Scootering - - Front Page - Words & Pho­to­graphs: Chris­tian Giarizzio

For late July it is a strangely cold day in Mo­dena, Emilia-Ro­magna, Italy. It’s one of those days when the sky is dark grey and the rivers are painted across the land in cool black. I am in this city to learn Gio­vanni’s se­cret. This for­mer mo­tor­cy­cle po­lice of­fi­cer con­tacted me by phone to tell me, in con­fi­dence, that the truth must fi­nally to be told. A Ro­manesque-style city, Mo­dena is home to some of the world’s most im­por­tant and beau­ti­ful his­toric books, such as the hand-dec­o­rated 15th cen­tury Borso d’Este bi­ble. At the city’s li­brary of an­cient manuscripts, the Bi­b­lioteca Estense, this and other works are stud­ied in si­lence by aca­demics and re­searchers wear­ing white cot­ton gloves – in stark con­trast to the flip side of Mo­dena: its pas­sion for scream­ing race mo­tors!

At the end of the Sec­ond World War, me­chan­i­cal in­dus­tries came to over­shadow the city’s tra­di­tional ar­ti­sans and their quaint re­gional crafts, herald­ing a new era fo­cused on steel man­u­fac­ture and in­dus­try. Dur­ing this pe­riod the com­pa­nies now most strongly associated with the Mo­dena re­gion – such as Fer­rari and Maserati – es­tab­lished them­selves and un­leashed the fer­vour of the crowd and cit­i­zens who, it seemed, had been wait­ing all along to be sucked into a roar­ing vor­tex of rum­bling, snarling en­gines bred only for speed and power. Dur­ing an in­ter­view, Enzo Fer­rari said to RAI (Ra­dio Tele­vi­sione Ital­iana) jour­nal­ist Guido Piovene: “Race cars are peo­ple. Every car has a soul and to build them is just like get­ting high on co­caine.”

In this era an­other leg­endary son of Mo­dena, Vit­to­rio Stanguellini, be­came known as the ‘mod­i­fier’. He would take stan­dard, every­day Fi­ats and turn them in nasty, bru­tal rac­ing cars. Stanguellini tuned-up, among oth­ers, a Moto Guzzi mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine and the cre­ated ‘Colibri’ (hum­ming­bird) – a 248cc alu­minium sin­gle-seater stream­liner.

Mo­dena and the colour­ful char­ac­ters of her il­lus­tri­ous past pro­vide the back­drop for Gio­vanni’s ex­pe­ri­ence. He rode mo­tor­cy­cles for the po­lice from the 1950s to the 1980s and now he is grand­fa­ther to Elisa, who shares his love of two-wheeled ma­chin­ery.

I meet him while he is smok­ing a cigar just af­ter the lunch. I am so cu­ri­ous af­ter all his enig­matic state­ments over the phone that I im­me­di­ately start to break the ice, fir­ing ques­tions at him. But be­ing a good ex-cop he stops me straight away and makes sure, be­fore he be­gins to elab­o­rate, that I will write down word for word what he is go­ing to share with me.

Grow­ing up amid the wealth and pros­per­ity of late-1950s Italy was liv­ing the dream. Gio­vanni was a young po­lice of­fi­cer on his Moto Guzzi Fal­cone 500cc – on the look­out for trou­ble. He told me: “My task con­sisted of first-re­sponse and traf­fic con­trol. We han­dled any sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity from pick­pock­ets to ma­jor car ac­ci­dents. Of­ten we saw some young hot-heads rac­ing above the speed limit or risk­ing them­selves by driv­ing dan­ger­ously, so when it hap­pened we (usu­ally work­ing in pairs) switched on the siren and chased the bad guys.”

