Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this year was awarded to a 1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A owned by the Patterson Collection of Louisville, KY. The exotic-sounding Italian name should make it clear that this is a serious chunk of automobile, but not everyone knows just how serious. Though the name hasn’t matched the staying power of its peers, Isotta Fraschini was, back in the Roaring Twenties, the car one chose when a Duesenberg wasn’t ostentatious or extreme enough. Yeah, this car is that serious.

Back when the Duesenberg Model J was a high-level automotive object of lust that cost about four times the price of the average house, an Isotta Fraschini went for even more than that. These coachbuilt vehicles were the automotive equivalent of haute couture, sold as bare chassis and powertrains. The wealthy, high-profile buyers — among them, Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino, William Randolph Hearst and Benito Mussolini — were free to select a coachbuilder to provide any body style that was desired. Even Rolls-Royce (who was also one of Isotta Fraschini’s competitors at the time) doesn’t get that bespoke anymore.

The Tipo 8A was introduced in 1924 as the successor to the Tipo 8. The chief difference was a much larger and more powerful engine. The car was a success among the glitterati, inspiring imitators and envy alike during the late Twenties and early Thirties.

Continue reading for my full review of this very special Italian luxury classic.

Exterior

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Exterior AutoShow
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1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Exterior AutoShow
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1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Exterior AutoShow
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The Pebble Beach-winning Tipo 8A has an unusual but not atypical story for a coachbuilt hyper-luxury car of its era. Built in 1924, the car was purchased by the Switzerland-based Carosserie Worfblauen in 1931 to be used as the basis for a new sport cabriolet.

The chrome radiator grille had no mascot, contributing to the car's sleek and simple lines.

Reusing chassis wasn’t uncommon with high-end cars, which were valuable enough to merit the additional work to keep them current. After its rebody, this car was displayed at the Geneva Auto Show in 1932. The long engine necessitated a generous hood, an Isotta Fraschini trademark that was emulated by other luxury cars even when it wasn’t necessary to clear the engine.

Tall, thin wire wheels and dual rear-mounted spares were common among European luxury cars, and a high belt line emphasized the Tipo 8A’s massive twenty-two foot length. The front fenders had an unusual design, wrapping around the tires like those of sports cars but also featuring contoured tool boxes along the running boards to simulate the streamlined designs that were becoming popular at the close of the Roaring Twenties.

The chrome radiator grille had no mascot, contributing to the car’s sleek and simple lines; other Tipo 8As feature extravagant hood ornaments and grille ornamentation. Exposed hardware on the convertible top was a common feature.

Interior

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Interior AutoShow
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1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Interior AutoShow
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1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Interior AutoShow
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Car interiors were still somewhat utilitarian in the 1920s and 1930s, but that didn’t stop the Tipo 8A from exuding luxury without compare. The Carosserie Worfblauen-bodied Pebble Beach winner featured a massive steering wheel with a thick, sporty rim and wood trim on the cowl and dash. A five-instrument panel rode below where it was easily visible to the driver, and could be wood or painted to match the body of the car. The rearview mirror featured elegant beveled glass, and all of the exposed metal was either chromed or painted body color.

Drivetrain

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Drivetrain AutoShow
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The Tipo 8A was powered by a 7.3-liter, overhead-valve straight-eight engine. Aided by Isotta Fraschini’s experience building aircraft engines during WWI, the engine featured alloy pistons and a 10-main-bearing crankshaft. The Tipo 8A produced 110 to 115 horsepower and a staggering amount of torque. It was the most powerful production straight-eight at the time, and easily enough to haul the Tipo 8A to 150 km/h (93 mph) with no modifications and in spite of a massive curb weight.

The chassis alone weighed almost 3,300 pounds. Isotta Fraschini boasted that the car could go from 6 to 90 mph in the same gear, and with that much torque the feat was entirely possible. A more powerful 8A SS version was also offered. A three-speed synchronized transmission put the power to the road. New vacuum servo-type brakes were also introduced on the Tipo 8A.

Prices

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Exterior AutoShow
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Production of the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A totaled about 950 cars during its eight-year production run. Never an inexpensive vehicle, the bare chassis started at $8,900 in the United States. The 8A SS was $9,750. Once the body was added, Isotta Fraschini’s regularly cost $20,000 or more. Modern auction results have stayed with this trend, with a 1930 Tipo 8A selling for €931,500 (about $1.4 million) in 2015, and a 1929 Tipo 8A Derham convertible sedan reaching $473,000 in 2013. That same year, another 1929 Tipo 8A roadster hit $1.3 million.

Competition

1928 Duesenberg Model J

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet
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The Model J is a common example of 1920s automotive excess, from its 100-mph performance to its startling pricing, which was easily equivalent to a modern ultra-luxury car when adjusted for inflation. Like the Isotta Fraschini, all Model Js were coachbuilt and unique vehicles.

1925 Hispano-Suiza H6C

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet
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Hispano-Suiza may not be a household name today, but in its day the Spanish manufacturer was well-respected enough that Rolls-Royce actually bought parts from it. The H6C was a luxury powerhouse capable of 110 mph, powered by a sophisticated overhead-cam six-cylinder engine.

1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Saloon

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet
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Rolls-Royce has always been among the gold-standard nameplates when it comes to luxury vehicles. Although the stately Phantom II wasn’t a staggering performer, it featured a redesigned chassis with a low center of gravity and a stately bearing. The Continental Saloon took that further with a tuned engine, short wheelbase and stiffer springs, making it an early sport-luxury sedan.

Conclusion

1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Cabriolet Exterior AutoShow
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Although its automotive arm didn’t survive much past the Great Depression, Isotta Fraschini made an indelible mark on the luxury car world, from cameos in Hollywood films to celebrity ownership. The Pebble Beach-winning Tipo 8A may not have been the flashiest or most extravagant vehicle at this year’s concours event, but the historic nameplate, gorgeous lines and vintage-exotic provenance more than justify the judges’ decision.

  • Leave it
    • * You’ll never get one for less than six figures
    • * Less flashy than Duesenberg Model J
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