OM Leoncino, the first of Officine Meccaniche’s zoological series

om leoncino

OM Leoncino, the first of Officine Meccaniche’s zoological series

In post-war Italy there was a need for many things, but there was also a great desire to start a new historical phase. There is a need to rebuild what the war has swept away, and there is a need for means capable of sustaining the great economic effort and its consequences. The economic boom in which Italy became a protagonist in those very years, thanks in part to vehicles such as the OM Leoncino. It is to this vehicle, capable of responding to the needs of a market in ferment, that we dedicate this in-depth study.

OM Leoncino, the little one that became the leader

Officine Meccaniche, a Milanese and Brescia-based company specialising in the construction of heavy vehicles, is one of the protagonists in this process. With the so-called musoni, such as the OM Loc, and later with more modern and efficient vehicles such as those of the so-called zoological series, of which the OM Leoncino was a part. A light vehicle, but at the same time strong enough to withstand the efforts the Italians had to make to rebuild the country. Let’s start by getting to know its history.

The history of the OM Leoncino, the workhorse of Officine Meccaniche

At the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, OM was still offering its Loc, a vehicle launched by the Swiss company Saurer, of which OM was a licensee, born even before the war and, for this reason, now quite obsolete. This is why, towards the end of the 1940s, the designers of Officine Meccaniche set to work to design their own vehicle.

The engineers from Milan and Brescia therefore concentrated their attention on designing a new chassis and a new engine that would meet the needs of Italian demand. For this reason, the first substantial difference between the new vehicle and the old Loc was that the cab was moved to a forward position, making it much easier for drivers to drive.

This is how the Leoncino OM was born, presented in 1950 and immediately gathering great success in Italy and beyond. Contrary to what one might think, the new vehicle also strengthened relations between the Italian and Swiss companies. The Swiss company, in fact, did not have a vehicle in its price list that matched the characteristics of the Leoncino and thought it could import it into Switzerland. Thus began a relationship that would last over the years with the other vehicles in the zoological series. Saurer, however, was not the only company to export the vehicle: the French company UNIC also imported the Leoncino with the name 34C.

The technical characteristics of the Leoncino OM

Why was the Leoncino OM so successful? As already mentioned, the vehicle developed by Officine Meccaniche responded better to the needs of Italian hauliers, starting with the shape of the cab. Its dimensions, moreover, were suited to Italian roads, which were anything but impeccable: length 4,890 mm, width 2,000 mm and wheelbase 2,600 mm.

However, the main characteristic of the Leoncino, more than its features, lay in its solidity: equipped with a steel chassis with C-shaped side members and hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers, the vehicle was capable of a payload of between 3 and 3.5 tonnes, the vehicle had a loaded mass of 6.5 tonnes.

In terms of propulsion, however, the vehicle was equipped with a four-cylinder direct-injection diesel engine with 3,770 cubic centimetres and a maximum output of 54 hp at 2,100 rpm. This gave the machine a top speed of 77 km/h and enabled it to negotiate a 28% gradient under full load. Later, in 1954, the vehicle was equipped with an engine with an increased displacement of 4,156 cubic centimetres, which at the end of the development of the vehicle became 4,561 cubic centimetres with a maximum output of 92 hp.

The OM Leoncino also had some interesting innovations in terms of on-board equipment. The right-hand driver’s seat featured a three-spoke steering wheel and a dashboard with three backlit circular instruments. In addition, the five-speed gearbox had an operating lever directly on the steering wheel. The first series of the Leoncino also featured an opening windscreen – but was later fitted with a fixed windscreen – and doors that opened upwind, as was the custom at the time. The latter feature, however, was later changed.

Production of the Leoncino, which in a sense was the progenitor of the zoological series, continued until 1970. Not before, however, the vehicle changed its name following the merger of Fiat Veicoli Industriali and OM, to OM 65.