Pretty Italian Cars
We say this almost every year, but if you like Alfa Romeos, De Tomasos, Ferraris, Fiats, Isos, Lamborghinis, Lancias, Maseratis and the “etceterinis” of italian motorsport, you won’t find more of them in one place than at the Concorso Italiano, held every year in Seaside, California. As it has for a few years now, the event is held on Black Horse Bayonet Golf Course, surrounded by ancient Monterey pines and with a great view of Monterey Bay.
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti 2+2 with background of the Lamborghini Field. The name is misleading, as its engine is a naturally aspirated 5.75 liter V12. Body and chassis are of Alcoa Aluminum. The scallop in the side is intended to evoke the 2014 Pebble Beach Best of Show 1954 375MM that Roberto Rossellini commissioned for his wife, Ingrid Bergman.
Alfa Romeos have won more races than any other marque, so they’d deserve to come first, even if we were not reporting them alphabetically. At the beginning of their history, the cars showed promise, but major racing success had so far evaded them. Enzo Ferrari’s discoverer and friend, Ugo Sivocci, was experienced and competent but had not yet won a race. To change his luck, he painted a white square on his radiator with a green four-leaf clover in the middle. It worked. He won the Targa Florio.
After that Alfa put the “quadrifoglio” on all their racers. Today the top performing Alfa Romeos in each range carry that symbol.
The “bread and butter” sedans of Alfa Romeo kept them afloat financially. While English sports cars were powered by agricultural iron-block pushrod sedan engines, Alfa sedans sported the same all-alloy dual overhead cam engines as their sports cars. This is the Giulia, whose subtle concave body lines along the top edges of fenders and roof aided aerodynamics.
In Road & Track’s road test of the Giulietta Spider back in the ’50s, a photo not unlike this one was captioned, “Look out Reginald! It’s going to spring!”
Among other hints, the hydraulic dampers, independent front suspension, and wide section Vredestien radial ply tires betray the lack of provenance of this fake Alfa.
This one is harder to dismiss. The placard says it’s a 1936 6C2300. The engine is Vittorio Jano’s dual overhead cam jewel, available in six and eight cylinder versions, in this case a six with a crank-driven supercharger.
Introduced in 1985, the Alfa Romeo Milano was pretty sophisticated, with engines that ranged from 1.65 liter fours to 3 liter V6s. In Europe there were diesels. Weight distribution was evened out with transaxles, and they wore semi-independendent rear suspension by De Dion, with rear brakes inboard for lighter unsprung mass.
Italo-American Exotics – I
Even rich people want to have a convenient place to have their cars serviced, so a couple of Italians started mating beautiful Italian coachwork with American muscle. In the mid sixties, Argentinian Alejandro de Tomaso had raced a little, and after he got mixed up in the Juan Perón political uproar, emigrated to Italy, where he founded the auto company that bore his name.
Following a short-lived stint building race cars (including a Williams Formula One car) he turned to sports cars. A friendship with Carroll Shelby led to naming his Ford V8-powered mid-engine exotic the “Mangusta” in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Carroll’s Cobra. That car’s prototype was powered by Shelby’s GT350 Mustang 289 cubic inch (4.7 liter) V8, but the timing was wrong. The production versions had to meet emission standards, and the 289’s emission controls were not sorted out, so its performance did not match its Giugiaro looks, with its menacing headlight-height non-compliant visage and butterfly engine lids.
Its successor, the Pantera, was more successful. Sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers at a big savings over the European exotics, they are unusual for an Italian Sports car, in that many owners are little concerned about maintaining originality, with those that have not been hot-rodded becoming rare.
Sadly, there were no Mangustas evident at this year’s Concorso.
Mangusta, above, was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone. With no bumpers at all, and headlights too low for American standards, it had a brief sales run here under an exemption for small volume cars. Tom Tjaarda, an American working for Ghia, designed the Pantera (below) that was powered by a more sorted Ford Cleveland 351 cubic inch V8.
Horses – The Prancing Ones
The Ferrari field. The panoramic view leaves an impression that there were fewer Ferraris this year. Maybe an optical illusion.
Ferrari’s first full-blown mid-engine exotic was the 12-cylinder Berlinetta Boxer. Somehow Ferraris look more exotic in black – more menacing.
