There’s one big difference between MITCAR and almost every other car event that I attend during the course of a year. Whilst the vehicles that you see at any given event tend be a combination of repeat attendees and new sightings, the venues themselves do not change. Not so for MITCAR, which is held at a different place every year, somewhere in ” the Midlands”. Conceived by Bryan Alexander, who took a back seat from the organisation in 2014, MITCAR is organised by the East Midlands section of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, for the enjoyment of all Italian car marque owners and fans, 2015 marked the 15th time the event has taken place. This year’s selected venue was Deene Park, near Corby, just off the A14, to the east of the M6/M1 junction. When the new organiser, John Griffiths, sent me details of the plans for 2015, back in March, I was immediately impressed by the choice of location, as it appeared that this would be a spectacular setting, with a large 16th century house set back behind an impressive lake area and in a huge country park. I have to admit I’d not heard of Deene Park. It has belonged to the Brudenell family since 1514, during which time it has evolved from a mediaeval manor around a courtyard into a Tudor and then the Georgian mansion that you see now. Visitors to the house can see many rooms of different periods, showing an impressive yet intimate ambience of a rather special family home for many generations. The most flamboyant member of the family to date was the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava and of whom there are many historic relics and pictures on view. Whilst the house itself was nice, it was the setting that really stunned, with an interesting set of gardens, the lake and acres of rolling parkland. I could see why the MITCAR organisers selected it. And when I arrived, it turned out to be just as impressive in reality. There is a long drive up through parkland before you get to the area near the lake, house and gardens, and the space allocated for the cars to be displayed in. I will confess that I did not actually get into the house, as there was a long queue awaiting admission when I wandered away from the cars for a break from matters automotive, but I did stroll through the grounds and enjoyed the well laid out gardens, which were broken up into lots of different areas, which you could only see when you were close to each.
Nice though the setting was, it was the cars that people had come to see, of course. And Italian cars turned out in vast number – 370 in total – to make this a day with lots to see, grouped together by marque. Indeed such was the turn out, that most marques ran out of space and had to use an overflow area where late arrivals parked next to whatever happened to be at the end of the line. There was ample opportunity to see all the cars, to chat to the owners, and as an added encouragement to do so, a series of prizes were handed out, with one based on the votes of all attendees for a “Car of the Day”.
It was fairly clear from the responses on the Abarth Owners Club forum, and encouraged by a weather forecast which promised (and delivered) a dry day, that there would be lots of Abarth cars on show. And indeed, there was a most impressive assembly of cars, all different in some detail, for everyone to enjoy. Despite a request to the members not to arrive before 10: 30am, when I arrived an hour before the gates officially opened, to try to ensure there was some semblance of order in our parking, Paul Hatton was already parked up, and it was not long before more individuals and convoys of Abarth models arrived, quickly creating a long line of cars. As is usually the case, the Punto models were somewhat outnumbered by their smaller relative.
It was a Punto Evo which claimed the top prize for presentation. John Millington’s car is absolutely immaculate, and he spent much of the day making it completely perfect looking, so claiming this accolade was just reward for his hard work, or should that be “fanaticism”, which was the word used when his victory was being announced! The car has only covered 2500 miles from new, and you would be hard pressed to guess it had even covered that. With mirrors judiciously placed around the car, we could all see that the car was as pristine underneath as it was on top.
There were lots of 500 based models. Several of them were brand new 595 Competizione 180 bhp models, the first of which had started to reach customers in the weeks leading up to the event. It was very hard for me to keep quiet about the fact that I had one on order, and that in fact that this event was likely to be the very last time that my much loved 5 year old 500 would be seen, at least in my ownership. However, stumm I did manage to keep, as I admired the variety of cars, with pretty much all colours and most of the variants apart from the limited edition cars on show.
When I saw an area on the event map reserved specifically for AlfaSuds, my expectations were high that there would be a good number of this legend on show. I was not disappointed., All told there were 16 Saloons and 5 Sprints present, making this one of the largest assemblies of the model seen in the UK for a very long time. The ‘Sud was very highly regarded when new, for its astonishing handling, a characteristic no doubt helped by its low set flat four engine. Sadly, it was also bedevilled by a reputation for chronic rusting problems, largely caused by the fact that the car was built from very poor quality Russian steel. There are actually more survivors in the UK than you might think, but many are SORNed and awaiting a restoration which is still unlikely to e cost effective. Late model cars were better protected, but by this time, the range had been reduced to just the very pretty Sprint version (albeit not perhaps quite so pretty after the various updates with plastic bumpers had been applied), so it is these models you tend to see more often. Several of the Saloon and later Hatch cars on show here were examples I do not recall seeing before, so it is good to know that there are more of them out there.
There were plenty of other great and classic Alfas present, as ever, with this being the most numerous marque at the event. One of the rarest was an Alfa 90, which I had followed for almost the entire journey from leaving the M6. It was being driven in something of a spirited fashion, and I was surprised at every roundabout to see the quite incredible amount of body roll that the car displayed as it was powered round the curves. A chat with the owner on arrival elicited that he has been a 90 fan for a long time, and that this is one of the very best examples in the UK, which he found a few years ago, selling his previous example to make way for it.
