Meet the 1924 Fiat Mephistopheles
Would this monster be the devil's daily driver?
There are plenty of sinister-sounding cars in the world: Phantom, Wraith, Viper, Vantage, Hellcat, Diablo etc. Even Pontiac made a concept car called Banshee, named after a spirit that indicates the death of a family member by horrific wailing. But, if the devil himself would need to have a daily driver he would probably take the 1924 Fiat-the Mephistopheles.
We won’t go straight into 1924. First, we will visit 1908, when Fiat introduced an SB4 model. It was a chain-driven Grand Prix car with an 18-litre engine. One day, a chap called Sir Ernest Eldridge saw the car in action in the UK. He was impressed with the car's capabilities, but he thought the car didn’t have enough power. So, he bought this Fiat with the intent to transform it into a speed record breaker.
And with his British cynicism, he saw that the 18-litre engine needed to go. So, he replaced it with a 22-litre 6-cylinder Fiat airplane engine. The engine had overhead camshaft and pumps that were used in planes SIA 7B1, Fiat R-2 and Caproni Ca46 bomber. The total output of this liquid-cooled engine was 320hp at just 1.800rpm. But due to its size, the engine couldn’t fit in an ordinary car, so Ernest took the chassis of a London bus to accommodate the new beating heart.
Cut out of the monster itself. Credit: Conceptbunny.com
At first, this monster didn’t have a name, but that changed when the car went to France to break the land speed record. On 12th July 1924, Ernest lined the car up in Arpajon in France. When he turned the engine on, the sound hypnotized everyone with its demonic growl and smoke coming out of it. Few of the bystanders said that it was a true Mephistopheles, the demon from the Faust legend. So, the nickname stuck and entered history. The car was even painted in sinister black paint, which made this fire-breathing beast even more terrifying.
Original look of Mephistopheles
That same day, the Mephistopheles set the world land speed record, reaching 234,98 km/h (146 mph). It is believed that this was the last land speed record set on public roads. However, there was a slight issue. Their main rival was the Delage DH, whose driver Rene Thomas claimed that Fiat didn’t meet regulations, since it didn’t have a reverse gear. But, Ernest didn’t give up. He modified his monster, and a week later Mephistopheles repeated the record, wiping Delage DH away.
At the start of the speed record attempt
After breaking the record, Ernest drove the car to Paris and parked it right across the Delage showroom, where the DH was displayed. Since Fiat was the fastest car in the world then, it was much more interesting than its French opponent. Mephistopheles was often challenged, and was going around the world showing its insanity. But, unlike most racecars from back then, this Fiat never had an accident or something else, and remained almost in perfect condition until 1961.
Do you think this would fit in my Honda Civic?
That year, the car was bought by Fiat, who started to repair and restore the car. After 3 years of hard work, the car saw the light of day. Now painted in red, it even had its name written in Italian on the bonnet-Mefistofele. While restoring the car, Fiat’s engineers never found a reverse gear or any signs that one was ever installed. Still, that didn’t really mean anything, since the record was almost 40 years old.
During the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2001 and 2011, Mefistofele was reunited with its biggest rival, Delage DH. Surprisingly, Delage had a similar life as Fiat, always being kept in a near perfect condition. The Mefistofele is now retired, and it’s displayed at the Centro Storico Fiat in Turin.