The Unreliable Olivetti 32/35

My fickle little Italian racer, a mashup of Lettera 32 engine grafted into a sturdier Lettera 35 body. She'd be so nice if she'd just run reliably. Her problem seems to stem from either the carriage locking mechanism or a tiny cog buried deep inside the escapement spacing mechanism. It happens so sporadically that I haven't really nailed down the cause or a fix.

Teaser for G+

Updated: August 30, 2012 — 1:04 pm


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  1. My 32 occasionally locks up on me, but it is just the carriage lock. I’ve modified the ribbon spools to the thumb screws set down lower in the plastic spool center. Sometimes the thumb screw gets loose and I have to tighten it back down and inevitably, I engage the carriage lock. Now, it is not doing this randomly, so a slightly different issue, but still annoying. When that thumbscrew loosens up, then the ribbon doesn’t advance and I get faint print.

    1. different issue, i think. What happens is I’ll be typing along and at some point when I throw the carriage return, the carriage won’t stay on 0 position, it just flails back and forth as if the escapement was disconnected. I’ve taken it apart and stood it on it’s back and watched the gears inside, and there’s a tiny cog I can poke at and something goes “click” and that *sometimes* fixes it. Also, if I engage the carriage lock, and carry it around a little and set it down and unlock it again, *that sometimes* fixes it. Neither of these fixes work every time.

  2. You’ll have an Olivetti redemptive moment in your lifetime, I just know it. ( ;

    1. I hope so. I’ve also got a Lettera 22 that works fine except for the fact that the carriage return lever is broken off. *le sigh*

      1. This seems to be a fairly common thing that happens to these machine. It’s just a vulnerable spot. I had one like this and then I finally replaced it with the lever from a parts machine that has truly irreparable issues and now it is by far my favourite. You can replace just the lever on its hinge pin (fiddly reattaching everything), or you can actually take the entire carriage end/line spacing/return mechanism in one foul swoop. After much emailing and being told to toss the machine, I am glad that I took the plunge. Especially because it has the ever-so-lovely little elite font that everybody but me seems to dislike. Ha!

        In reponse to everyone else here, yes, they are fiddly little creatures. I’ve had about fifteen of them (mostly 22 and 32s, but also an Underwood 330 and some others) on the bench in the last few months for various friends and colleagues and they are fussy. I find that a good dishsoap bath and then proper application of isopropanol followed by a good Swiss watch oil (not in the segment!) cures many ails. The remaining issues sometimes need careful ajustment. They are sensitive to the fact that hammers are short and simply do not have very much mass to overcome misalignment. Another thing that seems to happen is that the basket shift mechanism tends to go out of adjustment, leaving your vertical alignment all gone to hell. Set and lock screw pivot points and a little metal tab allow this to be adjusted up nice and tight… don’t try and undo the set screws without having undone the locking nut on the inside of the machine!


        Late night Olivetti binge :-)

        Cheers, all.

        1. Oh, yes, and the carriage locks tend to slip into place all of their own free will. I don’t know. I am so used to this now that it’s just second nature to reach over mid-sentence and flip the little tab back up. It’s a precariously balanced mechanism, a good rattling just sets it off sometimes. Oh well.

        2. Ahh yes, necro’d a 2012 post in 2014! :D

          Update: the L22 I tried and tried and could never get that damn set-pin (the teeny-tiny one at the base of the pivot) to budge, so could never get that fixed. Ended up stealing parts off it for other people’s machines and finally gave it to another collector for parts. Sad. It had nice action, but at least it helped several other 22’s to live again.

          The 32/35 has finally been tuned to proper racing action. She’s even got a new paint job and name:

          1. It helps to have an offset pair of polished-jaw pliers and to construct a little pin of the same gauge music wire (perhaps 5mm in length) to use a tool to dislodge the pin. This is kind of the reason that I would suggest replacing the whole LH carriage block if possible though.

        3. Alexander,

          I picked up an L32 with the small Elite font that I like, but my vertical alignment is all often after I cleaned, bathed and fixed this machine to working order. You wrote that if this happened: “Set and lock screw pivot points and a little metal tab allow this to be adjusted up nice and tight… don’t try and undo the set screws without having undone the locking nut on the inside of the machine!” After cleaning a few of these, I’m relatively familiar with the inner workings of the L32, but I don’t know what you mean by the “locking nut” … could you illuminate me so I don’t end up with the machine falling into pieces on me!?!?!

          1. hmmn, the problem with these old threads is I forget what the context was. The quote you attribute to me I can’t find, so I’ll guess that I was talking about the basket shift adjuster for vertical alignment. It’s at the very bottom of the typebasket assembly. Should be two set screws with locking nuts, one to adjust the uppercase stop and the other, lowercase. They can be seen by removing the bottom cover of the machine.