Not quite as rare, but sadly no longer a common sight, is the 164. Alfa’s version of the Type 4 project which saw executive saloon models from Fiat, SAAB, Lancia and Alfa sharing some of the design and build costs, as well as parts like the doors, common consent is that the Alfa, the last of the quartet to appear was the best looking, even if the Pininfarina lines were not that different in silhouette from the Peugeot 405 that was also launched in 1987. The first cars had the fabulous 3 litre V6 engine, but these were joined by other variants, with the 2 litre Twin Spark helping to increase sales, as it sat under the critical 2 litre tax break points in a number of markets. A more potent Cloverleaf model was added to the range in 1990 and one of these was seen here along with an early Phase 1 car.
Not arriving until well into the afternoon, this was the only pre-war car at the event. It is an example of the 6C 1750, but rather than the more commonly seen Touring and Zagato bodies, this one has coachwork by James Young
This 1900 Berlina Super belonging to Quentin Butler from Derby was the overall winner at MITCAR 2014 and it was making another appearance this year. They don’t come much rarer, it’s the only one in the country and only a handful of this model remain in Europe. Designed by Orazio Satta, the 1900 was Alfa Romeo’s first car built entirely on a production line. It was also Alfa’s first production car without a separate chassis and the first Alfa offered with left-hand drive. Launched at the 1950 Paris Motor Show, the 1900 was offered in two-door or four-door models, with a new 1,884 cc 90 bhp 4-cylinder twin cam engine. It was spacious and simple, yet quick and sporty. The slogan Alfa used when selling it was “The family car that wins races”, not-so-subtly alluding to the marque’s success in the Targa Florio, Stella Alpina, and other competitions. In 1951 the short wheelbase 1900C (C for Corto, the Italian for short) version was introduced. It had a wheelbase of 2,500 mm In the same year the 1900TI with a more powerful 100 bhp engine was introduced, it had bigger valves, a higher compression ratio and it was equipped with a double carburetor. Two years later the 1900 Super and 1900 TI Super (also 1900 Super Sprint) with 1975 cc engine were introduced. The TI Super had two double carburettors and 115 bhp. The transmission was a 4-speed manual on basic versions and 5-speed manual in Super Sprint version, the brakes were drums. The 1900 had independent front suspension (double wishbones, coil springs and hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers) and live rear axle. Production at the company’s Milan plant continued until 1959: a total of 21,304 were built, including 17,390 of the saloons.
Far better known are the 105 series cars, and there were lots of these present. It is the coupe models which are most commonly encountered these days, and sure enough, there were several of these here, including an early “step front” 1600 GT as well a couple of the later 2000 GTV.
Based on the Coupe, but with a model designation of its own, the GTC was a stunningly pretty open topped model which was only produced for a year in 1965, in very limited numbers making them rare today with a total production of just 1000 cars in right and left hand drive versions. Only 99 were made for the British and South African market. It was based on the Giulia Sprint GT, with the cabriolet modification carried out by Touring of Milan. Besides the cabriolet top, a distinguishing feature is the dashboard finished in black instead of grey crackle. The model was badged with a script reading “Giulia Sprint GTC” on the bootlid. To restore some of the bodyshell rigidity lost by removing the fixed roof and pillars, Carrozzeria Touring added reinforcement to several areas of the bodyshell. Through the production life of the model, several modifications to the reinforcement applied were made by Touring, apparently in an effort to improve the stiffening achieved. Carrozzeria Touring was in financial trouble when the Giulia Sprint GTC went into production. The company went out of business shortly after production of this model ended.
Far more focus was given to the Spider model which was built off the same platform. First appearing in 1966, and sometimes known as the Duetto, the car gained almost instant fame when it starred in the Dustin Hoffman film, The Graduate. The boat-tail styling of the first generation cars was squared up with a Kamm tail, and larger engines found their way under the bonnet. in the Series 2. These were sold in the UK for a while. Two further updates came before production ceased in 1996, giving this car a 30 year production life. A lot of Spiders have found their way to the UK, some with subsequent right hand drive conversion, and there were examples of each of the four generations of the model at this event.
The first model to have appeared in the 105 series was the Berlina. First revealed in 1962, this appeared to be a rather boxy looking saloon, but looks can be deceptive, as this car had a drag coefficient of just 0.34, which when coupled with the willing 1570cc engine under the bonnet make the car brisk. More power soon followed and over the next 10 years, a bewildering array of different models appeared. The car was expensive in the UK when new, so not that many were sold here, but quite a few have been imported more recently, not all of which have been converted into historic racers. There were several on display at this event.
Alfa had a habit of mixing models between different ranges, and that is the case for the next car shown here. The achingly pretty Giulietta Spider was first launched as part of the 101 Series, but in 1962, it was upgraded with the installation of a 1600cc twin cam engine, replacing the earlier 1290cc unit, at which point it was rechristened a Giulia. You can tell the later cars as they have a bulge in the bonnet, needed to clear the extra height of the larger engine. In this form it was produced for a further 4 years until the Spider shown above was ready.
