Almost one year has passed since Duncan Pittaway fired-up his Fiat S76 for the first time in over a century. Since then it’s safe to say that the car has become nothing short of a phenomenon. From Los Angeles to Tokyo, car enthusiasts either know about it or, at the very least have seen the footage of ‘the big red chain-driven car that spits flames’.
Between the clip of the car running at Duncan’s workshop near Bristol and the film of it being driven in earnest for the first time in over a hundred years at Goodwood earlier this year, literally millions of people have been introduced to this astonishing machine. Following its drive up the hill with Lord March as passenger, it returned to the Festival of Speed and was duly awarded the ‘Car of the Event’ award. Let that sink in for a moment. The Le Mans-winning Mazda 787B, the Moss/Jenkinson Mercedes-Benz ‘722’ 300SLR, BJ Baldwin’s Chevy Trophy Truck and the Porsche 919 Hybrid which had won at Le Mans not seven days prior, all had to play second fiddle to the 28.4 litre Edwardian leviathan which at the time had been in the public’s eye barely six months.
Since then the car has been honoured at the Chateau Impney Hillclimb where, predictably, it took top billing and has gone on to be nominated for the prestigious Car of the Year award at the International Historic Motoring Awards (voting for which ends on November 1st). Recently the car received yet another honour when the prestigious Royal Automobile Club on London’s Pall Mall invited the car to be displayed in its magnificent rotunda. GRR was privileged to be invited to document the occasion.
The procedure of getting the car off the street and into the club is a daunting task. The first problem is that the front doors to the members-only building are of the revolving variety and are made of wood. The second problem is that even if you can get something as enormous as the Fiat past the doors, you then have to figure out how to get it up a flight of steps …
The whole operation begins at 4am when the firm hired to get the car inside turns up outside the club. Normally the only reason any of the GRR team would be on the streets at 4am is because our house is on fire, but on this occasion we sprung into action, keen to see whether the Edwardian monster would actually fit inside.
Within minutes the crack team (who do this many times through the year) has completely removed the revolving door system and begins to install the custom made aluminium ramps. Attached to the ramps is an electric motor which will drag the car inside (oh to have been able to light it up and drive it in …) At this point the Fiat is removed from its trailer and for a few exquisite and surreal minutes it sits there on Pall Mall on its own, troubled only by the occasional passing bus. Like most people who meet the car in person, all we can do is gaze at it, taking in the bizarre scene.
The car is then summoned to the foot of the ramp where a steel cable attaches its front axle to the winch, which slowly begins to haul the car up the ramp and inside the building. With Duncan at the helm to keep it pointing in the right direction we reach the stage where the winch can pull the front axle no further. This was the nerve wracking part. Now the cable needs to be removed from the front axle and attached to the rear in order to pull the car the rest of the way up the ramp. As experienced as the crew is at doing this job, there is nevertheless a real air of concern when, for a minute or two the Fiat S76 is perched a few feet up on ramps slightly wider than its tyres and with chocks under its wheels, stopping it from rolling back out and into the street, or worse …
Minutes later the cable has been reattached and the giant S76 dragged the rest of the way, up into the rotunda. A swift three point turn later and its ready for the drip trays to be slung underneath and a cordon placed around it. Simple!
Photography: by Tom Shaxson