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The S76 Fiat Land Speed Record Runs At Saltburn and Ostenede the Beast of Turin

The S76 Fiat Land Speed Record Runs At Saltburn and Ostend

Recently we covered The Beast Of Turin Lives Again, the start up of the S76 Fiat project that Duncan Pittaway has been working on for a decade. Thanks go out to reader Graham Rankin of the UK, who sent us this excellent postcard image. It shows one of the two cars when it set a speed record on the beach at Saltburn by the Sea, located on the northeast coast of England. We have wanted to do a follow up of the Fiat land speed record attempts, and this image serves perfectly for half of it.

One of the Fiat racers was sent to Brooklands in 1911 with factory driver Pietro Bordino and entered and run in the 1911 BARC Whitsun Meeting. The big car was unsuited to the track and the next goal for it was to try for a land speed record and better the mark set by the Blitzen Benz. It was next slated to enter the speed run on the five-mile Saltburn Sands beach course. Bordino drove the fire-breathing monster all the way from Brooklands, near London to Saltburn on the public roads.

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  •                                  Speed trials in 1922 on the beach – Courtesy of Saltburn by the Sea.

At the event on the hard-packed sands, the conditions were not optimal, and the course was damp and slow. Despite this the Fiat was able to capture the flying mile record at a 116 mph (187 kph). Later at the Yorkshire Auto Club Speed Trials, the car was able to set a speed of 115.5 mph over the flying kilometer.

Graham Rankin has done some research on his photo and has found that the passenger with Bordino was George Scales, an Englishman working in Italy. The location of the photo was the Zetland Hotel, in Saltburn. The back of the postcard states: Printed & Published by W. Payne, 7 Dudas St., Saltburn by the Sea. The noted shop for Tobacco, Cigars & Fancy Goods. Dealers in Talking Machines & Records.

The second part of this post starts with the video above: Record di velocità a Ostenda courtesy of Centro Storico Fiat. The short one-minute long production shows the one-way run during the 1913 land speed record attempt at Ostend, Belgium. Most of it covers the preparations for setting up the timing apparatus by the French Automobile Club. You will see the car push-started at the .36 second mark and watch as it finishes its run.

To tell this part of the story we are going to rely on the following story translation by Ugo Fadini for the late author Bill Boddy from Fiat’s magazine Rivista Illustrata Mensile No. 9 – 1914. In it Arthur Duray tells of his record attempt and a one-way speed of 132.27 MPH being set.:

“We have received from the well-known French driver Arthur Duray this description and his impressions of the speed tests he did with one of our 300 hp cars:”

“Prince Boris Soukhanoff bought a Fiat 300 HP car a few months ago with the aim to set a new world speed record. He had the car shipped to Moscow where he tested it, but the speed he reached convinced him of the difficulties of driving such a fast car, so he came to France to look for a professional driver and I had the pleasure to be chosen.”

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  • The S76 Fiat at the 1913 Ostend, Belgium LSR attempt. 

“The car was shipped to Brooklands, and after just a few laps I realised it was pointless to insist on this track. I had no wish to kill myself. I telephoned Prince Soukhanoff to tell him I was ready to show him the perils of the English circuit. I drove him at a speed of about 200 km/h. but after two laps he signaled me to stop; at one time the centrifugal force almost made me go over the banking where Percy Lambert was killed. I grazed the edge by just 10 centimetres”!

“The test convinced the Prince how dangerous it would have been to insist, and he asked me to look for another track”.

“I thought I could use the road between Arles and Salon, the best in the world for such an attempt, but the Sports Committee of the ACF stated that they would not recognise records set away from staged meetings. I went to Italy without success”.

“At last I found the Ostend road, though it had the short-coming of not being long enough to allow a good run. I made fourteen test runs at over 200 km/h; on some of the runs I reached a speed of 225 km/h on the timing apparatus. Unfortunately, the markings on the tapes were not clear enough, so these records could not be ratified by the International Committee. The only good tape we could get shows a speed of 211.661 km/h, attained on the 8th December”.

“With Mr. Jostens, official time keeper of the ACB and a skillful electrician, we had to make new contacts to record the passing of the car on the road”.

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  • The S76 Fiat at the 1913 Ostend, Belgium LSR attempt with Arthur Duray behind the wheel. 

“I feel sure that next Spring, with the same car, I will be able to seriously attack the record. It was because of the weather that my attempts were interrupted. During the six weeks spent in Ostend I only had two favourable days: there is not just the car to take care of, there is also the organisation, laying the wires along the road, getting the time keepers, etc…, all things which require quite a long time to set up. You also have to be aware of people trying to stop the attempts. The Director of the Ostend Tramways – an earnest “autophobe” – called the police whenever he knew we were out for an attempt”.

“My feelings? To engage first, second or third gear is relatively easy, but when it comes to engage fourth whilst travelling at 190 km/h, that is a different story. One has to hold the steering wheel firmly, push the gear lever forward and pay attention so as not to jump on the side-walk, because the moment the air enters the carburetter the bounce causes you to feel the seat hurting your back”.

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  • The S76 Fiat at the 1913 Ostend, Belgium LSR attempt. 

“In the time it takes to say this you are through the two kilometre run-way. You see the time-keepers. The moment has come to break the record and the timing starts. For a tourist one kilometre is relatively long, but at that speed you have hardly seen the first signal before the second is well behind you. You just have time to count to 17”!

“I was disappointed to note that at Ostend the run-way is too short and the top speeds (230/240 km/h) can only be achieved at the end of the measured kilometre”.

“For a professional the job is not too terrible during the record, but it is afterwards that things become really difficult; when you cut off the throttle the car tends to turn sideways, so you have to keep it running straight and since there are just 1500 metres to the end of the straight, this is far too short and the brakes are not able to stop the car. When I cut the throttle off oil pours on to the exhausts and over the 1500 metres the riding mechanic turns completely from white to black, this is no other than Prince Soukhanoff, the perfect sportsman”.

“When speeds like these are reached, the smallest bump on the road makes the four wheels airbone at once, which the spectators see perfectly. As for me, I feel it and it reminds me of the time when I was an aviator”. – Arthur Duray.​

For more information you can look back on our extensive coverage of the S76 Fiat Racers here.The photos are courtesy of the National Museum of France.

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  • The S76 Fiat at the 1913 Ostend, Belgium LSR attempt. 

4 responses to “The S76 Fiat Land Speed Record Runs At Saltburn and Ostend

  1. Good to read the piece from Graham Rankin… If I may be permitted to add a little more regarding the car’s
    journey from Brooklands to Saltburn: Part of a single page article in ‘The Vintage and Thoroughbred’
    magazine, December ’53 titled ‘A Mysterious Fiat’ has a different photo of the car in the yard of the
    Zetland Hotel. An interesting on- the- road note mentions the driver of an Arrol-Johnston being asked by his passenger to put on a little more speed because a car was following them and she did not want their dust. Speed was increased but soon this huge Fiat “flashed past with a big Renault in procession” {it must have been a truly impressive sight! – Ed.}

    I would love to have been there! Sadly I’m unable to send you a scan of this page

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