The Italians Again

Seaside, California Hosts the Concorso Italiano

Even at a time when many young people are more interested in having the latest electronic teat to latch onto than they are in getting a driver’s license, you might be surprised how many can be seduced by beautiful automotive sheet metal (or carbon fiber). For them (and the rest of us), there is no better place to be than at the annual extravaganza of Italian rolling art known as the Concorso Italiano at Black Horse golf course in Seaside California.

This year is the 70th anniversary of Ferrari, and while a substantial amount of acreage at the event was occupied by examples of the cavallo rampante, there are lots of other beauties to catch the eye or, if you stick around and listen, the ear.

Monterey Bay, ancient Monterey pines, and the sweeping fairways of the Blackhorse Golf Links provide a beautiful and relaxing backdrop for viewing Italian automotive treasures.

Alfa Romeo

There is no automobile manufacturer building cars today that can claim a racing heritage to compare with Alfa Romeo. They have won more races around the world than any other.

When even many expensive American cars were powered by L-head engines with valves in the block, exhausting between the cylinders into “siamesed” cast-iron manifolds, the typical Alfa engine had a racing engine’s dual overhead cams, hemispherical combustion chambers and beautiful sand-cast alloy headers. This Alfa 6C also has twin-park ignition and triple carburetors.

After WWII, Alfa continued its winning ways, capturing the first Formula One Championship and many other prestigious titles. But no manufacturer can live on race victories alone, and the company improved its survival chances with a range of small, efficient cars with features no other contemporary firm approached.

While the British were building sedans with agricultural pushrod engines, Alfa went upmarket with dual overhead cams and five-speed gearboxes straight out of their sports cars.

A “moveable feast” typical of the Concorso, spread out between Jim Felice’s Giulia 1600 “Berlina” sport sedan, above, and its spiritual successor, his new Giulia turbo four.

Below is Alfa’s challenge in the upper end of the sport sedan market, the 505 hp “Quadrifoglio” version of the Giulia, continuing a tradition that dates back to 1920.

Racing Superstition – Now a Tradition

In 1920, Ugo Sivocci was a member of Alfa Romeo’s four-man racing team that included Enzo Ferrari. Ugo had never won a race, but he changed his luck for the 1920 Targa Florio by painting a green four-leaf clover in a white square on the front of his car, a “quadrifoglio.” He won the race, and thereafter Alfa’s team cars always carried that symbol. It must have worked. They won the first manufacturers’ championship. Today, the highest performance version of every Alfa carries the Quadrifoglio.

A Master’s Early Promise

The Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV and its siblings like the Giulia Sprint GT and others, designed at Bertone by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro, stand as some of the most perfectly proportioned cars ever.

In 1983, the last of the “105-series” Alfa Romeo Coupes was an affordable Italian semi-exotic. You could pick up a nice one-owner GTV 2000 for $3,000. Fast-forward to 2017 when a beautifully restored example just sold for $76,500.

Back in the USA

In 2008 it had been 13 years since Alfa had imported a car to the US. Alfisti were encouraged by the arrival of the 8C Competizzione, but that initial entry into the US market was too limited in production, and too exclusive for the average buyer to aspire to.

Alfa Romeo  re-entered the American market with the 8C Competezzione, a limited-production high-performance coupe and spider. A 4.7 liter cross-plane crankshaft V8 of 444 naturally aspirated horsepower, assembled by Ferrari, gave them a top speed in the 180 mph range and a different sound from their flat-plane-crank brothers from Marenello.

Alfa Romeo introduced their 4C sports car in Europe in 2013, and began imported them to the US starting in July of 2014. It had been 19 years since a new series production Alfa was officially imported to the US.

Although sadly unavailable with a manual transmission, the 4C’s light weight (Its 143 pound carbon fiber chassis tub weighs less than the wheels on many cars.) puts it in an agility category of one, and allows its 240 hp turbo four to give it the performance of a more powerful car.

Wolves in Lambs’ Clothing

The Lamborghini Miura was the car that put the marque on the map, but the one that put it on all the middle school boys’ walls was the Countach. The name is usually translated to a less euphemistic form of “OMG!”

After a little research, we learned that the car in the foreground is a 2013 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2. Their website states it was listed for €320,000 plus taxes.

