1904 F.I.A.T. type 24/32


Technical specification: 

4 cylinder, T head, 6.902 cc, bore and stroke; 130 x 130, domed pistons, 40 hp at 1.200 rpm.,
4 speed gearbox H-gate, double chain-drive. Topspeed over 75 mph (120 km.p.h.)
Chassis number 745
Delivery date 23-06-1904

The immortal FIAT type 24/32

Sometimes when discussing cars with friends, car collectors or just car freaks we try to determine the best collectable cars, with many ideas flying over the table, enlightened with a good glass of red wine, I have made my own decision. The most collectable cars are those  that one could pull from the production line and could be used on the road and track, and indeed could win a race. There aren’t many of those, as even in those early years manufacturers choose to build special racing cars for competition. From the early days only 3 cars comes to mind, the 4 cylinder type B1 Panhard & Levasseur sold to the public and winning the 1898 Paris to Amsterdam race, the glorious Mercedes 60 hp, that won the 1903 Gordon Bennett, in fact a clients car to be used after the factory fire destroying the Mercedes racing cars, and last but not least the 24/32 F.I.A.T. of which a strict production chassis won outright the 1907 Targa Florio race in hands of Felice Nazzaro followed by Vincenzo Lancia claiming second place in a similar car. All those cars could be bought at the dealer and win a race next day. That is to me is the ultimate collector car.

The 24/32 came on the market in 1903 and lasted till 1908, with almost 1800 cars build, a great success for the F.I.A.T. company. These were expensive cars, available at Hollander & Tangeman, Fiat importer in New York at a list price of $ 9.000 the second most expensive car in 1904, only to be surpassed by Mercedes. For that amount of money one could buy 10 brand new Cadillac model B’s at $ 900 each, but European cars were en vogue, offering much better engineering than contemporary American cars.

Factory technical drawing of the 1904 type 24/32 chassis, clearly visible are the four exhaust branches, to be changed for the 1905 range into two exhaust branches.

Factory drawing of the 1904 engine showing the doomed pistons, only produced in 1903 and 1904.

Factory picture of the 1904 type 24/32 chassis, showing the pre-series car. In production the 1904 models were made in 3 wheelbase sizes for 1904 only, 2.85 m, 2.98 m and 3.10 m. In 1905 these were rationalised to one length only of 2.90 m.

With the arrival of Giovanni Enrico as new director of the F.I.A.T. company in 1901, the company made a great leap forward into a new future, a new range of 30, 40 and 60 hp cars were designed and produced. The 40 hp, called tipo 24/32 obviously the most successful, was build in 3 generations, the first in 1903, a 6,3 litre (35 hp), with the second series (1904) the engine grew to 6,9 litre (40 hp) to become 7,3 litre (45 hp) in 1905, of course there were more improvements over the years, most important the new designed brakes in 1905, with bigger drums being water cooled, but also the abandoning of the doomed pistons of the 1903 and 1904 engines, the change from a 4 branch exhaust to a two branch exhaust in 1905, the repositioning of the chain drive gearbox and so on. Clearly this design was a lucky marriage, possibly by coincidence, but the powerful engine coupled to a light chassis (our rear entrance tonneau weighs only 1350 kilograms) proved to be a winner, blessed by an incredible torque this car was in fact as fast as the bigger 60 hp. With the help of todays much better road conditions, petrol and tyres our car was clocked on a long straight at 77 mph (123 km/h.), with more under the bonnet. Knowing that, it comes to no surprise that  Nazzaro averaged 54,086 km/h. over the gruelling Targa Florio roadrace with the total length of 446 kilometres.

Watch the Video

The F.I.A.T. being filmed during the 2013 Melle rally in Germany. On a long sloping hill overtaking a competitor, also driving at full speed ( 1908, 4 cylinder), showing the tremendous torque and uphill speed of the F.I.A.T.

As far as we know only 5 cars of this type 24/32 cars survived, an awful low rate considering the total production of some 1800 cars. It seems that Italy has been hit the hardest from all countries hurt by two world wars, with a vast demand for metals for the war industry. The survival rate of early pre-1914 Italian cars is extremely low compared to other countries, a shame as they made the most beautiful cars in the world.

