Surprise, curiosity, the dream of a distant past. To see a Diatto type 20S from 1924 among the participants of a historic car rally is a sure way to guarantee emotion. Commanding in size, elegant in her simplicity, powerful and agile with an engine which, at the time, was at the very forefront of performance. And above all absolutely epic in movement: the rear end tends to slide, and the driver has to use all every ounce of strength to govern the steering wheel and extraordinary courage to control the derapage necessary to make her turn, even on narrow and difficult roads like those around Etna.
In this type of competition, antique, difficult cars are increasingly rare. Those in pursuit of victory by passing the time checks with meticulous precision want docile, obedient cars. Of these, there are many and they are inevitably younger. They also want cars without clutches and accelerators that behave like a separated couple living under the same roof! Yes, because to start an old aristocratic lady like this, the use of the clutch is not something you want to underestimate. Not to mention the risk of gearshifts that scratch so loud even the deaf can hear them…
1924-2019: 95 years. That’s quite a big number but if you look at a car today, say a luxury car of medium-high displacement, say a BMW, Alfa, Audi or Mercedes, there’s very little difference, everything works smoothly, safely and without any physical effort.
The Diatto 20 S, driven by its owner Corrado Lopresto during the Etna Raid.
The beauty of classic cars lies precisely in the opposite of these comforts. It’s about the possibility of driving by using one’s talent to control the commands that govern the mechanical object. It is a sensation that’s not too distant from the one experienced by fighter pilots of bygone eras, piloting the Fokker triplane, made famous by Von Rihthofen or the SPAD S XIII biplane piloted in battle by Francesco Baracca, the hero who gave the Cavallino to Ferrari. The Diatto asks for your soul and demands you to dominate her, understand her like a thoroughbred racehorse, and show that you are the master of the situation. At that point she becomes docile, obedient even with that very long chassis wheelbase that seems to be designed for anything but corners, a steering wheel you have to push from below, sitting very close to gain leverage and those narrow tires that slide even in the dry. Imagine what she must be like in the rain or on the white roads of olden times. Is it a game? On the contrary, it’s much more, it puts today’s reality into context and shows us exactly where we came from. As to where we’re going… well that’s another story entirely!
Strange, very different from the way we see cars today. But really magnificent for elegance and announced power.