the big rotary valve car, racing in the Grand Prix of 1913 and finishing second on the same car in the Targa Florio of 1919; and lastly, of your own lone effort now nearly seven years ago under that same Sicilian sky : something in the order of your going tells one that these deeds were not
in vain. E. K. H. K.