Isotta Fraschini 8A SS Castagna Roadster

In 1899 Cesare Isotta and the brothers Antonio, Oreste and Vincenzo Fraschini founded their car company ‘Fabbrica Automobili Isotta Fraschini Milano’ in Milan. Initially, they assembled dismantled Renault and De Dion, that came in crates to Milan, and then sold them on the Italian market. Four years after the company was founded, the development and production of their own automobiles began. In addition to luxurious road vehicles, they also built racing cars such as the Tipo D with its 17.2-liter engine, which was used for the Targa Florio in Sicily, among other events. After World War 1, during which they produced aircraft engines for various plane manufacturers, the first inline eight-cylinder engine in automotive history was developed. Starting with the Tipo 8 and its successor model 8A, which appeared in 1924, their reputation was getting better and better, putting them up to par with competitors such as Cadillac, Duesenberg, Rolls-Royce or Hispano-Suiza.

As it was customary at the time, customers only bought a drivable chassis directly from the factory. Coachbuilder companies all over the world, such as Worblaufen, Fleetwood, Derham or Castagna, than produced special bodies on behalf of the respective car owners. Stars such as Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, the Aga Khan, King Faisal, William Randolph Hearst or Rudolph Valentino received sensational one-off cars, while for the Pope in the Vatican more practical equipment options were more important. Bare chassis came from $ 9,750 in the USA, while complete vehicles with bodywork and equipment often were more than $ 20,000 – making the Isotta Fraschini even more expensive than the Duesenberg Model J. Nevertheless, around a third of all the 8A ever produced were delivered to the USA. With the 8A Spinto (S) and Super Spinto (SS) presented in 1926, the company finally aimed specifically at sports drivers who wanted more performance and better driving dynamics. Isotta Fraschini responded to critics who accused the 8A of lacking power compared to the Hispano-Suiza built at the same time. The 8A S now had 135 hp, the 8A SS even 160 hp, enough to drive the representative cars.

Hyman Ltd., a specialized classic car dealer from St. Louis/Missouri, currently offers an Isotta Fraschini 8A SS with Roadster bodywork from the Italian coachbuilder Castagna. While little is known about the early years of this car built in 1930 with chassis number 1643, the documents show that it belonged to Ferris Alger in New Hope/Pennsylvania, a founding member of the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), in the 1950s. In 1954 John ‘Jack’ Nagle discovered the car in the backyard of Alger, got all the details shown, but couldn’t agree with Alger on a sale. However, Ferris Alger was happy to pass on some of his knowledge of pre-war cars to the young Nagle over the following eight years and finally sold the Isotta Fraschini to him in 1962 on the condition that he would carry out an extensive restoration.

This started as soon as the car, which was complete but in poor condition, arrived at Nagle’s residence in Cherry Hill/New Jersey. Since the 7.4-liter eight-cylinder engine was still running without any problems, he didn’t want to miss out on a final joyride beforehand. It remained the last trip for more than 20 years. Many friends and colleagues of the CCCA helped with the work, whereby each component was brought on a as good as new condition. When the finished Isotta Fraschini made its debut at the Baltimore Grand Classic in July 1984, it received 100 out of 100 possible points. Shortly afterwards, Nagle sold the car to collector Noel Thompson of New Vernom/New Jersey. From the early 90s until 1997 it belonged to another collector on the West Coast and since then to the current owner. Even 35 years after the restoration was completed, the underlying quality is still evident. Only a few cracks in the lacquer and minimal patina in the interior show that this Roadster hasn’t just been refreshed. At automobile beauty contest it should still be well placed even in this condition.

Images: Hyman Ltd.