A 90 H.P. FIAT



A 90 H.P. FIAT

L,P)KING back at Various articles which have appeared in the ” Veteran Types ” series I am struck by a journalistic convention, not to say subterfuge, which characterises them. An obscure and ancient motor is introduced to the reader, and the writer„ describing its Origin and characteristics, adopts the attitude that he has merely had to draw on his onmiscience to produce all the details about the car as soon as he heard of its whereabouts. On this occasion, however, he intends to discard this polite fiction on the grounds that the description of the true manner in which some information was gathered about a very remarkable motor-car may not be unamusing to some of his readers. Some months ago, A. S. Heal, whose performances on a 30;98 Vauxhall may not be unknown, inspired by the speed events for pre-War ears organised by the Vintage Sports Car Club, was smitten by a desire to :acquire a motor suitable for participation in them. By chance he came to hear of a truly noble machine in the shape of a gigantic red F.I.A.T, and shortly afterwards he applied to the present writer for information with regard to its origin and history. ” It is ” he wrote ” a F.I.A.T. 4-cyl. 130 bore 190 stroke (about 10-litres) : four valves per cylinder : o lt. camshaft : four-speed gearbox : final drive by chain. Alleged to have been one of three built for a race in 1912.. The car in question was raced by R. Warde and John Cobb in 1926 and 1927. There is a brass plate on the engine which bears the inscription : “ripe) S 01. No. 42.'”

From this information I set to work to discover Something about the car. I genuinely did remember it well enough in its post-War Brooklands days, but as to its origin I was completely in the dark.

One thing was fairly easy to establish, namely that from 1910 or 1911 until 1914 the F.I.A.T. company listed the Type S 61, with four cylinders of 130 x 190 m.m. bore and stroke, as its standard 90 h.p. model. Moreover the factory weighed in with the information that the Tipo S 61 was made in 1910. It would therefore have been fairly easy to reach the cOnclusion that this car was No. 42 of a standard series and to leave it at that.

It did not, however, seem very satisfactory to leave it at that. In the first place there was a sneaking reluctance to admit that the machine was not a genuine racing-car ; and moreover, even in the spacious days of before the War, it was rather unusual to design a 10-litre standard model without any particular excuse. So research continued. It strayed to the annals of the first Grand Prize of America, which was run as a road race in 1911, and in which a F.I.A.T. finished third. Investigation proved that this machine, according to a contemporary report, had a bore and By ” BALADEUR ” stroke of 5 71. inches, which, converted at 25.4 iflu inch, gives an equivalent

of 127 as near as may be. There was no engine size regulations for the race, and the dimensions therefore were probably given to the nearest quarter inch. On this assumption it was fairly obvious that we were dealing with our old friend the 1:30 190 man. engine. But this (lid not really help matters much. If the engine was standardised in 1910 it obviously could not have been designed for a race in 1011. Moreover it would have been very surprising in those days if a Furopean manufacturer

had gone to the trouble of designing a car for an American race, which they usually won with a racer seyeral years old. I began to search for an earlier European race. The last French Grand Prix, in 1908, had produced F.I.A.T.s with much bigger bores–155 m.m. was the limit for the race and the Italian firm built up to it. The next French Grand Prix, in 1912, was a free-for-all race, and the F.I.A..T,s which ran in it had a relatively long stroke, but not such a big stroke-bore ratio as our problem car. For my own edification I produced a little table, as follows :— The big increase in the stroke-bore ratio between 1908 and 1912 Suggested that in the meantime the factory had had -experience of long-stroke engines, but that probably this experience had been forced on its designers by the

limited bore rule. One must obviously seek for a race with such regulations to find the origin of the design. At this point -a red herring was drawn across the path. A High Authority volunteered the information that ” the car is probably the 90. h.p. Taunus model.” What did this mean ? The only significance this had for .me was that the Kaiserpreis race of 1907 was run over the Taunus Circuit. But the dimensions of the F.I.A.T.s which ran in this race were given as 140 130 and besides

