ROAD TRIP TO ITALY
Well, actually that title is a little misleading. I didn’t drive, I flew. But Kelli and I did get a chance in June to spend 2 weeks in Tuscany, along with our adult children and their spouses. So this was mainly a wine and food adventure but being a car guy, I spent my 2 weeks on the lookout for cool car stuff.
As far as “wow” moments they were few and far between. As I’m sure many of our CJC members know, Europe is rife with little cars that one never sees here in the States. Interesting for sure and when almost everyone on the road is driving small cars, it seems like they do a much better job of playing together well than here, where there seems to be a race to see who can have the highest vantage point from their SUV. Heck, my 96 XJ6 is now a small car in the US, when parked next to current offerings from Honda and Toyota. But I digress.
As I said, there were an abundance of small cars for me to observe. What I noticed is that when you’re Italian and you’ve got some extra jingle in your pocket, it looks like the Audi A6 or BMW 5 series seems to be the most common step up the ladder. And I did see quite a few X-Types, S-Types, and the odd XJ sedan now and then. I saw an XJ sedan in Rome traffic, surrounded by a snarling pack of scooters and thought “My, there goes a brave soul!” I took the train into Rome, thank you! Speaking of trains, getting from one place to another by train was generally a very excellent experience. I was able to slake my need for speed one day when we took one of the red high-speed bullet trains from Bologna to Milan. According to Wikipedia, these trains are designed for a top speed of 190 mph! I would tend to believe we were getting close to that range. The scenery was a blur.
But the real reason for this article is to talk about my day checking out the competition at Ferrari and Lamborghini. I signed up for an excellent tour under the auspices of www.motorstars.org. This is actually a one man show put on by Francesco and his Mercedes 8 passenger “taxi”. Francesco puts on a class act from start to finish. After picking me up at the Bologna train station, we drove about 45 minutes to Modena and the Lamborghini factory. According to his website, factory tours at Lamborghini had been suspended due to the recent earthquake but I was in luck, as they had just re-established tours the previous day. The Lamborghini factory tour is very up close and personal. Lamborghini takes small groups directly onto the factory floor, under the guidance of an experienced tour guide. As an engineer, I was fascinated to see how their little assembly line works. They basically have 26 “stations” from start to finish. Each car spends about 1 hour at each station, so the car is on the line about 3 days. It is a very relaxed atmosphere. One leaves with the impression that the car is truly hand-built. We also toured the engine assembly and upholstery shops. It was a fascinating tour. We ended our stay at Lamborghini with a tour of their museum, which had some very interesting pieces in it.
Next we hopped back into the taxi and drove over to Maranello and Ferrari. I have mixed emotions about that part of the tour. Ferrari loads everyone into red buses, after they make a big deal of putting a little sticker over the aperture of your cellphone camera, and then they drive you down the main boulevard between the various factory buildings, with the guide telling you what you would be able to see if you were actually allowed into said buildings. Pretty lame, in my opinion. They also drive by the F1 shops and around the edge of the test track. But things get much better with the museum tour. Francesco personally leads his group through the Ferrari museum. What with his excellent presentation and the abundance of cool stuff to be seen in the Ferrari museum, it was quite a treat! I did pass on spending 40 euros on a tee-shirt with a Ferrari logo in the Ferrari shop.
Finally, we headed for our last stop. This part of the story is rather interesting. It seems that a local Italian man made a small fortune back in the 50’s with the invention of a breakthrough manufacturing process involving baseball trading cards about the same time that Maserati had fallen upon hard times and was offering up its collection of significant cars for sale. This fellow apparently purchased the Maserati car collection and established it in a building on his farm property. He went on to pursue an additional passion, which was the making of fine Parmesan cheese. They claim that his cheese is very highly regarded and favored by the Vatican. My wife discovered that the cheese will also set off the alarms with TSA on the return flight home after clearing customs in Philadelphia.
So with this part of the story setting the stage, Francesco drove down a long entry road and pulled up in front of a cluster of buildings, with the sales office for cheese being front and center. “Sei qui per assaggiare il formaggio? (Are you here to sample our cheese?)” inquired the lady behind the counter. “Non, siamo qui per vedere le machina. (We are here to see the cars.)” said Francesco. “Ah, va bene. Andare avanti a destra. (Ah, very good. Go right ahead)” she said. And with that, Francesco led us past a large building that he said housed a collection of military vehicles, then past a collection of vintage tractors under a shed, and into a large building filled with cars. My first thought was “this is what happens when a hoarder has too much money”! The room was crammed with cars. We started to explore. Along the left side were examples of Maserati sports cars such as Boras, Mereks, and Kamsins. Down the middle I spied Grand Prix cars from the 50’s and 60’s. On the right side appeared to be whatever non-Maserati cars that had struck the gentleman’s fancy. Farther to the rear were not one but two “bird cage” Maseratis. These routinely sell for 7 figures. The second floor housed literally dozens of motorcycles of all types. Last but not least, making my day complete, I spied a 1961 E-type coupe towards the rear of the hall. It was no trailer queen, rather it was set up for track use with a roll cage, fuel cell, and modern fire suppression system. All in all, this little out-of-the-way museum was the highlight of my day. I would have never found it on my own.
As must happen, my fun day eventually came to end when Francesco dropped me back off at the train station. I was quite tired but very happy about my trip when I arrived back at the “villa” late that night. By all means, if you get a chance to get near Bologna, consider taking this tour. It is well worth it and quite an experience.