Thursday, February 11, 2016

A most elusive beast...

It's Monday morning and I can't believe it.  I feel like a completely clueless dolt.  Really.  I do.  I missed it.  It was right here.  I saw it in a video someone posted to Flickr.  In fact, it was just down the street from where we live.  Just this past weekend, too. Ugh.  I feel terrible.  And Jude feels terrible for me.  She can feel the anguish I feel.  It may seem silly, but the fact I missed it is nearly unbearable.  I can't stop talking about it, either.

What is the it to which I refer?  The it is the Beast.  More fully said, the it is the Beast of Turin.

A year ago my friend Dave (Citizen Davide - if you must know) sent me a video of the recently restored Fiat S76 Record.  From that moment on I have plotted and planned and schemed and wondered how on earth I could see this in person.  I tried to see it when she ran at Goodwood in 2015, but we were mired deep in government processes in a (successful) attempt to buy healthcare insurance from the French state.  I wasn't sure when, if ever, I'd see her in person, the Beast.

The Beast stands higher than stout but fully grown men (like, for instance, me).  Even from a distance the car looks massive. The cockpit, such as it is, must be climbed into.   The motor dominates the front two thirds of the Beast.  The tail ends at a gorgeously sculpted wasp bodied point.

The cockpit has room for two seats.  Period photos show the steering on  what appears to be the English side of the Beast.  The right hand seat is still, of course, this being England and correct to the original and all that, for the driver.  It makes me wonder when Italy joined the rest of the Civilized World and put the steering apparatus on the Correct Side.  In any event, the second place must be there only to convey and transport one Terrified and Soon to be Rather Well Singed Occupant.  Looking at a promotional video for it's 2015 run at Goodwood confirms that the Terrified Second (in England) Seater will indeed be Well Singed if they're not careful.  It has been suggested that I add that the passenger could be deafened and well shaken, too.

The Beast has an enormous motor which was special built for just for land speed record setting.  This is not an aero-engine repurposed for terrestrial fun and games.  No, this is much more serious business.  It displaces over 28 litres (yes, you read that correctly - twenty eight glorious liters of Italian motor) and was claimed to put out 290 metric horsepower at 1900 revolutions per minute.

The motor is fitted with an overhead camshaft with sloping camshaft profiles.  The configuration allows changes to the timing from a starter cam profile position (to ease the motor start process) to an operational cam lobe profile. This is surprising as even modern engines rarely deploy variable valve duration timing mechanisms.  A hand lever in the cockpit moves the camshaft from one profile to another.

There are three spark plugs per cylinder.  Each were recently hand made by a man in Milan.  It's reported he hand rolls the mica, just like great grand-dad used to, as part of the manufacturing process.  In the interest of being Redundantly Repetitive, three handmade spark plugs are required per cylinder.  There are four cylinders to plug and spark.  I doubt the local autoparts store stocks a useful reserve of them.

The oil system is total loss.  That is, oil drips through the motor from the top to the bottom by gravity feed.  As the oil proceeds from top to bottom it lubricates the many important things that require lubrication.  Sitting in a garage the car has an oil catch pan under it to collect the leftovers and unspent oil.

The crank shaft runs on clam-shell journals.  I thought clam-shell journals were only found in modern engines and remember stories of crank and cam shafts running primarily on roller or on babbet poured bearings.  Interestingly, too, is the crankshaft.  It may be quite massive but it's also hollow.  It saves weight and, more importantly, allows top to bottom bound oil to reach places it needs to (such as the clam-shell bottom-end journals).

The gas tank delivers explosive essence under pressure.  The tank is hand pump pressurized through a line that links a pump to the tank from inside the cockpit.  If you're losing power, give the 'ol gas tank a few more PSI from the pump and away you go.

Two massive chains transfer those 290 horses from a transverse transmission output shaft to the rear drive shaft.  The chains whirl and swirl in open air for all the world to see.  Right next to the cockpit.  Right where fingers and arms might Dangle or Distend.