Chassis number 745 from 1904 resides with us in Holland, The Biscaretti collection has two cars: a 1905 landaulette chassis nr. 2230, and a modified touring car, chassis number unknown but probably a late car (1908). In the UK chassis number 2538 has been rebuild as an Targa Florio inspired two-seater, whereas in the USA chassis number 2590 claims to be the real Targa racer.

The history of chassis number 745

By courtesy of John Mulder

At June 27th, 1902 George Agassiz married Mabel Simpkins, both from influential American families, the Simpkins being descendants of the Pilgrim fathers. As one does they went on a European tour for their honeymoon and apparently also visited the F.I.A.T. factory in Turin, Italy in 1903. Impressed by the 24/32 they put an order in and subsequently the car was ready in July 1904 for shipment to Hollander & Tangeman, New York, F.I.A.T. importer in the USA and Canada. Living in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod the car was used, most frequently by Mabel, a remarkable woman not only for her beauty, she was portrayed by John Singer Sargent, but also must have been one of the earliest female drivers. The F.I.A.T. was granted licence number 3089. It was the second car in Yarmouth Port at a time when only sixteen vehicles on the entire Cape had been registered. For twenty eight years Mabel and her brother Charles Ritchie Simpkins drove the car all over the Cape.

Mabel Simpkins, portrayed by John Singer Sargent in 1917, at the age of 46

When Charles died in 1931, Mabel decided she did not want the car to be driven anymore and had it buried in 1932 on the estate Sandyside. The F.I.A.T. was by then indeed an old car (she could have competed in the earliest London Brighton rally, but alas), The F.I.A.T. was lowered upside down, minus body with the wheels on the belly pan, in a large hole in the ground.

Recently in a book published about Constance Harper Tyler, of whom Mabel was a great aunt, the F.I.A.T. story is mentioned. The book ‘Mum’ by Daniel Tyler has unfortunately a few inaccuracies regarding the F.I.A.T.

Ten years after, 1942, Ted Robinson, one of the founders of the Vintage Sports car Club of the USA, enjoyed a holiday at Cape Cod overhearing the story of the buried car. He asked permission to search for the car, to dig her up and eventually bought the car for the pricey sum of $ 50,-. Being a vintage man he decided to sell the car, it changed hands a couple of times (all documented) till in 1952 the car was bought by David Uihlein from Milwaukee, Wisconsin for $ 500,- plus the promise to restore the car.

The F.I.A.T. as found by Ted Robertson in 1942, lying upside down in its grave, and on wheels again, in front of the estate Sandyside, Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod.

I visited David’s place several times in the early nineties, studied the car in detail and tried to convince him to sell it to me. At that time he just started the restoration and he told me over and over he had to keep his promise. And so he did, fitting the car with a recreation of a rear entrance tonneau body by Quimby, of Newark, New Jersey, who used to do most of the F.I.A.T.’s in the early days. In 2007 David decided to dispose of a part of his collection by auction, and the car was offered by RM, misrepresented with a wrong year of construction and a wrong chassis number, belonging to a 12 hp of 1902. We managed to buy the great F.I.A.T. from the Uihlein estate in fully restored condition, 55 years after David’s acquisition.

After our acquisition the car was immediately presented to the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain and its highly esteemed Dating Panel. Upon inspection the correct chassis number 745 was found stamped all over the engine, from water jacket to crankcase, clutch, flywheel and gearbox. The car received a provisional date of 1904 allowing to enter it in the Brighton. A long and extensive research followed with many contacts and visits to the FIAT Centro Storico and the Biscaretti Museum in Turin, resulting in a copy of the original 24/32 ledger, giving details about the manufacture and delivery of chassis number 745, as well as detailed construction drawings for the 1904 model 24/32. After 6 years the car was granted a definite 1904 Dating Certificate number 3709, combined with a 58 pages research report. The car competed in the last 6 consecutive London to Brighton runs, without missing a beat.

A copy of the factory ledger for 1904 production of the tipo 24/32 showing chassis number 745 ready for shipment to the USA at 23-06-1904.

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The heart of the matter

SSP_SB_13458 (EH)
Thundering to Brighton, the 2012 edition of the famous run (dry weather)  

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