Gio­vanni pauses while fix­ing his shirt-col­lar, just like he would have if he’d still been on duty. “Mo­dena is not Los An­ge­les or San Fran­cisco. Pur­suits weren’t how they look in the movies – most op­er­a­tions were over in about 10 min­utes at most. We would call other forces in from the op­po­site di­rec­tion of the road. The Fal­cone was pretty fast in a straight line. Nor­mally it was a piece of cake.” It was the pe­riod of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita film and al­though there was gen­eral pros­per­ity, the thieves were grow­ing up fast. “It was all good and our shifts went rel­a­tively smoothly,” says Gio­vanni, “all good, this is, un­til that one day…”

Of­fi­cial po­lice re­port: April 4, 1964, 9.45am

“The crim­i­nal, on a blue Lambretta de­void of reg­u­lar traf­fic/li­cence plate, ex­torted and robbed two purses and one gold jew­ellery item from the vic­tim, here iden­ti­fied as ‘A C’.”

Gio­vanni fixes his shirt-col­lar again and clears his throat, say­ing: “This ac­tiv­ity alerted us to the pres­ence of a gang who, over the fol­low­ing weeks, were re­spon­si­ble for a sub­stan­tial amount of wrong­do­ing. So we started to keep our eyes open dur­ing pa­trols, watch­ing for any ev­i­dence of sus­pi­cious move­ments. We found later on that the blue Lambretta was stolen from a rich fam­ily out in the coun­try­side near Mo­dena.”

I am in­vited into Gio­vanni’s stu­dio, in­side the house. A wooden stair­case brings us to the first floor and a door on the right leads to a square room where heavy vol­umes rest on big book­cases. On the floor, a Per­sian car­pet makes the guest’s

I didn’t have time to waste. I started the Fal­cone 500cc en­gine with a very strong kick and I took off in pur­suit.

foot­steps very soft. It is just like the fa­mous 221b flat in Baker Street, Lon­don. I can’t help my­self; I smile as my mind con­jures up an im­age of Mrs Hud­son step­ping in with a tray of black tea and bis­cuits.

“We tried to find that bloody Lambretta in every pos­si­ble nook and cranny of the city, even in the prov­inces nearby. Noth­ing!” Gio­vanni pauses and brings me abruptly back to re­al­ity. “Then on July 27, more than two months af­ter that first in­ci­dent, I saw a bag-snatch­ing with my own eyes, just 100m away from me. I was in front of the rail­way sta­tion in Via Pico della Mi­ran­dola when I saw a light blue Lambretta pop out of a sec­ondary road. That bloody wretch was so fast on the cor­ner that his knee was al­most touch­ing the pave­ment. Three sec­onds later two purses were gone al­ready.

“One of the ladies was even dragged for a few me­tres, wound­ing her arm very badly. My col­league was too far away, tick­et­ing some­one for a stop penalty. I didn’t have time to waste. I started the Fal­cone 500cc en­gine with a very strong kick and I took off in pur­suit. My Moto Guzzi had been off for more than an hour though and the en­gine was cold. We were on traf­fic con­trol duty, and it was a quiet day, so when I gave it full gas it crack­led a bit, choked it­self and stalled! I started it again with a fe­ro­cious kick but los­ing all those me­tres to the flee­ing Lambretta was bad. By now it was over 600m away and far ahead of me. I trig­gered the Guzzi’s horses that had the univer­sal-joint-trans­mis­sion and every gear-shift at max­i­mum power was just like a mule-kick in the back.

“I was con­fi­dent though that my big­ger dis­place­ment and the siren would help a lot. What could a Lambretta do against the po­lice Guzzi? Via Man­fredo Fanti, Via No­nan­tola, all straight and with sirens at full vol­ume – yet I couldn’t catch that bloody light blue small spot ahead. The crim­i­nal was damn fast at chang­ing di­rec­tion as he squeezed be­tween the cars. He en­tered Viale Al­bereto, a strip which was strangely empty and we were one against the other on an open road. I couldn’t be­lieve to my eyes: 80, 90, 130, 150+ kph! Im­pos­si­ble. Be­tween Villavara and Nav­i­cello I lost eye con­tact be­cause af­ter a slight turn he pushed his ma­chine down a cut-through. Gone.”

Gio­vanni stops speak­ing and gazes out of the win­dow for a mo­ment be­fore con­tin­u­ing.

