The sad story of the Cisitalia CIS 360

My father’s famous CIS models lie in chains, but the racing wildcats, as they were called, will soon roar again… My mother – who by the way was one of the most beautiful women in Turin – has sold her glorious town house at least to partially satisfy my father’s creditors… I am just returning from negotiations with our many good friends… Cisitalia will reconquer its world fame, the car with the fastest times will not be defeated by its competitor Mammon and will again earn the victory laurels.”

Somehow you can sense and feel the confused emptiness of these words – quotes from an interview that journalist Pitt Schultes conducted in the 1950s with Carletto, the son of industrial magnate and sportsman Piero Dusio. The conversation appeared at the end of a long and promising story about Porsche’s most unfortunate (but from today’s perspective, most valuable) Grand Prix car, the Type 360.

Cisitalia CIS 360

Among its potential opponents in the post-war era (Mercedes, Ferrari, Maserati and the Alfas!) it represented the peak of racing car development, though relaxed and completely in step with the company’s trim style; a brilliant Porsche design through and through:

with the horizontally opposed 12-cylinder mid-engine set deeply in the frame (competitors were still driving cars with the power units up front)

with four-wheel drive, and the ability to disconnect the drive to the front wheels while in motion

with a five-speed synchromesh transmission that had only two gate planes – like a motorcycle gear shift

with four independently suspended wheels, based in the front on the parallel trailing-arm layout from Auto Union’s racing cars (a Porsche design!). In the rear there was a double swing axle in accordance with the principle seen on the early Volkswagen

with an aluminium body over a chrome-molybdenum steel frame and a weight of just 630 kg.

Ideally it would have been possible to obtain a power to weight ratio of 1.4 kg/bhp – provided that the engine produced the 450 bhp at 10,500 revs that it was calculated as developing when in top form. Something to keep in mind:

At that time there was a 1.5-liter displacement limit, but mechanical supercharging was allowed (Porsche used Roots or Centrik superchargers at boost pressures of approximately 1.8 bar). The fuel question was dealt with liberally, which is why a racing fuel mixture with an octane level of 150 was assumed to be available.

The fact that the quoted power ratings (theoretical, practical, on the testing rig, or idealized) are so far apart is in the nature of the matter. 280 bhp, 363 bhp, 385 bhp, 450 bhp with an option for 500 – the figure was of little significance. The car was never really able to demonstrate its abilities.

Its long, unfullfilled story began when businessman Piero Dusio from Turin gained some respectable sports successes with his own Cisitalia marque. The little CIS with a Fiat 1,100-cc engine, something of a post-war Formula Junior race car, was driven successfully by people like Nuvolari, Taruffi, Stuck, and above all, Bonetto. Cisitalia’s rise to the Grand Prix league seemed to be a natural development.

Co-operation with the Porsche design office came about-through the engineers’ grapevine, members of which were the two Austrians Rudolf Hruschka (later to develop the Alfasud) and Carlo Abarth. Later they were joined by Eberan von Eberhorst, the man with Auto Union Grand Prix experience, (who later fell out with Carlo Abarth). Nuvolari and Millanta, an Italian automotive journalist, established important contacts, but only the top man, Ferdinand Porsche, was still unreachable in French custody. On December 20, 1946 Dusio met with Porsche’s people in Kitzbühel: Ferry (Ferdinand’s son), his sister Louise Piëch, and chief designer Karl Rabe. Continue reading “The sad story of the Cisitalia CIS 360”