Italian Gems

2016 at Concorso Italiano

It may be unwise to begin a story about beautiful cars with pictures of an ugly one. Nevertheless yes, there are ugly Italian cars. There. I said it. This one was at the Concorso Italiano three years ago and at the Auction at Gooding the following year. I posted a picture of it in my coverage of the Auction, so this may be repetitious.

Drogo 330GTC

With so much Piedmontese pulchritude everywhere on the Bayonet Black Horse Country Club links, it’s good to be reminded that the other side of the “freedom to excel” coin is the freedom to fail. This 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Speciale is a one-off (thanks be!) by Drogo. It failed to meet its reserve when offered at Gooding & Co. in 2014 (below) for an estimate of $400,000 – $600,000.

Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Speciale

Alfas – Resurgent?

Alfa Romeo as a new car brand was absent from the US market for so long, and promises of a return were so frequently unmet that those of us who admire the marque became wary of premature anticipation.

The Alfa Romeo 4C has been with us for a while, but we must be forgiven for withholding our sighs of relief  until a less single-focus, mainstream Alfa came along.

With the prospect of deliveries of the new Giulia previewed by the introduction last year of the 500-plus horsepower “Quadrifoglio” version, we now dare to hope.

Only shown in rather drab gray at the Los Angeles International Auto Show last year (and under the tent at the Concorso this summer, below), the Giulia “Quad” seduced in a midnight metallic blue on the grass.  A rather generic profile is rescued by very Alfa-esque wheels and an unmistakable face. With 503 SAE net horsepower (510 DIN) from its 90° twin-turbo V6, it promises class-leading performance.

Georgetto Giugiaro, in his early career working for Bertone, created the Alfa Romeo 105 (115 in the U. S.) in 1961, with proportions that still look perfect today. The cars have appeared in some ten variations, with four different displacement versions of the same alloy DOHC eight-valve engine. Our photographer, Mr. Ephraim Levy, is just finishing up refreshing his own 1974 2000 GT Veloce.

50th Anniversaries

The Fiata

The average Joe has a tough time justifying the luxury of a two-seat sports car. That was as true in 1966 as it is today, and as today there were few choices then that did not break the bank. British sports cars had agricultural pushrod engines sourced from staid upright sedans. An Alfa had overhead cams and a five-speed gearbox, but they were half again as expensive as an MG.

Enter the Fiat 124. With styling cues recognizable as related to the lovely Ferrari 275 GTS from the same American Tom Tjaarda, it just looked right. Powered by a dual overhead cam four driving through a five-speed gearbox, it was a delight to drive, if not to maintain. But they were priced right.

Carrozzeria Touring, with their patented Superleggera coachwork system, was honored at the Concorso this year. We were grateful that a few Early Fiat 124 spiders snuck into the background of this shot so we could show a glimpse.

Today, with Consumer Reports and the J. D. Power rankings exposing any such shortcomings, Fiat did the smart thing. They went to an established Japanese carmaker with a proven record of making affordable roadsters that didn’t break, and partnered with Mazda on the development of their latest MX-5 Miata.

he elongated hexagon of the grille, signature hood cam bulges, and the sensuous sweep of Italian fender line leave no doubt of the inspiration of Fiat’s new 124 Spider. Mazda underpinnings promise a level of unfamiliar reliability, while a turbo four sourced from the frisky 500 Abarth, offers a few more beans in the recipe over the naturally aspirated Miata four.

The Graduate

Even if someone knows nothing about cars, they probably know this one. A poorly documented story has a young Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin, in The Graduate) introducing his uncle, an executive with some connection with Alfa, to the director, facilitating the product placement coup of the day.