the rules limited the capacity to 8-litres. The discovery of a standard model P.I.A.T. for 1909 called the 90 h.p. Taunus type with a bore and stroke of 140 x 129 m.m. stopped further progress along this false trial. After this I cast back to the Targa Florio, and fotmd, not without some excitement, that the regulations for the 1908 race stipulated a maximum bore of 130 m.m. But in a year in which F.I.A.T. for a Grand Prix, run to a bore limit of 155 in.nz., only dared use a stroke of 160 limn., one was unlikely to find any such exaggerated dimensions as 130 x

190 : and in fact the 1908 Targa Florio F.I.A.T.s had a stroke of only 140 m.m.

So far the search had centred exclusively on cars which ran in races. What about racing-cars which never ran ? Here I am convinced was found at last the answer to the riddle. No French Grand Prix was run in 1909, but the regulations for the race were prepared, and they stipulated a maximum bore of 130 m.m. Surely here is to be found the origin of the F.I.A.T. A jump in the stroke from 140 m.m. to 190 m.m. in one year, with the bore remaininu at 130 flLlfl., seems a big one. But serious.. consideration of the limited bore rule must have led to observation of the Voiturettes, where Peugeot in 1909 was using a stroke-bore ratio of 2.5 : 1. I am therefore fairly convinced that this F.I.A.T. design was made for the 1909 Grand Prix which never took place, and then used .faute de nrieux as a standard model in 1910, eventually becoming a racing design again on the OCCASiOn of the American Grand Prize in 1911.

Having reached this point I Was still keen to prove that the particular car in question was a real racing-car built for the 1909 Grand Prix. I was not much Worried by the date, because when the race was called off, they might well not have troubled to finish the cars before 1910. But I was worried by “No. 42.” I even tried out a theory that all F.I.A.T. racing-cars were in a series S 61, and I counted thirteen pre-1909 types as follows :-1900 ” Padua ” type ; 1901 ” Piombino-GrOssettO ” ; 1902 ” Mont Cenis ” ; 1903 Paris-Madrid ; 1904 GordonBennett ; 190 Gordon-Bennett; 1906 Targa Florio ; 1906 Grand Prix ; 1907 Targa Florio ; 1907 Kaiserpreis ; 1907 Grand Prix ; 1908 Targa Florio and 1908 Grand PrLx. Allowing three cars of each type this would make thirty-nine cars, and the third of the 1909 Grand Prix type would be No. 42 I But this ingenuity failed to convince even myself.

At this point came a momentary thrill in the shape of information from a former owner that engine No. 42 (of date 1911) was not that originally belonging to the chassis, although it was of the same type. But the consequent elation was short-lived as he added that the original engine was No. 25 (of date 1910). I think therefore that this particular machine canna have started life as a racing-car, but must have belonged to the standard series. At least, however, it has been a racingcar for a respectable length of time. I believe that Duff was the first to race it at Brooklands in 1920. By 1922, however, it had passed into the hands of P. Rampon and at the 1923 Easter Meeting it won the Brooklands Founder’s Gold Cup at 96 m.p.h., driven by E. A. D. Eldridge. Rampon himself raced it for the rest of that season and throughout 1924, finally winning the Brooklands Gold Vase with it at the Whitsun Meeting in 1925 at 97 m.p.h. I think that it must have been immediately after this that the car was acquired by R. Warde, who raced it at the Summer Meeting. He shared the driving with J. K. Cobb, who won a race with it at both the August and Autumn meetings of 1925. Cobb concluded a

successful year by winning a ” Long Handicap” at the Essex Club’s meeting at 107.34 m.p.h. At the Easter Meeting of 1926 it was running again, but whilst Warde was practising before the Whits= meeting for the first ” Gold Star” Race, Engine No. 25 blew up in a most complete and spectacular fashion. A long gap in the car’s appearances at the Track then occurred. During the General Strike of the same year, however, Warde encountered Tipo S 61 No. 42, a four-seater owned by Lord Cunliffe, which was at that time engaged in delivering news papers. Warde then set about fitting this engine to the old racer. The change was highly successful and at the Whitsun Meeting of 1927 Cobb once more scored a win with the seventeen-year-old chassis

