Early badge engineering?

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The discovery of what appears to be a Nazzaro Lapel-badge reminds me of the cars which bore that famous racing driver’s name. Felice Nazzaro did well racing for Fiat, from 1901 on-wards. In 1907, he won all three of the major contests — Targa Florio, Grand Prix and Kaiserpreis, in different types of racing Fiats, and at Brooklands the following year he conquered in the much-publicised FiatNapier match race. After driving for other firms, Nazzaro decided to produce his own cars and Fabbrica Automobili Nazzaro opened up in Turin.

These Nazzaros were not of advanced design, and one has to wonder whether the celebrated Felice gave much more than his name to them. However, his fame helped sell the 4.4-litre, four-speed four-cylinder cars in Europe, though not many of them reached Great Britain where Newton & Bennett handled them. During 1913, a London motorist was using a Nazzaro with N&B two-seater-and-dickey body, and a 1916 car was in use here, but was a brute to start from cold.

The war killed off the venture by 1916, and Nazzaro returned to Fiat, winning for them the 1922 French GP. The rumour was that, being used to the massive cars he’d raced before, he tore bits, including steering columns, out of these beautiful little GP cars, but this was nonsense.

A new company, Automobili Nazzaro, was formed in 1919 in Florence. Post-war upheavals must have hampered things at first but at least the cars were of interesting design.

The new 3.5-litre Nazzaro had an ohc engine with detachable head (not common then) behind accommodatingly aggressive vee radiator, the petrol tank side-slung to give a low centre of gravity, and an accessible back axle which sounded less ominous then than it would now!

By 1922, a new five-bearing 90x140mm, 3562cc engine was used in an improved chassis. It had a shaft and helical gear-driven overhead camshaft which operated two exhaust valves and a large single inlet valve per cylinder through rockers. Not only did the inlet valves have greater lift, but one exhaust valve opened well before its fellow, with fine tappet clearances, small auxiliary springs being used to ensure that this was maintained. The engine was able, therefore, to run up to 4000rpm to propel this well contrived but heavy four-speed chassis quickly. The Hampstead Engineering Co. was now the British agent, but it was all over by 1923, when the factory closed.

I can think of only three other Nazzaros that came to England. One of the 1914 single ohc 16-valve GP cars surfaced here in 1921 and Sir Alastair Miller drove it at Brooklands in 1923 and 1925, not at all successfully. It was allegedly sabotaged in its shed on one occasion. A sports version competed at Lewes in 1931, and the Conan Doyle brothers used a Nazzaro, unless theirs was the Lewes car.

Felice Nazzaro returned as Fiat’s leading racing driver in 1922, and aged 58 drove a sports Fiat in the Alpine Trial.

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