Part 27 De Vecchi
By David Cavaliere
In this feature we look at one of the many small companies that entered the Italian automotive world during the turn of the 20th century. It was an exciting time for mechanics, engineers and entrepreneurs alike. Sometimes the dreams of the company were overtaken by the rapid advance of technology, but without question, it was a period of tremendous experimentation, where a shop mechanic’s ideas were brought quickly from the initial forging, casting or machining of parts, into a viable solution to a technical challenge. There was no real blueprint in those early days. At the beginning of the last century, one could not predict with certainty which form of motive power would become dominant. There were numerous advantages of steam and electricity over internal combustion engines, but it was a tinkerer’s wonderland, where each year brought new designs and new advances.
At the very beginning of the 20th Century, Giuseppe De Vecchi opened a small workshop in Milan to produce motorized vehicles for the burgeoning Italian automotive industry. His initial designs were very basic four-wheel designs – lightweight, underpowered and to be honest, not terribly reliable, but with each new vehicle, something was modified. No two of his early creations were alike, nor were the parts necessarily interchangeable, but Giuseppe had been bitten by the bug. He loved making cars and perhaps even more, he loved making his cars better. He was a very passionate man. Each new automobile was like the birth of another child. In 1903, Giuseppe was joined by his friend Ettore Strada and together they formed a new company and moved to a larger premises. From its inception, De Vecchi had an eye towards the exportation of the company’s products. He wanted to share his automobile with the world. Their first car produced in the new factory was powered by a small 10/12HP four cylinder engine and sold well, including some sales abroad, and by 1905, the company expanded further and displayed various models at the Milan Exposition of 1906.
World economics were working against such small companies however, and in 1908, Strada departed; his place was taken by Mr. Benedetti, a partner who was so silent that his first name doesn’t exist in surviving records! He injected additional capital into the company which changed its name to De Vecchi & C. - Accomandita (De Vecchi and Company Limited Partnership). The new company was able to export several cars to Russia. A new car, using a 2800cc 16/20HP engine with a side valve head (also known as an “F”) was produced. It was called the Tipo A. The capacity of the engine was soon expanded to 4082cc and the 20/30HP Tipo B was introduced, followed in 1909 by the 5426cc 28/35HP Tipo C. All were of conventional design, using the basic side value design rather than the more sophisticated overhead camshaft designs that were making inroads among sporting designs. However, the De Vecchi’s were praised for their robustness. Production model advances in 1911 saw the first monoblock engines from De Vecchi. The engine was used in the Tipo E (20/25HP) and the Tipo F (25/35HP).
In addition to aspirations of exporting his cars, De Vecchi was an early believer in racing improves the breed. The 16-20 Hp was in fact derived from a model that was used in competition. Success in racing came during the second decade of the company’s existence. Their efforts in 1911 were led by Antonio Ascari at the Criterium di Modena. He was forced to retire with mechanical failure, but Alberto Marani took the car to third in the Targa Florio in 1913. In that same year, the marque earned a second place at the Parma-Poggio Berceto with Ugo Sivocci and a second place at the Targa Florio in 1914.
When Italy entered the First World War, De Vecchi’s production turned to military vehicles, its chassis modified for use as ambulances, trucks and even an early four-wheel-drive artillery tractor. Following the conflict, De Vecchi withdrew from the company and even though there had been profits during the war years, the withdrawal of De Vecchi’s capital forced the company into liquidation in 1919. It changed hands and became CMN (Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali), which continued production of some of the pre-war cars, especially the 2297cc (15/20HP) four-cylinder side valve powered models. When motorsports resumed, two CMN's driven by Ugo Sivocchi and a young Enzo Ferrari were entered in the 1919 Targa Florio, finishing 2nd and 3rd in class. In 1920, the factory moved to a new site in Tuscany and production began on a new 3000cc (25HP) six-cylinder engine and a 1940cc four-cylinder unit, alongside continuing production of the old 20HP model. These were the last cars to be produced by the company which ceased production in 1923.