Isotta Fraschini T8

I've read countless tales about this stuff and I think I've figured it out: it's more difficult to resurrect a car company than start a new one.

The circumstances are all broadly similar: a once-great marque goes under, the name is picked up—for a price—and the new business concern is free to hire an influential designer to pen a concept car or two. The marque takes orders that help fund the production of its new vehicle and, voilá, a small group of people have a job for a year or two before the realities of the modern automobile market set in and the whole operation tanks.

Sometimes, a marque like Duesenberg will stagger zombie-like under the thumb of investors and dreamers for longer than the marque survived in the first place. And yes, sometimes consolidation conspires to give brands like Bugatti, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce a rich uncle in the form of a parent company that's content to operate its boutique operation at a loss.

Usually, when a car company dies, it takes an entire company with it—unless the automaker is DAF, Tatra, Matra (no relation), and Isotta Fraschini—four examples of automakers that closed or divested car production to save the rest of the company.This particular group has something in common: a future in building heavy trucks and equipment. 

Isotta Fraschini was a once-great Italian automaker and built the sort of vehicles that make Concours junkies weak in the knees. The company made waves with its success in road races like the Targa Florio, and used that success to engineer a number of chassis that were bodied for the world's elite—the iconic classic car in Sunset Boulevard was an Isotta Fraschini.

From 1949 until the mid-'90s, Isotta Fraschini had found enough success in trucks and machinery to keep the company going, until it decided to make a bold move and introduce a car for the world's wealthy. Again.

If I was making a modern vehicle for the elite, I'd probably also set my crosshairs on the Mercedes-Benz SL. Two-door cars are often easier to engineer than four-doors, they often look better and, provided the drivetrain is strong, will return good performance. In 1993, Italdesign completed a prototype for Isotta Fraschini. But they needed more time.

With former Pininfarina and Ghia designer Tom Tjaarda at the helm and Audi A8 mechanicals to power its new luxury convertible, Isotta Fraschini debuted the revised and renamed T8 at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show.

For Audi, the arrangement made a lot of sense—after all, what better to challenge the Mercedes-Benz SL than an Italian-bodied A8? Fitted with the company's long-lived and sonorous 4.2-litre V8, quattro all-wheel-drive, and an automatic transmission. The T8 also featured all-aluminum bodywork and removable hard top. There is very little information on the car, but sources quote both performance (with 300 or so horsepower) and price were competitive with the Mercedes-Benz SL.

At the Paris Motor Show in 1998, the company showed a revised and sportier coupe version called the T12, reportedly fitted with a V12 engine. I haven't been able to learn where they sourced the engine from, and the timeline places it as a few years before the debut of the Volkswagen Group's W12 engine. 

Even so, as soon as you saw the car's boring looks I'm positive you knew right away that it was a failure. Production intent was for thousands of T8 and T12 models, but between prototypes and show cars, fewer than five were completed. 

Sources