- Tipo 8A Cabriolet by Castagna

The story of Isotta-Fraschini

A luxury car maker that just was not meant to survive

7w ago
9.5K

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.

Tipo 8A SS Cabriolet by Castagna

Tipo 8A SS Cabriolet by Castagna

The company was founded in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini. 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.

1927 Tipo 8A S Roadster by Fleetwood

1927 Tipo 8A S Roadster by Fleetwood

The project began 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.

1908 Tipo FENC Semi Racer

1908 Tipo FENC Semi Racer

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 small issue. 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. After years of saving money, finally reached their targeted amount and presented their first official car in 1919.

'Naked' shot of 1919 Tipo 8

'Naked' shot of 1919 Tipo 8

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 compete with the British luxury. The Tipo 8 bodies were made by Carrozzeria Castagna and Cesare Sala, but some were even styled by American coachbuilders.

1924 Tipo 8 Tourer

1924 Tipo 8 Tourer

Despite targeting Rolls-Royce as their main rival, Isotta-Fraschini actually wanted to conquer the American market. The two friends wanted to prove to 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.

1927 Tipo 8A Roadster

1927 Tipo 8A Roadster

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. The Tipo 8B one is a proper collector’s item, since only 30 saw the light of day.

1933 Tipo 8B Dual Cowl Phaeton

1933 Tipo 8B Dual Cowl Phaeton

Sadly, 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).

Tipo 8C Monterosa

Tipo 8C Monterosa

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 production and tried to find a way to survive in the car world. In 1949, they joined Breda Motori and collaborated with them on producing diesel engines and trolleybuses.

And that’s a bit sad, isn't it? 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.

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Comments (7)

  • The classic 1950 movie "Sunset Boulevard" starring Gloria Swanson (as faded actress Norma Desmond), William Holden (as screenwriter Joe Gillis), and Erich von Stroheim (as butler Max Von Mayerling), featured this lovely 1929 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Castagna Transformable, replete with leopard upholstery, a gold intercom telephone, and Swanson's character's initials ("ND") on the rear doors. It had originally been gifted by Walter P. Chrysler to his girlfriend, Peggy Hopkins Joyce.

      1 month ago
    • Car for the crazy movie people in crazy '20s. Was it ready for its close up?

        1 month ago
    • LOL!! Oh, it totally was! And, luckily, it didn't wind up floating in Norma's pool! 😂

        1 month ago
  • Thank you so very much for your article on such beautiful cars!

      1 month ago
  • When they say Italian cars have soul, it’s damn true! That’s for sure…

      1 month ago
  • Whoever says the Italians can't do big cars should look no further.

      1 month ago
  • The '90s revival attempt was based on an Audi A8...

      1 month ago
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