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