Martin Buck­ley Back­fire

‘Gifts were handed out by lo­cal beauty queens, in a bizarre re­minder that Italy is one of the last bas­tions of anti-pc cul­ture’

Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

All the best press trips hap­pen in Italy, so if you are go­ing to alight on this gravy train (which I don’t of­ten do), an of­fer from Maserati to join the Gran Premio Nu­volari is not to be sniffed at. The con­ven­tional for­mat of these things is that you find your­self at a for­eign air­port with var­i­ous faces you vaguely recognise. From there you are whisked off to a glam­orous lo­cale, wined, dined and schmoozed, be­fore get­ting to grips with the ve­hi­cle in ques­tion. The gen­eral equa­tion is that the more dreary the car, the bet­ter the jun­ket and as­so­ci­ated gift – or “bribe”, as dear old Mike Mccarthy used to call it. The Nu­volari trip was dif­fer­ent al­to­gether: no bribe, and sur­pris­ingly hard work – al­beit the sort of ‘work’ that most people would pay money to do.

It was also a chance to get some time in the lat­est Maserati Ghi­bli, which to some­body who drives 50/60-year-old cars daily felt spec­tac­u­larly fast and ca­pa­ble. The trou­ble is, in the same way that Hill­man Minx-driv­ing Cyril Post­hu­mous thought the 1971 Mor­ris Ma­rina a ‘lovely car’, I don’t have anything to bench­mark it against. What I can tell you is that it is noth­ing like as pretty as the 2003 Qu­at­tro­porte (see p206): that’s a car I can see my­self owning.

Start­ing and fin­ish­ing in Man­tua, near Nu­volari’s birth­place, the Gran Premio is not a jolly but a se­ri­ous reg­u­lar­ity. En­trants ranged from the ex­otic (Pe­gaso) to the pro­saic (Fiat 125), with ’50s Bri­tish cars much in ev­i­dence. As usual, a Fiat Balilla won, mak­ing the point that the skill is in work­ing the clocks and do­ing your home­work with the road­book rather than go­ing quickly.

That said, we were given ev­ery en­cour­age­ment to do so by the crowds, and even lo­cal traf­fic cops urged us on. You sim­ply can­not pic­ture anything like this hap­pen­ing in the UK: be­ing given near-of­fi­cial sanc­tion to drive like an arse be­tween his­toric towns and vil­lages through every­day traf­fic, then be­ing greeted in said lo­ca­tions like he­roes, with gifts of lo­cal pro­duce. In one case, these were handed out by semi-naked beauty queens, in a bizarre re­minder that Italy is one of the last bas­tions of anti-pc cul­ture.

De­spite a huge en­try list that added to the slightly Wacky Races feel, we al­ways seemed to be among the same group, my en­dur­ing im­age be­ing of a Verona-reg­is­tered BMW CSL that looked sen­sa­tional in my rear-view mir­ror.

Maserati was the spon­sor, and we were in a team of press cars that in­cluded the new Le­vante SUV – the less said about that the bet­ter – driven by a writer called Al­berto, who pi­loted it with a lack of fear that only comes with youth. Then again, un­like Al­berto, I was not un­der pres­sure to write a blog up­date ev­ery half an hour for the in­sa­tiable ap­petite of a web­site editor in Mi­lan.

I know what a reg­u­lar­ity is, but didn’t grasp at first that I was meant to be com­pet­ing. It was the end of day two be­fore it dawned on us, hav­ing by then been given a telling-off by the co-driver of a Porsche 356. I just sat back, did what I was told, tried to en­joy my­self on the fab­u­lous roads be­tween the timed sec­tions and hoped no­body would recognise me at the gala din­ner in Ri­mini.

Luck­ily they didn’t; but I did sit next to a Mr Paulo Zegna of the fab­ric dy­nasty, who re­mem­bered do­ing the ‘L’ cloth for the Lan­cia Gamma. I was amused to learn later that, although he only did half a day of the event, the suave Mr Z came higher in the re­sults than I did. We came last, with max­i­mum penal­ties. The shame of it.

My hu­mil­i­a­tion wasn’t over. Strug­gling to get my case into the locker on the plane, I got a mild rol­lick­ing from a 55-year-old man wear­ing the clothes of a 25-year old. Ap­par­ently, I was ‘bash­ing his hats’. It was a sit­u­a­tion wor­thy of Larry David, but I couldn’t sum­mon a re­sponse wor­thy of Curb Your En­thu­si­asm. Only on the M4, back in the em­brace of my Merc 300TE, did it dawn on me that I’d been re­buked by the lead singer of a late-’80s, three-hit-won­der pop group, the iden­tity of which I’ll leave you to work out.

From top: win­ning 1939 Fiat 508C of Gio­vanni Mo­ceri and Daniele Bonetti; Buck­ley and his Ghi­bli were at the other end of the leader­board

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