1930 Isotta Fraschini 8A Convertible SedanSOLD

RM Vintage Motorcars in Arizona - Biltmore Resort & Spa, Friday January 19, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $325,000 - $425,000

$330,000 Sold

135bhp, 449.5 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine, three speed manual transmission, front and rear half elliptic leaf spring suspension, four-wheel power drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145.6"

Cesare Isotta and the Fraschini brothers Vincenzo, Antonio and Oreste, were introduced to the world of automobile manufacturing when they decided to start importing French cars to be assembled in Italy.

In 1904, Isotta and the Fraschinis, with the no nonsense motto “ Import, sell, repair cars ” founded their own company, the Società Milanese Automobili Isotta, Fraschini & C. Cesare Isotta, a lawyer by profession, was instrumental in getting the company off the ground. The Fraschini brothers naturally gravitated towards their respective aptitudes in the newly formed company.

A preferred meeting place of the founders of Isotta-Fraschini was at the home of a very well heeled family in their hometown of Milan. This home, belonging to Bianchi Anderlonis, seems like an odd location for young, enterprising men to gather and discuss business, until one is told of the three Anderlonis sisters who resided there.

Speculation about the motives for this chosen place to discuss business were put to rest when Cesare Isotta wed Maria Anderlonis, Vincenzo Fraschini married Teodolinda and Antonio Fraschini tied the knot with the third sister, Carla. As for Oreste Fraschini, he would remain a bachelor for the rest of his life.

Being brothers-in-law did not prevent Isotta and the Fraschinis from being excellent business partners, and in 1905 the budding automobile company hired engineer Giustino Cattaneo to be Isotta-Fraschini ’ s technical director. This would prove to be one of the greatest decisions ever made by the company, as Cattaneo, through his endeavors with Isotta-Fraschini, would become one of the greatest Italian engineers of all time.

Cattaneo wasted no time introducing his ideas, and had the rest of the company feverishly trying to keep up. Using alphabetic designation, the ambitious engineer quickly ran through, and eventually out, of letters. This was good because the public was very receptive to these early Isotta-Fraschini automobiles.

This acceptance and praise of Isotta-Fraschini in the early years can largely be credited to the company ’ s success on the racetrack, of which there was plenty. Winning a race in the budding years of the automobile industry not only earned a company excellent promotion, but it proved to be the ultimate display of reliability, something that was not automatically assumed by customers when buying a new vehicle.

However, the first Isotta-Fraschini race car designed by Giustino Cattaneo may be the most famous, and certainly not for its racing success. The Isotta-Fraschini Tipo-D race car was powered by a 17,195 cubic centimeter, (1,050 cubic inch) four-cylinder engine. The bonnet stood as tall as a man and made the driver behind the wheel seem like an infant, barely able to see above the cowl. This massive roadster did not last the first lap, but it taught Cattaneo an important lesson: that more than power was needed to win a race.

Just one year after Cattaneo was hired to lead product development, Isotta-Fraschini managed to secure second place to Fiat as Italy ’ s largest producer of automobiles. The 300 automobiles they built in 1906 was a far cry from Fiat ’ s 1,800, but was nonetheless quite an achievement considering the company was still in its infancy.

Seeking further advantages in Isotta-Fraschini ’ s now very successful racing campaigns, the company began working on a four-wheel braking system that would not adversely affect their car ’ s performance dynamics. Once confident with their design, they decided to showcase four-wheel braking to the general public at the 1910 Paris Auto Salon on one of their production vehicles.

The innovation was received with widespread skepticism. Pioneers in front-wheel braking had found that attempting to slow down the front wheels of a vehicle in motion created dangerous instability, and all had given up on the idea, save one. Cattaneo picked up where all others had failed, and managed to create a four-wheel braking system that was inherently balanced, providing equal braking force to the front wheels no matter the steering input or position.

As impressive as Cattaneo ’ s front-wheel braking was, its significance was overshadowed shortly after the First World War when Isotta-Fraschini introduced the Tipo 8/50. It is generally agreed that the Giustino Cattaneo- designed engine powering this car was the world ’ s first production inline eight-cylinder engine. The Tipo 8/50 marked a polar shift for Isotta-Fraschini: no longer were they interested in producing a wide variety of vehicles and chasing success on the race track. In a bold and deliberate move, Isotta-Fraschini put all their eggs in one basket when they decided to become a single model car company. This model would be unlike any other, as Isotta-Fraschini had decided to start building the most luxurious cars in the entire world. Their reasoning? After the war, only the rich in Europe and America would be able to afford a new car.

The Tipo 8 would be succeeded by the 8A, which by every measure succeeded in redefining conventions of luxury. Primarily responsible for this was the mechanical refinement and overall dimensions of the motor car.

With light alloy pistons, drop forged connecting rods, overhead valves, and a ten main bearing crankshaft, the engine was powerful, reliable, smooth running and quiet. Naturally, the four-wheel braking was advanced for its time; with four huge drums at each corner and a vacuum servo booster (essentially unchanged today), the big car could easily and quickly come to a stop from high speeds. The chassis, made of heavy gauge stamped steel, had a standard wheelbase of 145.6 inches but could be stretched up to 157.5 inches for limousine coachwork.

As expected, only the very best coachbuilders were commissioned to body an Isotta-Fraschini. Its sterling reputation among Italian coachbuilders, along with its proximate location in Milan made Carrozzeria Castagna a natural choice for many newly completed Isotta-Fraschini chassis. With roots tracing back to the 1830s, Castagna was a favorite coachbuilder for Royalty long before they began producing coachwork for automobiles.

Customers of Castagna-built Isotta-Fraschinis included newspaper magnate William Rudolph Hearst, however, it was perhaps the 1929 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A Castagna Transformable featured in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard that is the most famous of all.

The 1930 Isotta-Fraschini 8A Convertible Sedan presented here is a US specification model, originally imported through Isotta Motors Inc. New York. Fully restored, cosmetically the Convertible Sedan is remarkable. It is finished in a very subtle two-tone red paint scheme, with the fenders and beltline being a slightly darker shade of red than the rest of the car. This subtlety is very nicely accented with the use of gold pin striping along the bodylines. The brightwork is radiant throughout the convertible sedan, most notably, as seen on the mascot, the stone guard in front of the radiator and the stainless spoke wheels. The interior is lavishly appointed in leather and burled wood while the tan Haartz cloth top is an excellent re-creation of the original.

In the 1920s and well into the 1930s, before Isotta-Fraschini succumbed to the Depression, Castagna-built cars like this one were being sold for prices almost twice that of Duesenbergs, Packards, Cadillacs and Pierce-Arrows. Considering the quality of the Isotta-Fraschini presented here, should it sell within the range of its estimated value, its next owner may be making a very wise purchase. This is especially true considering the cost of restoration and spectacular prices Isotta-Fraschini ’ s American contemporaries are currently achieving at auction. Isotta-Fraschinis of this caliber rarely come to auction, which makes this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Reference Number 5806

as of 1/9/2007

Car 1930 Isotta Fraschini 8A Convertible Sedan
VIN 1578 
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