Tag Archives: Fiat

The Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special – Photos by Stefan Marjoram

The British have long had a history of building “specials” which chances are, the first one may have been built well over 100 years ago. A special is just that, a car which is sometimes custom built with the use of components taken from many different makes.

Many of the specials built back in the period were constructed for racing originally and some of them are still used in vintage racing today. Others are still being constructed and what we have here is one that took many years to reach fruition, but finally did earlier this month. Graham Rankin who initially started the project and Mike Vardy who finished it up, took the 1014 cubic inch, Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special for its first ride ever and our friend Stefan Marjoram was there to film the occasion.

Fiat thought of building such a car and a drawing from 1905 by the company can be seen below. They had intended to use two four-cylinder engines joined together, with the same final drive arrangement but for some reason the car was never constructed.


Stefan Marjoram had the following to say about the Isotta-Fraschini-Fiat Special :

The car was never built by FIAT so there’s nothing left from any one original car. There’s a lot of discussion about whether a reverse chain is a good idea or not – perhaps FIAT decided it wasn’t. It was originally begun by Graham Rankin 20 years ago. He sourced the motor and worked on it for 13 years before selling it to Mike Vardy – who spent another 7 years to get it to where it is now.


Graham Rankin sent the following info along about the reverse chain drive and the IF engine in the following paragraph:

The reverse chain drive is “unusual”—in fact it is unique and has never been successfully employed on a semi-elliptical spring axle set-up before. The geometry and physics surrounding chain drive is complex and little understood by most people. In this instance where the chains drive forwards to the rear wheels there are some issues in relation to torque reaction under braking which we hope to have resolved by the use of very strong dampers keeping radius arms firmly parallel to the road.

Raymond Mays attempted something similar with the ERA Special in May 1950, borrowing parts from the BRM project and using the chain-cases as torque reaction arms. The suspension was olio-pneumatic but, because the mechanical moments were incorrectly calculated, the car actually proceeded like a kangaroo jumping into the air one moment when the loud pedal was clamped open, only to revert to earth another  moment later ! There was much politics involved I gather and the BRM parts had to be quickly returned (before they were missed !) and further development never took place.


The Isotta-Fraschini (Model V6—V for Vollo i.e. “flight” in Italian) aero-engine is 16 ½ litres, rated at 250 HP @1,650 rpm. Bore is 140 mm and stroke 180 mm—6 cylinders. Compression ratio is 5.1:1. Single overhead camshaft operating  two valves per cylinder. Torque is approximately 820 lbs/ft ! There is a gun synchronizer take-off at the front of the engine to avoid shooting off the propeller !

The engine came from the collection of Mr Gar Wood who bought up many surplus engines in the USA at the end of WW1 and used most in speed boats for Water Speed Record attempts. He was the American equivalent of Malcolm Campbell. When he died, the remnants of his collection were sold off and I was lucky enough to buy this one which had not run since (we think) 1921. The reason it was not used in a boat (mercifully—salt water is a killer !) was because of its long vertical stroke making visibility difficult, whereas vee engines (Hispano- Suiza etc) did not produce this problem and were consequently more popular.


Study the excellent photos that Stefan Marjoram has taken of the event and the car, he is also busy producing a film of the ocassion and we will be back with it soon along with many more black & white photos. Take a moment to visit Marjoram’s site and also look at his other work here on The Old Motor (scroll down).

And a big congratulations to all from us on the successful first fire-up and rides and also  for having the foresight to construct this machine. Without it we might never have known how Fiat’s idea would work or be able to enjoy it. Stay tuned for more.

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A.W. Blanchard, Inc. at an early New York City area auto show

Auto shows in the N.Y.C. area back in this period (circa 1910), must have been quite exciting to take in. Being an area of financial means meant that the best American, British and European offerings would be on the show floor in the hands of area dealers and distributors. In just this one row we can see two of the very best available at the time, Lozier and Fiat.

One dealer we have been following recently,  A.W. Blanchard  had a stand at this show (very likely in Brooklyn) and we can see three of the brands that the firm was handling at the time, Fiat, Oldsmobile and the Herreshoff. The first two we have covered here before but the latter, the Herreshoff (1909-1914), was a small car company run by a member of the Herreshoff  Mfg. Co. family in Detroit, Mich. The cars they built may not be all that well known, but the boats that they crafted in Bristol, Rhode Island are world famous. The company built the five racing sloops that defended The America’s Cup race between 1893 and 1914 and all five times the boats were victorious.


Charles Fredrick Herreshoff first started the automobile building venture in Detroit, Mich., in the old Thomas-Detroit factory. The first cars were small 24 h.p. models that used an automotive version of the marine engine that Charles designed. In 1910 a striped roadster won a five-mile stock chassis race at the Indianapolis Speedway. More powerful versions were soon available, including both a 30 h.p. four, along with a 40 h.p. t-head six, both of which may have been Lycoming engines. Like many early makers, the firm was soon in financial trouble and when Herreshoff left the company in 1914, he stated that the makers troubles were caused by faulty Lycoming engines.

The company was then dissolved and Charles Herreshoff tried a new car venture in Troy, NY., called the Herreshoff Light Car Company. Other family members, later designed the interesting Novara in Rhode Island at the factory and another designed the Hermes in 1920. Photo courtesy of Steve Blanchard.

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A.W. Blanchard, a modern garage in Brooklyn, NY


This is one of a series of photos connected to A. W. Blanchard who first stated out in the automobile business at 107 Liberty St. in Brooklyn, NY. His business must have prospered with the three brands he handled; Fiat, Oldsmobile and Herreshoff. Blanchard then built this new garage at 342 Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn. The photo above shows a circa 1911 Pierce-Arrow in the doorway, which is right about the time it appears he to have built this facility.

Here he sold the Fiat and others and also stored and repaired cars for customers as was the custom at the time. The well equipped office can be seen (left photo below) with a typewriter, safe, cash register and a telephone at the far right, that appears to possibly be on top of an intercom system. The (center) photo shows a car evidently being given a full overhaul in the repair department. The (right) photo shows the blacksmith department with a forge and also a large torch that may have been fueled by city gas. The left side of this photo shows the machine shop, with its machinery driven by belting from over-head-shafting.

Well equipped repair garages back in that time, were set up to be able to repair or make parts. Components were commonly rebuilt or repaired, instead of replacing them as is normal today. Many of the cars early garages were called upon to repair were orphan cars that parts were unavailable for, so they many times had to make their own. Photos courtesy of Steve Blanchard


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