A spot­ters’ trip to Si­cily stirs up Steve’s ve­hic­u­lar pas­sion

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Your Letters -

‘You can’t call your­self a true petrol­head un­til you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo,’ Jeremy Clark­son once said. I won­der what he would make of the Alfa in front of me right now. I am Al­fisti to the core, but I’ve never seen one of th­ese be­fore. The squared-off shape, rear drive set-up and faded Bronze paint­work in­di­cate its ori­gin as early 1970s. But it’s the fast-work­ing two-man team dis­pens­ing wickedly pow­er­ful espres­sos and de­li­cious pis­ta­chio pas­tries from the kitchen in the back that’s thrown me. Be­cause this Alfa Romeo is ac­tu­ally a coffee wagon parked out­side the rail­way sta­tion in Cata­nia, Si­cily’s se­cond-largest city – a proper car spot­ters’ par­adise.

There are old Al­fas ev­ery­where, but not the ones you see at car shows over here. Th­ese are 33s and 75s – mod­est, hon­est, hard-work­ing fam­ily cars.

Down on the docks I spy a Lan­cia Thema, the one that shared a plat­form with the Fiat Croma, Alfa Romeo 164 and Saab 9000. This is an early one and so now would be 30 years old. The Pin­in­fa­rina lines have held up well and are un­blem­ished. And there is not a spot of rust to be found.

‘It’s a real thrill to see old cars be­ing

used prop­erly’

The real joys to spot, though, are the Fiat Pan­das. They’re ev­ery­where. And when I say Panda, I mean Gi­u­giaro’s ge­nius dis­til­la­tion of the mo­tor car into its purest form. Many of th­ese amaz­ing lit­tle cars are 30 years or older, and still do­ing their job. I do love a car show, but it is a real thrill to see old cars be­ing prop­erly used.

Then, just as I’ve de­cided that as I’m on hol­i­day I can al­low my­self an­other hit of su­per-strength espresso and – why not? – a sticky pas­try, an old boy with close­cropped white hair un­fet­tered by any kind of hel­met buzzes up on a Vespa. Al­though Italy does oblige oper­a­tors of pow­ered two-wheel­ers to wear a hel­met, Si­cil­ians view this, as so much handed down from Rome, as main­lan­der med­dling – and ig­nore it. The guy’s Vespa is an orig­i­nal, un­re­stored, all-metal Pom­modoro Red beauty. I think about ask­ing if he knows that, back in Bri­tain, there are plenty of peo­ple pre­pared to pay him per­haps £6000 for his stylish lit­tle runaround, but I don’t.

I hope in­stead that he keeps rid­ing it for many years to come. Si­cil­ians are among the long­est-lived peo­ple on the planet – due to the Mediter­ranean diet, al­legedly. Al­though quite where the su­per-strength cig­a­rettes and eye-wa­ter­ingly pow­er­ful grappa that the Vespa-rid­ing chap and his cronies are get­ting stuck into at 10am on a Mon­day morn­ing fit into that much­vaunted way of life, I’m not at all sure. You just have to love ev­ery­thing about Italy.

For­mer Top Gear pre­sen­ter Steve’s Speed­shop is on Wed­nes­days (7-8pm) on FAB Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional.

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