          2. Hi Lucas,

            I was going to post my email address directly in here for you to write me, but I am concerned about opening up the spam floodgates…

            I have been doing a lot of repairs for clients lately, and this does come up with some regularity, so if I get a chance (I realize this message might be arriving significantly too late), I’ll take some photos and post a little article on my site (I’m not sure if it’s in poor taste to post a link here, so I’ll hold off until told otherwise here first).

            In short however, it’s important to assess which part of the alignment is off. Is it certain characters? Or is it all upper or lower case characters? Or is it inconsistent? If the former, there may be nothing short of resoldering typeslugs that can cure it. If the second, then you will have to deal with the aforementioned set-screws on the belly of the beast (*note* in all honesty I wouldn’t recommend doing this yourself if it is your first time as the fiddliness is extreme and easy to muck up…). If the latter, then most likely the mechanism which keeps the basket shift in place while writing has play in it, or the positioning & set screws on the left and right side of the frame have play in them, allowing for segment ‘bounce’, for lack of a better word. These last are particularly fragile and intolerant to anything but exactly the right fit of machine driver, and *will* snap if abused even slightly. You don’t want to know the amount of annoyance this has caused me.

        4. Hi Alexander. Whenever this thread was done, you spoke of the ease in replacing the carriage lever by removing a pin. I have a broken lever and a ‘parts machine’. Can you walk me through changing out the lever? Thanks. ~

      2. Were you able to find another lever? Source, if any? Please respond by email.


        Bill F.

  3. Never had problems with my Lettera 32s (one is brand new as of yesterday, but the other is great. Does any of the issue have to do with it being a Frankenstein machine?

    1. Nah, it did this occasionally when it was in it’s original body too. In fact, the mechanism has more room in the 35 case than it does in the 32 case.

  4. What a mysterious femme fatale this is!

  5. Ha ha ha ha…

    Oh, this pain sounds only too familiar.

    Check out how badly an Olivetti relationship can end….

    Nightmares, stress, pain…. The Olivetti name is mud in my books. Don’t trust my Valentine’s sisters.

    1. Olivettis are delicate and temperamental little senoritas, aren’t they? Oh, but how I’m attracted to them. It is doom, I tell you – DOOM!

      1. Tell me about it. I’ve got a Lettera 32 of my own that I’m going to tackle at one point. But I’m just waiting for my patience to return.

  6. Scott, I thought you’ve reconciled with your funny Valentine. ( :

    1. Oh. not yet!

      But I have plans…….

  7. maschinengeschrieben

    Both of my Letteras. the 32 and the 25, have issues with the carriage lock. If I remember correctly, I simply removed the locking piece with a screwdriver. Or was that on the Mercedes?

  8. I’m going to go out on a limb here and expose myself – I don’t understood the appeal of the Olivettis. I know everyone raves about their visual designs, but I find their appearance plain or unappealing at best, and downright ugly in many cases. (The Valentine simply looks pretentiously unfinished to me, and that Praxis looks to me like something a 14-year-old would sketch after watching too many Star Trek episodes.) Also, my typing experience on them is disheartening. For instance, I have a “new” in-the-crate all-metal Linea 98. The alignment is off, and if I don’t pause after typing a capital, the next letter sits high and dry above the line. But beyond this, the keys, though the same size as on other typewriters, feel much smaller due to the molding on them, leading me to think my fingers are somewhere they shouldn’t be. The tab rattles like a Model T, and the carriage is sluggish. In fact, typing on it is like running on sand. Maybe it’s just a lemon, but this isn’t my only experience with Olivettis and none of them have impressed me.

    For typing, give me a Royal HH or an Olympia any time. And for design, the mid-century Adlers and Royals, or the Voss, or the old Remingtons. I guess I just like curves better than Bauhaus.

  9. It’s interesting to read these various observations and opinions about Olivettis. Just goes to show you that mileage truly does vary.

    Although my two Valentines are not the smoothest or most substantial typewriters in the Universe, they both work fine and are relatively pleasant to type on. I wouldn’t want to pound out a NOVEL on one, however.

    But the most disagreeable typewriter in my collection is the Olivetti 31, which at first I thought was a “Dora” but lacks several of its features. I paid $3 for it at a thrift store, not realizing that the screws holding the guts to the shell were missing. When I finally replaced them and gave the typewriter a test, it had the most unpleasant action. It’s difficult to describe — but it’s mushy and hard at the same time. The platen is loose. The left margin is moody on the best of days.

    I suppose that I could use it for parts. I wouldn’t want to inflict this particular machine on anyone else.

  10. I had the same problem with a 22. I bet if you squirt some Ronsonol on the central gear escapement this will free up the little detent that is spring operated.

  11. I have a problem… My Olivetti Lettera 32 doesn’t have any thumb spools. Anything I could use instead maybe? Has anyone “hacked” the machine per say?

    1. They’re a common metric thread, I think. try taking it to a hardware store and seeing if they have nuts that match the thread. I have a regular old nut on one of my letteras and it works fine.

