Cars To Dream About

No. 4: The Fiat S76 (1911)

Fiat S76 Image

Hold your breath; the Fiat S76 had an engine with four cylinders and a total capacity of 28.3 litres. Yes, you read that correctly. It was just one of the reasons why this car was called 'The Beast of Turin'. It resembled one huge engine with flimsy wheels and a bench seat added for a driver and passenger (or rather mechanic; breakdowns were a regular occurence in those days!), almost as an afterthought. Vision was 'restricted' to say the least since only the very tallest drivers could even see over the top of the engine, the majority having to look along the side to see where they were going.

They had to have sharp eyes, too, since this leviathan, generating nearly 300 brake horsepower, was later proved capable of 132 mph, although another test in the United States over a measured mile indicated a maximum speed closer to 180 mph. And this was a car made in 1911!

An engine this huge could hardly be started by cranking it with a starting handle (although a push start could work if there were plenty of strong arms available) so compressed air had to to be used instead. The exhaust spat out fire and smoke and it sounded like it was trying very hard not to explode. There were front and rear leaf springs , to provide a modicum of comfort for the terrified ocupants, a gearbox with four forward gears and one reverse, and it was chain driven. Each of the four pots had three spark plugs, considered necessary to burn the fuel effectively in such a huge engine.

Italian racing driver Felice Nazarro claimed it was uncontrollable and he was probably right. Another Italian racing driver, Pietro Bordino, was hired to race one at Brooklands but it frighrened him so much he refused point-blank to take it over 90 mph. It is easy to have sympathy with him.

Only two S76s were ever built, and only one was ever sold, to the Russian prince Boris Soukhanov in 1911. Sadly the Russian Revolution came shortly afterwards and part of the car was found in Australia at the end of the First World War. It was missing it's engine (about 90% of the car!) which, according to one rumour, had been used to power an airship. A very big airship.

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