Above, displaying their “cuttlefish” tails, Alfa Romeo Duettos crowd each other on the Concorso fairway on the 50th anniversary of the model introduction. The name was trademarked by a biscuit maker, so the factory never officially called it that, but few Alfisti care. Below, a lone Duetto punctuates a gathering of GTVs.
Lone DuettoWith GTVs

Mid-engine Magic – the Miura

A little like Henry Ford before him, Enzo Ferrari was wary of change. He was late in employing disc brakes, for instance. While racing cars, including his own, were steadily adopting the rear-mid engine layout, his first excursion into road cars with the engine behind the driver involved only cars that did not bear the Ferrari name – the six-cylinder Dinos.

Ferruccio Lamborghini, on the other hand, embraced innovation. Given the freedom to experiment, three of his engineers built a transverse-mid-engine exotic chassis incorporating the Lamborghini V12. Ferrari had refused to build a mid-engine V12, but Ferruccio welcomed the idea, and they were tasked with building a show chassis for Turin in 1965. It was a smash hit.

Many mid-engine cars are ill-proportioned, with the length of an engine between the cockpit and the rear axle line giving them the look of a kind of exotic pickup truck. Some manufacturers employ styling artifices such as sail panels and flying buttresses to reduce the effect. With its transverse-mounted 4-liter V12 mounted almost directly atop the rear axle (above), the Miura needed no such tricks. It remains to this day a paragon of Italian design and engineering. Below is a shot of one at Pebble Beach. The model was honored at both shows.

The Miura has to be counted as the first exotic car. Nothing had been built like it for sale before. With a 170 mile per hour top speed, it was easily the top dog among sports cars.

Italian Animals

When I was discharged form the Army in 1971 my father picked me up at the Orange County Airport in his fly yellow DeTomaso Mangusta, so I have a special affection for the products of Alejandro DeTomaso’s Modena Car Company. Before that I was captivated by the sheer audacity of the Mangusta’s Giugiaro design. Extreme low-set quad headlights, butterfly engine compartment lids, and those staggered tire sizes that made it look as though it was gathered to spring gave it a menace unmatched then or since.

The attraction, of course, was all that exotic Italian flair without the angst of multiple overhead cams and carburetors that baffled your corner garage. The prototype Mangusta had the Hi-Po Ford 289 V8, but by introduction time emission controls had arrived, and it was replaced with a 302 of mild tune and low redline.

Spectators approach the DeTomaso Mangusta display on the 50th anniversary of its introduction – or are they just headed for the temporary washrooms behind?

The Mangusta had a reputation for challenging handling characteristics, so when Ford commissioned a replacement, the transmission was inverted to lower the center of gravity, and that, along with the substitution of the 351 Cleveland V8 addressed most of the Mangusta’s concerns. Above you’ll find the Fiat 124’s design attributed to Tom Tjaarda, and he was at Ghia when they styled the Pantera. It’s a nice design, with hidden headlights that met the Federal standards that caused the Mangusta to contract a case of strabismus in 1970, but it lacked the ‘Goose’s visual impact.

With a longer run and Mercury dealer support, Panteras far outnumber Mangustas (6,128 to 400). Owners are passionate, and not shy about dressing their cars up. They show up with regularity in large numbers at these shows, like 227HKV below, exhibited in 2013 and 2016.

It’s no Concorso Without Ferraris

The Ferrari answer to the Miura was pretty ordinary by the new standard – the front-engine 365 GTB/4 Daytona. It was a high-performance car to be sure, but front-engines were so ’60s.

The mid-engine V12 that Enzo finally built, the 512 BB (Berlinetta Boxer) didn’t arrive until the Miura had been out of production for a year, in 1973.

The BB’s replacement was a rather strange machine. Impossibly wide, with cheese-grater side strakes, the Testarossa and subsequent 512 TR suffered briefly from its association with the TV show Miami Vice and the occasional Camaro-based imitation. Appreciation is recovering though, and the cars are now regaining some of the value lost recently. One thing is for sure – like the Miura, you don’t mistake one for anything else (except maybe one of those Camaros).

Above: Looking like something Darth Vader might drive, a 512 TR in black is as menacing as it gets. Behind it on the right is the last of the classic front-engine V12 Ferraris, the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Below: all that width is needed to make room for a 48-valve horizontal-opposed twelve-cylinder engine and the radiators to cool it.

