ITALIAN CAST IRON

CAST 435L Tractor

When you think of products from Italy, tractors probably don’t immediately come to mind, yet over the years some of the most unusual and effective tractors have come from there.

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The CAST vineyard tractor was a side product from Officine di Casaralta, more commonly known as Casaralta. The company started in 1919 and was best known for manufacturing railroad products; rail cars, locomotives and trams. According to most sources, they formed an offshoot company and began the design and manufacture of a small tractor around 1964. Called CAST S.p.A  the tractor company name came from a combination of “CAS” from Casaralta and “T” for trattori, Italian for tractor. S.p.A. is an Italian abbreviation similar to “Inc.”

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It isn’t a big tractor but the relatively big and powerful 35 horsepower diesel gives it some serious juice. The rack up front isn’t an official CAST part but something Mercer built for working around the homestead. The tractor weighs about 2,500 pounds and has independent suspension on all four wheels, with a diff lock for both axles. Mercer says it rides about as well as a UTV, though the pan seat doesn’t help with comfort. It came standard with a 540 rpm, six-spline PTO and a Cat 1 three-point hitch that can lift about 1,000 pounds. It has a full 12-volt electrical system with lights. In 1971, the retail price for a 435L was $3,495, though $2,900 was the more realistic price. Power steering was a $340 option, but it included the hydraulic pump option. The 9 GPM hydraulic system cost $305 by itself. A weight pan cost $120 and a rear axle stiffener for attachments like loaders, backhoes and forklifts, was $31.

Available documentation is sparse, not helped by the fact that Casaralta changed hands several times in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was absorbed by another company in 1993 and completely shut down in 2001. It’s generally held that CAST tractors were built to around 1975 and many think the United States was it’s largest market. Again, the documentation is sparse but through the efforts of a Hoosier named Dale Mercer, a tractor collector who ran across a CAST in 2012, we know a bit more.

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The Slanzi DVA1500T engine was an air-cooled, direct-injected inline two-cylinder of 1447cc (81 ci) displacement. It’s alternatively listed by RECO at 32 and 35 SAE horsepower at 2600 rpm. It was commonly used as a stationary powerplant, a marine engine and for agricultural equipment. It used a Bosch PFR2K70 injection pump and Bosch DLLA injectors that pop at just under 2,300 psi. We see a DVA1500 Series 2 engine listed but don’t know what differences there were, nor if the Series 2 was used in the CAST. Slanzi was a well-known engine manufacturer in Novellara, Italy, that started business in 1919 and built their first diesel in 1937. They were absorbed by Lombardini (now owned by Kohler) in 1985.

Mercer has turned up most of what’s known about CAST entering the U.S. market. Mercer’s theory is that CAST was having trouble selling in their own market and made a play in overseas markets. RECO Sales, a large lawn and garden power equipment retailer in Indianapolis, was approached to represent CAST here. They bought one tractor, tried it out, liked it, made suggestions for changes and when CAST agreed to make them, made a deal to buy more. The changes included a higher load rating (probably accounting for the suspension changes)., a U.S. Cat 1 rear lift system, more wheel clearance under the fenders for larger tires, swinging drawbar, hydraulic remotes, a tach and hour meter.

The CAST is seen in the U.S. in two models, the 430L, which was the first model imported in significant numbers perhaps as early as 1968, and the 435L, which came in 1970 or 1971. Mercer found evidence of an earlier model, the 420, which apparently was not imported, and it differed in many ways from the 430L and 435L, most notably in having the original torsion bar only rather than coil spring updated suspension, and those differences in the sheet metal.

The CAST was four-wheel drive and four-wheel steer, with a seat that pivoted around the steering station so the operator could face either direction. The other controls could be operated in either position. The CAST tractor’s original stated purpose was as a vineyard or orchard tractor and, as such, faced a lot of competition in the Italian market. Here, RECO advertised it as a multi-purpose utility tractor and offered a wide variety of attachments. These included a 9-foot backhoe, 8-foot forklift, loader, rotary tiller, 72-inch mower deck, 60 or 72-inch flail mowers, post hole digger, rotary tiller, rotary sweeper, trencher, grader blade, snow blower, tree shear and even a cab.

The CAST was powered by a Slanzi two-cylinder diesel. The Slanzi was a direct injected, air-cooled inline of 81 cubic inches (1447cc). The Slanzi was backed up by a three-speed transmission with a two-speed range box and a shuttle shift lever. It had four-wheel independent suspension. It came standard with a 540 rpm PTO and had an optional 9 GPM hydraulic pump. Hydrostatic power steering was optional, apparently added by RECO as an option.

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The operator’s station is pretty close to unique. The seat pivots around the steering column. There are two opposing sets of clutch and brake pedals. The main three-speed gearbox (shifter to the right of the column) and range box (shifter on the opposite of the trans housing) is separated from the axles by a shuttle shifter (the small lever on this side right of the main shifter). As a result, the CAST can go just as fast in one direction as the other.

The few reports we have seen tell us the CAST is a good utility tractor, suitable for many tasks on small farms or acreages, as well as for construction/industrial uses. It truly was a “universal” implement and Mercer reports having found the tractors in some unusual vocations, such as being operated inside gypsum mines. Another was use in high-rise construction in New York, where compact dimensions made it possible for them to be moved via elevator or crane and the versatility of the attachments made them useful for moving gear inside of a building under construction.

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The independent suspension looks more suited to a car than a tractor. The coil spring is contained inside the tubular housing that looks like a shock. Suspension and drivetrain parts are in the “unobtainium” category, but Mercer was able to find ball joints and tie rod ends from other applications that could be made to work. The CV axles use joints very similar to air-cooled VWs and with some adaptation, can be made to work. Dale Mercer will attest that your parts hunting and fabrication skills will be tested when you own a CAST. Many parts used it their construction were off-the-shelf, but matching European off-the-shelf parts from the ‘60s and ‘70s is an uphill battle, as is finding them. Paying to have them shipped often costs more than the part.

Though it’s a “collector” tractor, Mercer puts the one pictured to good use on his country homestead. He found it in 2012 buried under a pile of junk and it hadn’t run in a long while but had only 214 hours showing. He got it operational in 2014, after two years of work. It’s now showing over 800 hours, so it’s no hanger queen. He regularly uses a brush hog with it and when the emerald ash borer killed over 100 trees in his woods, he found the CAST could carry three 6-foot logs on the three point hitch, maneuver through the trees and cross a muddy creek with the load.

Specifications

1970 CAST 435L

Engine: 2-cylinder, air-cooled, DI, Slanzi DVA1500T
Displacement: 81.16 ci (1447cc)
Bore & Stroke: 3.622 x 3.937 in.
Flywheel Power: 32 hp @ 2600 rpm
Compression Ratio: 17:1
Transmission:  6-speed (3×2)
Weight: 2,500 lbs. (base tractor)
Wheelbase: 45.6 in.
LxWxH: 103.9 x 48.6 x 40 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.
Tires: 7.50-16
Fuel Consumption: 0.75 gph @ full power
Top Speed: 13 mph