Where Have All The Classics Gone In Italy?

In October we took a short family holiday to Rome. Always an ambition.  What a city! Bustling, beautiful, exciting…overwhelming! It did not disappoint. We even saw an huge abandoned stock car stadium….no, wait, my daughter tells me it was the Colosseum… my mistake. Sorry.

smart-in-romeNot being inclined to risk a hire car in such a busy city, we relied on trains and buses, and our feet. That entailed a lot of hanging around at bus stops and even beside the busy road between the city and the coast at Ostia, it quickly struck me that the traffic comprised a rather mundane and homogenous selection of small family saloons and hatch backs. The same VW Golfs, BMWs, Smarts, the odd rusty Ford Fiesta,that we see back home in England. But with one exception. There seemed almost no interesting cars in the mix. And very few 4x4s. Stood beside such a road heading to any large British city, in the time we spent waiting for the number 070 bus to Fermi, you’d certainly see Porsches, probably by the dozen, probably a Ferrari or two,  a couple of Aston Martins, lots of Jaguars, Lotus Elises, M series BMWs  and no doubt several newer model Bentleys with cream leather upholstery. alfa1750With a bit of luck you’d probably see half a dozen vintage or classic cars. An E type maybe? A Healey 3000? A Morgan? Certainly something like a Mk2 Escort or a Capri. If you were VERY lucky even an Alfa 6C 1750(left) . But probably not.

On a recent trip from home, in the Forest of Dean to nearby Tewkesbury – 30 miles – we saw a vintage Alvis and an Austin 7 Ruby on the M50 motorway, five or six Porsche 911s, a couple of Caymans a BMC Mini, a Capri and a Triumph 2000 estate, an Aston DB9, more Jaguars than you could count and several Z4 BMWs. This was on a cloudy friday evening. In October.

In four days around Rome and it’s environs we only saw two moving Ferraris and one parked Maserati. vw-in-ostiaNone of them more than three years old. No Lamborghinis, no Paganis, not even a Porsche. There were a couple of MX5s, one of those on British plates, but thats been the most popular sports car in the world for over 20 years, so it’s hardly an eyebrow raiser anywhere. And the only classic car of any kind was a VW 182 Trekker (what in the US was known as a Thing) parked up in a side road at the sleepy out-of-season beach resort of Ostia (right) . And that could have been built as late as the 1980s.

Where are the baby Fiats (like this one, driven every day by Rachel  from the office at Shelsley Walsh) which are so prevalent in old photos of Rome or Milan? Where are the vintage Alfas? Maybe just parked up warm and dry for the winter? fiat

It reminded me of a mid-summer holiday in central France some years ago which took in a lot of driving, well over 1000 miles,  some of which was right through Paris, some was on back roads past little towns and sleepy villages. During that whole time we only saw one Porsche 911 on French plates (parked in a barn) and a couple of 2CVs. That was it. Where were the Citroen DSs? Where are the Talbots, Darraqs, Delahayes,Panhards, little Simcas. Matras, Alpines? Even those corrugated-chicken-shed Citroen vans? I thought then that the French maybe didn’t ‘do’ the classic car thing like the British. Maybe the same goes for the Romans?Citroenvan

It makes me wonder if perhaps that aspect of the old car culture, the use-it-as-my-everyday-car ethic,  is not as international as I always assumed. Is it peculiarly British? Maybe elsewhere it’s local taxation or the result of tough MOT-style testing that keeps them tucked away in garages?  Is it maybe much harder to run anything old or interesting in France or Italy? Or perhaps it’s a regional thing? Would we have seen more Italian classic cars in the north, where the motor industry is ? I don’t know. But I was surprised. It can’t be that the British weather is more suited to running an older car….

Before coming to Rome I had scenes of the Fellini movie  LA DOLCE VITA running through my head: Anita Ekburg splashing round in the Trevi Fountain with an XK150 in the background, Marcello Mastroianni driving his TR3 down the Via Veneto with paparazzi hanging off the back. OK that was a very romantic image from 1960 and only-a-movie but if it was remade today would Macello’s character now be driving a Smart instead ?   Certainly Anita would find the Police chasing her out of the fountain…and not for the opportunity of bagging a selfie.

So where are the Italian’s vintage cars? Where are their classics? It seems most of them , if they are on the road, are probably in England. But then this line of thought does give me an excuse to go back to Italy in the summer months and maybe further north, just to see if the real reason was being in the wrong city at the wrong time of year. I can see a lot of serious research being required. Many hours patiently observing traffic from pavement cafes , only sustained by eating pasta and drinking chianti…  it’s going to be a tough job….




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2 thoughts on “Where Have All The Classics Gone In Italy?

  1. Brian Induni

    Great post Simon! Thought provoking, and something I’ve contemplated as well in various cities around the world (including Rome). One thing struck me though – would I drive my classic car through the streets of Rome? Or New York? Or London? No, I always do as you did and opt for some other means to transportation due to the chaotic and downright dangerous nature of city driving. I do drive my classics, but rarely through ANY city. So I wonder, maybe if you took the road less traveled you might see more classic? Certainly during the Mille Miglia you would feast your eyes the worlds best classics in full motion as the were designed to be! 🙂

    1. simonlewis Post author

      Thanks Brian, yes I agree, I would hate to drive anything treasured in any big city (I’m a country boy so I do not feel at ease even walking in cities!). It was perhaps the lack of interesting cars on the roads around the city that surprised me most. The road out to the beaches of Ostia would have been a natural location to find sports cars of all ages and types in Britain, driving around just “for the hell of it” to paraphrase Land Speed Record man Richard Noble’s famous remark. Likewise the roads out to the airport ; drive anywhere near Heathrow or Gatwick airports in London and you jostle with endless Ferraris, Porsches, Astons, Bentleys, Rolls, Lamborghinis etc etc. We did see a lot of motorcycles out near the coast, but interestingly they were mostly Harleys, very few were Ducatis and none were Moto Guzzis. Maybe it’s just not something Italian (or maybe specifically Roman) classic car owners do at this time of the year?

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