For a week each year, some of the wealthiest car collectors in the world-love 'em or loathe 'em-get together in Italy for a total-immersion voyage through northern Italian culture, design and grub. Plus lots of driving over perfect two-lane roads in perfect cars.
It's the TAG Heuer Italia Classica and is sponsored by Fiat among others. Invitation only, sucka, and even then it costs $7,500 a head. This was its fifteenth year and the weather was ideal for traveling throughout northwest Italy. Ferrari gave me a new 612 Scaglietti to join the cruise for a couple of days, which traveled to one world-renowned destination after another.
Right away I just have to say how geeked I was to see not just one but two 1962 Ferrari 250 Series 1 GTOs-each in killer original condition and being driven like shifter karts by their owners. And each one worth at least $8,500,000. That's eight and a half million dollars. I had to say that twice. The States were represented by three trophy cars, the most important of these by far being the one-off 250 GT SWB Speciale from 1961, with racing V12 and aluminum sheet metal by Pininfarina.
Making everything even more surreal was that the Italian police-la polizia stradale-blocked traffic everywhere we went and let us drive as fast as we liked. Where else can this happen but in Italy?! So, having fun was actually encouraged.
On one of the first gala evening meals, I ate intestini-or glorified tripe, fresh out of the recently beheaded torso of some local farm animal. And liked it. See, when you're on these millionaire romps, the eccentric food eaten is just as important to live to tell about as the godlike sets of wheels. In this case, while all others backed away in horror, some royal German couple and I elbowed up for a steaming plate of the farmer's finest. All washed down with bottle after bottle of horrendously expensive (but free to me) and delicious local wine-Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and the occasional Sauvignon.
That savory yumminess happened in the 14th century castle at Monticello near the town of Bra. (The word for brassiere in Italian, by the way, is reggiseno, for you perverts.) This place is an imposing fortress with a fully functioning dungeon and outstanding 18th century gardens. It was just one of the many stops along my way in the 612 where I wondered if the cops were going to discover me posing as Richie Rich and cast me into the dungeon.
The next day was when I actually saw all 64 cars involved in the event. We had been carted over to the parking area at the Universitf del Gusto (i.e. "University of Taste") in nearby Pollenzo. Quite an array of orgasmic cars was on hand: a gorgeous and rare 1956 Ferrari 290MM, a couple of Bizzarrinis, Ferrari Spyder Californias, an Aston DB3S, Alfa Romeo Monza, plus a bevy of old Bentleys and Maseratis. Colors from a candy machine.
After this initial morning strutting of stuff, we all drove like wealthy, happy-go-lucky ne'er-do-wells over the Ligurian Alps to the port town of Savona for some time on a yacht that belonged to one of those thousands of former royal families that still holds onto its precious 16th century glow. Ascots and collars turned up all around. Window-sized, round-frame Yves Saint-Laurent sunglasses covering the crows' feet on all the aging women.
Sailing along at over 120 mph on the autostrada south of Turin in my Ferrari, I was amazed to see, thundering up behind me, a gorgeous 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 with Zagato Spyder bodywork. The roaring sound from its 2,336cc eight-cylinder and massive exhaust as I let it pass me was one of the loudest I've ever heard. The British driver and his co-pilot wife were suitably dressed in leather, including proper leather headwear and goggles from the 1930s, both smiling through fly-covered teeth.
My time with this inspiring group of people included a stop at Pininfarina in Cambiano, lunch on the roof of the old Fiat plant at Lingotto with its famed test track, and a visit with Giugiaro. At Lingotto, there is a very famous winding ramp that takes cars up to the roof and it was magical to watch and listen to all of these miraculous cars spiral up and up to the top. During the rooftop lunch, the local carabinieri put on quite a show for us, with various Alfa Romeo patrol cars racing around fighting make-believe criminals.
At Pininfarina I spoke a long time with pal Jason Castriota, exterior designer of the Birdcage 75th, 612 Scaglietti, F430 and upcoming 599 GTB. He told me stories of the amazing sound the Birdcage showcar makes with its 700-bhp version of the Enzo engine.
Finally, we all made the trip southeast to Moncalieri and Giugiaro headquarters. Several well-known past show cars were parked out in front, including the Alfa Romeo Brera and BMW Nazca C2, plus an original De Tomaso Pantera. Giorgetto and his son Fabrizio Giugiaro then spoke with us about their project for the NASA international space station living quarters and showed us the modeling department that was in the process of cutting out a new compact model for a Chinese client.
Ferrari offered me a chance to hang out at the final black tie supper with the swarm of well-heeled, but I coyly deferred the invite. See, I'm a slummer boy and there isn't a monkey suit made that fits me.
I jumped back into my 612 Scag and F1-shifted my way home with a top-speed police escort. It wasn't a dream. Yeah, it was.