Fiat Mefistofele: The devil on wheels

With Ernest Eldridge behind the wheel, he set two speed records that have been fully in place for almost a century.

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During the 1920s, many young people from noble families, with a thirst for glory and adventure, saw innovative technologies such as the automobile or aviation as a perfect field to inscribe their name in history. Ernest eldridge was one of them ... and he achieved his goal thanks to a unique vehicle, the Fiat mefistofele, with which he managed to break several world records in 1924. Some of them are even in force almost a hundred years later.

Born in 1897 into London's gentry, Ernest dropped out of school to fight in the World War I, a conflict in which he had his first contact with the car as an ambulance driver; although there are stories that tell that he also served in the French Artillery Corps.

Ernest eldridge
Ernest Eldridge. (Photo: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images)

After the war, Eldridge lived out his two great passions, aviation and motorsports. A love for strong emotions that led him to the world of competition and to a clear goal: to set a speed record capable of staying in time. He was very clear about the way to achieve this: adapt an airplane engine to a racing car.

At that time, gentlemen drivers did not have a team of engineers and designers working to find the lightest alloy or the optimal drag coefficient.

In a do-it-yourself boast, the drivers had to use their own cars and visit junkyards and junkyards to, with hours of trial and error, achieve a winning car. In 1921, following this process, he developed an automobile that, thanks to an engine of 240 CV from an airplane was able to reach 150 km/h.

Fiat mefistofeleBut that was not enough. Eldridge relied on the Fiat technology of the time by purchasing a Fiat sb4, a 1907 competition vehicle, and getting the propeller Fiat A. This six-cylinder engine and 21.706 cm3, had benefits highly appreciated ... by the aces of the air at the controls of reconnaissance aircraft such as the SIA 7B o Fiat r2 or bombers like the Caproni Ca.44.

Fitting such a mass into the front of a car was not going to be an easy task. In the mechanical section, Eldridge modified the cylinders to provide them with four valves with spark plugs Magneti Marelli while, for the bodywork, he used the remains of a bus bumpy london. The result was a true monster capable of developing 350 hp at 1.800 RPM and producing an infernal noise, which earned it the nickname "Mefistofele" with which it has gone down in history.

Fiat mefistofeleThe Mephistofele soon caught the attention of the automobile planet. Delage, a brand specialized in racing cars and its star driver, René Thomas, several times champion of the Indianapolis 500, challenged him to a duel to try to break the world speed record. His weapon: the Delage V12 "La Torpille" 350 hp. The appointment: July 1924 in the National road 20, near Arpajon (France). Eldridge picked up the glove.

The swords were raised when, on July 5, the Fiat Mephistofele reached the 230,55 km/h on the dirt track. World record. However, Delage and Thomas successfully claimed: the vehicle had no reverse gear, a requirement to homologate the record. The next day, they would beat the mark, with 230,63 km / h.

Fiat mefistofeleThis did not discourage Eldridge who, with the help of a local blacksmith, managed to incorporate a reversing device for his racing car. With this modification he returned to the road on July 12 and savored his revenge: 234,98 km/h, a figure that would make him enter the legend.

It was the last speed record set on the road. Two of its marks made on the road, 234,98 km/h in the first kilometer with a stopped start and 234,75 km/h in the first mile with the exit stopped they are still valid. The Fiat Mefistofele can be seen in the Centro Storico Fiat from Turin.

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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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