Seeking a model to compete against the Ford Corsair, BMW 2000 and Lancia Flavia, Alfa presented a new larger and more upmarket saloon car in January 1968. The result, the 1.8-litre engined 1750 Berlina was introduced in Italy along with the 1750 GT Veloce Coupé and Spider Veloce. Some days later it was displayed at the Brussels Motor Show. The 1750 Berlina was based on the existing Giulia saloon, which continued in production. The 1750 bodyshell had a longer wheelbase than the Giulia, and revised external panels, but it shared many of the same internal panels. The windscreen was also the same. The revisions were carried out by Bertone, and while it resembled the Giulia some of that vehicle’s distinctive creases were smoothed out, and there were significant changes to the trim details. The car’s taillights were later used on the De Tomaso Longchamp. The car had a 1,779 cc twin-carb engine which produced 116 hp with the help of twin carburettors. For the US market the 1750 was equipped with SPICA fuel injection. There was a hydraulic clutch. In 1971, the 1750 Berlina was fitted with an experimental three-speed ZF automatic gearbox. The model designation was 1750A Berlina. According to official Alfa Romeo archives, 252 units were produced with very few surviving to this day. Some 1750A Berlina didn’t have the model plate with production date embossed. The automatic gearbox wasn’t well-suited to the four-cylinder motor due to baulky shifting and ill-chosen gear ratio. Because of this, its fuel consumption was frighteningly high and acceleration was a bit too slow. During 1971 the 1750 series was superceded across the Alfa Romeo range by the 2000 series; creating, in this case, the 2000 Berlina. Key difference was a larger engine, bored and stroked out to 1,962 cc. With two carburettors, this 2 litre Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine produced 130 hp, giving a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) and 0-100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration took 9 seconds. The gearbox was a 5-speed manual though a 3-speed automatic was also offered. A different grille distinguishes the 2000 from 1750, and the external lights were also different between the models. The 1750 had 7 inch diameter outboard headlights, whereas the 2000 had 5 3/4 inch diameter in all four positions. The tail light clusters were also of a simpler design on the 1750. . In USA this engine was equipped with mechanical fuel injection.. A direct replacement in the 1.8-litre saloon class came that same year, in the form of the all-new Alfa Romeo Alfetta, though the two models ran in parallel for the next five years. In 1977 the Alfetta 2000, a two-litre upmarket Alfetta version, replaced the 2000 Berlina. Total sales of the 1750/2000 amounted to 191,000 units over a 10 year production life, 89,840 of these being 2000 Berlinas, of which just 2.200 units fitted with the automatic gearbox. You don’t see these cars that often, though there is one well known survivor which is the car which was on show here.
Two years after the Alfetta’s launch, Alfa followed up with a very pretty coupe. Styled by Guigiaro, this car, the GT, looked completely unlike the saloon on which it was based. The first cars had 1.8 litre four cylinder engines and then in 1976 the range was expanded both up and down with a 1.6 and a 2.0 model that adopted the iconic GTV name. In 1981, with the 2.5 litre V6 engine that had been developed for the ill-fated Alfa 6 luxury saloon available, Alfa was able to create a true rival for the 2.8 litre Capri with the GTV6. A facelift modernised the look of the car with plastic bumpers front and rear and a new interior looked rather better as well as being more ergonomically logical. These cars are more common than the earlier ones, and there were some nice examples of the GTV6 here.
The 116 Series Giulietta was launched in 1977, reaching the UK a full twelve months later. Slightly smaller than the Alfetta, with which it shared a number of components, it never really found significant success over the following 7 years during which it was on sale. There are not many of them left on Britain’s roads, so it was good to see an example here.
The Giulietta was replaced by the 75 in 1985, with the model taking its name from the fact that it marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of Alfa Romeo. Although the majority of 75 models that were produced between 1985 and 1992 were powered by either the 1.8 or 2 litre Twin Spark 4 cylinder or 2.5 and 3 litre V6 engines, there were some special cars produced, too, largely to homologate the car for motorsport. 500 examples of the Turbo Evoluzione were produced in spring 1987 to meet Group A requirements. The car had many modifications compared to the normal turbo model. The engine was down-sleeved to 1,762 cc from 1,779 cc and while the claimed power is the same as in the standard turbo, this engine is better suited for power upgrades than the standard 75 Turbo engine. There was an example of this model here.
Replacement for the rear wheel drive 75 was a front wheel drive car, the 155. Based on the same platform that underpinned the smaller and cheaper Fiat Tipo, the car did not meet with more than muted enthusiasm when launched, with many expressing disappointment that the car lacked many of the attributes that epitomised a true Alfa. But the firm persevered with the car and took it to the track, memorably winning the 1994 BTCC Championship. Development work to make the car competitive on track rubbed off on the road cars, and a heavily facelifted car, although looking little different, with a wider track and quick action steering was a revelation compared to the early models. These days, the 155 has a loyal following, so it was a bit of a surprise that there were not more examples of the model here.
Replacement for the ‘Sud was the 33. Taking its name from the long running Tipo 33 model that Alfa raced to great effect for a decade from 1968, the five door only 33 was objectively a better car in many ways, but it took a while before people really started to appreciate it. A facelift in 1990 brought new front and rear styling, to match the style that was to be seen on other Alfas in the range and it was one of these which the only 33 here.
