Some readers might recall my very first article for ViaRETRO this time last year, when I reported on the spectacular Auto Italia Day that took place at Brooklands Museum; a day filled with Italian style and glamour in the spectacular shapes of cars such as a Maserati A6G, a Ferrari 250GT Lusso, a Moretti 2300SS and much more. All of this while basking in the warmest early May sunshine on record, so I was very much looking forward to this year’s event, and it did not disappoint, despite the efforts of the weather gods.
I think Brooklands is sufficiently well known among our readers for me not to go into its history this time around. Suffice to say that with its historic banked track, period garages and hangars and old aircraft parked around the site, I consider it one of the most evocative sites for a classic car event, along with Bicester Heritage – in my corner of England, at least.
Unlike last year, this day started off very chilly, brightened up towards lunchtime and then proceeded to give us a typical English “four seasons in one day”, throwing in some rain and hail along the way – all distinctly un-Riviera like for the start of this May Bank Holiday weekend. Nevertheless, Brooklands looked splendid as many hundreds of Italian cars and bikes of all ages, sizes and values poured in from 8:30 onwards – the only qualifying requirement to take part in Auto Italia Day is that your vehicle of choice is Italian, no matter whether it is old or new, modest or extravagant, two-wheeled or four.
By mid-morning the famous 112-year-old banked section, largely given over to Fiat, was full, the Alfa Romeo Club had their own car park, and dozens of Ferrari’s, Maserati’s, Lamborghini’s and Lancia’s filled other areas around the site. There were certainly more than 1000 cars in attendance, so it would be entirely unrealistic to attempt describing everything – however, at least half the cars were moderns or youngtimers, making my task a little easier. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of classic examples of the Italian motor industry’s wonderful heritage. I’ll focus on those which truly caught my eye, while the photographs will hopefully tell the story for the rest.
First up, a gorgeous pair of Alfa Romeo’s in the shapes of a stunning 1964 Bertone-designed dark blue Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale and a mid-blue Giulietta Spider, situated at one end of the Alfa Romeo Club’s area, and luckily, both owners were around to talk a little about their cars.
Designed by Franco Scaglione at Bertone, the SS is owned by Brej Kantarjian, who bought the car at auction in Brescia some 30 years ago. It’s a second-generation SS, with the larger 1570cc engine instead of the 1290cc of the Giulietta – hence, Giulia. Since purchase, it’s been resprayed in its original “bluette” and is used reasonably regularly by Berj. Fewer than 2,800 Giulietta/Giulia Sprint Speciales were produced and those that come up for sale now are fetching around the €125,000-plus mark.
The immaculate 1962 Giulia 1600 Spider belongs to Richard Wigley, Chairman of the Giulietta Register which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Incidentally, both cars qualify for the Register as they were originally Giulietta’s when launched, both are known by Alfa Romeo themselves as model type 101, and the Giulietta body shapes were kept unchanged when the larger engine was installed – and why would you change them? The Register has about 180 UK members and they put on a gorgeous display of these elegant cars to mark the their 40th anniversary.
As you might expect, the wider Alfa Romeo section contained many of the marque’s best-loved classics in among the moderns – several 105/115’s, Juniors, Alfetta’s, a couple of Alfasuds, various Spiders including a couple of very lovely Duetto’s, 33’s, 75’s and what was for me the last interesting Alfa Romeo, the 164.
However, perhaps the most fabulous – and certainly most valuable – of the many Alfa Romeo’s at Brooklands on the day was a glorious 1933 8C 2300 Spider in battleship grey, which also graced the Mercedes-Benz World test track on a demo run later in the day.
As the morning started to brighten a little, I caught up with an old petrolhead friend and geek and after a much-needed warming coffee and blueberry muffin, we moved on towards the paddock area where some of the day’s most exotic cars could be found. The A6G and Moretti’s of last year were absent this time; in fact, I didn’t spot a single Moretti which was disappointing, but there was plenty of glamour to compensate, including a superb Lamborghini 400GT with the perfect number plate – LAM 1. Add to that a fabulous trio of De Tomaso’s, of which the most exciting for me was a brutal metallic blue Mangusta. Interestingly, a Swiss interloper in the form of a beautiful Monteverdi High Speed 375L was lurking in one corner of the paddock – its Italian connection was of course its Fissore-designed body, and let’s be honest, Monteverdi sounds Italian anyway…
Besides the 400GT, there were superb examples from the home of the fighting bull in the shape of the Lamborghini Jalpa, the Jarama, the Espada, and not least a stunning real-life example of the poster which graced many a schoolboy’s bedroom wall – a bright red 1987 Countach with white leather upholstery, no less. Subsequent Lamborghini’s are of little interest to me, although I’m happy that such bonkers cars are made and that people buy them – they brighten an otherwise largely dull modern car world.
As anticipated, there was no shortage of classic Italian glamour from the country’s most famous name, Ferrari. We were treated to several timelessly beautiful designs by Pininfarina such as a 1966 275GTS, a 1968 365GT 2+2, and even a 1973 Daytona Spider as well as a handful of Dino’s, including one in my favourite Giallo Fly – one of a number of cars brightening up the day in various vivid shades of yellow. There were also dozens of later Maranello products, from the 308 and 328 through a whole bunch of other numbers, culminating in a black Enzo. I have to say that from the 328 onwards, I find most Ferrari’s impressive rather than loveable.
