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The 'Beast of Turin' Fiat 'Mephisto'


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#1 Steve L

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 17:41

I read somewhere recently that this great vintage monster (or at least bits of it!) had been found?

Does anyone have any info on this?

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#2 WGD706

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 22:48

Steve
Are you referng to Mephistopheles? Ernest Eldridge driving a massive 21.7 litre Fiat "Mephistopheles" achieved 145.896 mph. This was the last Land Speed Record record to be set on a road or a track, drivers needing to use the large open straights on beaches or salt flats to achieve higher speeds.
http://www.carkeys.c...es/FE000236.htm
It must have returned at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year.
Warren

#3 Mark Beckman

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 07:51

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#4 dmj

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 09:00

And a certain TNF member called Mick Walsh recently had honour to be driven in it (Fiat doesn't allow anyone other than a mechanic who cares about it to drive it).

#5 Steve L

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 16:38

The car I am thinking of is the 1913 (not quite "vintage" as I said before!) 300HP Fiat, sometimes described as the S76.

This car was an absolute monster, powered by a 4 cylinder airship engine of over 28 litres (7 litres+ per pot!) with chain drive. The radiator was as tall as a man!

It was tested by Fiat works drivers such as Nazzaro and Bordino before being bought by a Russian who hired Arthur Duray to unsuccessfully try for the Land Speed Record at Ostend (information courtesy of the book Land Speed Record by Cyril Posthumus).

I believe the car eventually went to South America where it disappeared without trace - or did it?!

I saw the Fiat Mephistopheles at Goodwood a year or so back. A seriously impressive car, which although looking rather primitive alongside the LSR V12 Delage was undoubtedly effective.

Ernest Eldridge must have been abnormally brave to drive the Fiat at places like Brooklands and Montlhery, never mind along a narrow tree lined road! People must have been made of different stuff in those days!

It's a shame the car lives in Italy now - I wasn't too impressed by its condition (patina is one thing, being fit to run is another). It would be fantastic to see it in VSCC events.

#6 Doug Nye

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 22:01

Errrrummmm - :rolleyes:

For my sins, I got to drive 'Mephisto' for 'The Daily Telegraph' UK national newspaper just before he was brought over to Goodwood. If anybody's interested, the story they ran went like this... I hope it gives the flavour of The Beast...

DOUG MEETS THE DEVIL

Dear Ed… Last Monday I was, as required, at Fiat’s Balocco test track outside Milan, to try my hand at driving ‘Mephistopheles’. Well - you know how Fiat have funded the Ferrari Formula 1 programme since 1955, and have run it totally since The Old Man’s death in ’88? And how Fiat actually won the 1907 Grand Prix, and how in the early ’20s their Grand Prix cars introduced high-sided cockpits, pointed aerodynamic tails and supercharged engines as absolutely the dominant force in high-tech engineering? And you know how three of their top engineers were then poached away (Adrian Newey-style, only in their case they actually made the move) to design rival GP cars for Alfa Romeo, Sunbeam and Talbot – causing Fiat’s president Agnelli to abandon racing and scrap all his cars?

Well, Monday offered a splendid insight into the traditional Italian way of larking around with racing cars…

It began with the coach from the airport. Five minutes out, one of the party asked “Where’s George?”. Oops, they’d obviously forgotten him. A 360 turn around a roundabout, back to the terminal, Fiat’s PR chaps dived inside…to meet George unconcernedly emerging from the gents. He simply clambered onto the coach – blissfully unaware we’d gone and left him…

Out on the circuit at Balocco we lazed awhile in the sun, until we heard an artillery barrage approaching through the woods. 'Mephistopheles' simply exploded into sight, driven by the intrepid Fiat museum director with a white-faced journo cowering beside him in the meccanico's seat, his eyes like vintage Rolls-Royce headlights. Michele, the direttore di museo, is either an absolute hero – or plumb certifiable. He just blazed the old warhorse around with all her 21.7-litres on full song – 320 horsepower…

He would do two or three laps, pick up another journo, then thunder off again with the airship engine spitting flames and smoke, showering bubbling oil and steaming water from underneath, and all on tyre treads barely 4-inches wide that became scalding to the touch…

'Mephistopheles' earned its nickname from all this flaschenbangen, its backfires sound like grenades let off in a dustbin. In 1924 it set the Land Speed Record at 147mph, and I believe it could still match that today. Then Michele ran out of fuel…

He coasted to a halt on a slight rise before a blind crest, entering a very fast left-hand curve.

'Mephistopheles' squatted there, silent and malevolent, dribbling oil and water.

Immaculately-suited Fiat boss man called 'OK, gasolina'.