“Back at the cen­tral po­lice sta­tion I wrote up a full re­port on the stolen Lambretta. Af­ter some deeper re­search, it came to light that there weren’t many scoot­ers like that around. It was a 175 III se­ries, equipped with disc front brake, clearly very well-tuned to stand up against a po­lice Moto Guzzi! On the other hand, I was able to now add more de­tail about the thief who passed pretty close to me just be­fore the snatch went off: 1.80m tall, mous­tache, long brown hair and slightly neck-bulged.” The ex-cop reaches up and takes down a

folder that con­tains a Moto Guzzi Fal­cone ser­vice man­ual, a Lambretta TV175 III se­ries ser­vice man­ual, and black and white lo­ca­tion shots.

“My ca­reer on the road was not ad­ven­tur­ous; I never used my gun ex­cept at the shoot­ing range, the bag-snatcher was the only full-throt­tle ex­pe­ri­ence I ever had as a mo­tor­bike po­lice­man.” A smile ap­pears to go with this sen­tence. “Thanks to this rel­a­tive seren­ity I have been able to raise three kids”. He pulls out a colour pho­to­graph from his pocket: a blue-eyed brunette with spaghetti-like straight hair. “Elisa is the youngest in this fam­ily, she is pas­sion­ate about mo­tor­bikes and scoot­ers just like me and a glimpse of her is still able to stu­pefy me like a 16-year-old boy in front of his first love.” I ask Gio­vanni about the truth he men­tioned at the phone. Did he dis­cover the thief’s name? Did he find the whole gang? What truth?

We go down­stairs and in the garage, half cov­ered by a black can­vas I see a dis­tinc­tive front hub, four white air-cool de­flec­tors, chrome front brake reg­u­la­tors and a me­chan­i­cal disc-brake. The ev­i­dence is un­equiv­o­cal: a 175 III se­ries! I look at Gio­vanni amazed and I ask: Is that THE Lambretta? He pauses dra­mat­i­cally, then replies: “There were four more ma­jor rob­bery alerts in our depart­ment, all with the same modus operandi: Lambretta, fast speed and wounded peo­ple. Fi­nally, at the end of 1966, my po­lice col­leagues found the bad guys’ den.

“It turned out the gang had op­er­ated for years in the Mo­dena-Bologna ar­eas. Af­ter the ar­rests were made, all the gear and booty was seized, and a heav­ily tuned-up Lambretta and mo­tor­bikes were dis­cov­ered – all of them had been used dur­ing raids. Af­ter that I didn’t know what hap­pened to the thieves’ scoot­ers and af­ter a while I paid no more at­ten­tion to this story. Years passed and at the end of 1990 I re­tired from the po­lice depart­ment.

“One day though, Elisa and I passed by a sec­ond-hand scooter shop and we saw a dented, scratched, vomit green Lambretta on sale. Ac­tu­ally I didn’t like it at all but Elisa wanted to know more about that scooter. We cross-checked the chas­sis num­ber just to be on the safe side.” The black can­vas slides along the scooter’s ta­pered form, show­ing off shiny chrome and im­pec­ca­ble body­work. Gio­vanni opens a four-times-folded pa­per wad gives it to me. There are two sheets – one is a rob­bery charge sheet, and the other is the chas­sis num­ber cross-check. I scan the data and I can’t be­lieve to my eyes – they match. A proud smile ap­pears on the ex-po­lice rider’s fea­tures. “It was THE Lambretta. Fi­nally, I nabbed that bloody Lambretta! Some­times you have only to wait.”

Elisa helped dur­ing the 175’s restora­tion and is the only fam­ily mem­ber per­mit­ted to use it. Her kind ways, the clothes she chooses – they com­ple­ment the Lambretta’s colours – and her very neat hands pro­vide a coun­ter­point to the “175 turismo ve­loce” na­ture, just like the Borso d’Este bi­ble to the roar of a Fer­rari. The cir­cle closes.

Elisa and I head out to­wards the coun­try­side for a cou­ple of photos. Gio­vanni stands up on his Sher­lock Holmes ter­race. “Mind the street code Elisa! That scooter has had enough wrong­do­ing. It is time to toe the line!”

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