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  Fiat Mephistopheles
 

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1923
Numbers built:1
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:July 07, 2011
Download: All images
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Click here to download printer friendly versionEldridge debuted the Fiat hybrid at Brooklands in June of 1923. Built in a London garage, it understandably did not perform perfectly straight out of the box. The problems were mostly brought on by the sheer power of the engine and the staggering speeds achieved. It took some sorting but early the following year, the car started to run at very competitive speeds. By Easter, the Fiat was capable of lapping Brooklands at nearly 200 km/h (122 mph). Having eclipsed his rivals at home, Eldridge set his sights on the land speed record and shipped the car to Arpajon near to the south west of Paris.

The Fiat's primary opponent was the altogether more modern Delage DH, powered by a 10.7 litre V12 and driven by René Thomas. With a run of 235 km/h (146 mph), Eldridge comfortably beat the local favourite, only to find his 'Mephistopheles' the subject of protest. Thomas claimed the car did not meet regulations as it lacked a reverse gear. Not known to give up easily, Eldridge and his crew spent the next day modifying the car. A week later Mephistopheles returned to Arpajon and repeated its earlier speed and wiped Thomas' record from the books.

The story goes that, following his successful attempt, Eldridge drove the car to Paris and parked it across the road from the Delage showroom where Thomas had proudly displayed his DH. Now officially the fastest car in the world, Mephistopheles was regularly challenged. Especially the races against Welsh speed-demon Parry Thomas at Brooklands and Montlhéry became legendary. Thomas' Leyland based special featured a more advanced chassis and the ferocious power of the Fiat engine regularly proved too much for the skimpy rear tyres.

Eldridge eventually sold the car on to a fellow racer with the very apt pseudonym 'Le Champion'. He continued to campaign Mephistopheles and even brought it to Australia. Soon after the big Fiat returned and following several more unsuccessful outings was retired from active duty. Unlike most of the behemoth racers of this age, Mephistopheles did not suffer a destructive, career ending accident and actually survived. During the 1950s, it was meticulously recommissioned by the Naylor family and used regularly at a variety events all over the British Isles.

Mephistopheles's reappearance had not gone unnoticed in Italy and in 1961 the car was acquired by Fiat for a reported 10,000 Pounds and a new Fiat 1100. A three-year restoration followed during which the car was repainted red and the its nickname in Italian spelling added to the cowl. One thing Fiat's engineers did not find was a reverse gear or any evidence that one was ever fitted. Since then the car has been a popular show piece for Fiat around the world. During the 2001 and 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed, it was reunited with René Thomas' old Delage DH V12, which has also survived its long career remarkably unscathed.

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  Article Image gallery (30) Specifications User Comments (2)