History of the massive 28.4-liter 4-cylinder flamethrower engine in the Fiat S76 | Taza Khabre

Key findings

  • The Fiat S76 has a powerful 28.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, making it the largest ever installed in a car.
  • The car was built in 1910-1911 in an attempt to break the world record for the fastest car.
  • The history and origins of many parts of the car, including the engine, remain a mystery, prompting skepticism and speculation.


World classic cars can be full of mystery and uncertainty. Although automakers have continued to improve their cataloging of their cars’ history since World War II, mystery still prevails even in the modern era.

But it’s a different story if you trace the history of the land speed record car from the Edwardian era to the First World War. Built between 1910 and 1911 Fiat The S76 was the young Italian automaker’s attempt to wrest the world’s fastest car title from the 126 mph 21.5-liter Blitzen Benz. With only two models ever produced, the S76 is a rarity, but the stories of what happened to both models are still shrouded in mystery.

Vintage car enthusiast Duncan Pittaway spent ten years on restoration and reworking sports car, which can now be regularly seen at motor shows and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. However, skepticism about the whole process still rages online and on forums, and the provenance of most of the S76’s original parts and its massive 28.4L 4-cylinder engine remains murky at best.


Fiat’s 28.4 liter 4-cylinder engine is the largest ever fitted to a car

Specifications of the 1911 Fiat S76 “Beast of Turin”.

Engine

28.4-liter atmospheric inline four-cylinder engine

Transmission

Front engine, rear drive

Method of transmission

4-speed mechanics with a two-chain drive

power

300 hp

A turning point

Over 922 lb-ft (no exact figure)

weight

3748 lbs

The highest speed

132.27+ mph

(figures provided YouTube @ Goodwood Road & Racing/YouTube @ Stefan Marjoram/slashgear)

Before the dual overhead cam engine was invented in the mid-1910s, automakers took a much more rigid approach when it came to generating horsepower. The phrase “there’s no substitute for displacement” has never been more true when Fiat engineers created an engine with a whopping 28.4 liters (or 1,733 cubic inches) of displacement with just four cylinders.

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The result is an output power of about 300 hp. This may not seem like much, but remember that this was in 1910. The engine is said to produce more torque than the Bugatti Veyron (922 lb-ft), with the fastest laps claiming the S76 to produce around 2,000 lb-ft of torquealthough the exact figure has not yet been confirmed.

A 4-speed dual-chain drive transmission directs power to the rear wheels, while a 90-disc clutch helps set the gears into place with a column-mounted shifter. Rather confusingly, the S76 has no front brakes, only the rear axles have rudimentary drums. The beast from Turin also weighs in at a rather hefty 3,748 pounds and has solid axles and leaf-spring suspension.

Fiat and the Russian prince set speed records

Fiat’s speed record ambitions

  • After seeing the positive press for the Blitzen Benz’s top speed records in 1908, Fiat followed suit and began developing the S76
  • Fiat installed the largest engine in a production car, a 28.4-liter inline four, to produce as much power as possible, only 2 examples
  • Completed in 1911, Fiat sent the car to various venues to try to beat Benz’s record, and most of those who drove it called it out of control
  • As engine technology moved to smaller, lighter twin-cam engines in 1912, Fiat retired the car in late 1911.
  • Russian Prince Boris Sukhanov bought one from Fiat and recruited a few racers to try to pick up where Fiat left off
  • Belgian pilot Arthur Duray set an unofficial top speed record of 132.27 mph in 1913, but was unable to complete the return leg to make it official

In a talk about the history of the S76 at Brooklands Museum, Duncan Pittaway tells the story of the early French Grand Prix and the dominance of the domestic French brands from 1905 to 1907. After the French automakers were ousted by Mercedes’ victory in the 1908 race, the event was canceled for the next three years. Lacking a Grand Prix, Benz (at the time separate from Mercedes) decided to build the fastest car in the world to demonstrate its engineering superiority.

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Fiat, who were also involved in Grand Prix racing at the time, felt that this would be a great way to increase the brand’s popularity, so development of the S76 soon began. However, the Fiat Works drivers considered the car unstable as it failed to beat the Blitzen Benz records in 1911.

Coupled with car manufacturers moving towards smaller displacement, lighter and higher revving engines for the return of the French Grand Prix in 1912, Fiat decided to discontinue the S76 and its speed record attempts at the end of 1911.

Then a Russian prince named Boris Sukhanov commissioned Fiat to turn the S76 into a road car, employing racing driver Pietro Bordino in a constant attempt to break elusive speed records. The streamlined design meant it was more aerodynamic than its contemporaries and Bordino managed to reach a top speed of 119mph on the beaches of Saltburn in 1911.

Sukhanov later hired Belgian racing driver Arthur Durey, who in 1913 achieved a top speed of 132.27 mph, beating the 21.5-liter Blitzen Benz’s 126 mph. However, since the run was only one-way, it was not an official record. Shortly after the First World War and then the Russian Revolution, Sukhanov’s Fiat S76 disappeared into thin air, and Fiat scrapped their only remaining car in 1919.

Pittaway spent 10 years bringing the beast back to life

Fiat is now in the hands of British car enthusiast Duncan Pittaway, who cites his father’s love of Victorian cars as the catalyst for his fascination with Edwardian cars. Having previously restored a Bugatti Type 35 and a number of pre-WW1 motorcycles, Pittaway began looking for a pre-WW1 chain-drive racing car in 2003, and a friend recommended the S76.

Pittaway sourced the chassis, axles, suspension and undercarriage somewhere in Australia and used the original photos and blueprints from Fiat to build his own chain drive transmission along with a few supporting parts. The Fiat is believed to have been powered by a Stutz engine and then used in road racing in the intervening years before it crashed and was later scrapped. However, the car’s racing heritage in Australia has been contested ever since.

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Pittaway finally finished the car in 2015 and then drove the Fiat 150 miles from Bristol to the Goodwood Festival of Speed ​​in 2016 – the longest journey a car has made in 100 years. Pittaway insists that he is not a collector, but simply passionate about researching, working on and driving vintage cars, oddities and the like.

Watching the beast climb Goodwood Hill and drive down the motorway is a sight that resembles a combination of artillery fire and a World War II aircraft engine. Flames erupting from the side of exhaust manifolds are also an event.

The origin of the engine and chassis is unknown

Red and gold 1911 Fiat S76 Beast of Turin.  A picture of the back
via Goodwood Road & Racing (YT)

As with any car that has lost time, there will always be speculation as to the true provenance of the parts. Some kind of vintage car detectives on the Autosport forums concluded that although the Fiat did make it to Australia, there is no evidence that it was ever raced on the road or track.

The wrecked chassis was also allegedly an Auto Union, not a Fiat, with other unverified claims that the Fiat chassis was stolen from a shed somewhere in Australia and never recovered. Pittaway did not release any photos of the car after receiving it, nor did he reveal where or from whom he bought it.

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The engine has a similarly mysterious origin, with an Italian museum claiming that another original engine that Pittaway claimed to have found actually belongs to the “Antonio Capetti Collection” at the Politecnico di Torino. According to Slashgear, the museum loaned Pittaway’s engine for research, not as a final sale, but instead received a fake engine with missing parts. Avid restoration advocates have long desired more transparency, as many parts of the restoration remain ambiguous.

Sources: YouTube @ Goodwood Road & Racing, @ Stefan Marjoram, @ Automotive Mike, @ BrooklandsMemberstv, brooklandsmuseum.comfastestlaps.com, slashgear.com, Stefan Mayoranmotorsports forums, discovery of Great Britain

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