Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8C Monterosa

Via Monterosa, a street in Milan, was the home of the sometimes-great Italian brand Isotta Fraschini. I've previously featured the more recent attempt to restart the carmaker, the T8, but it's important to reiterate the following: it's more difficult to restart a dead car brand than to start a new one. 

The design and conception of the Monterosa happened long before its debut at the 1947 Paris Motor Show, and was the result of the genius of Luigi Rapi. You may remember his name as the designer of the Autobianchi Stellina, but unlike that rebodied Fiat, the Monterosa was a moon shot on par with the best from Citroën or Tatra.

Rapi correctly predicted that monocoque construction was the way forward for cars, but he wanted to retain the flexibility of a body-on-frame design for Italy's carrozzeria. His solution was a rear engine, rear-drive chassis that held the mechanicals and separate aluminum bodywork. The body contained its own frame, which was welded onto the chassis. The idea was that the body's internal frame wouldn't change much, but the bodywork on top could be styled in many different ways. It worked: coachbuilders made coupe, convertible, and sedan bodies.

Like Tatra, Isotta-Fraschini settled on a V8 for its rear engined car. Designed by the legendary Aurelio Lampredi, of Ferrari, Fiat, and Abarth fame, it was 3.4-litres (with hemispherical combustion chambers) and made an acceptable 125 horsepower. Interestingly, the engine, gearbox, and differential were cast as a single light alloy piece, a feat made more difficult by the shortage of materials during the war.

That's right: Rapi, Lampredi, and the rest of the team risked their lives to develop the car, including one particular incident in 1943 when Rapi had to convince a group of soldiers that his sketches of the car were actually drawings of secret military watercraft.

Even though these engineers were tucked away in a small workshop at the Isotta-Fraschini plant, it wasn't the first time their office was raided. On an earlier occasion, Rapi lost his plans for a V6-powered sedan to the Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo, otherwise known as OVRA, Italy's secret police.

Maybe the restrictions put in place forced the team to look elsewhere to problems: the prototype's rear window was plastic, the sunroof was Plexiglass, and its instruments would be hidden by a lid. In addition—and something I'd love to see on a modern car—its upholstery was camel hair, and tailored just like that type of soft fall coat.

Now, this is all impressive but sounds expensive. With Europe in ruins, the company's only hope was to find and woo wealthy Americans who were willing to spend $10,000—double what you'd spend on a Cadillac—for their very own 8C.

Between three and six are believed to have been made; the number varies because it's not clear if the different bodystyles shown were updates of existing chassis or unique cars. Only two are believed to have survived, a black sedan and a white convertible.

While it may not have entered production, the Monterosa was the first hint of pent-up innovation that we'd see on cars made after the Second World War. For that reason, it's a remarkable car.

Sources