Diamond T 980 M20 and Lancia Esadelta militari: a rich collection of historical vehicles

(To Gianluca Celentano)

I promised it to readers and perhaps even more to fans of military vehicles that have been part of the history of our Armed Forces. The fact is that on a cold November morning I met in Bergamo with the sergeant major of ANMCRI, Marco Rancati, who accompanied me by Silvano Bettineschi, a building contractor animated by a great passion for collecting vintage military vehicles.

I had the idea of ​​a collector a little 'exalted, but as soon as I met Silvano I had to change my mind: he is a nice boy of 57 years, long and skyrace champion, with records of ascent and descent in its valleys, as well as military service in the Alpine areas. Silvano is very available and no doubt his interests highlight a pleasantly multifaceted personality animated above all by the desire to realize many socio-cultural projects related to his collection immersed in the mountain green of Val di Scalve in Gaffione, an area 50 kilometers from Bergamo.

The arrival point is signaled by the presence of an F-104 jet of the Italian Air Force and its shed, still under renovation, contains about 70 means many of which are American, like the 6x6 GMC of the US Army, for which Silvano he inherited the passion from his dad.

Diamond T980 M20

The American 6X4 truck is in perfect condition inside the cold shed - we are below zero - and in a sense it seems to be inside a self-contained barracks.

The Diamond is hooked to its very faithful three-axle Rogers trailer and well 24 wheels, 8 per axle, a vehicle used to transport heavy US tanks like the Sherman M4.

It was acquired after the employment in the second war, by numerous operational departments of the Italian Army and his friend Marco Rancati emphasizes, with his wisdom as a veteran, that in Italy each Cavalry department owned one besides those located in the departments of Manovra or with the tankers. The combination of the Diamond engine and Rogers trailer had become the only solution even for European armies, when it needed to move heavy loads.

How the musone is made

In the environments of the trucks its nickname is "musone" having the engine outside the cabin as per American tradition, where the road spaces were not a problem and the design could range in folklore excessive shapes. The key to the start up is traditional and there is no nail, which although obsolete today, has been used only for Italian vehicles as a unified instrument for the electric connection of vehicle starters.

Three rigid bridges, but only the two rear wheels with twins had the traction, an aspect that suggests a certain tendency to understeer when traveling loads ... In fact it did not shine for performance and road holding when pulling the heavy masses.

Its original engine is a Hercules DFXE, from 14.7 of displacement, aspirated diesel with six cylinders, and supplied well 185CV but today on the collectors market it is not impossible to come across civilized models with a two-stroke diesel engine Continental as an alternative to Rolls Royce engines C6 143, a 6 cylinder, from 12.7 cubic centimeters capable of delivering even 200CV. Not surprisingly, in Great Britain there are many examples of the Diamond T 980.

I put myself in the driver's seat located about a meter and a half from the ground, and I must say that the first impression had been the narrowness of his cabin. A detail that is complicit in the large fixed steering wheel that requires, however, a correct driving position with the arms folded. Surely the whole cabin is full of practicality and this makes it easier to keep an eye on the Spartan instrumentation made up of several pressure gauges and a few spies.

The transmission has three gearboxes and 12 gear selectable in groups of 4, a sort of ZF but not synchronized that moves, if used with some skill, the twelve tons of the Diamond. Marco and Silvano assure me that the first versions of this truck participated in the landing of Anzio and Normandy, while some variants are desert, that is, set up with a folding sheet instead of a sheet roof. A bit like in the CP70.

The winch

The rear body was originally ballasted with removable concrete plates, but interesting is the powerful winch driven by a power take-off connected to the engine, a solution placed in a single point but able to operate both rear and front.

The guide

All the tractors present have a lever near the steering wheel and the Diamond confirms the rule. This is an additional brake for the trailer and specifically a braking forerunner. In fact the masses involved are very high and the trailer braking would tend to push the tractor. After the invention of the servoautodistributore placed on the trailer, this lever has been replaced by the electric or hydraulic retarder, and although the maneuvers of the conductor are the same during the slowdowns, to change was the braking action of the pedal, which thanks to this invention introduced an automatic trailer braking advance with respect to the tractor.

