Wednesday, 20 October 2010 23:16

Vintage Moments With a Splash of Chianti

Written by  Carol Corliss
Text and photos by Carol Corliss
Back in 2009, the proposed Alfa Romeo Centenary celebrations in Milan the following year sounded like something to aim for. One of the doubts in quite a few of our older car owner’s minds was the trek, either in the car or by trailer down to Milan and back. I did not mind driving back but did want to arrive with us and the car in decent fettle. A few enquiries pointed me in the direction of the Holland to Italy night sleeper car train which leaves St. Hertogenbosch for Alessandra (Close to Milan) with a very good restaurant car on board.  There would never too many people wanting this option but that suited me, I did not want to be overrun.  I wanted to enjoy the event as much as anyone else.  As the event drew closer it became apparent that Alfa themselves did not intend putting much at all into the whole affair, however, quite a few like ourselves took the view that we would just enjoy the trip come what may.  I know full well that the days of being treated like royalty when visiting Italy with vintage Alfas is long past and are highly unlikely to return.  So, make the best of what is I say.  Six cars were due to make the trip via Harwich and all was set for the Thursday night sailing.  Shock, horror!  One of our group had booked the wrong week in and had to withdraw two cars with a few days notice.  One car was able to be transported down by road but the other did not make it.  Nick Benwell and Piers Loxton-Edwards had a breakdown by the Dartford tunnel.  A complete transmission failure.  This sounded like a death knell for their trip.  However, it eventually turned out to be a small locking nut on the gearbox drive which was able to be fixed overnight.  Our dwindling group took the night ferry after a convivial supper in a pub near to Harwich.  My “Riding Mechanic” was nephew Chris Gamble who I was relying heavily on at this point since a flu type virus was playing havoc with my abilities to do much at all at this point.    A trouble free drive down to the train left us plenty of time to have a leisurely lunch in the square at St. H.,  and we duly put the cars on board and off we went in a southerly direction.  A very good dinner with a backdrop of the Rhine made the evening go with a swing.  Arrival in Alessandra was very smooth and the cars were unloaded without drama.  I must say, the administration of the travel by train was excellent and although the company are still improving the aging rolling stock, the service is very good.  We had a very damp arrival in Milan, it was sheeting down with rain and the hotel was a welcome sight.    Due to the schedule of the motorail, we had arrived several days prior to official happenings which turned out to be beneficial to myself since I needed some quiet recuperation time. Chris was able to carry on regardless and leave me to it.  The more modern Alfas were due to arrive on the Tuesday after a scenic route through Europe and so we made a siteseeing trip to Monza on the Sunday evening.  Great news that evening, Nick and Piers had worked on the car overnight on the Thursday and were ringing from Aosta where they were heading to meet wife and girlfriend at Como.  We had intended taking up some invitations from friends on the Monday in Como anyway so arranged to meet them there along with Robbie and Roger Webb in their 1900 Alfa.  A very pleasant day by the lake ensued which was helped along by a relaxed lunch on the terrace of the Ville d’Este.    
     
  Just a fraction of the Alfas gathered
at Rho ready to decend upon Milan
 The Warwick's lovely original 1750
Single Cam
 Brent Jackson's Torpedo bodied
RLSS at the hotel
     The Thursday centenary date and ceremony in the museum at Arese was our aim for that day and much speechmaking and toasting took place here.  After this was done and dusted, a fairly quick zip down the road following Bruno Giacomelli who was driving his gift from Alfas from the time of his F1 contract with them, a very nice Duetto which he treats with great respect and pointed this out when I voiced my fears that he would scare me when taking me round the circuit.  He had no intention of risking his beloved Duetto.  He did take the 1750 for a drive up the road but not on the circuit.  When I asked if he was familiar with centre throttle, he said in all seriousness that the only one that he had ever driven was the 158.  I felt that this was qualification enough for me.  At Monza we bumped into the Venables-Lewellyns first then the Pilkingtons who were also there to take in the petrol fumes.  Naturally we saw many other friendly faces, including lots of Dutch pals.  All in all a pleasant day.    
 
 The committee gather around Nick and Pier's overheating 1750 SS at Lake Como.
Robbie Webb's 1900 is on the left
    Although we were invited on a fun day out by the Dutch contingent, we took ourselves back to Como for a quiet day just doing the tourist bit on the Friday. Brent Jackson and his father eventually made it to join us that evening and a very convivial dinner followed in the hotel.   Saturday was another matter and an early gathering at the Exhibition Centre at Rho saw over 3000 Alfas collect prior to driving into Milan.  Some of our contingent were lucky enough to be invited to join the “Top 100” cars in the centre of the area which did not mean a lot in itself but after a lunch indoors for all, which was a massive undertaking, the cars were marshalled out to go into the centre of Milan for the afternoon and evening.  This is where we realised our good fortune for the 100 cars were given a police escort and all traffic lights waived.  A completely effortless ride down into the area where we took our places around the fountains.  The other folk were not so lucky and had to make their own way down, quite a lot gave up along the way and who can blame them?   We decided to forgo the “Hug Milan” exercise on the Sunday morning  which was intended to have all of the Alfas driving around the inner ring road all I could visualise was an enormous traffic jam.Brent’s RLSS was going home by transporter,  Nick and Piers were taking a route through France  and others were taking different options too.  This left Chris and I to drive north through Switzerland at a leisurely pace and enjoy the drive.  We arrived the Swiss side of the St. Gottard in time for an early lunch in a typical cuckoo clock village where, in the process of relaxing we noticed a sign across the square indicating Sussen Pass and Interlaken.  Now I love mountain passes, especially if I don’t know them.  Chris was just as keen and off we went. It was terrific and the old girl didn’t miss a beat      
   
 Two 1750s and a 1900 outside
the Ville d'Este after a very
pleasant lunch
 The trip home took in the
Sussen Pass which was spectacular
and proved a breeze for the
old girl (and the car)
    The rest of the trip went well other than a rather hair raising experience just outside Basel in one of the Autobahn tunnels.  The engine just petered out – terrifying all the juggernaughts bearing down on us and absolutely no pull off at all.  I willed myself to wait for about 30 seconds, a lifetime when you are expecting to be mown down at any moment.  The car restarted somewhat raggedly and made it to the end of the tunnel where just prior to it conking again we managed to pull over to a central section where another road merged.  Whew.  With the help of the AA man, it was discovered that some unexplained grit and dirt had completely clogged the lines between the tank and the first filter.  We can only guess that that type of stuff must have been introduced into the tank perhaps overnight. A trouble free trip back via the Nurburgring made up for our drama.  Although the outside of the Goldener Pflug in the village where we spent many happy hours has been revamped, I was delighted to find that the interior has altered little and the prices have not been hiked into the stratosphere either.    
 
A lunch stop at one of my old haunts, the Flug in Nurburg village which looks very smart these days
  I understand that had not Pirelli stepped in and sponsored the city centre event, then little would have happened.  Similarly, the museum were not, I am told given any help at all for the hospitality for the event. It is obviously not a happy situation at Alfa, the workers were demonstrating at Arese, I understand, at the news that all vestiges of Alfa production were to leave Milan and go to Turin, including the museum collection.  If the interest by the management in this event have any bearing on the situation, then I can only fear for the future of the marque.  They did not only buy a company but an enviable, legendary history which does not seem to be being given much respect      Carol Corliss    
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