To many, the sexiest classic Ferrari is the 275 GTB with its shark-like shape. This dark shade of Rosso displays its sensuous contours well.

During the mid-engine V12 drought at Ferrari, the gap was filled by the V6 Dino, named for Enzo’s son. Long derided for its “entry-level” market placement, these cars are now recognized by many as among the most beautiful the company produced. Eventually Ferrari relented and deigned to affix his name to cars, like this 246 GTS. A preservation class winner sold for $330,000 (including commission) at Mecum this year.

Drum brakes and solid rear axles seem quaint these days, but they do not diminish the collector appeal of vintage Ferraris, like this 250 Tour de France.

It’s difficult to suppress a snigger over the name, and the color (probably a “wrap”) is just out there, but the performance of the Ferrari LaFerrari cannot be so easily dismissed. Its hybrid drivetrain produces 950 total horsepower and a nice even 900 Nm (664 Lb-Ft.) of torque. Aided by an electric motor’s instantaneous torque, it is said to reach 100 mph from a stop in 3 seconds flat.

Legacy Brands

Alfa Romeo racing credentials predate Ferrari’s by some 36 years. In 1926, fifteen years later, the Maserati brothers won the Targa Florio with the first racing car carrying their name. Highlights of the marque include Wilbur Shaw’s two consecutive wins (1939 & 1940) at the Indianapolis 500 in the 8CTF.

Tradition has the winner of the previous year’s Indianapolis 500 awarded number “1” the following year. Wilbur Shaw drove this Maserati 8CTF, displayed at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2010, to victory in 1939 and 1940. Maserati is the only Italian marque to have won the 500.

Maserati’s bread and butter cars in the late ’50s and early ’60s were the 3500GTs, powered by twelve-valve in-line sixes, as were the Jaguars and Aston Martins of the day.

Maserati competed for the World Sports Car Championship in 1957, coming in second to Ferrari with their V8-powered 450 S. A variation of that engine was adapted to road cars, including the car many consider the first high performance 4-door sedan, the Quattroporte, with elegant coachwork by Frua.

Cutting eleven inches out of the Quattroporte’s chassis, Maserati created the equally elegant Mexico 2+2, so-named because the prototype was delivered to Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos.

These two cars, with their airy greenhouses, pleasing proportions, and DOHC V8 performance, were standouts in the luxury car market of the early ’60s.

Today we’ve become accustomed to gun-slit windows and non-existent rear visibility in our sports coupes. Maserati’s Quattroporte and Mexico (above) gave new meaning to the term “greenhouse” with there slim pillars and vast glass area.

bout the time Lamborghini was phasing out the Miura, Maserati was bringing out its first mid-engined cars, the V6 Merak (left above) and the V8 Bora (right), named (as was Maserati’s custom then) after famous winds.


Italian Style, American Power

itting a big (by European standards) U. S. V8 into elegant Italian Coachwork was high concept in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Renzo Rivolta and Giotto Bizzarrini got together and built some lovely cars under the name Iso Rivolta, powered by Chevrolet Corvette V8s.

The Eyes!

A car has to have a “face.” Given that, you can screw up an automotive design with the wrong “eyes.” It has been an issue with cars that feature hidden headlights, and with the freedom afforded with modern technologies like LED lighting and even lasers, there are whole new ways to mess up the frontal aspect of a car.

Impressive engineering, with a Mercedes AMG-sourced  twin-turbo V12 rated at 720 horsepower and 811 pound-feet of torque, and active aerodynamics, give the Pagani Huayra (Hoo-Wye-Rah) extreme performance. Claimed top speed is 238 mph, with lateral acceleration said to be up to 1.66 g. But you still have to look at it.

Join Us

A little suggestion: If you are considering joining the fun next year, be sure not to ignore the non-Italian car display. There are always some interesting cars, like this Jaguar E-Type tricked out as a racing car, in British Racing Green.




About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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