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DAUGHTER SUZ sent me two e-mails, the first reading “Can I have one? Please?? xo.” The second one read simply, “Bwahahahaaa!!!!” followed by four red hearts. Each was accompanied by a YouTube link.
The object of Suz’s desire was a 1910 Tipo S76 Fiat, also known as the Beast of Turin. Is she my daughter or what?
Back in 1964, in only the third year of its publication, Automobile Quarterly ran art prints by Fabio Rapi of seven early Italian automobiles. For his Fiat, Rapi chose The Beast of Turin.
In 1911, Fiat chose sheer cubes to beat the 21.5-liter Blitzen Benz, the world’s fastest car of the era at 125.94 mph. In doing this, Fiat mated its production chain-drive chassis from 1907 – 1908 with an even larger engine than that of the Blitzen Benz.
But what an engine! The 7.5-in. diameter of each combustion chamber profits from three separate sparkplugs per cylinder. The single-overhead-cam four-cylinder displaces 28,353 cc, not particularly large considering its aero heritage, but the largest fitted to an automobile at the time. To put this size in perspective, each of its cylinders displaces more than 7 liters; a Cadillac Escalade V-8 displaces 6.2 liters. The engine produces perhaps 290 hp at around 1000 rpm. Its chain-drive feeds this to tires no wider than those of a modern trail bike.
In fact, Fiat built a pair of S76s during the winter of 1910 – 1911. It wasn’t until 1914 that world records were universally regulated by the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus, predecessor of today’s F.I.A. However, according to S76 authority Duncan Pittaway, S76 Number 1 set a record for the flying mile in 1911, was sold to Russian Prince Boris Soukhanov and reached 153.76 mph in 1913. S76 Number 2 was kept by the works and scrapped in 1919, with its engine retained.
Then the tale becomes complex, if not downright convoluted. Some say the second S76 wasn’t scrapped, but mysteriously shipped to Mexico. Others say the Russian prince’s car ended up in Australia, where its huge engine was replaced in the early 1920s by a Stutz. This car was raced, crashed and stowed here and there in Australia until the early 1980s when a Fiat enthusiast there bought it and considered a restoration.
This second tale has evidence in its favor, because Australia is where Duncan Pittaway acquired the chassis 15 years later when its owner lost enthusiasm. The chassis was sans powertrain, hubs and wheels when Pittaway brought it to England in 2003.
As Pittaway told The Telegraph, in a March 31, 2015, interview, “After restoring a Bugatti T35, I was looking for a new challenge and the S76, which is one of the more maligned cars of its generation, fitted the bill nicely.” He searched out the second car’s engine and also accumulated bits of axles, pedals and suspension. Other elements, its gearbox, radiator and bodywork were created using original Fiat drawings.
Word of the restoration brought lively (and not always favorable) commentary at a forum on the Brit Autosport website. Pittaway offered details countering the nay-sayers, with a cogent comment likening it to pub chats, “except, unlike the pub, the information and opinion remains written down and archived long after the hangovers have faded… indefinitely in fact…”
It took Pittaway and his specialists 10 years to get The Beast of Turin prepared for its debut as a static display at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed. During the restoration, Stefan Marjoram documented it through artful photography, with a movie planned. There’s word that Pittaway is writing a book on the S76 and its restoration.
In December 2014, they finally fired the car up (with its video encouraging Daughter Suz’s first e-mail).
Suz’s second e-mail was prompted by a video of the car in motion around the Goodwood estate of Lord March, who went along for the ride.
The S76 also ran at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed. To see a wonderful video of The Beast of Turin singeing the haybales lining the circuit, go to mariner’s July 1, 2015, comment on page 6 of the Autosport Fiat S76 forum for a link.
It was—and remains—a glorious example showing internal combustion need not be completely internal. I concur wholeheartedly with Daughter Suz: “Bwahahahaaa!!!!” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanatisSays.com, 2015