Part 4 Aquila Italiana and Aurea
By David Cavaliere
Last week I covered three obscure Italian automakers. This week’s feature covers a well-known manufacturer from the early part of the 2th century – Aquila Italiana (the Italian Eagle), which produced cars for only 15 years, but had a fine racing heritage during its brief span. The name evokes the Italian golden age, a time when Italy was at the forefront of both technology and the spirit of innovation. The name was resurrected in 2008 by the Aquila Italiana Team, a company that hand builds luxury gran turismo automobiles (but with German drivetrains). I also cover Aurea, a rather unknown car company whose production of cars lasted only six years. The pedigree of both Aquila Italiana and Aurea has had enormous influence in the Italian automotive industry.
In 1905, Aquila Italiana opened its shop in Turin. A young Italian-born engineer named Giulio Cesare Cappa owned a small workshop for the repair and construction of internal combustion engines. He partnered with Marquis Giulio Pallavicino di Priola, who financed the construction of a new engine designed by Cappa. The engine, a four cylinder whose advanced design would influence every car engine to follow. It was the first to adopt an important engineering solution to the problem of friction and resistance in an automobile engine - the use of ball bearings. Perhaps of even greater significance, the engine also used a lightweight alloy for the pistons. It even used the clutch pedal to initiate the ignition rather than a crank handle. These innovations effectively revolutionized the world of internal combustion engines. The detachable head had an intake over exhaust arrangement (known as an “F-head” In the U.S.). Although used for single cylinder motorcycles, few multi-cylinder engines had used the configuration at that time. They mounted the engine into a chassis as a prototype which proved to be successful. Pallavicino proposed that Cappa convert his and expand his workshop to begin the production of cars. So in 1906, Società Anonima Aquila was founded. The car was featured at the Turin Auto Show in 1906 and was a huge success. Also participating in the company was the famous lawyer and musician Gustavo Malvano, but on September 1, 1907, near Magenta, Lombardy, a cargo train traveling on the Milan-Novara line crushed a car that was going from Turin to Milan. The accident claimed the lives of all three people in the vehicle: the driver, Pallavicino and Malvano.
Vincenzo Marsaglia, a car enthusiast, racing driver, airplane pilot and the son of a noted banker, stepped in to try to keep the fledgling company afloat. Production continued for a year unabated, but in 1908, the company’s working capital was drying up. Production had halted briefly, but Marsaglia was able to expand the company’s line of credit with a number of banks. However, without a director or adequate funding, in 1909, Marsaglia insisted that the company be acquired by a creditor bank. It was renamed Aquila Anonima Italiana di L. Marsaglia. Cappa stayed in place as the manager of design and production.
Aquila Italiana’s engines were inherently more powerful than their rivals, having large displacements, alloy pistons and ball bearings for its crankshafts. The company produced the engines and chassis, while coach makers built the bodies and interior fittings. The types of cars produced using the Aquila Italiana chassis ranged from chauffeur-driven limousines to two-seater racing cars. Vincenzo Marsaglia was a talented automobile driver and raced the Aquilas many times, including the premiere event of the day – the 1914 French Grand Prix. The car featured a 4192 cc six-cylinder mono-block engine and proved to be successful in many races. The ultimate decline of the company began in 1914, when internal disagreements led to the firing of Cappa (subsequently recruited by FIAT) and then with the decision not to convert the plant to wartime production. Aquila Italiana was eventually absorbed by SPA (Società Piemontese Automobili – see Final Notes). 1917 was the last year of automotive production by this innovative automotive engineering company.
There is now a small company in Italy that hand builds gran turismos. Its name is Aquila Italiana Team. Its aim is to bring together the technical knowledge and gifted workmanship that Italy is so rightly famous for, to produce modern, yet classical mechanical art. Their car, the Diva GT is a light weight, front engine, high performance, 2+2 coupe, featuring a choice of V-10 or V-12 engines. The car is hand built, the body panels are hand hammered aluminum. The car’s engines produce 630 – 750 HP and can propel the car to a top speed of 208 MPH. Only a few of these super cars are produced each year. The price? To quote J.P. Morgan, “If you need to ask the price, then you can’t afford it.”