1929 Isotta-Fraschini 8A Convertible Sedan

Destined to become one of Italy’s most prestigious luxury car manufacturers, Isotta-Fraschini formed in the late 1800s when lawyer Cesare Isotta partnered with brothers Vincenzo, Antonio, and Oreste Fraschini. The four men shared a passion for motorcars, and they began importing French DeDions into Milan before embarking on a more ambitious plan to build a car of their own. Finding success in the early 1910s, the company grew steadily and enjoyed an increasingly loyal following, particularly in the American market. The Tipo 8 of 1912 marked Isotta-Fraschini’s arrival in the upper echelon of car manufacturers, featuring world’s first production inline 8-cylinder engine and four-wheel brakes.

The successor Tipo 8A followed in 1924, retaining the eight-cylinder layout, but with an entirely new chassis and suspension. Testers criticized early iterations for being underpowered compared to the mighty Hispano-Suiza, but in Isotta’s defense, the 8A’s objective was silence over speed. Not to be outdone, however, subsequent evolutions of the Tipo 8A, the Spinto, and Super Spinto, made 135 hp and 160 hp respectively, putting any criticism to rest. Particularly in ultimate S.S. form, the Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A stands among the most desirable of all Classic Era automobiles. The combination of power, prestige and engineering excellence was matched by the work of great coachbuilders including Fleetwood, Derham, Worblaufen, and Italy’s own Castagna. In America, where nearly a third of Isottas were sold, the price of an 8A exceeded that of a Model J Duesenberg. Pricing started at $9,750 for a chassis alone, with complete cars often approaching $20,000 depending on coachwork. As such, Isottas attracted the likes of King Faisal, the Aga Khan, William Randolph Hearst, and Rudolph Valentino, to name just a few.

One of those aforementioned great coachbuilders was the Floyd-Derham Company.  With the passing of Derham’s founder, Joseph J. Derham, in 1928, a rift between his three sons was exposed, which would change the makeup of the company. Son Philip wanted the firm to modernize and expand, while siblings James and Enos remained in favor of running the firm just as it had been with their father at the helm. Philip left the Derham Body Company in 1928 and utilized the backing of William Floyd, a European car importer based in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Philip Derham was responsible for the design and drafting work, and the actual body production was carried out by the well-known Alexander Wolfington, Son & Company.

Just prior to the stock market crash of 1929, the Floyds imported car business began to falter, and they withdrew their support of the nascent coachbuilding firm, despite the fact that there were orders to fill. These were ultimately completed by Wolfington, with the help of the Derham Body Co. Although short-lived, the firm did manage to produce two vehicles for display. One of those was a Minerva Town Cabriolet, displayed at the Chicago Salon in the fall of 1928, which is now part of the Nethercutt Collection. The second car is this Isotta Fraschini Convertible Sedan, chassis 1571, which was displayed at the New York Auto Salon in December.

After the show, the car went into private ownership and next appeared in the collection of early enthusiast Paul F. Cofrancesco, of New Britain, Connecticut, who was actively purchasing these magnificent, used, pre-war masterpieces in the 1940s and ’50s. A graduate of the Yale School of Fine Art, Paul was an accomplished artist and musician, and he was also a friend of Rudolph Valentino. Perhaps it was Valentino’s association with the Isotta Fraschini marque that fueled Cofrancesco’s interest, because he ultimately had four of them in his collection.

Cofrancesco came to the attention of fellow pioneer collector Anthony Pascucci, of Meriden, Connecticut, who tried many times over the years to acquire the cars. Ultimately, well-known collector and operatic tenor Sergio Franchi got involved in the chase, and the two ultimately convinced Mr. Cofrancesco to part with his cars around 1975.

As unearthed from the garage in New Britain, the car was still finished in its original color scheme of Butterscotch with yellow fenders and belt line. Mechanically recommissioned, it remained largely original through the subsequent ownership in several well-known collections. In 2006 it was entrusted to Reinhold’s Restorations, of Reinhold, Pennsylvania, for a thorough body-off restoration. The work, which was completed in 2008, saw the body stripped down to the bare chassis and all of the components rebuilt and refinished. The engine, transmission, and rear end were fully disassembled and rebuilt with all-new gaskets and seals. In addition, new high-compression aluminum pistons and rings were fitted. In the process of restoration, every piece of chrome was replated, and the wheels were fully rebuilt and balanced by the Dayton Wire Wheel Company. More recently, the car has received further maintenance and sorting by noted Classic Era specialist Automotive Restorations in Lebanon, NJ.

Finished in a handsome two-tone green, the body is accented with subtle red stripes.  Providing a pleasing contrast to the body color scheme is a richly appointed dark tan leather interior with ostrich seat inserts and a tan cloth top. The chromed wire wheels are shod with whitewall tires, and the radiator stone guard, which is nearly unique on every Isotta Fraschini, depicts a point-down triangle divided down the middle. Some interesting features of this example are the tubular bar-type bumpers, the wood ribs on the front splash apron, and the upward curve of the door, which reaches up almost imperceptibly to match the height of the cowl. The long belt molding traverses the length of the hood and then splits at the cowl and continues down the side of the body, where it rejoins and dips down sharply to allow room for the convertible top to fold down. The rear contains additional room for a stationary trunk rack and trunk.

The mighty 7.3-liter, overhead valve, inline-eight is more than up to the task of propelling the big Isotta along with ease. With the signature bright red cylinder block, the jewel-like presentation continues on the engine, which was completely rebuilt during the restoration.

Compared with the Americans and other European neighbors, Italy’s contribution to Classic Era automobiles was somewhat smaller, yet as we see with this exceptional motorcar, no less impactful.  Fastidiously restored, this is the sole example of Floyd-Derham coachwork on an Isotta Fraschini chassis and is ready for the next keeper to carry on its remarkable legacy.


Offers welcomed and trades considered



Stock number 7687

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