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Of vast proportions, immensely luxurious and expensive and bodied by the best coachbuilders of the time, the cars were sold to the elite, and the fascinating list of original owners of the Tipo 8's reads like a roster of the rich and famous of the Twenties. Apart from the usual movie stars such as Rudolf Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, one finds entries such as Prince Feisal, Riyadh; Benito Mussolini, Rome; Pope Pius XI, gift of the people of Milan; Aga Khan, Bombay; Prince Luigi Grimaldi, Monte Carlo; The Empress of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa; and, more simply, Whitney New York. On a more curious note, no fewer than seven cars bear the entry USSR, Moscou. One wonders if Stalin had an Isotta Fraschini fetish and whether the cars have survived.


The unique history of this car is a perfect example of the international appeal and vaunted reputation of the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A. The chassis was laid down in Milan as early as 1931, however it remained incomplete until 1933, the final year of production for Isotta Fraschini automobiles. Castagna, the esteemed coachbuilder famous for their beautifully constructed work, bodied this car, with the resulting work serving as a brilliant expression of its technical and artistic virtuosity. The bodies built by Castagna were of the absolute highest quality and combined the artistic qualities of fine furniture, architecture and industrial design. In creating such decadent bodywork, Ercole Castagna went to great lengths to insure a truly international product, which included acquiring licenses to use a Hibbard & Darrin-designed hood, Baehr all-weather bodies, as well as French Grebel headlights.

The unique two-door, dual cowl sports tourer body fitted to this car was clearly a product of Castagna, the only Italian firm that could so successfully and coherently combine both decadent and sporting themes in a body of such high quality. The one-off body featured stunning, art-deco-style ornamentation on the radiator stone guard depicting the rays of the sun, a rakish V-shaped windscreen, dual cut-down doors, twin rear-mounted spares, torpedo-style running boards and brilliant proportions all contributing to this show-stopping automobile that exudes power, sophistication and good taste.

It was such a superb achievement that upon completion the car was presented at the 1933 Paris Auto Salon, a venue that always drew the most spectacular and stylish new automobiles. From there it was shipped to the famous Isotta Fraschini showroom in New York City for collection by American celebrity Joe Penner, an extremely zany yet popular radio comedian known to most for his slapstick antics and catchphrase “Wanna buy a duck?” A photograph still exists of this Isotta in Central Park taken upon its arrival in New York.

Comedian Joe Penner and his 1932 Isotta Fraschini Phaeton
Comedian Joe Penner and his 1932 Isotta Fraschini 8A Dual Cowl Sport Tourer

By the 1940s the car had made its way to the West Coast, ending up in the collection of Pacific Auto Rentals, owned and operated by George Schweiger. Schweiger’s collection of approximately 150 cars is notable in that many of the cars were frequently used by the great Hollywood studios and were prominently featured in films of the era. This car had a particularly significant film career, taking a starring role in the 1946 film Without Reservations, starring John Wayne and Collette Colbert. In the film, Wayne and Colbert negotiate the purchase of the car from its beleaguered owner, and can be seen driving it throughout the rest movie, with the Isotta literally serving as the vehicle that drives the story along. The Isotta would later appear in the films Invisible Agent and Mr. Imperium, starring Lana Turner, as well as Follow the Sun: The Ben Hogan Story, serving as an exclusive and imposing mode of transport. It may be most famous, however, for its role in the 1956 Warner Bros. epic film Giant, starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Certainly this Isotta Fraschini was the perfect car to illustrate the wealth and power of determined Texas oil baron, Jet Rink, the character played by James Dean who in one scene can be seen speeding along a Texas highway behind the wheel of this car with a landscape of oil derricks pumping in the background.

Isotta take a starring role in the 1946 film Without Reservations
Without Reservations movie poster
Isotta take a starring role in the 1946 film Without Reservations

The Isotta’s illustrious film career came to an end and the car was completely restored in the late 1960s when it was purchased by Matt Browning of Ogden, Utah. While in the renowned collection of Mr. Browning, the car, by this time restored to its current appearance, was featured in Angelo Tito Anselmi’s definitive book on the marque, Isotta Fraschini. It has since resided in two impressive homes, including the late Otis Chandler’s famed collection, where, for a time, it served as one of the centerpieces of his growing collection of significant classics. In the 1980s the car was comprehensively restored to a much higher standard than the first freshening and, in the possession of its most recent caretaker, the car has benefitted from sympathetic cosmetic and mechanical maintenance, ensuring that it remains in excellent order throughout.


This Isotta Fraschini is a truly spectacular car in every sense. It possesses a brilliantly engineered chassis, a handsome one-off Castagna body, and an impressive provenance that includes major roles in several classic films and an unblemished history – all of which contribute to a singular and highly desirable classic. This car is sure to continue attracting favorable attention wherever it is shown and deserves its place among the finest coachbuilt luxury cars of the 1930s. A fabulous offering from two of the most cherished names in the history of the Italian automobile industry, this car is sure to please both in the effortless way in which it drives and in its undeniable presence, two characteristics that have gained it much admiration during the past 75 years.

Isotta Fraschini starring in Without Reservations
This Isotta would later appear in the films Invisible Agent and Mr. Imperium
1932 Isotta Fraschini 8A Dual Cowl Sport Tourer
The famous 1932 Isotta Fraschini 8A Dual Cowl Sport Tourer in recent picture
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