Congratulations have quite rightly been flooding in to Duncan Pittaway and his team for managing to get the Fiat S76 running after a century of inactivity. What we think we have found here is the last time the car ever ran. Certainly it’s the last evidence of an S76 running under its own steam.
101 years ago this month French-American Arthur Duray took the fearsome, fire-breathing Beast of Turin to Ostende in Belgium (coincidentally the birthplace of his parents) to add to his three previous Land Speed Record attempts. Although Duray’s status as an aviator, racer and Land Speed Record holder was beyond reproach, it would appear that his efforts to make the Fiat S76 the fastest car on earth ultimately came to nought.
“First and second gear were okay, third gear called upon all of his experience as a racing driver, and fourth gear needed the courage of a hundred men!”
I caught up with Duncan and asked him about the Ostende attempt. ‘I’m certain that the chassis Duray used is the chassis on my car,’ he begins. ‘Duray was one of the most experienced racers in the world at the time. He reckoned that first and second gear were okay, that third gear called upon all of his experience as a racing driver and that fourth gear needed the courage of a hundred men!’
Despite hitting a recorded speed of an astonishing 134mph, the record attempt failed. This is partly because the team recording the speed didn’t get consistently clear readings, but also because the tram driver wouldn’t alter his timetable! Duncan again: ‘Duray wasn’t allowed to run at the same time as the tram which ran alongside the road at the sea front. The driver of the tram refused to deviate from his timetable so Duray was severely hampered as to when he could get two clear runs in. Add to all this the terrible weather… ‘
So, the attempt sadly failed and shortly afterwards the Great War came along. By the time it was over Edwardian cars like the Fiat were having the likes of Hispano Suiza V8s fitted to them, and were being raced at Brooklands. Duncan’s chassis survived and over a hundred year’s later we can’t wait to see it running again… !
As for this clip of the Fiat, it’s only a brief one, but it’s clear that Mr Duray had polished off three Shredded Wheat that morning at the very least …