They are all forgotten now, eclipsed by the enormous successes of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. But before the crash of 1929, (few survived after) Italy was teeming with interesting, advanced, and/or luxurious road and race cars. But who among is aware of the DOHC 1600 cc Chiribiri; the Diatto, mother of the first Maserati; the 1100 cc DOHC Ansaldo; the Bianchi, Tazio Nuvolari’s first race car; the Ceirano, last of a long list of cars produced by the remarkable Ceirano brothers, and the Itala, winner of the Paris to Peking race?
Or the O.M.; born of Brixia-Züst in 1917, queen of Brescia, the sturdy and conservative exponent of the old side-valve flathead engine. Side valves had a long life in the U.S. but even in the 1920s was an anathema to an Italian enthusiast, who could ideally choose from a number of OHV, SOHC and DOHC car offerings.
But the O.M. was tough, fast, reliable, easy to fix, and revved like a dream. From 1922 to 1934, the four cylinder model and the two liter 665 (6 cylinders, 65 mm bore) both won or placed well at all types of competitions throughout Europe, and most notably, placing one, two and three in the first ever Mille Miglia in 1927.
There was even an 8 cylinder DOHC 1500cc Grand Prix car built for the 1926-27 formula. One finished second in the 1927 Grand Prix of Europe but 22 minutes behind the winning Delage. That was it for both the car and the formula.
O.M.s were also popular in the U.K., where as many as 400 were imported by L.C. Rawlence and Co. They did very well at BARC meetings at Brooklands. The glory didn’t last; Fiat took over control of the firm in 1932 and from then on O.M. was to build commercial vehicles under license.
Thankfully, we now have a comprehensive book about O.M. automobile. Initiated by the late Andrea Curami, (read story) https://www.velocetoday.com/andrea-curami-1947-2010/ it was recently completed by his friend Alessandro Silva and is a tribute to the great historian Curami, whose work also includes the fascinating and indispensable La Sport e i suoi artigianni.
Silva is more than qualified to follow in Curami’s footsteps. He is a Professor of Mathematics at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome and taught at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J., the University of California, San Diego, and the Università de Paris VI as well as being a member of Italy’s AISA, the foremost association of Italian motoring historians.
A large hardbound book, 10” by 11.5”, this is one of the best quality volumes we’ve seen yet. No one else but the Fondazione Negri could have published this stunning work; for since the last years of the 19th century, the Studio, based in Brescia, has been the official photographer of the O.M. factory and the negatives of the original photographs are still kept by the studio.
What this means is that the photographs throughout the book have rarely if ever been published elsewhere, and certainly not with the superb reproduction as seen in the book’s very heavy paper. The quality of the photos is astonishing, with no scratches, water marks, dirt or folds. Almost every image is pristine with a museum-quality despite many being more than 100 years old. The images reflect the company from its Swiss Züst beginnings and a new factory built in Brescia, to the final years of car production in 1932, before being purchased by Fiat.
True to form, the authors have done their homework. The book consists of three parts; The production of O.M. Automobiles, (1919-1931); The Sant’Eustacchio [Brescia] factory, outline of an Industrial History (1917-1933); O.M.’s Career in Sport. English translations follow the text/photos and footnotes are placed at the end of each section. Most of the 247 photos are black and white; as good as they are, it would have been nice to have seen a section with a properly restored O.M. featured in color. The book has a great assortment of O.M. posters and advertisements in color.
This book is probably not one that will be read for pure enjoyment; studying the photographs, yes, but the structure, largely due to having the text in two languages, makes it difficult to read smoothly. The English translation is superior to many Anglo-Italian texts, but the sentence structure is often foreboding.
That said, we’ll not complain, and profusely thank Fondazione Negri for allowing English to be a part of this book. It is primarily a reference work and thankfully rates a full bibliography, a list of all the races entered by O.M.s from 1922 to 1932, complete specifications, and some of the most informative footnotes we’ve ever encountered. For example, we found more information about the earlier activities of Edgar Fronteras, who was known in the US for importing OSCAs in the mid-1950s. (Apparently the resourceful Fronteras set up a visit of the RAF acquisition committee to the Caproni aircraft company in 1939. The RAF’s order for 100 planes was cancelled by Mussolini in 1940 under pressure from Hitler.) A number of hitherto unknown-to-us Italian drivers and team principles are given short biographies either in the text or via the footnotes. The section on the underrated driver Ferdinando Minoia was of great interest.
Doomed by the depression and takeover by Fiat, O.M. put together one last automobile chassis, the Alycone. At lest two berlinas were built with a 2.2 liter six cylinder engine which had side exhaust valves while the intake valves were overhead. It never reached production and O.M. was never to make automobiles again.
So many of us tend to ignore knowledge if it does not pertain to the later and more well-known (and more valuable) marques. Books like this go a long way in not only explaining the distant past, but creating the interest and the enthusiasm that keeps these rare cars alive and well.