His No 2 responded, 'Ah, I distinctly recall asking No 3 to provide some'.

No 3 protested, 'Ah yes, No 4 was getting it'.

All three glared at No 4, who looked around helplessly... there was no No 5.

'Si’, he gasped, ‘gasolina!’ – fired up the nearest Punto, and tore away through the woods.

For 40 minutes we enjoyed a lovely quiet day in Lombard sun...

Then the Punto reappeared, tyres sizzling; No 4 with bright new petrol cans.

'OK', declared numero uno, ‘Now we filla da car...aah, eesa tricky filler. Numero due, where eesa da funnel?'.

No 2 'Ah, numero tre will havea da funnel'.

No 3 bawled, 'Ah, numero quattro!’

The hapless No 4 (nobody else in line), 'Aw merda...!'.

Lot of Italian ensued, ‘cretino’ I think I heard.

No 1 cried ‘Giornialisti, wow, look over there!!!!'.

Most heads turned.

Behind their backs a meccanico scooped up an ancient plastic traffic cone, long abandoned in the grass – brushed off the mud, and hey presto refuelled through it. Then three meccanicos tried to push-start the giant, cool by now, uphill.

It only weighs 1 3/4 tons...and predictably, it did not start.

So they laboriously turned it round, and began to push it downhill.

It rolled ever faster. They pursued.

Michele popped the hard-pressed clutch, gigantic 3.6-litre 4-valved cylinders sucked and squeezed, and failed to fire.

The meccanicos caught up, another British Lions-style heave, it outpaced them again, clutch, BLUUEAAARRR - they caught up, puffing and blowing, and heaved some more.

And, like ever-smaller Lowry matchstick men, they simply chased the receding 'Mephisto' – determinedly silent – out of sight back into the woods...

And all was perfect peace broken only by birdsong…

I must confess, by this time I was crying - but it got better.

A Unimog utility truck drove up, bearing a big water tank. A janitorial type jumped out, wearing police-style dark blue shirt and trousers, motorcycle boots and gardening gloves. And smoking a dog-end.

Using a pressure hose he began to blast the spilled oil and coolant from that entry to the blind, over the crest, high-speed curve. Remember that? Job done, he motored off.

We then heard the shattering noise of Mephisto returning, and this time Michele – embarrassed - was really ON IT!

BBLAAAAAAAAAAABLARBLEBLAAAAAHHHH!! - 80-90mph, the great car visibly enraged, just like Old Nick himself, squalling, clattering, belching smoke, flame, melting tyres…absolutely streaking towards us wreathed in blue smoke, streaming vapour, gushing water, dribbling hot oil…

While stepping smartly back we also signalled ‘slow’ and pointed to the freshly hosed-down track.

Michele’s right arm popped out of the cockpit, heaved on the outside handbrake – and he feathered the throttle, just through the puddle, then BLAAAAAAAHHHH!!! Instantaneously back on the noise, big time.

'Mephisto’s tail swiped out in a vicious tail-wag, he left-handed on opposite lock, caught it just brilliantly and simply kept that centre throttle nailed. It was glorious - for us – but the parchment white journo beside him later confessed 'I was absolutely ------- terrified!!!!!'.

Later that evening, I was given command, just barely squeezing muscular (who are you calling fat?) thighs between wheelrim and seat. The floorboards on which I was almost sitting were awash with hot oil and slimy water. There’s a centre throttle, and I could just barely get my right toe onto the footbrake pedal leg, not onto the pad at all. In any case it’s just a token transmission brake, ‘useless’, says Michele, ‘usea ’andbrake’.

After two doomed attempts to pushstart 'Mephisto' – with me on board? - they tow-started it, after going through the 1,2,3,4 routine over a tow rope.

Oh yes, and the car caught fire a bit, several times…

Once running, one has to keep it revving, it’s all thunderous din and quiver, leave the outside gearchange locked in second, as long as you hold the clutch out its release bearing has a total loss oil-spray showering onto it, hence 'Mephisto’s appalling table manners, slobbering from the undertray.

Sight along that endless bonnet, through the spurting fumes and thin coolant geyser, and we were on the move – drive chain clattering just below right elbow, brakeless front wheels just in sight.

Expecting it to be dreadful I found it – in the literal sense – awful, a notch less positive than ‘awesome’ but its power and throttle response simply have to be experienced to be believed.