Alfa produced two different models to replace the 33. First to appear, and the only one represented here, was the three door 145. Sporting unusual “bread van” looks, this car was later joined by the five door 146 which was a more traditional five door hatchback. The first models still had the flat four engines under the bonnet, but these were later replaced by inline 4 units with the Twin Spark technology, and the range was topped by Cloverleaf and Ti models in the 145 and 146 respectively with 2 litre units that had a very lively performance and a thrilling soundtrack. There were a couple of 145s here, including one of the facelifted cars with reprofiled bumpers and other detailed changes.
First thoughts about producing a replacement for the Alfetta GTV and the much older 105 Series Spider go back to the late 1980s. The task was handed to Pininfarina, and Enrico Fumia’s initial renderings were produced in September 1987, with the first clay models to complete 1:1 scale model made in July 1988. Fumia produced something rather special. Clearly an Italian design, with the Alfa Romeo grille with dual round headlights, recalling the Audi-based Pininfarina Quartz, another design produced by Enrico Fumia back in 1981, the proposal was for a car that was low-slung, wedge-shaped with a low nose and high kicked up tail. The back of the car is “cut-off” with a “Kamm tail” giving improved aerodynamics. The Spider would share these traits with the GTV except that the rear is rounded, and would feature a folding soft-top with five hoop frame, which would completely disappear from sight under a flush fitting cover. An electric folding mechanism would be fitted as an option. Details included a one-piece rear lamp/foglamp/indicator strip across the rear of the body, the minor instruments in the centre console angled towards the driver. The exterior design was finished in July 1988. After Vittorio Ghidella, Fiat’s CEO, accepted the design, Alfa Romeo Centro Stile under Walter de Silva was made responsible for the completion of the detail work and also for the design of the interiors, as Pininfarina’s proposal was not accepted. The Spider and GTV were to be based on the then-current Fiat Group platform, called Tipo Due, in this case a heavily modified version with an all new multilink rear suspension. The front suspension and drivetrain was based on the 1992 Alfa Romeo 155 saloon. Chief engineer at that time was Bruno Cena. Drag coefficient was 0.33 for the GTV and 0.38 for the Spider. Production began in late 1993 with four cars, all 3.0 V6 Spiders, assembled at the Alfa Romeo Arese Plant in Milan. In early 1994 the first GTV was produced, with 2.0 Twin Spark engine. The first premiere was then held at the Paris Motor Show in 1994. The GTV and Spider were officially launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1995 and sales began the same year. The cars were well received. At launch, many journalists commented that Alfa had improved overall build quality considerably and that it came very close to equalling its German rivals. I can vouch for that, as I owned an early GTV for eighteen months, and it was a well built and reliable car. In 1997 a new engine, a 24-valve 3.0 litre V6, was available for the GTV along with bigger, 12.0 inch brakes and red four-pot calipers from Brembo. The console knobs were changed from round central to rectangle ones and to a three-spoke steering wheel. Some versions were upgraded with different front bumper mesh to bring the wind noise down to 74 dBA. In May 1998 the cars were revamped for the first time, creating the Phase 2 models. Most of the alterations were inside. The interior was changed with new centre console, painted letters on skirt seals, changed controls and switches arrangement and different instrument cluster. Outside, the main changes included chrome frame around the grille and colour-coded side skirts and bumpers. A new engine was introduced, the 142 hp 1.8 Twin Spark, and others were changed: the 2.0 Twin Spark was updated with a modular intake manifold with different length intakes and a different plastic cover. Power output of the 2.0 TS was raised to 153 hp. Engines changed engine management units and have a nomenclature of CF2. The dashboard was available in two new colours in addition to the standard black: Red Style and Blue Style, and with it new colour-coded upholstery and carpets. The 3.0 24V got a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and the 2.0 V6 TB engine was now also available for the Spider. August 2000 saw the revamp of engines to comply with new emission regulations, Euro3. The new engines were slightly detuned, and have a new identification code: CF3. 3.0 V6 12V was discontinued for the Spider and replaced with 24V Euro3 version from the GTV. 2.0 V6 Turbo and 1.8 T.Spark were discontinued as they did not comply with Euro3 emissions. By the 2001-2002 model year, only 2 engines were left, the 2.0 Twin.Spark and 3.0 V6 24V, until the Phase 3 engine range arrived. The Arese plant, where the cars had been built, was closing and, in October 2000, the production of GTV/Spider was transferred to Pininfarina Plant in San Giorgio Canavese in Turin. In 2003 there was another and final revamp, creating the Phase 3, also designed in Pininfarina but not by Enrico Fumia. The main changes were focused on the front with new 147-style grille and different front bumpers with offset numberplate holder. Change to the interior was minimal with different centre console and upholstery pattern and colours available. Instrument illumination colour was changed from green to red. Main specification change is an ASR traction control, not available for 2.0 TS Base model. New engines were introduced: 163 hp 2.0 JTS with direct petrol injection and 237 hp 3.2 V6 24V allowing a 158 mph top speed. Production ceased in late 2004, though some cars were still available for purchase till 2006. A number of limited edition cars were produced during the model’s lifetime, of which the Cup, produced in 2001, is perhaps the best known. Based on the 3.0 V6 version, and inspired by a one-model Alfa GTV Cup race series, 419 of these cars were made. There were 180 3.0 V6 24V GTV Cups, out of which 155 RHD versions and 239 cars with 148 hp 2.0 TS were available in LHD only. 3.0 V6 cars were only produced in red ,while 2.0 TS cars were mostly silver with a few examples in red. Limited edition plaques, that were made of silver, differed for the RHD and LHD versions, having red and black texts accordingly. The differences between the standard car and the Cup version were a factory standard rear spoiler, front spoiler, side skirts, wheel arch side vents and titanium-like finish 17″ ‘telephone dial’ alloys, whilst mechanically the car was the same as the regular 215 hp V6. The interior was different in that had leather-material upholstery. There were a lot of examples of both GTV and Spider here, showing the various changes outlined above, with several of the limited edition Cup models present as well as the rare 3.2 V6 model cars from the final years of production.
