Dante Giacosa, one of the greatest of the many great Italian engineers, had begun his career with trucks, then designed aircraft engines, after the Second World War was significantly involved in the Cisitalia racing car – and spent a few months in Detroit in 1947. There he was looking for new ideas for a larger limousine that his new employer Fiat was planning to build. He suggested giving the Project 101 a 2-litre four-cylinder engine, but nothing came of it; the “big” Fiat was presented in 1952 as the Fiat 1400 with a 1.4-litre engine. But: Luigi Gajal, who was responsible for the Fiat passenger cars at the time, wanted a more powerful version after all. Because a classic V6 was out of the question and there was no room in the engine compartment for a classic 90-degree V8, Giacosa began developing an eight-cylinder engine with a 72-degree angle. The project was named 104.
This was a very special engine: the oversquare dimensions were 72 mm for the bore and 61.3 mm for the stroke, a speed of 6000 rpm was achieved, and power was delivered at 110 hp. The wet cylinder liners were made of grey cast iron, the cylinder capacity was 1996 cc and the compression ratio was 8.5:1, well above the standard of the time. The short and stiff crankshaft had triple bearings and, surprisingly, no vibration dampers. The connecting rods of the opposing pairs of cylinders were not mounted on a common crankpin, as was usually the case with V-engines, but were offset by 10° in the opposite direction. The two overhead valves per cylinder were operated by a camshaft located in the centre of the engine and driven by a chain on the front end via pushrods and rocker arms. The mixture was prepared by two Weber 36DC F3 double downdraft carburettors. The dry single-plate clutch and the four-speed gearbox were flanged to the engine.
The Fiat engineers (with the help of Siata) also broke new ground with the chassis. All four wheels were individually suspended with coil springs and wishbones. While independent front wheel suspensions had found their way into almost all cars by 1952, most cars still had conventional rigid axles at the rear. The Fiat 8V also had hydraulic shock absorbers and stabilisers at the front and rear. The wheelbase was 240 cm, the track 129 cm front and rear. The overall length of the factory coupé was 406 cm, the car width 150 cm and the kerb weight 930 kg. The standard version reached 180 km/h and accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.6 seconds. The racing version with 127 hp at 6600 rpm was capable of over 200 km/h.
Only 114 Fiat Otto-Vu were built, first shown at the 1952 Geneva Show. Most of the 8Vs were given a factory body, a somewhat staid coupé by Fabio Lucio Rapi at first, but which became increasingly handsome over the various series. But the most famous “Otto Vu” are certainly the “Supersonic”, a Ghia body drawn by Giovanni Savonuzzi – which almost remained a footnote in history. That’s how it happened: Swiss gentleman driver Robert Fehlmann needed a race-ready machine for the 1953 Mille Miglia. He turned to Virgilio Conrero, who had an excellent name among performance-hungry Alfa Romeo drivers, and had him build him a fine 1900.
For the design, Conrero turned to his friend Giovanni Savonuzzi. Although Savonuzzi, who had studied at the Politecnico in Turin and trained in aeronautics, had just been appointed head of design at Ghia, he nevertheless sat down at the drawing board and designed a shape that was strongly inspired by aviation. This was certainly the reason why he gave his design the name “Supersonic”. Savonuzzi, who together with Scaglione and Spada is one of the most underrated Italian designers, had already experimented with more sophisticated aerodynamics in earlier designs, for example for Cisitalia, but the Fehlmann Alfa was truly unique, a whole new design chapter. The car was shown for the first time at the 1953 Turin Motor Show – and then Fehlmann destroyed the car with the starting number 453 at the Mille Miglia. Complete.
But Savonuzzi knew that he had created great things. And he brought his design to Ghia, where they were once again desperately looking for customers. The Fiat 8V offered itself, it did not sell very well – and so a “Supersonic” based on the Otto Vu was shown for the first time in Paris in autumn 1953 (chassis number 106 000035, first owner: designer Paul Farago). The car we show here, chassis number 106 000049, was the 10th of 14 (or maybe 15) Fiat 8V Supersonic built, was exhibited at the Geneva Show in 1954 – and bought off the stand by the then Chrysler boss K.T. Keller. The next owner was Lou “The Speed King” Fageol, a multiple powerboat champion, owner of a racing team and designer of twin-engined racing cars, who later gave the car a Continental wheel kit and tail fins. Somehow the Fiat ended up in the hands of a Mr Farber, who owned the Otto Vu for 36 years – during which time he restored it to original condition. The last time 0049 was auctioned was in 2017 for 1,375,000 million dollars – now, unfortunately, the vehicle is coming under the hammer again, again at RM Sotheby’s.