Luxury companies like Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, Bugatti...have been with us for quite a long time. And every time they present a new big luxury car, they amaze us with their styling cues and imagination. But, back in the days, these companies had a serious rival from Italy called Isotta-Fraschini.
The company was founded in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Franschini. However, they didn’t start making cars immediately. Their initial plan was to import foreign cars to Italy, sell them and repair them. It was all good actually, and the company was famous for bringing Renault models to Italy. Despite their huge success in importing, they had a dream to make their own luxury cars.
The project begun in 1904 and, a year later, the first Isotta-Fraschini was revealed. It was a race car called Tipo D, and had a 17.2-litre straight-4 with only 100 HP. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t go well, and they were forced to scrap the project. But, they didn’t give up.
Since they were always working with other car companies, they decided to ask some of them for help, mostly Lorraine-Dietrich. However, there was a catch-to become a proper car maker, in the early 1900s, Isotta-Fraschini needed to have a lot of money in the bank account (something in the 6-figure range). And, after getting finally reaching their targeted amount, they presented their first official car in 1919.
It was called Tipo 8, and it featured a 5.9-litre straight-8 engine with 80 HP (later tweaked to 90 HP). This was the first serial production car with a straight-8, and its top speed was 140 km/h. Its main rival was Rolls-Royce, so they needed some serious coachbuilders to style the Tipo 8 in order to scare the British luxury. The Tipo 8 bodies were made by Carrozzeria Castagna and Cesare Sala, but some were even styled by American coachbuilders.
Despite targeting Rolls-Royce as their main rival, Isotta-Fraschini actually wanted to conquer the American market. The two friends wanted to prove everyone that some ambitious Italian company could also attract the Hollywood elite. And pretty soon, a lot of movie stars had Isotta-Fraschini models in their driveways.
The Tipo 8 was very popular (1.380 were made) and it even had two successors. The first one was the 1924 Tipo 8A, which had a new 7.3-litre straight-8 with 160 HP and could do 150 km/h. Just 950 were ever made, and in 1931, was replaced by Tipo 8B. This one featured a 7.4-litre straight-8 with 160 HP. This one is a proper collector’s item, since only 30 saw the light of day.
Sadly, the WWII came, and Isotta-Fraschini was forced to pause their production until 1947. That’s when they presented the Tipo 8C Monterosa. It was their comeback plan to conquer the US market again, and they collaborated with Touring, Zagato and Carrozzeria Boneschi to style this beauty. But, the plan was a flop because the cars came with a huge price tag (it was 3 times more expensive than a Cadillac).
Even though they came with a nice 3.0-litre V8, the demand was very low, and only 6 were made. After only 6 months of Monterosa’s life, Isotta-Fraschini stopped the production and tried to find a way to survive in car world. In 1949, they joined Breda Motori and collaborated with them on producing diesel engines and trolleybuses.
And that’s a bit sad-a company that was once on the same level as Rolls-Royce was forced to make boring trolleybuses. They actually tried to make another comeback in the late 1990s with T8 and T12 models, but both remained in the concept phase. In 1999, the company filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors forever. Now, their magnificent cars are remembered only by hardcore car enthusiasts.