Alfa enjoyed something of a renaissance in the late 1990s and much of that can be attributed to the 156, a small sports saloon which not only won the “Car of the Year” award, but also generated plenty of magazine headlines asserting that it was a better car than the previously indomitable 3 Series BMW. I owned a 2.5 V6 model for 30 months, and almost had to have the keys forcibly removed from my pocket at the end of the lease. It was a beautiful car that drove well, and was just the right size, before cars underwent the bloat of recent years. A number of 156s were here, including the very rapid GTA model.
It was hoped that the 166 would repeat the same success, but in the market segment above the 156, but sadly, it never did achieve the same level of success. The 166 had actually been designed before the smaller car, but quite rightly Alfa had fast-tracked the 156 knowing that the sector would generate far greater sales volumes. There was nothing wrong with the way the car drove and interior quality was decent too, though not everyone was convinced by the front end styling with the very slim headlights. Alfa changed this with the mid-life facelift, and I think the Phase 2 cars do look better. There were examples of both here, so you can judge for yourselves.
Third member of the new range was the 147. This appeared in 2000, and also claimed the “Car of the Tear” award, thanks, in no small part, I am sure to the fact that it looked so good. Whilst it may have lacked the absolute riving precision of the humble Ford Focus which had come out a few months earlier, it was still a fun car to drive, and that was before the fire-breathing, but sadly short-lived GTA was added to the range. On launch in 2003, the GTA was the most powerful hot hatch available, and it has something of a cult following these days, with those who are in the know rating it highly. There were several 147s including the GTA present.
Seeking to repeat the success of the late 1990s with updated product, Alfa unveiled the 159 saloon in 2006. It certainly had good looks on its side, and the build quality was impressive. But it was bigger than the 156, and the platform which had been developed jointly with GM for a prospective SAAB that never made production, whilst stiff and strong, was also heavy. The much loved Busso V6s had been replaced by the joint GM-Alfa units which disappointed, too, and the 159 spent its days as a “nearly” car. The promised GTA version was cancelled following the credit crunch of 2007, so whilst the 159 had its fans, it never quite generated the excitement that it promised. I suspect that time will improve things, and it will come into its own after all those German rivals have been recycled.
Alfa replaced the 916 series cars with two different ranges. The more costly of the two were part of the 939 Series which had given us the 159, and the new cars were called Brera and Spider. Sharing the same engines as the 159, these cars were always slightly disappointing to drive as the underlying platform was very heavy, so the traditional brio was somewhat lacking. Room in the back was also something in short supply for the Brera, meaning that really this was more of a 2 seater than even a 2+2.
Those who needed more space in their 2 door Alfa were better served with the GT, one of the most elegant Coupes of recent times. Based on a combination of 147 and 156 underpinnings, this car was good to drive, and had ample space for 4 people and their luggage. A much missed classic from the range.
The MiTo has been on sale since 2008, and in recent months, it seems to have gained sufficient of a following that there is now an Owners Club just for this small hatchback. They put on a great showing of the various different versions that have been offered at the Stanford Hall event in June and they followed that up with another good showing here.
The current Giulietta is also popular, as an every day car that can hold its own among the array of classic and older Alfa models, and accordingly, there were several of this good-looking family hatch here.
As well as the “volume” Alfa models, there were a number of the more exclusive (and expensive) models that have been offered periodically. Oldest of these was the Montreal, the production version of a car that was first seen in 1967 as a concept car for Expo67. The car took its name from the Canadian city where the event was held. Reaction was so positive, that Alfa decided to put the car into production, though it took a further three years to get the car ready for commercial sale. This V8 Coupe was then offered for five or so years, and proved quite difficult to sell. Until recently, that was still the case, as it was a complex car with a reputation for being very difficult to get it to run perfectly. In the last couple of years, though, its true merits have been recognised, there are far fewer for sale at any given time, and prices have risen accordingly.
