WHILE in Italy selflessly carrying out my study of Italian drivers and driving (see last week’s Motor Mouth), I chanced upon an advertisement for a classic car parade being held as part of a village carnival. It was too good an opportunity to miss.
Rather like the driving – not to mention the food, the weather, the wine, the lifestyle, their World Cup record and almost everything else – it was very different from the sort of thing we know here in Britain.
It was billed to start at 10am. By 10.30am, two cars had arrived. They were both 1952 Fiats, one a snazzy sports convertible, the other a big, comfortable saloon. The gathered crowd spared them barely as glance but carried on chattering, milling about, buying things from stalls or watching the dressed-up ones emerge from Sunday morning church.
Around 11am, two more cars rolled up and were not so much parked as abandoned, keys in ignition and doors unlocked, while their owners strolled off to a nearby coffee bar. Around 11.30pm, there was a sudden cacophony of revving and squawking as another two dozen cars arrived together.
All the cars were then driven into a street just off the main square and parked with their noses tight against the high walls of the buildings, making it impossible for the now-interested onlookers to see anything other than the rear ends of the cars.
The vehicles themselves were a motley collection, dominated by Fiats, with a couple of Lancias, and a curiosity called an Autobianchi (a 1950s experiment involving a tie-up between Fiat, Bianchi and Pirelli) thrown in. Many were models I had never suspected existed, weird and wonderful, plus a few gorgeous red sporty Alfas looking much at home under the Italian sun. But here’s an odd thing – most of the cars were grubby: unwashed, unpolished but evidently not unloved.
And what a motley crew the owners were too: a tiny, ancient, lipstick pink Fiat 500 disgorged a truly gigantic man – eventually – in a clashing scarlet sweater stretched taut across a vast stomach; an elderly Lancia was inhabited by a chaotic, arguing family, complete with yapping terrier. Concours d’elegance it was not.
Then it was time for the cavalcade to hit the road and it did so in classic Italian style. All the cars had been parked Le Mans-fashion, facing the wall at an angle. The obvious way to leave would have been for them to depart in the same order as they had arrived.
But this was Italy; they all got into their vehicles simultaneously, they all hit reverse and total madness ensued: horns sounded, voices were raised, engines roared and revved as these enthusiasts’ proudest possessions came within millimetres of smashing great dents into one another in their determination to get going.
It was an unchoreographed dance of the daft. A departure that, with a shred of common sense could have been completed smoothly within three or four minutes, had kept us rapt and open-mouthed for 20.
Nobody made a fuss, nobody made unkind remarks, peace returned to the village square and the visitors quietly carried on milling, sipping their coffees and watching their Sunday-dressed offspring do precisely whatever they wanted.