Today’s freight transport is, of course, more comfortable, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than in the past. However, historic trucks – those with which some drivers have experienced the pleasure of driving a heavy goods vehicle – still exert an undeniable fascination for many today. So let’s dive into these vintage trucks, to remember their history and rediscover their value.
The historic trucks, which have made Italy great
There are those who love to collect old cars and those who, instead, prefer motorcycles. Then there are those who choose historic trucks. In fact, there are many collectors of vintage trucks, vehicles that have marked a real era. These are the trucks that have favoured the development of a nation like Italy, which from the beginning of the last century to the present has undergone profound transformations, passing from a purely agricultural society to a more modern industrial society. Brands such as Fiat, Lancia, OM, and many others have contributed to dragging – or, better to say, transporting – Italy towards the economic boom. For this reason, they cannot be defined simplistically as old trucks. We know the main means of transport of the immediate post-war period, divided by brand.
Historical post-war trucks
After the war, in practice, the nation was completely to be rebuilt. New means were needed, able to respond to the needs of the moment, but above all to the challenges of the future. Initially, Fiat responded with the average vehicles Fiat 639 and Fiat 640 and the heavy Fiat 670 and Fiat 680. From the 1950s onwards, however, the Turin-based company undertook a real transformation. It was not the only one, however. In this engineering and production effort, it was flanked by the Officine Meccaniche of Brescia, which put into production vehicles such as OM Leoncino, and Lancia, with the revolutionary Lancia Esatau.
The Fiat 615, the beauty of the fifties
The first to be presented, in 1951, was the Fiat 615. A light truck, robust and versatile, capable of carrying up to 1,550 kilograms of material. Initially, the 615 was equipped with a 39 hp petrol engine, capable of pushing it up to a top speed of 80 km/h. In 1952, the model with the 40 hp diesel engine, named Fiat 615 N, was presented, capable of delivering a torque of 90 Nm at 2,000 rpm. The improved power delivery at low revs and lower fuel consumption quickly made the 615 N a real commercial success.
Right from the start, the Fiat 615 became an essential tool for an entire generation of workers. In all its versions, from the “boxed” to the “scudata”, the 615 contributed to the rebirth of a country in ruins. The passage of time highlights its functional limits. However, this is not the reason why it goes out of fashion. On the contrary, its style and its convex lines that recall the American means increase its charm, until it becomes the “Beautiful of the Fifties”. It is no coincidence that, even today, the 615 appears in some advertisements.
The Fiat 682, the king of Africa
In 1952, after the requirements introduced by the new Highway Code, Fiat presented a new model of truck, which would replace the previous Fiat 680. It was the Fiat 682, destined to become another commercial success for the Turin-based company. The first version, strictly without power steering, is equipped with a six-cylinder 10,170 cm3. It is still a long way from those to which we are accustomed today. The review mirrors consist of two tiny mirrors. On the roof there is a retractable triangle, which indicates the transport of a trailer. It will be the nightmare of many drivers, often fined for their forgetfulness.
In 1954, the 682 was equipped with the new, more powerful 10,676 cm3 engine capable of delivering 140 hp at 1,900 rpm. Also in this case, the truck, which takes the name of 682 N2, is not equipped with power steering. For this reason, it was not until the following year that the doors were finally opened from upwind to windbreak. For the 682 N£, instead, it will be necessary to wait until 1962. The new 11,548 cm3 engine it is equipped with is capable of delivering 178 hp at just 900 rpm.
The last evolution of the 682 came in 1967, with the Fiat 682 N4, which improves the transmission to better withstand the power. However, its production will continue for a long time, not only in Italy but also in Africa. Also for this reason, it took the name of “king of Africa”. The last Fiat 682 produced, in fact, left the assembly line in 1988, 36 years after its debut.
The Officine Meccaniche of Brescia and its OM Leoncino
The 1950s and 1960s, however, were not just the preserve of Fiat. Alongside the vehicles of the Turin company, in fact, there are also the trucks of the Officine Meccaniche di Brescia, more commonly known as OM. One of the battle models, starting in 1950, was certainly the OM Leoncino. It was a medium-heavy truck, robust, versatile and modern for the period. The cab, positioned on the engine, could carry up to three people, while the 4,156 cm3 diesel engine was capable of developing 56 hp at 2,100 rpm. These characteristics made it the workhorse for the Brescia-based company. It is no coincidence that the Leoncino remained in production until 1970, produced in Italy and Switzerland by Saurer and in France by UNIC, when it was replaced by OM 65.
The Leoncino OM, however, was not only a means of success. It also had the honour of representing a successful series, including the founder of the OM zoological series. Along with these, in fact, were also produced the OM Tigrotto, the OM Tigre, the OM Lupetto, the OM Cerbiatto, the OM Daino and the OM Orsetto. It was only in 1967, when Fiat, of which Officine Meccaniche were part, decided to reorganize the sector, that a more rational series of OM trucks was introduced.
Lancia Esatau 864, the long nose truck
The Lancia, in the immediate post-war period, because of the damage that the industrial plants had suffered, was not immediately able to produce a new vehicle. For this reason, we continued on the road we had already traced. In 1947, therefore, the company put into production the Lancia Esatau 864, a heavy truck that, at least initially, was different from the competition for the presence of the long nose on the front and the rear cabin. A characteristic that earned Esatau 864 the nickname of “long nose truck”. It was not until 1955, with the Esatau Aper, that the nose disappeared and the cab moved forward. In 1957, given the appreciation of the markets, Lancia also proposed the Esatau B.
The Esatau 864, initially, was equipped with a 122 hp engine, which was almost immediately increased to 132 hp. From a performance point of view, the vehicle was comparable to its competitors. Used both in the shipbuilding industry and in the transport of tankers and cars, as a bisque, the Lancia Esatau owes its fortune also to another use. Once the chassis had been adapted, it was also used for public transport. From Milan to Rome, there were numerous buses and trolleybuses built on the basis of the Esatau.
Many others are the heavy vehicles of the period that deserve to be celebrated. For now, let’s stop at these.
In the future, however, we will look at the Italian vintage trucks in the period between 70th and 90th.