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  Isotta Fraschini KM4

  Article Image gallery (15) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Italy
Produced from:1911 - 1914
Numbers built:50
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:July 23, 2007
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIsotta Fraschini was founded late in the 19th century in Milan by the Oreste Fraschini, his brothers Vincenzo and Antonio, and Cesare Isotta. Initially the company's main business was importing a variety of French cars, like Renault, Mors and Pieper. Shortly after the turn of the century they started production of Renaults under license. Having learned valuable lessons, Isotta Fraschini started marketing cars of their own design; first with third party supplied engines, but starting in 1903 with their own four cylinder engine.

These first Isottas were modest in size, but the fledging company quickly followed the example set by the local Fiat and Itala company, who had great sporting success with massive four cylinder engines. In this context massive is an understatement as Isotta Fraschini fielded a car in the 1905 Coppa Florio with a 17,203 cc 'four'. Despite its stupendous displacement and overhead camshaft, it produced just 100 bhp. Success came soon after when Vincenzo Trucco drove an Isotta to victory in the 1908 Targa Florio.

Isotta Fraschini's engineers realised that a car's performance was not just dictated by the size of the engine and that slowing down for corners was just as important as accelerating out of them. At that time brakes were usually fitted to the rear wheels only and as you can imagine were hardly sufficient to slow these massive cars down. In 1910 Oreste Fraschini developed the first four wheel brake system and fitted them on an experimental vehicle. A year later, they were ready for production and debuted on the brand new KM4 model.

Compared to the earlier racers, the 10,618 cc displacement of the four cylinder engine was almost modest. Breathing through four valves per cylinder, it produced around 120 to 140 bhp. Power was transferred to the rear wheels by chains on either side of the chassis. The ladder-frame chassis itself followed a familiar pattern and was suspended by live axles on both ends. The KM was factory equipped with a variety of bodies, highlighted by the torpedo style that together with the V-shaped radiator gave the car a very sporty look.

Production of the highly advanced KM4 lasted until the outbreak of WWI, but due to the quickly deteriorating political situation demand was never very high. In those four years only 50 examples were produced. During the War, the Italian company produced very large engines for the military and returned to manufacturing ground-breaking automobiles shortly after the hostilities ceased; in 1919 Isotta Fraschini launched the first series produced car with a straight eight engine.

One of only very few surviving examples, Isotta Fraschini KM4 '5645' is shown above at the 2006 Quail, a Motorsports Gathering.

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  Article Image gallery (15) Specifications