The SCAT

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The Italian built SCAT motor car is in my mind just now because a rather covetable little racing car, not of this make but having close associations with it, as I will explain later, and which I encountered long years ago, has since been restored, and was indeed “fired-up” a short time ago.

So over to SCAT history. That eminent motoring historian and celebrated writer the late Kent Karslake was of the opinion that although this car was a product of Italy, it was the Britishers, a Mr John Newton and a Mr R O Harper of Manchester, who were the sponsors of, or at any rate had a considerable influence on, the Societa Ceirano di Automobili Torino, which was to build the SCAT car in Turin. Its designer was Signor Ceirano, to whom one very eminent and knowledgeable member of the British Motor Industry attributed the design of Fiat, Itala, SPA and SCAT racing cars. As at the time pre-1910 Italian racing cars were dominant in the all-important European races, cars from that country naturally appealed to motorists in Great Britain. They would presumably be well aware that in 1907 Fiat had won the French Grand Prix, the Targa Florio and the Kaiserpreis, Isotta Fraschini the Florio Cup, and Itala the Coppa della Velocita, also at Brescia. If in 1908 it was Mercedes that scored in the Grand Prix, the Fiats had been notably fast in that race and they had been victorious in that year’s Florio Cup race and the American Grand Prix at Savannah, while this time the sinuous Targa Florio contest had been won by an Isotta Fraschini, and Fiat’s ace driver Felice Nazzarro had vanquished Napier in the Match Race at Brooklands.

Signor Ernesto Ceirano was involved in these Italian triumphs even before his design work. He drove a 100 hp ltala in the 1905 Florio Cup event, with which he may have had some engineering responsibility, competed in the 1907 Targa Florio at the wheel of an Italian Rapid, and then he and Raggio drove SPA cars in the 1907 Coppa Florio, and in 1908 Ceirano was third in the Targa Florio race in his SPA. Next we find this versatile racing driver and engineer in the Isle of Man, where he designed for Messrs Newton and Harper a SCAT team of three cars for the 1908 RAC “Four-Inch” TT. One was driven by R O Harper, the others by F Ward and H S Buckley.

Maybe they were too new to go as fast as they needed to, to win, but a new version of this 22 hp TT car was built, its stroke increased from 120 mm to 140 mm, and in the 1911 Targa Florio Ceirano’s SCAT won at 29.08 mph over the very tough 277-mile mountain course, from a Lancia and a Mercedes. And in 1912 Cyril Snipe had the distinction of being the only Englishman up to 1955 to win this famous Sicilian race, now the single-lap Tour de Sicily, of 652 miles, his average speed 27.62 mph and his SCAT vanquishing a Lancia and a Fiat. Incidentally, although another famous motoring historian, the late Michael Sedgwick, claims in the “Encyclopedia” that Messrs Newton and Bennett were merely agents in Britain for the SCAT, the fact that very early in their association with this car they had sent Snipe out to the Turin factory to keep an eye on developments seems to confirm Karslake’s theory that the British pair were the instigators of the make.

Whatever the truth, the SCAT went on to further race successes, and although it suffered at the hands of the Nazzarro cars in 1913, this could not have unduly depressed Newton and Bennett — because they were agents, also, for this make, which the great Felice Nazzarro had temporarily severed his connection with Fiat to design and manufacture. Anyway, by 1914 the SCAT was back on winning form. That year Ceirano’s SCAT won the Targa Florio by the handsome margin of nearly two hours, after being in action on this racing-tour for not far short of 17 tenacious and trying hours. Indeed, his average speed of 36.88 mph compares favourably with that achieved in much later times by a car shared between two drivers, over the same circuit. So it is possible to say that before the 1914/18 war it was far from scatty to run a SCAT, even if it was not so good to be seen to have a SCAR — a car which hailed from Reims!

In fact, before that war to end all wars had started the SCAT was well into Newton & Bennett’s repertoire. By 1910 they were importing the well-constituted four-cylinder 15 hp SCAT, which had pressure lubrication, Bosch high-tension magneto ignition, a dropped chassis frame, and the distinction of electrical starting, attributed to N & B themselves, but which I think implied that they were responsible for the fitting here of a Westinghouse starter motor. The cost of this medium-sized chassis was £325 and its engine incurred then an annual tax of six guineas — happy days; not quite like the 1993 Budget! With a flush-sided touring body and a double cape-cart hood the price rose by £100. N & B were also offering at this time the 22 hp four-cylinder car, which commanded the same modest tax; it likewise had a four-speed and reverse gearbox, and cost £425, or £750 with a dee-fronted double-landaulette body as shown at Olympia, upholstered in crimson Morocco leather to match its rich crimson paintwork. N & B provided their choice of detachable wheels on both chassis.

The smaller SCATs had coal-scuttle bonnets and “dashboard” radiators, as associated with Renault cars but also a feature of Bayard, Charron, Arrol-Johnson, Phoenix, SCAR, Hurtu, Schneider, Siddeley-Deasy (with a very elegant “coal scuttle”), the idea being to keep the engine clean from road dust, flies, etc and perhaps increase slightly the warmth of front-seat occupants. The larger SCATs had frontal radiators.

In those halcyon pre-1914 days one of the latter 22 hp SCATs, with a Salmons all-weather body, was used by author P Naish for his wanderings in France, described in his book “Rollings of a Mossless Stone”. Users of the 15 hp model were reporting an easy gear-change, a tyre life of some 8,500 miles from 815 x 105 covers, a low oil thirst, 20 mpg of petrol and that the electric starter was an appreciated convenience, if at times, when pistons were at t d c, the starting-handle had first to be given half-a-turn. A Scottish owner had Climbed Porlock, Lynmouth, Cairn O’Mount, on second speed, and the Devil’s Elbow on an earlier 14 hp SCAT, getting 22 mpg and after 30,000 miles needing only £5-worth of spares. N & B supplemented these models with their own 10 hp two-cylinder job, which with enclosed valves, h t ignition, and a four-speed transmission, sounds to have been a nice little car.