It was more than 10 years before Alfa offered another high-end and costly Coupe model, and the result, seen for the first time in 1989, could hardly have been more different than the Montreal. That car had been praised for its looks, whereas this one, the SZ, and cruelly nicknamed “Il Mostro”, was almost wilfully, well, “different”. First seen at the 1989 Geneva Show, the car was also first shown simply as a concept, called the ES-30, for Experimental Sports car 3 litre. It was produced by Zagato. Robert Opron of the Fiat design studio was responsible for the initial sketches while Antonio Castellana was largely responsible for the final styling details and interior. Only the ‘Z’ logo of Zagato was kept. The car possessed unusual headlights positioned in a trio on each side – a styling used more subtly on later Alfa Romeos in the 2000s. Mechanically and engine-wise, the car was based on the Alfa 75, production being carried out by Zagato at Terrazzano di Rho near the Alfa factory in Arese. The thermoplastic injection moulded composite body panels were produced by Italian company Carplast and French company Stratime Cappelo Systems. The suspension was taken from the Alfa 75 Group A/IMSA car, and modified by Giorgio Pianta, engineer and team manager of the Lancia and Fiat rally works team. A hydraulic damper system was made by Koni. The SZ was originally equipped with Pirelli P Zero tyres (front 205/55 ZR 16, rear 225/50 ZR 16) and is able to sustain over 1.1 G in cornering, some drivers have measured a cornering force of 1.4 G, which remains an excellent performance figure. Low volume production got underway late in 1989, and over the next three years, 1036 were built, slightly more than planned. With the exception of a black car made for Zagato, all of them were red. Subsequently a convertible version, the RZ (for Roadster Zagato), was produced from 1992 until December 1994. Although almost identical to look at the two cars had completely different body panels save for the front wings and boot. The RZ had a revised bumper and door sills to give better ground clearance and the bonnet no longer featured the aggressive ridges. Three colours were available as standard: black yellow and red, with black and yellow being the more popular choices. Yellow and red cars got a black leather interior and black cars burgundy. Although the interior layout was almost unchanged from the SZ, the RZ had a painted central console that swept up between the seats to conceal the convertible roof storage area. 350 units were planned but production was halted after 252 units when the Zagato factory producing the cars for Alfa Romeo went in to receivership, a further 32 cars were then completed under the control of the receivers before production finished at 284 units. Of those final three were painted silver with burgundy interior and another pearlescent white.
Despite stiff competition from a number of other “exotics”, it was this simply stunning 8C Competizione in Blu Ultramare—an incredibly rare colour—belonging to AROC club member Clive Richardson which scooped the prize for Best Exotic of the day. These cars look fantastic, and of course the noise that emanates from them when the 4.7 litre V8 engine is fired up is. if anything, even more special than those looks. Is it any wonder that if you can find one for sale, you will have to pay at least as much as you would have done for a new one?
There were no fewer than 7 examples of the 8C’s little brother, the 4C. An impressive line-up they made, with a nice contrast coming from the fact that they were not all in 8C Red, with a couple of other colours in evidence as well. I was talking with one of the owners when the last car turned up, He said that his car had recently been recalled for a software update, and although Alfa had not been particularly forthcoming in what this would change when he got it back, the car felt transformed with the nervousness that the front end could display completely banished. He said it now drives like the car always should have done. Perhaps the press – who are not fans of the model – need another go to see if they have changed their minds?
An Alfa claimed the overall Car of the Day award, the result of a public vote. The winning car is one which been seen before, to new AROC member Peter Cremer from Grantham, with his spotless red Giulietta Spider, complete with chrome wire wheels. A lovely car, so elegant, and nicely presented, it would seem that everyone agreed.
There were just 2 Ferrari models at the event, an F430 Spider was joined later in the day by a 328 GTS, prompting even the organisers in their event report to wonder just what happened to the Ferrari club in the Midlands lately. It is not as if it was raining or even forecast to do so, which is usually the reason why Ferrari models are thin on the ground!
Fiat was well represented with an array of different cars bearing the Torinese marque’s badge assembled in a group on the left of the venue There was quite a nice spread of models from the last 40 years, though with such a diverse set of product that Fiat has offered during that time, not every model that they have offered was present. I was very pleased that one of the first Fiat models to arrive, and which was then parked up with the supercars was an example of the Dino Coupe. For years, this elegant design with a Ferrari engine of either 2 or 2.4 litres under the bonnet was somewhat unfairly ignored by all bar the cognoscenti, but in recent times the market has woken up to the fact that these are really rather special, and whilst it is the Spider versions whose prices first started to accelerate out of reach, the Coupe is now headed in the same direction. The survival rate is better than you might think, with a lot of these cars still emerging from their native Italy.
Close rival for favourite Fiat of the day was something from the other end of the spectrum. Everyone, it seems, loves the Nuova 500, and there was a 500F model here to admire, but it was the far rarer Giardinetta that really attracted me. This one had clearly had quite a lot of time and money spent on it and was absolutely pristine. It is also super-cool.
Back in the 1960s, Fiat offered a wide range of body-styles for almost all of their cars, turning to the local coachbuilders for help either in designing and/or building them. So, this chic little 850 Spider, designed by Bertone, is based on the rather boxy and practical rear-engined 850 Saloon. Whilst the Coupe, which looked completely different again, was a popular car in the UK when new, the Spiders were never officially sold here, but a few of them have found their way to our shores over the years.