Other yellow lovelies included a very rarely-seen 1964 Iso Rivolta IR340, this one a unique competition car with its 5.4-litre V8 Chevrolet engine boosted to produce 460bhp – up from 335bhp. Oddly, it was even right-hand-drive. For even more yellow, there was an utterly gorgeous 1968 Maserati Mistral Spyder as well as a purposeful 1995 Lancia Integrale HF Evo II. And let’s not forget the Fiat 128 parked under Concorde’s wing, and a series of perky FIAT 500s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – almost every classic looks great in yellow!
Last year I was caught out by my own ignorance of the kit car industry, particularly around the Lancia Stratos, having got very excited by the sight of three… Hawks. This year, there was another Stratos in the paddock area, but this one was wearing Torino plates and full rally kit. It looked superb, but the owner was not around and I’ve yet to be able to establish whether this one was the real deal or not… if anyone knows how to check Italian licence plates, please let me know, as I would love this one to be an actual Stratos.
In amongst all this exotic sporting glamour and power was what turned out to be, for me at least, the car of the day. Last year, it was an exquisite Moretti 2300SS that made everyone stop what they were doing and look – this time, it was a tiny scarab-like car that looked for all the world like it had just been landed by miniature aliens. In fact, it was a 1957 Abarth Goccia (meaning teardrop – the car allegedly had a drag co-efficient of just 0.28) with a fascinating history. Only three of these aerodynamic 750cc Michelotti-designed, Vignale-built coupés were produced, of which two survive – one in Japan, and this 1957 black on red example, owned by Delwyn Mallett. Delwyn had bought the car in Malta for about £3-4,000, it having previously been based in Sicily, where it had competed in three Targa Florio’s, though never managing to finish one. While I was talking to Delwyn, he was also fending off an interested potential buyer, though I didn’t hear any sums being offered. I have a feeling that prising this almost unique piece of motoring history from his hands will take some doing, even though the one in Japan went for a rumoured €335,000 a few years ago.
This marvellous – if peculiar-looking – tiny car was parked alongside an equally minute Autobianchi Bianchini – the two made quite the pair, one for each pocket.
Continuing our wanderings, we set off on the very short walk over to Mercedes-Benz World to join the slightly smaller queues for lunch there and to watch some of the demonstration laps on the MBW test track. While it’s always a treat to wander about looking at parked up classics, it’s even better to see and hear them being driven.
Back around the museum site itself, we continued to come across wonderful examples of the classic Italian sports and GT car – from Maserati, a superb gold 1971 Quattroporte (taste it… doesn’t it just sound so much better than “Four Door”!), and one of my favourite Masers, a Khamsin.
It wasn’t all exotic high-end sports cars, though. Besides the extraordinary Goccia, there was a formidable line-up of Abarths, most of which were also present last year. Equally, there were multiple gorgeous examples of FIAT’s classics from before they became boring, among them a stylish pair of early Spiders; a black 1964 1500 Spider and a lovely 1962 1200 in red. These delicately pretty cars – also designed by Pininfarina, don’t forget – were strong rivals for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Giulia Spiders of the time, and nowadays represent more financially viable alternatives, being available at significantly lower prices than the Alfa’s. Another delectable FIAT, this time a deep blue 1970 Dino Spider is of course now much sought-after and prices have risen sharply over recent years. Nevertheless, it’s still only a fraction the price of the Ferrari it shares its engine with.
My favourite FIAT of the day, though, came in the form of yet another yellow car, a delightful 124 Sport Coupé, owned by Mike Allen. Mike has owned the car for three years but is now reluctantly selling it as it isn’t getting used enough, and he also needs to make space for other projects (sound familiar?), principally an Alfa Romeo 75. Personally, I’d keep the 124, and if I had room, would have been happy to take it off his hands.
In line with our occasional focus on Zagato this year, I had hoped to encounter a number of Zagato cars at Brooklands – there were several last year – but they were thin on the ground this weekend with a single red Fulvia Sports HF being the only one I spotted. There were, however, some other fine Lancia’s around, my personal favourite being a metallic grey 1962 Flaminia GT Coupé with its distinctive tail lights, as well as a lovely pale blue 1959 Aurelia B20, plus a few Montecarlo’s, a distinctive gold metallic Gamma Coupé as well as a smattering of Fulvia’s.
If it seems that I’ve concentrated mostly on the more exotic end of the classic Italian car spectrum, I make no apologies. With the exception of the original FIAT 500, there were relatively few of the more modest classics which the majority of Italians drove back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and later family cars such as the Strada, Punto, Panda, Alfa 145 and 147 etc simply don’t interest me.
As we approached the time for test hill runs, the weather took a decided turn for the worse, giving us a typically English “four seasons in one day”, with alternating rain, hail, wind and sun. It didn’t stop some brave souls testing their cars against the 1-in-8 through 1-in-6 to 1-in-4 inclined 107 metre long hill. However, most of the cars lining up were moderns so after watching a FIAT 850 in JW Gulf colours sail up the hill, I made my way towards the exit after what had been yet another very pleasing day.
Car of the day for me was undoubtedly the Abarth Goccia, not for its looks but for its history. The car I would have been most happy to take home – that exquisite Mistral, but in the real world? Probably Mike’s yellow FIAT 124 Sport Coupé…