Diatto and the Maserati Brothers With the presentation of the Diatto 20 Type designed by Engineer Coda, at the Milan Exhibition of 1922, the Maserati brothers began to work closely with Diatto. They tested and drove the famous 20 S. Given their fame and racing success Diatto was keen on entering the Grand Prix Formula with 2-litre supercharged engines, and needed the help of an expert team. A new light alloy supercharged 1,995 cc 8-cylinder engine was developed with two overhead camshafts. The new car made its debut in the 1925 Italian Grand Prix, and was driven by Emilio Materassi. After the race the engine size was changed. Using the Maserati logo, the car won over 100 races in the following years: the birth of the world famous Maserati auto manufacturing company.
Diatto and the Maserati brothers:
Rodolfo Maserati, a Railway worker in Piacenza, married Carolina Losi and moved to Voghera, close to Pavia. They had seven sons: Carlo (1881), Bindo (1883), Alfieri (1885), who died after only a few months. The same name was given to their next son, born in 1887, followed by Mario (1890), Ettore (1894), and Ernesto (1898).
Mario became an artist but the other five brothers all showed an interest in engineering, a new science, associated with the development of the combustion engine. Nonetheless, in 1926 Mario gave his brothers a hand in designing the Maserati logo, Neptune’s trident, the symbol of Bologna.
In chronological order, Carlo was the first to show an interest in the auto industry. But things being what they are, he began work in a bicycle factory in Affori, close to Milan. At the age of 18 he designed a single-cylinder motor to use with a bicycle, creating a motor cycle. At this time the auto industry was beginning to attract investments, previously put into other, more profitable, industrial activities. Carlo Maserati’s invention attracted the attention of Carcano, a nobleman from Anzano del Parco, near Lecco. The new Carcano motor cycles were tested by Maserati in Brianza and then used in competition events from 1899 on, with great success. This phase ended on 9-10 September 1900, with dual victory: the 2¾ HP at the 5-kilometer speed trial, and the Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Verona-Brescia race.
In Brescia, Maserati met Vincenzo Lancia, who introduced him to Fiat, a new company full of enthusiasm and energy. Maserati left Fiat in 1903 to join the technical staff of Isotta Fraschini and test the engines and new vehicles. Attracted by motor racing, in 1907 Bianchi hired a new engine designer, Giuseppe Merosi, but the results were disappointing. Carlo Maserati finished ninth at the Kaiserpreis on the Taunus race track in Germany and seventh in the Florio Cup in Brescia.
In 1908 Maserati left Bianchi to join Lorraine-Dietrich, as mechanic to Vincenzo Trucco for the Florio Cup in Bologna. He was then appointed Director General of a small company called Junior, in Milan, part of the Ceirano Group. In 1910, Carlo Maserati fell ill and died prematurely as he was getting ready to launch a new car with the company.
Alfieri, his brother, had a similar temperament, despite his youth. In 1903, after briefly working in a private workshop, he was hired by Isotta Fraschini in Milano, on Carlo’s recommendation.
An extrovert, with captivating character, Alfieri soon became an important part of the team and ace driver. He debuted as a mechanic, helping Trucco, but in 1908 he was given a car of his own, the 1.2-litre FE for the Dieppe Grand Prix, where he finished 14th despite carburettor problems. In 1911 he was promoted and moved first to Argentina, then to London, with his brother Ettore.
The following year the two brothers returned to organize the spare parts and repair workshop in Bologna. In 1914, confident of his abilities, Alfieri took the plunge, becoming self-employed.
He opened a workshop in via de’ Pepoli, Bologna, called Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati. He and his brother Ettore were called up and served in the First World War. At this time, Bindo was working at Isotta Fraschini as test technician, so Ettore kept an eye on the workshop in Bologna with its 5 employees.
After military service, and before the end of the war, Alfieri started a new business in Milan, making starting plugs with mica insulation, an important, though secondary, business activity. After the war, he returned to motor racing, helped by his brother Ernesto. The company moved to larger premises in Alemanni, on the eastern outskirts of Bologna, an area better known as Ponte Vecchio.
The factory, on 2 floors, was originally used for carboys, had three large windows looking out onto the via Emilia. The ground floor was used as a warehouse and the top floor as offices and the home of the brothers. The workshop proper was at the back, a rather modest looking building in a courtyard with orchard (looked after by their father). The sparking plug business was moved to these premises, leaving only the dealership in Milan, in the hands of Amedeo Polacchini. The workshop specialises in tuning engines and changing body work to make standard cars competitive for motor racing. The activities meet customer requirements but also fulfil Alfieri’s passion. Customers are Isotta Fraschini, but also other auto manufacturers.
In 1920, Alfieri Maserati took part in the second motor race in Italy after the war, on the Mugello race track, driving a 2,562 cc 4-cylinder Nesselsdorf, part of the war equipment Maserati had bought. The car was not strong enough to last the race and Maserati and 5 other competitors in the same class failed to finish. After showing some brief interest in a 3-litre SCAT for the 1920 Parma-Poggio di Berceto, Alfieri Maserati made what can be described as the first Diatto Maserati, a powerful car with Diatto frame and 4-cylinder 6,330 cc Isotta Fraschini engine (bore: 120 mm, stroke: 140 mm). It was a hybrid, one of many at that time, partly due to the disinterest of auto manufacturers and partly to the availability of aircraft engines after the war.
The official name was Special Type. Alfieri Maserati drove it on 24 July 1921 on the Mugello race track, coming second in his class and fourth overall. One month later, with Ernesto acting as mechanic, he won the Susa-Moncenisio, beting the Peugeot driven by Samy Réville.