Fiat did not bring the open-topped version of the 124 here, either. The car made its debut at the Turin Show in 1966, and continued in production until the mid 1980s, bearing its desginer, Pininfarina’s badges in later years when it remained popular in the American market. Early cars had 1400 and 1600cc engines, and these were gradually enlarged first 1800cc and then 2 litre, with fuel injection being added for more power and emissions compliance during the 1970s. Fiat spotted the potential of the car for more than just boulevard cruising, though, so in November 1972 they announced the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally, an overtly sporting version. Its main purpose was to receive FIA homologation in the special grand touring cars (Group 4) racing class, and replace the 1.6-litre Fiat Sport Spider rally car which had been campaigned. At the time, the 124 had already won the 1972 European Rally Championship at the hands of Raffaele Pinto and Gino Macaluso. The 124 Rally was added to the Sport Spider range, which included the 1600 and 1800 models; the first 500 examples produced were earmarked for the domestic Italian market. Amongst the most notable modifications over the standard spider there were independent rear suspension, engine upgrades, lightweight body panels, and a fixed hard top. In place of the usual rear solid axle, there was a Chapman-type McPherson strut independent suspension, supplemented by a longitudinal torque arm. At the front a radius rod on each side was added to the standard double wishbones. The Abarth-tuned type 132 AC 4.000 1.8-litre, twin-cam engine was brought from the standard 118 to 128 PS DIN by replacing the standard twin-choke carburettor with double vertical twin-choke Weber 44 IDF ones, and by fitting an Abarth exhaust with a dual exit exhaust The 9.8:1 compression ratio was left unchanged. The transmission was the all-synchronised 5-speed optional on the other Sport Spider models, and brakes were discs on all four corners. Despite the 20 kg (44 lb) 4-point roll bar fitted, kerb weight was 938 kg (2,068 lb), roughly 25 kg (55 lb) less than the regular 1.8-litre Sport Spider. The bonnet, boot lid and the fixed hard top were fibreglass, painted matt black, the rear window was perspex and the doors aluminium. Front and rear bumpers were deleted and replaced by simple rubber bumperettes. A single matte black wing mirror was fitted. Matte black wheel arch extensions housed 185/70 VR 13 Pirelli CN 36 tyres on 5.5 J × 13″ 4-spoke alloy wheels. Inside, the centre console, rear occasional seats, and glovebox lid were eliminated; while new features were anodised aluminium dashboard trim, a small three-spoke leather-covered Abarth steering wheel, and Recaro corduroy-and-leather bucket seats as an extra-cost option. The car carried Fiat badging front and rear, Abarth badges and “Fiat Abarth” scripts on the front wings, and Abarth wheel centre caps. Only three paint colours were available: Corsa red, white, and light blue.
Fiat introduced their 130 Saloon in 1969. It was an elegant looking saloon, designed to appeal to those who wanted a large and luxurious car without shouting too loudly that that they had the means to buy such a machine, as this was an era when kidnappings of the rich and famous was not unheard of in Italy, An elegant Coupe model was added to the range in 1971, with styling by Paola Martina of Pininfarina. Although it looked completely different from the Saloon, and indeed had its own interior, which was later adopted by the Saloon. It was mechanically the same as the Saloon, with a 3.2 litre V6 unit to propel it, and a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. Production continued until 1977, a year after the Saloon, and 4491 units were made. The market has not woken up to these cars yet, with really nice examples still available for around £10,000.
It took Fiat a long time to bring the X1/9 to the UK. First launched in 1972, the production version of a concept that had been seen in 1969, this mid-engined affordable sports car was the machine that MG should have built to replace their elderly but popular range, but for reasons best known to BL Management of the day, they never had the courage to produce. The first cars had 1290cc engines, but these were enlarged to 1500cc when a facelift was applied in late 1978 which also saw the incorporation of larger bumpers. The model then continued almost unchanged for another 7 years, with only trim updates and a number of limited edition models keeping the model on the News pages. Seen here were a couple of Gran Finale cars, the “last hurrah” of a car in which its maker seemed to lose interest long before the market did
Last year it was a rare Argenta Volumex which laid claim to being the rarest Fiat present at the event. I know from talking to the owner that he also has a number of that model’s predecessor, the 132 in his collection as well, and it was one of those, a 132 2000 which he brought along this year. The 132 was first seen in 1972, as a replacement for the 125. It was facelifted in 1978, with the almost obligatory plastic bumpers and grille making it easy to identify, and a larger 2 litre engine was put under the bonnet in an effort to keep the car competitive with newer designs such as the high end Cortina Ghias and the cheaper end of the Ford Granada and Opel Rekord ranges, as well as Renault’s R20, SAAB’s 99 and a raft of other upper-medium sized sporting saloons. It was not entirely successful, as the car never really achieved the sales potential that Fiat aspired to.
There was a long gap in the mid 1970s when Fiat had no completely new cars at all, thanks to a lack of investment arising from the general economic conditions of the time. Accordingly, there was much excitement when a brand new and rather futuristic model was spotted testing. A C-segment hatch, this was clearly a replacement for the 128 Saloon, and sure enough, Fiat revealed all in April 1978. The car had a name rather than a number – Ritmo – and it looked bang up to date, even if underneath a lot of it was carried over from the 128 of 1969. It took over a year for the car to reach the UK, by which time it had been decided that it needed a new name for UK tongues, so it was called Strada. Much was made of the fact that the car was largely assembled by robots, but sadly what Fiat neglected to do was to ensure that enough rust protection was applied in the process, so most Strada models proved no more durable than their predecessors. It is generally the more sporting and later cars that have survived, but there are a few of the early models still around as well, one of which, a Strada 65CL Series 1 was to be seen here. Joining it was a 105TC as well as a coupe of the later Series 2 Cabrio 85 Super and two of the potent 130TC Abarth, Fiat’s hot hatch competitor of the mid 1980s which was the most powerful car of its type when launched.