Having driven both the 10.66-litre V12 Delage with which 'Mephisto' duelled for the Land Speed Record in 1924, and the 24-litre Napier-Railton, Ernest Eldridge’s Fiat confection feels more vivid than the former and just outrageously primitive against the latter. While hauling it around Balocco’s curves did not, in truth, seem that difficult – though 16-inch biceps certainly helped - it really did have an awful lot of power and almost instantaneous throttle response. 1400 to 1800rpm was just a toe-prod, the spurt of acceleration a real neck-bender. I found one could make it a corner like a threepenny bit by a sequence of throttle stabs - wheelspin and tail-wag instantaneously on demand.

For decades I’ve listened spellbound to drivers like Moss, John Surtees, Tony Brooks, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney talking about the warmth of Italian mechanics towards drivers who give their handiwork some stick.

I stopped, switched off, and clambered from this steaming, smoking, sizzling, maliciously evil creature – and the white-overalled meccanicos were looking reasonably cheerful – relieved I thought – but then the capo meccanico nudged me with his elbow - and he growled 'Eh’ – pause – ‘Bravo...'.

And I tell you, I could have burst.

As a lifelong admirer of the truly lovable Italian way of racing, it can’t get any better.

So against this background, having sacrificed my long faithful and ever-commodious trousers to 'Mephistopheles’ cockpitful of boiling oil, would it be OK if I invoice for a new pair?

Yours sincerely - Doug

If somebody has now found bits of his taller half-sister, I trust they keep her in a cage.

DCN

#7 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 04:44

Thanks Doug, very enjoyable, although rather noisy. I enjoyed the quiet in between. :D

#8 dbw

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 06:58

ah,yes..the beast!!! i consider this the ultimate aero-engined chain drive race car!!![someone needs to post a pic as it indeed is worth a thousand words]
however entertaining the "road test" mr N. provided,it seems old meph has been updated over the years[as well one might!] to represent the twenties as opposed to the teens... i think a better comparison would be george wingard's 1911 S74 [4 cyl-14,000 liter-chain drive]...if for no other reason than the S74 has been restored to absolute original..as is george's practice[even raced on period high-pressure beaded edge tires].mr. wingard starts it on the crank[a two man job!]and runs it with great gusto..[a bit short of great abandon as self preservation requires]... still a "baby beast" compared to it's giant sister,it truly captures the essence of the legendary monsters of old.

#9 Michael Müller

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Posted 16 October 2002 - 23:24

Posted Image

#10 dbw

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 00:21

gentlemen,i rest my case. :cool:

#11 Mark Beckman

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 03:36

Originally posted by dbw
gentlemen,i rest my case. :cool:


You rest your case about what ?

#12 dbw

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 06:12

that this was the ultimate chain drive aero-engined race car.....and that an image of same is worth more than a thousand words.....wouldn't it be neat to have THIS in your barn?? :p

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 06:41

Of course...

If the barn is big enough to fit that, it might have enough room for the rest of my junk. Might need an interesting driveway, though...

#14 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 07:50

Sorry Michael, but the FIAT you show us, is not the same we are talking about.
The ALLGEMEINE AUTOMOBIL-ZEITUNG (Wien), Aug. 1, 1924, brought this pic:
Posted Image
The car described in this thread is the one shown here, setting world records
on July 12, 1924 at the street near Arpajon. It was a race over the kilometer
and the mile with flying start. Eldridge on this 22-liter Brooklands FIAT made
the kilometer in 15.235 seconds, equal to 236.314 km/h or 146.845 mph.

But in the battle with the 12-cylinder 10.6-liter Delage of René Thomas, which
took 15.615 seconds for the kilometer (230.543 km/h), the record of Eldridge
could not be placed because the FIAT did not comply with the rules. It had no
reverse gear.

Consequently, Eldridge equipped his FIAT with reverse gear and obtained from
the Motocycle Club de France official permission for new record attempts. He
did the flying kilometer at 234.986 km/h (average of both runs), breaking the
record of René Thomas, who could not attend 'cause preparing for the upcoming
Grand Prix de Europe on August 3 in Lyon.

#15 Michael Müller

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 09:03

Originally posted by Steve L :
The car I am thinking of is the 1913 (not quite "vintage" as I said before!) 300HP Fiat, sometimes described as the S76.

This car was an absolute monster, powered by a 4 cylinder airship engine of over 28 litres (7 litres+ per pot!) with chain drive. The radiator was as tall as a man!

It was tested by Fiat works drivers such as Nazzaro and Bordino before being bought by a Russian who hired Arthur Duray to unsuccessfully try for the Land Speed Record at Ostend (information courtesy of the book Land Speed Record by Cyril Posthumus).

I believe the car eventually went to South America where it disappeared without trace - or did it?!