Does 185?

It’s difficult to walk among the Maseratis at a concours without being infected with an earworm of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good to Me.” The consensus seems to be that he was not referring to an actual car when he sang “My Maserati does 185.” In the long nightmare that was emission controls in 1978 there was no Maserati that could do 185 mph. The most powerful Corvette could only manage 127.

Your correspondent rates the Maserati Ghibli of Giugetto Giugiaro (working at Ghia), among the top ten automobile designs of all time. It is assumed that Joe Walsh was talking about this model in his song, although if he was, he meant kilometers per hour. The Ghibli only goes 185 kph, not mph.

If Joe was in Europe when he wrote the song it might have been about a Bora, the later mid-engine car (again by Giugiaro, this time at Italdesign) powered by a version of the same 4.7 liter four-cam V8, although even  the European version only did 174 mph.

The V8 was enlarged to 4.9 liters for the Khamsin, probably to make up for federal emission controls. This one was a Marcello Gandini design for Bertone, characterized by Gandini’s vertical glass tail widow with floating taillights. The federalized version was ruined by mounting the taillights below that widow and adding awful bumpers.

Black is a good color on the GranTourisimo Convertible, currently available. It manages to avoid the slightly stubby proportions of the Coupe, at least with the top down. It’s powered by a more modern interpretation of the 4.7 liter four-cam V8.

The Main Event

Where does one start? All Ferraris are interesting, and with acres of them to choose from, we’ll just pick a few and run with them.

The legendary Ferraris are the classic front mid-engine V12s of the fifties and early  sixties, like the Cabriolet above. The Marenellos, 550 and 575 below, carried on the tradition for ten years from 1996 to 2006.

The last Ferrari model with manual steering was the 348. This “TB” with the fixed roof is the more sought-after, according our photographer, who regrets selling his one-owner 1991 “TS” with the removable roof panel. Speculation is that these are the next Ferrari to take off in value.

The successor to the 348 was the F355, with its power steering, scoops in place of strakes and a 3.5 liter five-valve engine, somewhere under all those shrouds and ducts, below.

The Testarossa may have suffered a little from its association with the drug drama “Miami Vice” but they are recovering in value. In black, there is no more menacing Ferrari.

Hard to believe all that stuff fits in a Testarossa’s trunk.

Two-tone paint is not as popular as it was on American cars in the ’50s, but this 458 was special-ordered in nero and rosso.

We just recently lost the American designer Tom Tjaarda. Your correspondent has a soft spot for his Pininfarina 275 GTS. Only 200 built, it’s the first open Ferrari with IRS, and the only open 275 other than the seven 275GTB/4S NART Spiders, renowned for their appearance under Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, success under Denise McCluggage at Sebring, and their value.


Lancia was maker of cars with advanced engineering, luxury, and high performance. Their Flaminia Berlina was a luxurious roomy coachbuilt sedan featuring the Jano V6, DeDion suspension, and a four-speed transaxle. The Pininfarina version had windshield wipers on both the inside and outside of the rear windscreen.

Lancia swept the podium in the 1953 Carerra Panamericana with their D24s, their D50 Grand Prix cars won five of the fourteen races entered, and they won the World Rally Championships in 1974, 1975 and 1976 with the Stratos.

This fourth generation of the Aurelia GT coupe featured a transaxle, DeDion suspension and the first series production V6, designed by Vittorio Jano, designer of the Grand Prix-winning Alfa Romeo P-2, and Ferrari’s Dino V6s and V8s.

Marcello Gandini designed the Stratos, introduced at the 1971 Turin show. It was powered by Jano’s Ferrari Dino V6 after a reluctant Enzo approved it.


Neighborhood American mechanics, accustomed to relatively primitive flathead and pushrod engines, might be excused for being wary of the overhead cams and foreign sounding components on Italian exotics like Ferrari and Maserati.

Several Italian manufacturers saw this as a barrier to sales, but along with other foreign car makers they also saw an opportunity to provide power and torque unheard of where large engines were heavily taxed. Thus was born the American-European hybrid.

De Tomaso

Alejandro De Tomaso was born in Argentina, and built prototypes and racing cars, including the 1970 Williams Formula One car. His first car was the Vallelunga, a mid-engine sports car powered by a Ford Cortina engine.


