It is us who give value and emotion to things, with our knowledge and memories. Classic cars, race meetings and events such as the tribute to Targa Florio allow us to relive happy, carefree years,
when the automobile was also a means for adventurous conquests
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
There are two opposing forces that traverse our brains and souls: that prompts us to look ever forwards with the instinct of finding our space and our role. The first is a positive force that is the key to renewing our own successes or even to starting again when things have not gone the way we would have liked.
The other opposing force is the one that makes us turn to the past, to a golden age, to the legends that have been at the basis of our culture and our dreams.
These legends are not only in the distant past, rather we often reconstruct them ourselves around the memories of our childhood and youth, in the process becoming the “owners” of facts and memories that those younger than us cannot have because they did not experience them.
Among these, with ever-increasing positive energy, there is the legend of the automobile. The memory of Father’s car, of one belonging to a rich neighbour – whether big and luxurious or a sports car – was something to dream about, one which rarely travelled on those roads crowded with little runabouts.
In those days even races had another meaning. Today, when everyone has a car, we cheer for the drivers. Back then, we cheered for this or that make of car, which, in the vast majority of cases, was the one we yearned to own.
The success of today’s classic car events, as we saw recently at the Tribute to Targa Florio in Sicily, has its roots in memories of cars designed for the pleasure of style; of automobiles that, in their simplicity, were created to give the best of what existed. I have driven the Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France in Sicily: beautiful, with its drum brakes, draughts breezing through the doors (created to be closed and not necessarily to eliminate every little gap), with its four gears capable of exploiting the mighty 3.0-litre V12 of that time and its total weight of 800kg, a guarantee for acceleration.
It’s not necessary to have a Ferrari to enjoy these memories; more economical and less exclusive cars also do the trick. It’s enough to see and admire them. With such cars there will always be echoes of the world that welcomed them, a world we remember or imagine.
You don’t need to be Italian to know Fellini’s films: most people are familiar with La Dolce Vita. But it is necessary to be Italian to understand its spirit. For Italians in those years, everyday life became a film. I wish to recall a story I experienced as an eyewitness: Bologna, early summer, a few trams, practically no traffic, occasionally a Fiat 600 or a 1100. It’s dusk and a group of well-off youngsters are sitting outside Viscardi, a fashionable patisserie and bar facing on to the main street, the one that leads to the famous towers. All of a sudden there slides by – because it did not go like the other automobiles, but seemed precisely to slide – a white open-top Austin Healey 100/6, driven by a stupendous girl with a wide-brimmed hat. You can imagine the excitement and the comments. Who is she? No one had seen her in the city before. Some of the more resourceful youngsters jump into their cars, which could easily be parked anywhere in those days, and they chase after her. They return later, telling us that she stopped at the luxurious, recently opened Hotel Carlton. The evening goes by with discussions about who she might be and who should try to woo her. One of the more notoriously wealthy ones doesn’t hesitate to say that she will be his. But how can he reel her in? The day after, radiant, he appears for an aperitif: this evening she dines with me! So, how did you do it? Simple, was the reply, and with a colourful expression that alludes to the girl’s beautiful rear, he explains that, to start a conversation, he bumped the curvaceous bottom of the seductive Austin Healey with his car. No damage done, but the result was a successful invitation to dinner. For us, the excluded ones, this hurts. To tell the truth, the woman was beautiful and for a few days it seemed true love had blossomed. Until our friend appeared looking like he had lost a fortune at the casino. The girl, the car and a lot of his money had disappeared. That’s the last he heard of her. Good girl!
And what do legends have to do with it? That, in addition to the Ferrari (and I don’t want to make comparisons, let that be clear) I have never forgotten that English roadster, so impudently elegant. Neither has my friend, but for very different reasons!