:confused: :confused: :confused:

#16 bradbury west

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 11:52

For those not familiar with this glorious device, please see posts 307 and 308 below for some of my from the 2011 FoS . All photos stictly copyright Roger Lund. All rights reserved. Click images for larger view.
http://forums.autosp...w...8401&st=280
Roger Lund

#17 tlc356

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 13:58

Jay Leno owns a 1917 Fiat with an airplane engine that was raced in Argentina. It's named the Botafogo after a famous Agentine race horse. Is this possibly the one in question?

http://www.jaylenosg...tml#item=234644
Tom

#18 David Birchall

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 18:17

Jay Leno's car is a modern replica or "fake" if you prefer. Jay is a great enthusiast but not a particularly discerning one.

#19 tlc356

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 00:47

Jay Leno's car is a modern replica or "fake" if you prefer. Jay is a great enthusiast but not a particularly discerning one.

David: I am interested in hearing what leads you to believe this is a fake.
From what I have known, Leno is one who understands and appreciates the differenece between even a Pur Sang replica (fake) and a restoration of an original.

I have no dog in this fight, but would love to learn, so please let me know. Tom

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#20 David Birchall

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 04:51

Here is Jay Leno's description of the car--I should add that I love the car and probably should not have used the word "fake" but stuck with "replica" which he goes to some length to define in his intro-this car was built by Pur Sang-it is more what isn't said than what is-the chassis origin is never mentioned--it is a superb exercise but not an original car:


#21 D-Type

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 11:26

This raises the whole issue of reconstruction and renovation. There are two types of car that are described as 'replicas'. On the one hand there are those that use as many original parts as possible and where they do not exist the replacements are re-manufactured to be as close to the original as possible. On the other hand there are those that capture the 'general impression' and use modern parts. And a vast area of greyness within the two extremes.

In the first category come the Cameron Miller Maserati 250Fs, some of which reportedly have more parts originating from Modena than some of the 'original axe' cars currently racing,the Indianapolis T54 Cooper where a lot of the frame had to be rebuilt to original specificationas the car had been extensively developed, and the Jim Stokes built Ferrari Dino 156, which had an original engine and drive train. In the second category come the VW-based glass fibre bodied 'Bugattis' (as described by Jay Leno in the film clip), the Chris Rea Ferrari Dino 156 with no original parts including the engine from a Ferrari road car or the Lynx 'D-Type' Jaguars with new bodies on E-Type underpinnings including the independent rear suspension.

Based on what Jay Leno says in the film, Pur Sang have attempted to re-construct the car as it was originally. A genuine replica, a car in category 1 above.

In my book, a car only becomes a 'fake' when someone tries to pass it off as the real thing.

#22 RogerFrench

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 14:48

D-type, if it were me I'd put the VW-chassised Bugattis, MGs, what-have-you into your vast area of greyness, preferably as far from me as possible!
I can't see how you include them with the Chris Rea Ferrari or Lynx cars - there's a world of difference between them, surely?

#23 D-Type

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 16:04

It's a spectrum. The Cameron Millar Maseratis etc are 'white', the VW-based Bugatti look[a bit]alike etc are definitely 'black' and the Lynx and Chris Rea cars are in the 'grey' zone (on the lighter grey side of it).

It was a bit naughty of me to include Philippe's T54 Cooper here as it's a 'genuine' car. I di so deliberately as it has, of necessity, a significsnt non-original element as the original chassis and body were heavily hacked about when the car was converted to Aston Martin power in period. It is laudable that the remains of the car have been reunited with the original and refurbished Climax engine and the car re-constructed to original specification.

'Mephistopholes' has been restored to specification similar to how it was finally raced rather than being converted back to when it set the record. The Napier Railton even has the brakeds fitted after its Brooklands career was over and it was used for parachute testing. How many 'vintage ' Bentley sports cars started life with heavy coachbuilt saloon bodies?

I still think it is unjust to describe Jay Leno's Fiat as 'a fake' - it may not be totally original, whatever that can mean with a car that continuously evolved, but the restorers have tried for 'authenticity'.

#24 David Birchall

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 17:08


Quote D-Type: "In my book, a car only becomes a 'fake' when someone tries to pass it off as the real thing."

Did the "Botafogo Special" ever exist would be the first question to answer.
If so, does any of it exist in this car?

Just trying to stir up some interesting debate...

Edited by David Birchall, 09 April 2013 - 17:14.


#25 D-Type

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 20:16

Ah! Now I see where you're coming from. Googling "Botafogo Fiat" leads either directly to Jay Leno or to a Popular Mechanics feature about him.

I don't understand Spanish so it isn't worth me trying the Spanish language Google. But, if a Spanish speaker cares to try I'd be interested to know what turns up.