      1. These little guys are in fact an metric M3 thread. No hacking of any kind necessary – kind of a scary word to mention around machine enthusiasts. Don’t let anybody try to sell you “special” Olivetti thumbscrews for too much money, you can get them on ebay (just go to the German ebay) by searching for M3 Rändelmutter. Pick the ones you like best, pay your 4-6 euro and never think about the problem again :-)

        1. Exactly, there are people trying to sell so called specialist parts, when all they are is an M3 Knurled Thumbnut! I got some on ebay, but not the lovely original colour, these are black but they do the job just fine.
          I think the problem is people don’t know what these nuts, bolts and springs are called so they don’t know how to search for them.

          1. >Exactly, there are people trying to sell so called specialist parts, >when all they are is an M3 Knurled Thumbnut!

            You are an inspiration and a (helpful) scholar!

  12. My newly-purchased Olivetti Lettera 32 (9XXXXXX Barcelona means it’s probably 1977?) works great except that new sheets of paper catch in the floating metal hood on the type guide (what is this called I wonder?) and I have to fiddle the leading edge of the page through the metal maze as I roll the page into position. The metal hood seems to be dropping on the left side but I can’t see if that’s how it’s designed or not. Anybody have a solution for this? Thanks very much. Otherwise I love this typewriter since I got a new ribbon for it — beautiful!

    1. PS: serial no. is 9317504 or 9817504 — hard to make out.

    2. difficult to tell without photos, but you can check photos of other L32’s to see if the hood is set normally. I only have the one, and it’s heavily customized.

  13. It’s the “ribbon guide” that’s loosely hanging to the left and possibly catching the paper as it feeds up through the roller into view.

    1. oh, that thing. I see now. It should hang straight, but I’ve never seen one bent, so couldn’t tell you a specific fix except “bend’er ’till she looks right”. :D

  14. The ribbon guide seems to catch the leading edge of the paper as it feeds around and up. Any way to post photos here? I noticed that if I force the page through the whole ribbon guide and ribbon assembly will rise up about ¼ of an inch, then drop down as the paper comes up and breaks free. Damage to the page seems to get less as the machine gets used to me doing this. Weird though!

    1. I have upgraded your account at the Typewriter Database to “Typewriter Hunter”. You can now post your machine gallery there. Perhaps someone there will know. As a “Typewriter Hunter” you also have access to a message thread for your gallery, where you can ask questions for other Hunters to answer. (:

  15. Thank you!! Heading over there now to take a peck.

  16. I have an Olivetti 22 with an unusually nice typeface halfway between “Olivetti Wide” and modern Courier in a Pica format. I’d like to use it more but it has an escapement problem that causes the carriage to jump irregularly to the left, leaving an unwanted space in a word. It happens mainly when using keys on the left like a, s, e, f etc. Can someone tell me how to adjust the escapement to fix this? Also,I have seen plenty of O22’s with Elite “Olivetti Wide” typeface, does anyone know whether they were made in Pica?

  17. Hello guys. I just got hold of a an italian made lettera 32(1965). Apparently the spool on the right was put in place with a hardware store nut with a tiny rubber sleeve/tube on the spool shaft. I guess it was done because of missing spool nut. Fortunately, it was found inside the writer. I replaced that spool with the original nut. When i typed, the spool was not moving as it is supposed to. The ribbon was not moving as a result and the prints got faint as i typed away. Could it be the case of an incorrect spool that the previous owner went around doing this? It worked fine with that hardware store nut and rubber tubing on the spool shaft. Hope someone can help me out here. Thank you

  18. Not sure if this is the place to ask, but I recently purchased an Olivetti Lettera 32 with a script typeface. In the process of trying to clean/restore the machine, I made the (rookie) mistake of not covering the keycaps. Consequently, some of them were splashed with lacquer thinner and have “foggy” spots.

    Is this something that can be corrected by polishing the keycaps with some very fine (~2000) sandpaper and then sealing them with a protectant?

    If not, is it possible to remove and replace the keycaps with parts from a “donor” machine?

    I scanned the ‘Typewriter Repair Bible’ but I could not find something addressing this question in particular.


    1. No idea, I’ve never done that. looks like you try what seems likely to work, and if it doesn’t, start looking for a junker with good keytops. (:

      1. Thank you kindly; I’ll follow-up with the results.

  19. Hey! I recently found a 1966 Lettera 32 and I’m having an issue with the carriage return lever. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it but I’ll do my best. Where the lever slides vertically into the machine, there is a smaller piece that should connect to the bottom (horiztonally). If you lay this piece flat, it looks almost like the profile of a penguin. Well this small piece that should go on the bottom seems to have disconnected and now the carriage doesn’t advance. I’m guessing the disconnect is between the bottom of the lever and the line-space adjuster/return. I’d love to send a pic if you want to provide your email, as I will provide mine below as well. Thank you!

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