The Legend of Italian Sports Cars
Ciao Amici (hello friends),
With summer upon us and everyone driving around in their convertibles with the tops down, it is not surprising that I received a question about Italian Sports Cars, and the lack of them, in recent years. If cruising fashionably around and driving fast is your thing, just remember Enzo Ferrari’s famous saying, “What’s behind you doesn’t matter”.
Pedalo a Metalo (pedal to the metal),
FIAT: Fix It Again, Tony
Dear Mr. Italy,
Whatever happened to all the Fiat and Alfa Romeo cars that were running around in the USA in the old days? In Italy, they pack so much style into their little frames but I never see them here anymore. What happened?
— Corvette Mike, Anaheim, California
Italian Sport Cars were very fashionable in the USA during the Sixties and Seventies. This was especially true for the Jet Setters of that time and was largely due to the Movie Industry. “The Graduate,” a critically acclaimed comedy/drama, showed Dustin Hoffman driving an Alfa Romeo. Americans suddenly became enamored with the look and excitement of Italian Sports Cars! Additionally, Americans continued to be exposed to these little gems through other movies that were filmed in Italy. In “The Italian Job,” released in 1969, we saw Michael Caine driving a blood orange Lamborghini, and Americans continued to fall in love with the style and pizzazz of Italian Sports Cars!
Mario Andretti was a national hero here in the USA. Americans saw Andretti driving race cars for Ferrari, while he was always pictured with a blonde on each arm. Everyone wanted to be like Mario. How’s that for publicity?
In those days there were not many choices in the sports car category, so the Italian cars received all the attention; much more so than Austin Healy, Jaguar or Porsche. But unfortunately for the American consumer, the Italian manufacturers didn’t know how to handle the parts and service end of the business once the cars arrived in the USA.
There were very few mechanics here that could understand the manuals that were poorly translated to English, and all the parts were in the metric system. Sometimes the mechanics didn’t even have the proper tools that would work with the cars. Fiats that were brought into the USA were infamous for poor reliability. Critics began to joke that FIAT stood for “Fix it Again Tony.” As for the Alfa Romeo, it too, suffered a similar fate.
When an owner took their car in for service, it was anybody’s guess as to when you’d get it back or in what condition. In the seventies, my girlfriend Linda had a white 1970 Alfa Romeo Spider that stayed in the shop so long that we had to make arrangements to just visit it, and she used to cry, “O Romeo, Romeo! Where are thou Romeo?” I had a fly yellow 1969 Fiat Spider that I would drive only if I had another car following me just in case it broke down. In reality, most of the time these cars came out of service in worst shape than they went in, and buyers became so frustrated and skeptical that they eventually switched to buying more reliable, but not flashy Japanese cars. The irony is that the Japanese cars were all designed by Italians, which still continues today. Currently, in my personal opinion, if you want top of the line Italian style and drivability, my suggestion is to invest in a Ferrari. Believe me, everyday is a good day with a Ferrari!
Alfa Romeo is introducing their new Spider 4C back into the USA this year. It is an extraordinary example of style and functionality. Here’s an excellent video on this new ultra-cool car:
The Greatest Car Show on Earth
Holy Week on the Monterey Peninsula
August 15 – 21, 2016
Finally, I’d like to mention a half century old tradition called “The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.” Here is where the world’s collector cars meet and compete. However, the Concours is only the final event in a packed week celebrating classic automobiles! All over Monterey County, classic cars take to the streets, gold courses, parks and the world-renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. During this week visitors are surrounded with automobiles from yesteryear. A complete list of events can be found here on my website. A complete list of events can be found here.