Unofficially, based on the findings of the consignments found on historic roadmaps, the maximum speed of the Diamond had to be around 20 km / h when the M 113 or M4 Sherman wagons were present on the Rogers trailer. However, remember that due to the traction on the two rear decks, the American 6X4 had great limits of versatility. A single steering front axle (no traction!) Was certainly not helpful.

In Italian barracks up to the 90 years

Beyond the memories of the military service, and the numerous images published by the media groups of autieri and tankers, this colossal engine was replaced by the Fiat ATC 80 while the Rogers trailer, thanks to its characteristics - proportionally higher - remained in use until to the 80 years.

The most modern models of the tractor have undergone some aesthetic changes for the Italian hand and to optimize maintenance and spare parts repairs.

The elegant Lancia Esadelta 4X2

The Esadelta truck was born in the '59, as an intermediate category vehicle at Esatau B. Compared to the Fiat production, Lancia has always focused on a role of quality and superior comfort, which can be seen, for example, from the predisposition for the car radio , the sun visors, the fabric upholstery, and the adoption of interior handles on the brace doors instead of a spartan strap.

The versions are still single-wheeled, in fact it will be Fiat that will produce for the Armed Forces the first Italian military truck 4x4, the CM 52 derived from the civil 639N.

Assembled in the historic plant of Bolzano, now home to the Iveco Defense Vehicle, we could define the Lancia Esadelta a highway truck whose diesel engine from 8.2 cm³ with 115CV and 6 cylinders - Esa - allowed top speeds of 70 km / h and little more in version with 132 horses. However, the heavy loads were not its strong even if they were around seven and a half tons of PTT (total weight on the ground, ed). It is good to underline that for the time it used interesting solutions for the driver's comfort, perhaps in some way similar to the more modern concept of active safety. There was a more silent covering of the engine with details in resin and the instrumentation, as well as being retro-reflective and illuminated, was composed of different lights and rubber supports.

The performance improved with the Esagamma, a higher category 10.5 cc always with six cylinders but with 4 valves and power up to the 200 horses, undoubtedly more suitable for motorway transport. A little like the most recent ACL 75, the Lancia Esadelta has had a great diffusion in our army placing itself more or less centrally between the Fiat Campagnola Ar 59 and the Esagamma truck.

Curiosity: In the film by George Clooney, "Catch 22" filmed in Sardinia, Silvano Bettineschi's means were used for the airport scenes, and Silvano tells me he prefers to follow his vehicles in front of the cameras to make sure they are used correctly in their functions.

Italy rebuilt by military means

An admirable page of history related to military means, was the gradual reconstruction of the country after the Second World War. In fact, it was also the means of work and military trucks, some converted to civilian use, to be used to remove the rubble and rebuild the infrastructure of our country that was in extreme poverty. There was a synergy between military commands and civil engineering and it is to be remembered that the massive production of the period of Lancia, Fiat and Alfa Romeo trucks, relatively polyvalent and of great quality, assumed technical characteristics and operational simplicity that have been handed down until today. in production used not only for defense. Even Mario Bertuzzi, the founder of ASTRA (Anonym Sarda Trasporti) was driven by the need to rebuild the country by observing the many means in the war residues piled up in Cagliari, and start a careful and functional conversion of the most suitable for civil use by construction site.

The cold makes itself felt

Although the projects in the area of ​​Silvano Bettineschi are really many to give rise to a pole location with a cultural and military theme, perhaps the first in Italy, with a track and path off road for tests,

The cold is weakening the batteries of the cameras and although there is still so much to describe observing materials and military components, we decide to return but I will list only some interesting details: a 47 810CV engine with 12 cylinders V and 29.3 cc, two AB 47 G2 two-blade helicopters with Piaggio-branded engine, a Plymouth p9 Deluxe car used by the American generals in the Second World War and a mechanical Mulo 3X3 (photo) decommissioned by the Army for which Silvano confirms its evident limits in use.

A day full of history and memories but above all the future possibility of telling schools, academies and tourists of the valleys of Bergamo, as was the military Italy of the last century, perhaps savoring during the visits, the culinary goodness of the place.

Photo: author / web