The Goodwood Festival of Speed has something to interest the history buffs: the Mephistopheles, the one-of-a-kind powerful, massive record-breaking car from 1923 that was assembled by Sir Ernest Eldridge.
The Mephistopheles is based on a 1908 Fiat SB4 Corsa and is powered by a WW1 Fiat A12 aircraft engine (the A-12 Bis). The Mephistopheles is set to go up the Goodwood Hill twice a day over the weekend of the Festival of Speed.
It is part of a batch named ‘Pioneering Giants’ and it will be put on display in the Cathedral Paddock.
Eldridge had adjusted the car by lengthening its chassis (the wheelbase was extended to 11ft 5 1/8thins) with the use of parts from a London bus. It is powered by an aircraft engine that had been converted to offer 320hp.
Mephistopheles is named as such because it emitted puffs of smoke when it got the world land speed record. On July 12, 1924, it achieved a speed of 234.97km/h (146.01mph).
The Mephistopheles had been a part of Fiat’s historical collection since 1969. Since then, it had undergone a lengthy and intensive restoration process.
More than a century ago in 1908, Fiat unveiled the SB4, a chain-driven racing car created to compete in the Grand Prix. While in a race, the SB4 caught the attention of Sir Ernest Eldridge, who eventually acquired it to transform it into a vehicle that could break speed records.
One of the first things that Sir Eldridge did was to replace the already powerful 18-liter engine of the SB4 with 21.7-liter six-cylinder Type A-12 Bis, a liquid-cooled powerplant designed for an airplane that could develop up to 320 hp at a just 1,800 rpm. While this Fiat A12 aircraft engine from the First World War was very potent, it was also very long and very heavy. This is why Sir Eldridge had to expand the chassis of the SB4 employing components from a London bus.
This effectively lengthened the wheelbase of the SB4 to 11 feet 5.124 inches. Once fitted, the engine sends power to the rear wheels through a chain. Braking is taken care of by a hand brake for the rear wheels. Baptized as Mefistofele (Mephistopheles) – in reference to the bangs and smokes produced by the 21.7-liter engine – the modified SB4 racer made history on July 12, 1924 by cruising at a top speed of 234.980 km/h (146 mph) in Arpajon, France thereby setting a new world land speed record.
While the record was broken just after 32 days, this was the last that was set on public roads. Decades later in 1969, Fiat's Giovanni Agnelli acquired the Mefistofele from the heirs of Sir Eldridge, had it fully restored and made a part of the carmaker’s historic collection.
Presently, the Mefistofele is housed in the Centro Storico Fiat in Turin. Now, the Mefistofele will find its way on the road once more as it takes part in the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed. It will challenge the Goodwood Hill twice a day during the weekend. Part of the batch called 'Pioneering Giants,' Mefistofele will also be displayed in the Cathedral Paddock.