The season reached a peak with a full week’s racing in Brescia, a disappointment for Italian auto manufacturers. Alfieri Maserati took part in the kilometer race with flying start to qualify for the Gentleman’s Grand Prix featuring Campari’s Alfa, Masetti’s Mercedes (the winner), Niccolini’s Fiat and Baroness Maria Antonietta Avanzo driving an Alfa ES sport. Alfieri Maserati came fourth overall, taking first prize for his class. The car had 2-wheel drive and experimental puncture-proof tyres supplied by Società Gomme Imperforabili of Florence.
The car was further improved in 1922 with Goodrich tyres, Magnete Marelli parts instead of Bolis, a potentiometer fitted to the brake system and lightweight design, a key feature.
Alfieri and Ernesto were inseparable partners, winning at Mugello and beating the track record and all the higher ranked competitors in the race. This success was followed by similar records at Susa-Moncenisio and Aosta-Gran San Bernardo.
The success was due to Maserati’s skill as a technician and driver, attracting the attention of Diatto, which launched the 20 Type at the Milan Exhibition of 1922. The car was designed by Engineer Coda with the help of Lardone. Maserati joined the team as test driver for the 20 S Type. To get things done quicker, Alfieri and Ernesto moved to Turin to prepare for the 1922 Italian Grand Prix. Torrential rain ruined the race. Guido Meregalli and Alfieri Maserati, the two Diatto drivers, failed to finish (mechanical failure and accident).
Despite this setback, Diatto was pleased with the work done and on 22 October Alfieri Maserati drove a 3-litre 4-cylinder Diatto to success in the Autumn Grand Prix in Monza, ahead of the Alfa Romeo RL driven by Sivocci and the new 4-cylinder Bianchi driven by Costantini.
At the Florio Cup, the last race of the season in Sicily, Alfieri came close to beating the Peugeut driven by André Boillot, running out of oil between Caltavuturo and Polizzi. Maserati tried olive oil, but failed to reach the finishing line.
The victory of Maserati at Monza and of Meregalli on Garda Lake, with the Diatto 20, fired the company’s ambitions, leading them to back Maserati’s idea of a new car powered by 4.5-litre 8-cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine modified by Diatto.
The car won the Susa-Moncenisio, with Maserati at the wheel, his third win in a row and worth the Prince Amedeo Cup. The following make driver and car also won at Aosta-Gran San Bernardo. In 1924 the 4.5-litre Diatto was often left idle, as smaller engined gained preference. Ernesto Maserati began his racing career at the wheel of a 3-litre Diatto, winning his class in Pistoia Hills race.
At the San Sebastian GP, on 27 September, staged on the Lasarte race track, Alfieri Maserati came close to beating the alliance between Bugatti, Delage and Sunbeam, his Diatto 20 S engine breaking down when he was in contention.
In 1924 Maserati was at the centre of fierce debate. The rather absurd question was focused on the uphill race in Rebassada, near Barcelona, which took place on 25 May. Diatto has strong interests in Spain, so Luigi Mora, the agent, entered Maserati with a 2-litre engine. On the eve of the race Alfieri Maserati replaced the engine with a 3-litre. Ferdinand De Vizcaya, taking part with a 4.4-litre 8-cylinder Elizade, somehow got to hear about it (rumour has it he was told by a priest) and protested. Seven months later, international racing authorities disqualified Maserati from racing for five years. Mora and Diatto were also disqualified.
Subsequent investigations established that Diatto knew nothing of the idea and the ban was lifted. Diatto was allowed to continue racing and this time chose Alfieri’s brother, Ernesto, who was given a 2-litre Diatto, together with Carlo Lecot and Diego De Sterlich with a 4.5-litre engine.
The company was coming through a time of hardship and wanted to renew its commitment to racing in 1925. The 20 S Type was highly successful, but Diatto wanted to move into Grand Prix racing, where supercharged 2-litre engines were required.
Alfieri Maserati was given the job of developing the engine. The new engine had 8 cylinders and was made of lightweight alloy, with two overhead camshafts. It was a 2-litre engine (1,995 cc) with 65.5 mm bore and 74 mm stroke. Four Zenith carburettors were used initially. The engine was fitted to a new frame and took part in the Susa-Moncenisio, on 5 July, with Onesimo Marchisio, test driver and former Fiat racing driver. One month later he was killed in the Maddalena race, driving the new Diatto. This tragedy held up the fine-tuning required for the engine (requiring Maserati to spend a great deal of time in Turin) and forced Diatto to look for new drivers. Rumours have it that Alfieri would be allowed to return to racing if Diatto took part at San Sebastian, and this was the final solution one year later.
The only solid point of reference in the team was the driver Emilio Materassi, a close friend of Alfieri Maserati. The second car was up for grabs, between Diego De Sterlich, Rubietti and the Spaniard Antonio Garcia. This was the run up to the 1925 Italian GP, with Diatto still in high water.
Two cars were taken to Monza, but only one was a final version, with Rots compressor, able to generate 150 HP at 5,200 rpm. Materassi was given the prestige car and a further 14 competitors started the race out of a much more numerous field of 2-litre engines: three Alfa Romeo, two Duesenberg, one Guyot special and the Diatto. In the 1,500 cc class, there were five Bugatti, two Chiribiri and one Eldridge. The Diatto was fifth after 30 miles, behind 3 Alfas and the Duesenberg; after 60 miles the positions were the same. The leading Alfa Romeo, driven by Campari, was lapping at an average speed of 98.25 mph; Milton’s Duesenberg was fourth at 95.37 mph; Materassi was a shade slower, at 93.82 mph. The sixth placed driver, in an 8-cylinder Bugatti 39 Type, was racing at 86.5 mph.
The 2-litre Diatto came close to 200 kmh (125 mph) but
after a long pit stop Emilio Materassi was forced out of the race after 250