The successor to the Berlinetta Boxer was the Testarossa, if anything even more menacing in black. The BB and Testarossa engines (below), gorgeous sculpture, were flat twelves, thus the “Boxer” in the BB’s name.
From the similar “Cheese Grater” strakes on its flanks you might suspect (correctly) that the 348TS was produced contemporaneously with the Testarossa. Our photographer was custodian of one of these so we really can’t leave it out. With manual steering and other classic characteristics, it’s considered the last of the “analog” Ferraris.
The 275GTB (below) gets most of the attention for its sharkish looks, but the 275GTS above, designed by De Tomaso Pantera designer Tom Tjaarda, this time working at Pininfarina, has its own charm.
A prize winner departs the field of 308GTS examples. You will be forgiven for making the obvious Magnum P.I. references, since the show has been rebooted, Ferrari and all.
Below: Take a 308GTB (the one with the roof), replace all body panels save the doors with fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon fiber reinforced plastic; and turbocharge the engine while reducing its displacement from 3.0 to 2.8 liters (the FIA multiplier of 1.4 for turbocharged engines yielded a “virtual displacement” of 3,997 cc to keep it under the Group B 4 liter limit); and you get the 288 GTO. 20o were required to be sold in order that they be “Omologato” – certified as a GT car rather than a prototype.
Ferrari went on to make more front-engine V12 cars, but to many the “Cannonball”-winning 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” was the last of the classic V12 Coupes. 1,284 were produced from 1968 – 1973. European versions had fixed headlights behind an acrylic cover, but after 1971, American regulations required pop-ups.
The front-engine V12 Ferraris after the Daytona were more Grand Touring cars than sports cars, like this 575M Marenello.
The 360 Challenge Stradale had about 20 more horsepower than the base version. More important, it was as much as 240 pounds lighter. We followed one of these up to Ragged Point on our way to Monterey one year – at a discrete distance.
Italo-American Exotics – II
Probably more known for his “bubble car,” the Isetta, Renzo Rivolta collaborated with Ferrari GTO designer Giotto Bizzarrini to design and build a luxurious touring coupe that combined Italian grace and engineering with American muscle.
Introduced in 1962, the Iso Rivolta featured a 5.4 liter Chevrolet OHV V8 like the one in the Corvette. Unlike the Corvette, which was still suspended on leaf springs in the rear, the Iso benefited from coil springs all around, with a De Dion semi-independent rear suspension located laterally with a Watts link.
Lancia has an enviable history in racing, and one of its most famous cars is the Stratos HF that won the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975, and 1976. The “Fenomenon Stratos” is a Pininfarina design based loosely on a shortened Ferrari 430.
Lively Lovely Lambs
The Murciélago LP640 was the top Lamborghini until the Aventador. This is a 1 of 1 in “Blu Cepheus” (a play on Bucephalas, Alexander the Great’s war horse?) It’s all-wheel drive, with a 6.5 liter V12 of 632 horsepower. The license is a reference to the Character Yondu Udonta in the Sci-Fi fantasy Guardians of the Galaxy.
Both the Lamborghini Espada and the Miura (Background in chartreuse) were designed by Marcello Gandini working at Bertone.
Another Gandini design for Bertone, the Maserati Ghibli is named for the Libyan version of our California Santa Ana, a hot dry desert wind. The distance between the front wheel arch and the front edge of the door identifies it as coming to us from the age of the front mid-engine layout, with the mass of its four-cam V8 engine located well back in the chassis for more neutral weight distribution.
The more modern Tipo M138 Spyder (displayed here with a totally appropriate Trident) has the stubbier “compact” look. Some grace is lost in the change to the smaller canvas.
Of the events that make up the automotive extravaganza that is the Monterey Car Festival (You can’t really call it the “car weekend” or even the “car week” anymore, with all the stuff that’s going on over so many days) there are a few “must sees.” The trouble is, some of them occur concurrently, like the final day of racing at the Historic Races at Laguna Seca and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Concorso Italiano has become one of those “either/or” conundrums. If you attend, you miss the first day at Laguna Seca and the second day of bidding at the Gooding & Co. Auction. If you can get into the Quail Motorsport Gathering that’s an easier choice, but since we’ve never been blessed with press credentials there, it hasn’t been a concern.
For us there’s no real choice – the Concorso will always be among the premier attractions at Monterey in August. Join us here next year and you are certain to agree.