and sixteen-year-old engine at 103.1 m.p.h

The glamorous days of the post-war decade at Brooklands, however, were thawing to a close. One by one the prewar monsters, which were our delight in the twenties, were disappearing from the scene. The F.I.A.T. was, I believe, one of the last of the chain-driven racing-cars to compete on the track. The powers that be, however, were beginning to frown on the monsters of the past—and Brooklands has never been quite the same thing since. With the others the F.I.A.T. disappeared into obscurity, but not before it had engraved its narn on the Record List by taking Class A, 5 km. flying start record at 104.1 m.p.h. in March 1929. The car was rescued from retirement some months ago by A. S. Heal, and I gladly accepted his invitation to go and see it. It was certainly an. impressive enough sight, even by the rather inadequate light of the garage in which work was being carried out on it. The ugly cowl which, following an unfortunate fashion of the day, used to disfigure it at Brooklands, has been removed, and the handsome square honeycomb radiator thus revealed. The chassis, when one comes to look at it, is fairly long ; longer probably than it would have been if it had been built as a racing-car. The wheelbase is 10 ft. :3 in. Under the bonnet the engine is nothing if not impressive, with its long stroke and overhead camshaft on top of that. The two inlet valves of each cylinder are held in detachable cages. The valve gear is unusual—covering each valve spring is a bell shaped cover which moves vertically like a piston in a guide. An adjusting screw in the top of the “diving bell” bears on the top of the valve stem. Each pair is connected by a horizontal link. The cams bear direct on small rollers in the centre of each link thus opening both valves simultaneously. The camshaft, which runs in ball bearings, is driven by 4 vertical shaft at the front of the engine. The magneto, oil pump and water pump are driven at right angles from this vertical shaft. The Bosch magneto has an unusual distributor with two rings of

segments and two brushes. By this means the single magneto contrives to fire two plugs in each cylinder.

The cylinders are cast in pairs and mixture is fed to them through a handsome copper induction pipe some thirty inches long. A water jacket “hot spot” has been added later by a firm who announce themselves on a small brass plate as ” Expert Automobile Coppersmiths.” The large Zenith carburetter has a device in the float chamber not unlike a domestic ball cock. A cast iron flywheel some 2 ft. in diameter has its spokes in the form of a fan. in order to draw air through the radiator. The small multi-plate clutch looks very inadequate to transmit the power of the enormous engine. A massive four-speed gearbox forms a single unit with the differential and bevel gear. From the counter shaft, outside chains take the drive to the rear wheels. The top gear ratio is 1.8 to 1. Large brakes, worked by the hand lever, are provided on the rear wheels. The pedal controls two external contracting brakes on the gearbox, one on an extension of the layshaft and the other on the countershaft. The rear axle beam is located by radius rods winch are provided with adjustments for tensioning the chains. Hartford shock-absorbers were fitted during the BrOoklands days and as a result the car rides most steadily. The high-geared steering is most delightful and unexpectedly light to handle. Rudge Whitworth wheels were also a later fitting ; prior to that wooden artillery wheels were used which had to be soaked with buckets of water before

the car was taken on the track. By the end of last season the car had been got back into trim, and Heal entered it in September for the Brighton Speed Trials, which included a class for

prewar ears. The course consisted of a standing half-mile, and this distance the F.I.A.T. succeeded in covering at an average of 57.03 -m.p.h., to win its class from J. N. Norris’s 22-litre Benz and Forrest Lyeett’s Alfonso HispanoSuiza. ‘Thus the old car has entered upon a new lease of life, and its admirers in the old days at Brooklands may look out for it once more in the Vintage Sports Car ‘Club’s events next season.