At least once every year we make a pilgrimage to Northern Italy. The purpose is to see old friends, meet new friends, and get close to the manufacturers, designers, historians, and other notables in the automotive industry. Each visit is busy with some long drives, back to back to back meetings, and always convivial meals.
Planning an itinerary is always helpful, but I find it almost impossible to religiously adhere to a schedule that is too constrained. The Italians have an admirable zest for life. I find this refreshing. I also find that Americans who are living in Italy embrace that zest, and eagerly adapt. Had I adhered to an impacted itinerary, I would not have experienced the serendipity that came in the form of Chris Bangle. More on Mr. Bangle a bit later.
I arrived in Bologna on Saturday to be greeted by friend Raffaello Porro, and owner of Studio-RPR. Raffaello dropped me off at my hotel in Carpi where we laid out the plans for the coming week. Sunday was an acclimating and relaxing walking tour of Carpi, including the historic Piazza dei Martiri. The day concluded enjoying dinner with Raffaello, his beautiful wife Sara, and their two adorable children.
Monday started with meetings at Maserati, and a tour of the production line. We watched the Ghiblis being assembled, and then tested. I’ve seen it before, but watching the process is always fascinating. When watching the cars I have visions of driving from Monterey down to San Simeon along the Pacific Coast Highway. Joining me in my vision is my wife Maria, the Ghibli and the spectacular California coastal scenery passing by the window.
In the afternoon we drove to the new Pagani headquarters. Sg. Pagani designed the museum and assembly facility in the mode of an Italian village. Its pastoral appearance belies the assembly of some of the world’s finest automobiles on the other side of the brick-walled partitions. The Pagani test driver gave me a ride, at speed, on the roads surrounding the factory. I’ve never gone so fast on a 1½ lane road, with oncoming traffic. That was an exhilarating experience. Afterward I ruminated about Valentino Balboni. The thrill I experienced for seemingly several short minutes, Valentino experienced almost every day of his adult life at Lamborghini. Sg. Balboni lived the dream.
Dinner that night in Carpi was with Raffaello, and the famed Adolfo Orsi at Il Barolino. The quality of the meal was exceeded only by the quality of the company. What an evening.
Friday was my first tour of the Ferrari factory. In two words, “extraordinarily impressive”. I strongly encourage Ferrari owners to make the trip at least one time in your life. You will not regret it. The factory tour concluded in a small building adjacent to the test track. This small building housed a F1 historian’s heaven.
How does one follow up at trip to Maranello? A visit to Sant’Agata is a great way to avoid a letdown. There, we met with Polo Storico. Great things are developing with the restoration division of Lamborghini. We will soon be hearing of some significant announcements. And, while we were not able to see the factory expansion that is underway, we know the factory footprint is rapidly expanding, enabling a significant increase in output. Urus is on the way.
On Wednesday we met with old friend Paolo DiTaranto of Zagato. It is a treat to sit down with Paolo to learn about new initiatives with Zagato, and also to see some of the cars in the Zagato museum. We always look for ways to work with Zagato, celebrating both their past and future. They are an iconic designer that is thriving in this changing environment. A tip of the hat to them is always warranted.
Thursday morning, we drove to the western portion of Northern Italy. Outside of Turin, we headed to meet Chris Bangle, the former head of design at BMW. Chris was born and raised in Wisconsin, but now after retiring from BMW, makes his home in Italy. As we parked in front of Chris’ home, it was clear that therein lives an artist. There were signs of a significant home restoration effort—one that is driven by an eye for preservation, form and eclecticism. Chris greeted us and welcomed us to his home and office. While Chris is retired from BMW, his vision and creativity is not on a holiday. His passion, beyond automobiles, is with a fascinating animation project with a targeted viewership of both children and adults. Who would have thought an automotive designer could have such a genuine interest in animation, and be bringing the project to life? We were quickly learning this was only the beginning. Mr. Bangle’s interest are many, and wide-ranging. And further, he is not solely “an idea guy”. Chris has assembled a team to bring the ideas from concept to practice. Keep on eye on this guy, much of Chris’ life is still in front of him.
The visit with Chris, his family, and his team moved from their offices to lunch at the only restaurant in town. Chris’ advice to us at the restaurant was to sit back, don’t worry about a menu, and enjoy whatever the owner brings to the table. The advisory extended to beverages as well. My oh my, this family style lunch was a delectable treat.
Following lunch Chris took us up the road to a local winery called Gallo Ivan. We met the owner (also the mayor of the town), and his two wine-making sons. What a sensationally charming afternoon. We departed with several examples of Dolcetto from their winery.
We drove back to Turin to meet with Roberto Piatti, the CEO of Torino Design. Sg. Piatti is a gentleman’s gentleman. Each time I visit with him I am reminded of how nice a fellow human can be. Torino Design is working on some fascinating projects. It would sure be nice to get them to bring one or two of the working models to display at Concorso. We will keep talking.
The final day in Italy, Friday, was entirely in the Turin area. We met with our friends at Italdesign and got a chance to see four examples (out of only five to be built) of the Zerouno project. These amazing cars are already spoken for, but there will soon be a limited edition targa version (presented at Geneva motorshow). We don’t know if any of these cars will make it to North America, but if so, we will get one to Concorso. Seeing is believing.
The afternoon concluded attending an unveiling of the new Turin offices of Tecnocad, an Italy-based engineering company. Their new facility was built on the same site as an old Fiat design studio location. We witnessed a new beginning for Tecnocad-a seeming economic resurrection of a region of Turin that had fallen very badly after the shuttering of the old Fiat facility. The cycle of life continues.
The final visit of the day was to Cecomp. At the Tecnocad unveiling, I was introduced to Gianluca Forneris, owner of Cecomp with his brother Paolo. Cecomp was founded by Gianluca’s father. The Company stamps metal and aluminum parts, primarily for automotive purposes. I saw an automated process that stamped and shaped panels for several manufacturers. I think the panels being created during my tour of the facility were for Aston Martin. At least it looked that way to me. A heartwarming note during my visit with Gianluca was listening to him talk about his now departed father. Gianluca and his brother spoke with such respectfully warm reverence of their father, the founder of Cecomp. They even commissioned a biography of their father. It was quite admirable.
Saturday marked my return home following a very busy, but exhilarating week. We covered much ground and met many new people. Each trip to Italy is an adventure, but it always feels so rushed. One time I am going to take a month to cover what I usually take a week to do. Now that would be la Dolce Vita.
Look for some announcements in the coming weeks, some of which will come from this visit, some will derive from prior visits. Regardless of the timing, good things are happening.