Ventotto History

Ok, now a short historic review of the Peter Witt cars in Milano. The ultimate Ventotto story was written by Guido Boreani of Milano (published in Italian as “Un tram che si chiama Milano” by Calosci Cortona in 1995), unfortunately this is a little difficult to find now.

In the late 1920s Milano needed to replace it’s old fleet of short two axle (single truck) tramcars of the Edison type (500 motor cars and 300 trailers built between 1895 and 1910). They looked around the world and found the so-called Peter Witt design (named after the man himself, he worked for the streetcar company in Cleveland/Ohio, USA). By 1912 Cleveland had built the first prototype of this car which featured passenger-flow. Passengers entered at the front and paid on leaving through the centre doors (a sitting conductor operated those doors). There were no doors at the back of the car but plenty of seats (the front of the car only had longitudinal seating and lots of standing room). Local company Carminati e Toselli in via Procaccini was ordered to build two prototypes in 1927. The first had General Electric equipment and the other Westinghouse.

The tests with those two cars were successful and a large order was placed with 6 builders in 1928. Carminati & Toselli were to build 110 cars (1503-1612), Ernesto Breda (Milano) another 110 (1613-1722), Officine Meccaniche (Reggio Emilia) 50 cars (1723-1772), OM Milano another 110 (1773-1882), Tallero (Milano) yet another 110 (1883-1992) and Lodigane (Lodi) the last 10 cars (1993-2002). The new class of tramcars received two names: 1500 class or “Carrello” (Italian for bogie/double truck). As mass production started in 1928 they also received the name “Ventotto” (Italian for 28). One of the Breda cars went to Frankfurt in Germany in 1929. It operated (equipped with a pantrograph) on route 23 between Heddernheim and Schauspielhaus. It was not a success there and returned to Milano (nobody seems to know for sure which car this was!). Breda also built an additional car for Brussels in Belgium. It arrived in 1929 as ran as no.5001 on route 15 between Nord and Midi. Instead of ordering these cars from Italy the Belgians used it to build their own fleet of class 5000 cars instead, the Ventotto was renumbered 5000. The car was sold to Madrid in Spain in 1935 where it ran on route 71 Ventas – Rosales (as their no. 1001, later as no. 1000 and in the end again as 1001). It survived until 1965.

039060-001847-09 << click to enlarge

By 1932 502 “Carrelli” operated in Milano. Somehow the passenger-flow did not quite work for the people of Milano, the car was always full at the front but few people rode in the back of the car. So in 1932 cars 1529 and 1530 were rebuilt with a single door at the back (keeping the seats in the back). In America some Peter Witt cars had been built with this feature as well. In 1929 car 1529 was rebuilt again, this time longitudinal seats replaced the regular setas in the back of ther car and this became the “smokers saloon”. Later all cars were rebuilt and received double doors at the back, entrance was at the back and exit through the centre and front doors. The conductor was moved to sit by the back doors.

During the second world war a lot of the Peter Witts got damaged and some even ran as non-motorised trailers (behind Peter Witt cars or behind 600 series two axles cars). Nearly all the cars were rebuilt after the war and today none of the fleet numbers match the original builder. They used what they had to get those cars back into service, even if they had to build completely new underframes and bodies, 204 cars were completety rebuilt!

In the 1970s the Venttos were equipped with pantographs in addition to the trolleypoles (called “Perteghetta” in Milano) they had since new. Also the two-tone green livery they had received since the 1930s (only very few cars ran in the old white and yellow livery when they were young!) was replaced by the country-wide “transit orange”. The 1970s also saw the first scrapped cars. More modern and longer trams had been introduced and the number of “Carrelli” slowly but steadily decreased. By the 1980s the trolleypoles disappeared.

1984 not only saw the first low-floor car in Italy (built by ATM using two Peter Witt cars) but also the first of many Ventotto to be sold abroad: car 1834 went to San Francisco! 100 years of eletric trams in Milano was celebrated in 1993 by repainting car 1723 into the old two-tone green livery.

More details will follow when we present you portraits of individual cars.

039060-001966-19 << click to enlarge