A very rare Fiat 24-32 from 1904, one of just five known survivors of this model, with a colourful history that includes being buried upside down for a decade is heading for the auction block at Bonhams Paris auction next month.
Set to be one of the most interesting lots in the high profile auction, "Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais", which takes place in Paris on 8 February, Bonhams estimate it's going to fetch between 750,000-950,000 euros.
An immense success for Fiat, the Type 24-32 was introduced in 1903 and remained in production until 1905, by which time over 400 had been completed. The 24-32 was built in three series with engines of 6,371cc, 6,902cc, and 7,363cc respectively, the last of which provided the basis for the 1907 Targa Florio-winning Corsa driven by Felice Nazzaro.
In its 2nd series form, as seen here, the Type 24/32 was powered by the 6.9-litre four-cylinder T-head engine producing 32 horsepower at 1,200rpm, which was transmitted to the rear wheels via a four-speed gearbox and twin-chain final drive. There were brakes on the transmission and rear wheels only, and the Type 24/32 chassis was available in three different wheelbase lengths to meet the demands of individual customers. Top speed was around 75km/h (46mph) depending on the type of coachwork fitted.
These were expensive cars, available at Hollander & Tangeman, the Fiat importer in New York, at a list price of $9,000, for which amount one could buy ten new Cadillac Model B Runabouts. Only the contemporary Mercedes was more expensive. As far as is known, only five Type 24-32 cars survive.
Chassis number '745', the car offered here, was ordered new by Mr & Mrs George Agassiz of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A Harvard-based academic, George Agassiz had married his wife, Mabel Simpkins, on 27th June 1902; both were from prominent American families, the Simpkins being descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers. A notable beauty, Mabel would later be portrayed by the famous American portraitist, John Singer Sargent.
On honeymoon in Europe in 1903, the couple visited the Fiat factory in Turin, Italy and were impressed by the Type 24-32. They duly ordered one, which was completed in June 1904 for shipment to Hollander & Tangeman in New York, the Fiat importer in the USA and Canada. The Agassiz family living in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod where the Fiat was used, most frequently by Mabel, who must have been one of the earliest lady drivers.
Assigned licence number '3089', the Fiat was the second car in Yarmouth Port at a time when only 16 vehicles had been registered on the entire Cape. For some 28 years Mabel and her brother, Charles Ritchie Simpkins, drove the car all over the Cape.
Following Charles' death in 1931, Mabel had the Fiat buried on the family estate at Sandyside. By then a very old car, the Fiat was lowered upside down, minus body and with its wheels on the belly pan, into a large hole in the ground.
Ten years later, in 1942, Ted Robinson, one of the founders of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, learned of the buried Fiat while holidaying on Cape Cod. He obtained permission to disinter the car and was able to buy it for $50. The Fiat subsequently changed hands a couple of times (changes documented) before being bought in 1952 by David Uihlein of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for $500, plus the promise to restore it.
Jan Bruijn visited David Uihlein several times during the early 1990s, studied the car in detail and tried to convince him to sell it. David kept his promise to restore the Fiat, fitting it with a recreation of a rear-entrance tonneau body by Quimby of Newark, New Jersey, a company that bodied many American Fiats in period.
In 2007, David Uihlein decided to dispose of part of his collection by auction, and the vendor managed to buy the Fiat in fully restored condition, 55 years after David's acquisition.
After Jan Bruijn's acquisition, the car was immediately presented to the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain for inspection by its highly esteemed Dating Panel. Upon inspection, the chassis number '745' was found stamped all over the engine, from water jacket to crankcase, as well as on the clutch, flywheel, and gearbox.
The car received a provisional manufacturing date of 1904, allowing it to be entered in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
A long and extensive programme of research followed, with many contacts and visits to the Fiat Centro Storico and the Biscaretti Museum in Turin. A copy of the original Type 24-32 ledger was obtained, giving details of the manufacture and delivery of chassis number '745', together with detailed technical drawings for the 1904 Type 24-32.
Six years later, the car was granted a definite manufacturing date of 1904 (Dating Certificate number '3709') to go with the 58-page research report. Since 2007 the Fiat has competed in every London to Brighton Run without missing a beat.
The history file that accompanies '745' contains original correspondence dating back to 1953; a substantial quantity of restoration and London-Brighton photographs; taxation/condition reports; restoration invoices (1996-1998); sales letter (1950s); Dutch registration papers; and the aforementioned technical drawings and VCC report.