Some years after possibly serving on the western front as an ambulance driver Ernest Arthur Douglas Eldridge started appearing at Brooklands with a succession of cars that included a 1907 Isotta-Fraschini powered by a 20 litre / 1220 cui Maybach aero engine and a more modest and successful 10 litre / 660 cui FIAT.
In 1922 John Duff was racing his FIAT SB4 at Brooklands when the 18 litre / 1098 cui motor exploded in spectacular fashion and afterwards accepted an offer from Ernest Eldridge to buy the car.
Ernest managed to acquire a 260 hp 6 cylinder 21.7 litre / 1324 cui FIAT A 12 “Bis” aero engine to replace the blown SB4 original but had to lengthen the chassis of his SB4 by some twenty inches, allegedly using parts from a London Bus, to get the new engine to fit.
The power output of the 2 plugs and 4 valve per cylinder engine was increased by fitting four carburetors and 4 plugs per cylinder that were charged by four magnetos.
With 320hp to power his two ton car Ernest turned up at Brooklands in 1923 and immediately set a new one way standing start 1/2 mile record by covering the distance in 23.17 seconds (77.68 mph).
In June 1924 Ernest took today’s featured car Arpajon near Montlhéry in France where he was faster than a Delage V12 that was running on the same day and smashed the Land Speed Record that had stood at stood at a smidgen over 124 mph since 1914. Delage however protested the result because Ernest’s FIAT had no reverse gear as required by the regulations of the day.
The FIAT was taken to Paris where a device was fitted that allowed the car to reverse and returned to Arpajon on June 12th 1924 and Ernest claimed the World Land Speed Record over one mile at a speed of 145.89mph / 234.98kph, that night the FIAT was allegedly parked across the street from the Delage show room where the slower Delage V12 took center stage.
This would be the last World Land Speed Record to be set on a public road, at the Monterey circuit the FIAT, now named after the Faustian demon Mephistopheles, also broke the 5 and 10 km records.
Ernest sold Mephistophele to the French driver “Le Champion” in 1925 and moved onto building Grand Prix Specials of his own devising which used Amilcar chassis and Anzani motors.
In 1926 Ernest ran two cars in the Indy 500 for Douglas Hawkes who was classified 14th with 91 laps completed and himself, classified 19th with 45 laps completed.
While attempting to break records at Monterey in the winter of 1926 the front axle of his car collapsed and Ernest lost an eye in the ensuing accident.
Afterwards he continued record breaking notably with a Chrysler at Monterey before becoming “Record Attempt Manager” for Capt Eyston.
The record Ernest claimed in Mephistophele stood until September 1925 when Malcolm Campbell raised the World Land Speed Record to just over 150mph driving the aero engined Sunbeam V12, which I looked at last week.
Mephistophele was acquired by FIAT Chairman Avvocato Giovanni Agnelli in 1969 and when not out on the road it can be seen at Centro Storico Fiat in Turin.
Thanks for joining me on this “Open Road Demon” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow when I’ll be looking at an Amilcar. Don’t forget to come back now !