Hostilities over, N & B had the SCAT at the first post-war Olympia Motor Show in 1919, exhibiting the new 15/18 hp car which had a 75 x 120 mm. (2297-c.c.) engine and was basking in the prestige afforded by those Targa Florio victories of 1911, ’12 and ’14. But the difficulties of post-war production had elevated prices and this SCAT, notable for a stiff but light chassis frame, was priced at £1,100 with a four-seater all-weather body. The back-axle incorporated a straight-bevel drive, the clutch was of plate type, and the handbrake applied a contracting transmission brake. At this time N & B were again showing their own Newton car, now with a two-litre four-cylinder power unit. It had CAV electrics and it seems that the West Manchester company was responsible for the all-weather body.

At the next London Motor Show, in 1920, the latest 25 hp Targa Florio-based SCAT chassis failed to arrive from Italy in time to be displayed, so N & B had to make do with the older SCAT car, now called the 15/18 hp, the chassis price of which was £650, while that of the all-weather model was up to £1,250. There may not have been many SCAT owners in England, but N & B persevered, moving over to the Ceirano line, of which the 75 x 130 mm car shared the SCAT Show stand. The SCAT swan-song was sounding; by 1923 an all-weather in what sounded like very good order was being advertised for £65. . A sad finish for a company which had a one time, before the war, built cars as exciting as the 4.7-litre 25/35 hp model and the overhead-camshaft shaft-drive 100 x 200 mm 60/70 SCAT. . .

Newton & Bennett were absentees from the 1921 Olympia Show, having turned their efforts to making coachwork, such as a smart saloon on the new 40/50 hp Napier chassis. They were soon to devote themselves to the sporting Ceirano, however. Giovanni Ceirano had sold out his SCAT interests in 1917, having made Hispano Suiza aero-engines under licence throughout the war years. With the peace Ceirano took up the motor-reins again, with cars based on the pre-war Targa Florio winners. Then, when Ceirano closed his own factory, he followed these other cars with a new 1-1/2-litre Ceirano, built in the old SCAT works. This new model resembled the famous Lancia Lambda in outward appearance but had a normal chassis frame and half-elliptic suspension, instead of Lancia’s space frame and ifs. Newton Bennett eventually sold these new models in England as Newton-Ceiranos.

First came the side-valve 30 bhp Tipo 150 Normale, able to attain 55 to 60 mph. Things improved with the Tipo 150S, which had push-rod-prodded inclined overhead-valves and wire wheels, and was capable of 65 mph. Ceirano later made trucks, before selling out in 1931 to SPA, whom Fiat later took over. However, the 1-1/2-litre sports model was the mainstay of N & B. But before introducing this model N & B dropped what should have constituted more of a bombshell than it appears to have been at the time, when they showed at the 1923 Olympia Show a 1000-c.c. twin-cam Newton, in both two-seater racing and sports-car forms, the latter priced at £450. This was before the availability of the Amilcar Six here and it seems surprising that, with 1100-c.c.-class racing active here, this car was not in some demand for racing by amateur competitors. The origins of this exciting development are obscure. But it was clearly intended as a true competition job, with its low chassis, both axles being above the chassis side-members. The version with sleek racing body was marked up at £395, the shorter wheelbase sports job, with electric lighting and starting, at £400. This when a normal 1-1/2-litre Bugatti chassis cost £350. Certain it was that this apparently so-promising little racing car was of Italian origin and that Olivo Pellegatti was associated with it. An attempt was made to publicise it here by entering two for the 1923 ICC outer-circuit 200 Mile Race at Brooklands, the drivers nominated as Noel Newton, a son of John Newton of N & B, and the Italian Pellegatti himself. But the cars were not sufficiently ready and non-started — maybe the Show exhibits were in a similar condition?

Nothing more was heard of this venture, as by 1924 N & B were involved with the aforesaid 1-1/2-litre Ceirano. They exhibited these at Olympia in 1924 as a dark brown tourer, a blue semi-streamline saloon and a sports model. The two spare wheels were slung on behind, the Ceirano not having the Lancia Lambda’s drop-lid boot in which to slide them, with the suitcases. This 65 x 110 mm (1400-c.c.) car was priced at £375 in four-seater form, the chassis at £295, but front brakes were an extra. The exciting twin-cam Newton endured, on the same stand, its price now up to £575 if anyone felt like buying it in coupé form. Newton even entered a 1-1/2-litre Ceirano for the 1924 200-mile race with E Ceirano as its driver, but it emulated the 1923 Newtons by not starting.

The 14 hp Ceirano was clearly a very likeable car. It began to appear in MCC trials and the ICC High Speed Trial and smart closed bodies were available on the more touring versions. N & B obviously thought the future bright, as they took premises in Knightsbridge, London, and for 1925 reduced prices to £295 for the chassis, £395 for the tourer, and £495 for a four-door saloon. Front brakes added £20, the well-known telescopic Newton & Bennett shock absorbers, that contributed to the much-praised springing, another £10. At the 1926 Olympia Show the red Tipo Roma sports-tourer was an attraction; but it seemed rather miserly to charge an extra £10 for the second of the two spare wheels. In the final year the cars were called Newton-Ceiranos. Good, undoubtedly. But according to the sage, all good things terminate, and after 1927, for N & B this make was no more. W B