Only 3.3 inches higher than the Ford GT40s, the mid-engine De Tomaso Mangusta was sexy and exotic. The name is Italian for mongoose – the cobra’s mortal enemy, and it may have been an inside joke between Alejandro and his friend Carroll Shelby, who reportedly supplied the 289 cubic inch Ford Mustang GT350 engines that powered the prototypes and European versions. Only 200 American examples were built with the glowering quad headlights before regulations forced the change to pop-up headlights that gave the last 50 cars a cross-eyed look during daylight.

This might have been the very car we rode home in from Orange County Airport in 1971 on discharge from the Army. The Pullman suitcase had to be left in a luggage locker.

Giugiaro, working for Bertone, incorporated butterfly doors over the rear luggage deck and engine compartment. Emission regulations meant American cars had the 302 V8, down 85 from the 306 horsepower of the European 289s. A 32/68 weight distribution and willowy backbone chassis yielded challenging handling characteristics.


The successor to the Mangusta was another Tom Tjaarda design (see Ferrari 275GTS, above), this time working at Ghia. With a unibody rather than a backbone chassis, and powered by Ford’s Cleveland 351 cubic inch V8 of 330 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, handling and acceleration were both improved. It has been written that one factor in the improvement was that the ZF transaxle was inverted in the Pantera, dropping the engine in the chassis for a lower center of gravity.

A luscious burgundy finish complements the less aggressive styling of the Pantera, belying its greater performance capability. Around 5,000 Panteras were imported by Ford and distributed through Mercury dealers.


Italian cars with American drive trains included Isetta designer Piero Rivolta’s Iso Grifo and Iso Rivolta, powered by Chevrolet V8s.

The Apollo Coupe was a very low-production American project with body designed by Italian Bertone stylist Franco Scaglione. In 1963 Intermeccanica in Turin built the bodies, which were shipped to Oakland, California, where the 218 cubic inch Buick alloy V8 (used in various forms in everything from Range Rovers to the Brabham Formula 1 Champion) was installed.

That’s the Chevrolet-powered Iso Rivolta, far right, and the Apollo Coupe, center. We didn’t get the name of the car on the left.

Three Countries, One Car

Around 1950, Donald Healey was returning to England from the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth. Cadillac had declined to supply him with their OHV V8 for his Silverstone sports car, but on the ship he met Nash-Kelvinator CEO George Mason, who agreed to supply the Nash Ambassador engine and transmission for the car.

In addition to the more luxurious production cars, they built four endurance racers with an lightweight alloy body made in Birmingham by Panelcraft Sheet Metal. After two years coming in fourth, they won a podium third place behind two Mercedes 300SLs in 1953. The car averaged 13 mpg and needed no oil or water added during the entire 24 hours.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted an exhibit in 1951 entitled “8 Automobiles,” featuring the Cisitalia 202 Coupe by Pinin Farina. After Mason saw that car, all 1953 Nashes were designed by Pinin Farina, including the new Nash Healey.

The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles owns the Pinin Farina Nash Healey loaned by Dick Powell to George Reeves for him to drive in the TV series The Adventures of Superman when he was in his Clark Kent guise. It was his explanation why he always arrived at the crime scene before Lois Lane.

And Finally

It’s not all about red Ferraris and orange Lamborghinis. The Italians also invented the bubble car and the first really mini van, the Fiat 600 Multipla.

Plan Ahead

Monterey in August is the destination for automotive pilgrims of all types. If Italian brands spark your fantasies, be sure to reserve a spot in your calendar for the event where you will see more of them than just about anywhere, anytime, the Concorso Italiano. Next year be sure to check online for the date. The Pebble Beach Concours has moved to the fourth Sunday to avoid conflict with a golf tournament, so surrounding events like the Concorso are likely to follow suit.

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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1 Response to The Italians Again

  1. Rocco (Ran) Klarin says:

    As always Dick, you’ve done a splendid job explicating the world of the concourse. Especially gratifying is the focus on the Italian marks. We Italo-Americans have lost a holiday this week in LA and focusing on our motherland’s prime exports lifted my heart. Glad to see that SOME of the beauties are multi-ethnic.

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