Their father owned a mechanic’s workshop that had been making and repairing agricultural machinery for generations. Francesco and his younger brother alternated between the family business and evening classes at the Feltrinelli technical secondary school in Milan. In the meantime, the family had transferred the workshop from Vailate to Treviglio, in the Province of Bergamo. It was here, in 1927, that the Cassani brothers presented an agricultural tractor named “Cassani” with a diesel engine at the Cantoni agricultural secondary school. From the end of the 1920s, diesel engines had begun to find applications in industrial, military and rail vehicles. The tractor won the ‘Italian agricultural tractor’ competition in the early 1930s and allowed the Cassanis to acquire greater expertise in tractors and engines.
The Cassanis, and Francesco in particular, as the technical heart of the company, believed firmly in diesel and aimed to extend the use of these units to new sectors. Near the end of the 1930s, one early Cassani engine model was used to replace the petrol engine for a truck used by the army. At the same time, a second prototype was fitted on the ‘Este I’ motorboat, earning the Duca di Genova cup in the race from Venice to Trieste, opening up a new front for application: marine engines.
In 1937, the Cassani brothers also secured an order from the Italian Air Force, for three high-speed, lightweight, eight-cylinder barrel engines that they had designed, suited to use in aircraft. The pre-production engines were made at the Odero Terni Orlando workshops in La Spezia, but their installation and use were prevented by Italy entering the war in 1940.
The Cassanis also focused on technical experimentation with the injection process, and pumps in particular, at the same time. In 1936, they founded SPICA (Società Pompe Iniezione Cassani – Cassani Injection Pump Company). It must be noted that production of pumps for diesel engines was almost exclusively the preserve of the German Bosch, which supplied all the biggest engine manufacturers. Admiral Arturo Ciano and entrepreneur Luigi Orlando from Livorno came to SPICA in 1938. They bought the company and transferred it to Livorno, keeping the Cassanis on as major collaborators. Following the death of Orlando in 1941, the IRI bought the company and placed it under the control of Alfa Romeo, who entrusted Francesco Cassani with creating the first Research Centre on fuelling internal combustion aircraft engines.
After a few months of this, Cassani decided to go back to his roots in agricultural mechanisation. He founded SAME (Società Accomandita Motori Endotermici – Internal Combustion Engine Limited Partnership) in 1942 with his brother Eugenio. The workshop started with repairs on military vehicles and by supplying fire pumps for the Ministry of the Interior. In 1946, SAME produced a firstAutofalciatrice with three wheels and this was followed with the presentation of the small SAME Universale 10 HP tractor with reversible seat. Other machinery and agricultural implements could be fitted to its petrol engine. This tractor was conceived as a source for distributing power to a wide range of implements, which SAME employed to tackle the post-war market.
After the war, the brothers set about fine-tuning new technical solutions for tractor applications. One example was air cooling, which was particularly suited to requirements of duration, safe operation, low maintenance and a high degree of modularity. In 1952, the Cassanis also perfected the four-wheel-drive system (a particular feature of SAME tractors) that was to gain ground in the Italian market in the 1950s.
1956 marked a major turning point at SAME, as a new factory opened in Treviglio, with three assembly lines (engines, tractor assembly, painting) that were very similar to what Cassani was able to see on a trip to the United States, visiting Ford, Massey Ferguson and Caterpillar. These years also saw intense efforts towards unifying and standardising the product cycle: a series of engines – with between one and eight cylinders – with completely interchangeable parts with production starting from the 1950s.
When Eugenio died in 1959, Francesco was the general manager of a company experiencing great growth which tirelessly pursued research and development for new patents and products. Production of the “SAME automatic control station” began in the same year. This hydraulic unit governed the implements connected to the tractor, controlling and regulating their operation through a system of springs and levers coordinated through a panel under the steering wheel. The dual-purpose Samecar was to follow in 1961, a tractor that could be converted into a transport vehicle. SAME also presented the new V engines and the Italia V, Atlanta and Sametto V tractors at the Verona trade fair in 1965 and the Centauro and Minitauro models in 1966 and 1968 respectively.
In 1971, the company in Treviglio offered 25 tractor models with two- and four-wheel drive, with versions for rice fields, orchards and vineyards, and a power range of between 30 and more than 100 HP. Passing from 4,000 tractors a year in 1960 to 10,000 in 1962, 13,000 in 1970, 15,000 in 1971 and 20,000 in 1973, the 1960s saw the business increase its share of exports tenfold, reaching 50% of its output midway through the decade. It also extended its network of direct subsidiaries (France, Spain, Germany, England) and access to the international market (Unites States, Latin America, Africa, China). In 1973, Cassani completed the acquisition of Lamborghini Trattori of Pieve di Cento, in the Province of Bologna. Lamborghini had an effective sales network, a good technical team and certain specific product qualities (crawlers, synchronised gearboxes) that would complete those that SAME had already perfected.
Francesco died in 1973, having obtained an honorary degree in 1960 from the Industrial Engineering Department (mechanical section) of the University of Pisa due to his pioneering activity as innovator and creator in the field of mechanical construction. Cassani was thoroughly committed to the area of technical training. He was chairman of the Dell’Era professional design school in Treviglio, one of the oldest in Italy, from 1956 to 1965. He also promoted many technical courses for tractor operators and agricultural mechanics at his company, which were attended by Italian and foreign students. In the 1960s, SAME also supported (providing machinery for practical exercises) the Experimental Institute of Agricultural Mechanics at the University of Milan, which held residential courses for agricultural entrepreneurs at the Treviglio premises. On 2 June 1962 he was also awarded a knighthood in the “Order of Merit for Labour”. In March, 1965, he received the Oscar dell’agricoltura (Oscar for Agriculture), an award promoted by the International Fair of Verona. Two years later he won the Mercurio d’oro, an award for companies deemed deserving because of their contribution to the development of national production, and in 1972 the Seminatore d’Oro from the President of the Republic, dedicated to the pioneers and architects of global agricultural motorisation. In 1973, the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan dedicated a room to Francesco Cassani and his company.
The spiritual will of Francesco Cassani
In the event of my death, I want my heir to remember that SAME with the help of my poor, dear brother Eugenio was created not to make a profit but to give Italy a prestigious industry in the field of tractors and combustion engines.
I want to tell the man who runs SAME to be inspired as far as possible by the concept of unity and to avoid initiatives that take SAME away from its core. The company was founded on the construction of tractors and it must continue in this vein, striving to improve construction, without neglecting the steadfast pursuit of cost-effectiveness and modern machinery.
In the future, competition will be even fiercer, so continuity as well as updated products are essential.
The people who work with me today in the technical field, in sales and administration are trustworthy […]. I advise avoiding business and financial speculations.
I would recommend not making the factory too big and always having a financial safety net, to deal with the crises that can always affect a company.
To all staff, I would like to extend my affection and thanks for their dedication to SAME.
I recommend to the person taking over from me to act, inspired by my values of being an enthusiastic, humble and tenacious worker.
To act with the utmost impartiality with staff and make every effort to stop any rivalry among co-workers; workers must rise through the ranks based on merit and be inspired by the sincerest loyalty and honesty to everyone.
As technology develops, the development of gas turbines is an interesting prospect. It would be advisable above all to follow the experience of other companies before venturing into studies that would be economically disastrous.
I would have many other things to say but I would like to end, giving the people who will continue my work a message to run the company in a healthy and honest way, trusting in their wisdom and integrity.
May God bless you and help you, rewarding you for the work you will soon perform.