The Fiat S61

Building cars was one thing. Selling them was another.

Fiat, at the beginning of the 20th century, was viewed in the United States of America as being a vastly superior car manufacturer to the American ones; which gave them the ability to charge far higher prices. They needed to maintain this prestige and the way to do it in those days was by racing.

This was not only a way of getting excellent publicity but also of testing their cars, and particularly their engines, against their competitors. Fiat threw themselves into this with gusto.

Prior to 1906 they produced cars with smaller engines and their racing success was nothing to write home about; this had to change.

The only limitations on race cars in those days were weight limits; the types and sizes of engines weren't even considered. Fiat reasoned that the bigger the engine, the more power it had, and the faster it would go. This was a logical formula in the days when racetracks were steeply banked at the corners and so roadholding was a relatively minor consideration.

The S61 Corsa was brought out in 1908 and the engine was a monster. It had 4 cylinders only but with a total of 10 litres capacity pushing out around 130 brake horsepower at just 1900 rpm it could propel this car to a speed of nearly a hundred miles an hour. It was mounted on a lightweight racing frame and featured no less than four valves per cylinder – a world first for multiple mechanically operated valves; dual ignition; pressurised lubrication; and a bevel geared chain drive. It was created for winning races, full stop. On a normal road it would have handled like a banana but on the steeply banked tracks of the day speed was everything.

By 1909 an S61 was able to lap the Brooklands racecourse at an average speed of 112 mph. Impressive though this was, Fiat felt that the Indianapolis 500 would be a good race to enter to get more publicity in the all important USA so three cars were shipped over to America and one of them took 3rd place in that year's race. A good start, but there was much more to come with later models.

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