#26 David McKinney

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 21:30

Fuerza Libre 1919-1942, the comprehensive study of Argentine specials by Guillermo Sánchez, makes no mention of any such car

#27 David Birchall

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 22:32

I noticed that on the video Leno says that the Botafogo car "had no gearbox or brakes" so it could not have run on the road, never mind raced. It sounds like it would have to be a very roughly cobbled together device and the only illustration was an artists impression.
Perhaps that is why the engine is the only surviving part of the original car-there was nothing else worth saving?

#28 David McKinney

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 05:07

The book I mentioned suggests there was no original car...

#29 David Birchall

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 15:08

I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt David...

The way the Leno car runs is certainly impressive-he was driving it in LA traffic!


#30 arttidesco

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 16:14

The Leno FIAT looks amazing the tail looks a tad fanciful in the Gary L Wales way to be convincing as a replica of the car that Adolfo Scandroglio drove to his death in 1949 and indeed here is a link to show what the car looked like in an undated photograph.

If you speak more than tourist Spanish, I don't, there is more on Adolfo Scandroglio with a picture of the driver in a car that could be the one Leno has had replicated on this link.

Looks like the vehicle Scandroglio drove might more accurately be called a Minerva (chassis) FIAT (motor).



#31 David Birchall

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 16:51

Well done Arttidesco! I don't think we expected it to have a FIAT chassis...

David McKinney: Any mention of this car in the book you mentioned--which is still available from the publishers apparently.

According to the first article mentioned by Arttidesco the car was buried following the fatal crash and remained buried until 1999 at least. So photographs of the disinterring (sp?) should exist?

Edited by David Birchall, 10 April 2013 - 17:04.


#32 tlc356

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 17:35

I'm not surprised that this monster did not show up in the above mentioned book. I can't believe it ran very often, and what race would have allowed it to pass tech inspection? Since the car originally was one man's wild concept that was little refined past the dream stage, originality hardly matters. The car today is vasatly improved over the original as it need be.

Leno is know to have cars that are "whole cloth", new creations and he, I believe, is clear to describe them as such. This car appears to me to have a thread of history with substantial enhancements.

With no dog in this fight, I'm happy that the concept of this car has been brought back to life with whatever original parts could be recovered, and all the "right" stuff to make it driveable. :clap:

#33 David Birchall

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 22:29

Tech inspection? In Argentina in the forties? Very, very doubtful. According to the article the car did race-if the car existed. We still do not have proof positive that this has any relationship to what Jay Leno has.

The book that David M mentioned is apparently pretty thorough and would include this car if the story is true I think. We await word from David.

My own opinion of Jay Leno is that he is a mainly an American Hot Rodder-meaning that appearance takes precedence-and "mine is bigger than yours" takes precedence over all else. He is a great enthusiast and I enjoy his youtube videos but I would not hold him up as a paragon of historical authenticity or originality.

#34 David McKinney

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 07:55

César Sandroglio raced a Minerva chassis with Fiat A12 engine, similar to that in Mephistopheles and to the Argentine-built Caproni, in 1940 and after the War. This is the agricultural-looking car linked from Post 30, and which was dismantled after its accident at Rafaela in 1949

A possible clue to the origins of the Leno car is Sánchez’s statement that, much later, the engine from Sandroglio’s car was sold and was used to build a new chain-drive car that was exported to Europe.

A Hispano-Suiza engine – whether aero or not is unclear – had been used in a car raced in Argentina by Francisco Santamaria in 1936, and in another by Vittorio Rosa the same year, the latter’s power later coming from Fiat and, with the next owner, Delahaye.

#35 David Birchall

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 14:55

César Sandroglio raced a Minerva chassis with Fiat A12 engine, similar to that in Mephistopheles and to the Argentine-built Caproni, in 1940 and after the War. This is the agricultural-looking car linked from Post 30, and which was dismantled after its accident at Rafaela in 1949

A possible clue to the origins of the Leno car is Sánchez’s statement that, much later, the engine from Sandroglio’s car was sold and was used to build a new chain-drive car that was exported to Europe.


Many thanks for that David.
Jay Leno makes a cryptic comment about the car "going to Italy" but offers no more information. It sounds like just the engine went to Europe-but in a new car-which had chain drive-unlike the car that killed Sandroglio.
So it would be likely that the engine was in an Argentinian special but that the rest is new?

Edited by David Birchall, 11 April 2013 - 15:56.


#36 David McKinney

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 16:53

I understand this:

the engine from Sandroglio’s car was sold and was used to build a new chain-drive car that was exported to Europe.

to mean the new car was built in Argentina