The Story of Isotta-Fraschini

Luxury companies like Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti and even Mercedes 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

The company was founded in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini. However, they did not 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

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 did not go well, and they were forced to scrap the project. But, they did not give up.

1908 Tipo FENC Semi Racer

Since they had connections with other car companies, they decided to ask some of them for help, mostly from 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, they finally reached their targeted amount and presented their first official car in 1919.

‘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 to be available with a straight-8, and its top speed was 140 km/h. The company’s 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

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 world elite. And, pretty soon, Isotta-Fraschini was a go-to car company for people who, apparently, wanted something other than a Rolls or Bentley. Some notable owners were Pope Pius XI, the Aga Khan, the queen of Romania, the king of Egypt, boxer Jack Dempsey and film stars Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson.

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

Sadly, WWII came, and Isotta-Fraschini was forced to pause their production until 1947. That is 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. Those coachbuilders were well know back in the days, but the plan was destroyed by the massive price tag on the 8C Monterosa. It was 3 times more expensive than a Cadillac, so many people turned to other car manufacturers for a bit ‘cheaper’ version of luxury.

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.

Tipo 8C Monterosa Cabriolet

And that is 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 alas. In 1999, the company filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors forever. Now, their magnificent cars are remembered only by hardcore car enthusiasts.

Photo credits: FavCars and WheelsAge

Published in Car Stories

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David Olsen-Fabian
11 months ago

Thanks for posting this. It was an educational read for me. I was unaware of this manufacturer. That 33 8B Tipo Dual Cowl is something else. So is the 8C. Those are magnificent. I realize it was the coachbuilder that threw the bodies on there and that’s what’s catching to the eye. The 8C looks Italian compared to other designs of the day. Very pleasing to the eye. The 8B is a timeless classic from that era. It really “pops”. I’d rather that than many American made monstrosities of the day though some American cars were on point, Caddy 16, 34 Packard Limo and Duesenberg. While I love those, I’m going to have to add the 8B Tipo Dual Cowl to the list of cars from that era that really excite me. I’m not sure I can put it into words but then I don’t have to. Those are sought after for the same reason I find them so lust worthy.
Thanks again for this educational piece.

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