Speed runs took place around Europe, with the best places for high speed found in England.  One of the Beasts ran at Brooklands.  The steeply banked Brooklands was too bumpy at speed and, the story goes, speed record events were abandoned at that track.   The effort moved to a sandy beach.  Once there, the sand on the beach was not in good condition.  It was a little too soft and the Beast did not perform at it's full potential.  In 1913, running on a beach in Belgium it ran at 137mph, which, apparently, was insufficient to set a new record.

Hopefully this explains my being upset at not having seen the Beast for myself.  I am severely disappointed.

As I mull and ponder the Fates who failed to post alerting information to Retromobile's website a thought occurs to me.  I visited the Parc des Expositions a week ago Monday and uncovered a number of fun things on Move In Day One.  The show ended yesterday (Sunday).  Perhaps I should pay a visit on Move Out Day (Monday).

Entry to Building One is easier this time than it was one week ago.  No one stops to question me.  The building is a-buzz with crews destroying, removing, and cleaning up after the exhibits.  Cars are being trailered or driven from the venue.  Hoards of transporters sit outside awaiting their cargo bound for worldwide destinations.

I ask a security guard "Ou se trouve la bete de Turin?"  "Comment?" he asks.  I repeat the question.  He mumbles "Je sais pas.  C'est un bulot.  Voila.  C'est tout."

I ask one of the workmen.  He tells me he is just a driver of one of the transports and is only there to enjoy taking a few cell phone snaps of the Ferraris that are still here.

I ask an Englishmen in my best French and he just turns and walks away.

As I am photographing a bright red Porsche (red is entirely the wrong color for a Porsche) a couple of workmen ride by in an electric golf cart and one teases me by saying "elles sont interdit, les photos."  So I ask them.  "Comment?" comes the immediate return question.  "Ah.  Un moment.  Elle est deja parti, la bete."  "Merde!" I think.   Well, that's that, then, isn't it?

I've circumvented Building One inside and out and, well, I am dejected.  I really have missed, haven't I?

As I pass one of the huge open doors I spy a few pretty Ferraris.  The 512BB in black (black is entirely the wrong color for a Ferrari) is pretty enough and the Porsche backdrop adds a bit of humor.  A few last photos and then to home and hearth.

One last look around... and... hmmm... I'd better go check out these old cars near a long bank of doors...

My heart races before my mind can catch up.  I feel like a young child who's wish may be about to come true.  And.  Yes.  There she is.  Under tarps.  It has to be.  It simply has to be it.  The Beast.


As I contemplate my lack of authority to remove the tarps to get a better look, Stefan (the Beasts visual documentarian) asks if I'd like him to uncover her for me.  Would I?  Oh!  Would I!  My enthusiasm is impossible to hide.

During our conversation (thankfully in English) I learn a lot about the car that rests just there.  Two Beasts were built, then lost.  A chassis was known to exist in Australia.  It's condition was questionable.  An engine (marked on a side plate as Number Two) was found somewhere in Italy.  It was being used as a teaching aid in a Fiat building.  Restoration took twelve years.  The motor is running better than it did at Goodwood in 2015.  They've made a few small changes to the timing that allows it to burn a little cleaner.

A man who I'll call the President of the Association that runs the Retromobile event comes over and we shake hands and exchange a few words in French.  He is a man of obvious French style and grace.  Well spoken in English and elegant in French.

Duncan (the Beast's owner) arrives.  We shake hands and talk a brief moment.  They're off to Merry 'Ol this morning.  I doesn't sound like they're fire her up to drive to the trailer.  Oh well, push it shall be.

I follow the crew a short distance through Building One to the nearest large door and outside to find we're covered with dark rain laden skies.  A few last photos and it's time to liberate these kind folk.  Duncan tells me I don't sound French.  The Basque beret and long beard confuse him.  I say the beard is not French, though the beret most definitely is.  Confessing that I am American brings a the President of the Association to comment that "... c'est impressionante, la barbe."  They turn to push the Beast onto the canvas covered trailer.

I can't believe my good fortune.  I saw the Beast.  A rather minor (in the broader scheme of things) personal Disaster has been turned into Grace.

[My Flickr set of photographs of the 1911 Fiat S76 can be found here]

Beast of Turin ~ 1911 Fiat S76