Car: Fiat 804 / Engine: Type 404 Inline-6 / Maker: Fiat / Bore X Stroke: 65 mm X 100 mm / Year: 1922 / Capacity: 1,991 cc / Class: Grand Prix / Power: 94 bhp at 4500 rpm / Wheelbase: 2,502 mm Track: 1,207 mm front & rear / Weight: 660 kg / 1455 lbs / Note: Initially fitted with a Wittig type Supecharger later replaced with a Roots type
In 1898 Count Emanuele Cacherano of Bricherasio was looking for investors for his horseless carriage project, Giovanni Agnelli who for $400 became one of those investors and on 11 July 1899 the Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino (FIAT) was born. From 1908 Fiat Aviazione was an Italian aircraft manufacturer, at one time part of the Fiat group, focused mainly on military aviation. The sharing of technology between aviation and automobiles would prove fruitful. It also had the added benefit of attracting a large pool of engineering talent.
Under Signor Guido Fornaca who served as head of the technical office was his technical director, Carlo Cavalli who was actually trained as a lawyer. He assembled a superb team working under him – Luigi Bazzi, Walter Becchia, Vincenzo Bertarione, Giulio Cesare Cappa, Alberto Massimino and Tranquillo Zerbi as design engineers, while in charge of racing-car preparation and team administration was Vittorio Jano.
From about 1907 and the introduction of the 130HP Fiat to the late-1920s, FIAT was Italy’s major contender in international Grand Prix racing and one of it’s most dominant. For 1922 a new 2-Litre formula was stipulated for Grand Prix racing with the cars required to have a minimum weight of 650 Kilos. The Fiat 804 would have a DOHC 6-cylinder engine but instead of 4 valves per cylinder, but FIAT engineered the return to 2 valves per cylinder that was apparently an effective enough arrangement for the supercharging program FIAT would also introduced to racing. Fiat had in the past used 8-cylinders for their 3-litre engines and 4-clylinders for their 1 1/2-litre engines. Adopting 6-cylinders would save time and reduce costs.
At the French Grand Prix in July of 1922 at Strasbourg the Fiat 804 driven by veteran race car driver Felice Nazzaro to victory fifteen years after he first won the race. The victory was marred only by the death of his nephew, Biagio. Pietro Bordino would follow with a win at the Italian Grand Prix followed by Nazzaro in second.
The great racing historian, Laurence Pomeroy remarked that
“The complete superiority of these cars over contemporary 2-litre models, and the impression that they made on technical opinion can be likened to the effect of the first Mercedes car in 1902 and the 1912-13 peugeot models designed by Henry.”
In 1923 Fiat would use a straight-eight and added a supercharger. Though they lost the French Grand Prix due to reliability issues and the “green colored Fiats” (Sunbeam) they got their revenge and dominated the European Grand Prix at Monza. Bordino led up to half distance, this in spite of the fact that he had broken his arm in practice and had to drive with one hand, the mechanic changing gear. He was forced to retire through physical exhaustion allowing Carlo Salamano to cruise to victory followed by Nazzaro. Fiat had experimented with two type of supercharging. Originally they used a “B” or Wittig type described as a “compressor or induction-blower employing a drum with movable pallets”. This was used during the French Grand Prix. For the Italian they switched to a “D” or Roots type in which a housing contains two rotating paddles offset by 93 deg. in relation to one another. The Roots blower enabled mixture to be delivered to the cylinders at a considerably higher mean pressure than the the “B” type. The new system, patented by Fiat on July 25th, 1923, included also a cooling system by which the compressed gases could be reduced to their original temperature so that on entering the cylinders they could undergo the further compression without risk of detonation. In effect compressed air and fuel. This was the first grand prix won by a supercharged car.
So great was Fiat’s dominance in Grand Prix Racing was that the only way to beat them was to copy their technology or better yet steal their best employees. Vittorio Jano, for example, was lured away by Alfa Romeo, and Louis Coatalen snatched up Vincenzo Bertarione and Walter Becchia for his Sunbeam Talbot Darracq operation. It was said of Becchia that he could “create a Grand Prix engine from a blank piece of paper at a single sitting”. Within a few years, all but Cavalli and Zerbi would have deserted Fiat and in 1924 they quit racing.
In 1927 another of Fiat’s brilliant engineers Alberto Massimino, who was then working as a a consultant with a strong assist from Tranquillo Zerbi, Fiat’s engine man created what would turn out to be their last race car the magnificent Fiat 806 powered by a 12-cylinder 1.5-litre H-12 engine, consisting of two six cylinder engines, each with it’s own crankshaft, and three overhead cams. Fiat had returned to racing and on September 4, 1927, determined to show the world that they were still the greatest race car designers and builders in the world. One company wag was heard to remark that at Fiat “we do not copy … we teach“.
The 187 hp but fragile car was driven by Bordino to win Fiat’s and his own last victory at the Grand Prix of Milan at Monza. Giovanni Agnelli decided that he had grown tired of having his star employees stolen by other firms, halted the racing program and ordered the destruction of all FIAT’s racing cars by the end of the 1927 racing season.