Next newcomer was at the bottom of the range, the Panda. A back-to-basics car, this is generally believed to be Giugiaro’s favourite design from the vast portfolio of cars that he styled over a long and distinguished career. The early cars had a choice of 30 bhp 2 cylinder of 45 bhp 4 cylinder engines, and a lot of clever features to make them both practical and cheap, such as the hammock styled seats. More mechanical refinement came over the years, and Fiat found a particularly opportune gap in the market when they produced a 4 wheel drive model which found huge success among those who live in Alpine regions. The car was produced for over 20 years and there are still large numbers of them to be seen in their native Italy.
If you want to see Fiat’s earlier small car, the 126, you probably need to go to Poland, as this car was produced there long after manufacture had ceased in Italy. Launched in 1972 as a replacement for the much loved 500, the 126 never quite found the same appeal. A slightly more powerful 652cc engine and better trim which created the de Ville in 1978 did little to help. In the late 1980s, the air cooled engine was replaced by a water cooled unit and a hatchback was carved into the rear of the design without changing the overall looks much, but by then the car was far too old-fashioned to appeal much in Western Europe.
Fiat has never really had that much success with larger cars, but it is not for want of trying. In 1985, the attempt was called Croma, and the car was their version of the Type 4 project which had already given us the SAAB 9000 and Lancia Thema and would later produce the Alfa 164. The Croma was a very roomy car, and with a large hatch at the back, was very practical, With the Turbo engine under the bonnet, it was rapid, too, but the market never really embraced the idea and sales were disappointing outside its native land. It was good to see an example of the first generation model here.
Fiat hit the bulls-eye again with the Punto. Needing a model to replace the Uno, they came with up a good looking small hatch in 1993 which combined the traditional fiat virtues of being fun to drive with much improved build quality and rust resistance. For a time it was the supermini to beat, with roominess and value for money also on its side. A chic Cabrio was added to the range a couple of years later and these proved quite popular in mediterranean markets. There was one of those here along with a regular hatch model.
The Punto came just after Fiat had introduced a new city car, the Cinquecento. This boxy little car was an instant hit, and gained even more popularity when a larger 1100cc engine was squeezed under the bonnet, stiffer suspension and lower profile tyres were added, creating the Sporting. I remember getting one as a courtesy car and thought it a lot of fun in a roller-skate sized package. These cars are cheap, simple, and easy to fix so are still popular especially among younger drivers who can easily afford to insure them. One of them presented here won the Off-beat’ Special award of the day. This went to an obviously much-loved Fiat Cinquecento belonging to Laura Rutland. The ‘NOS’ stickers were a particular point of note! The Cinquecento was replaced by the Seicento in 1997, and these cars lived on at the bottom of the range until very recently. Sporting versions of the Seicento were also offered, though the extra weight and refinement meant that they were never quite as much fun as their predecessor.
One of the more boldly styled Fiats of recent times has to be the Coupe. Styled by Chris Bangle before he departed to BMW, this car became an almost instant classic. Only produced for a short period of time, it was practical enough to house 4 adults and their luggage and yet, especially in top of the range turbocharged 20 valve guise blisteringly fast, but with road manners that thrilled rather than scared despite having 220 bhp transmitted through the front wheels and not much in the way of electronics to control the power. There are usually lots of Coupe models at Italian car events, so it was a bit of a surprise to see only a couple of them here.
The second generation Panda was a long time coming. It took until 2003, and when first presented it bore the name Gingo, but Renault objected, thinking that this was too like Twingo, so the car bore the Panda name by the time it entered production. It was everything that you would expect and hope for in a small Fiat, being practical, stylish and good to drive, and sales were strong from the word go. The range grew to include a diesel model, a very popular 4×4 and the 100HP sporting model which really found a sweet spot in the market as an affordable fun car.
Fiat have struggled in recent times to find success in the critically important C-segment of the market. It is not as if the cars that they have produced have been bad in any objective sense, but competition is tough here and neither the Stilo, seen here in Schumacher Edition guise, or its replacement, the Bravo found the sales that they deserved.
The Sedici was an attempt to do something that bit different. A joint venture with Suzuki, this car was introduced in December 2005, at the Bologna Motor Show, and was built at the Magyar Suzuki plant in Hungary. The expected production volume was 60,000 units per year, ¼ of these to be sold by Fiat, and ¾ of by Suzuki, where it was badged as the SX4. The design was created by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign studio, and was an alternative to mini multi-purpose vehicles (MPV), which have a more “boxy” appearance. To gain some much needed publicity, it was used as the official car of the 2006 Winter Olympics. At launch, the Sedici had standard four wheel drive, and the name was created by taking the 4×4 characteristic as a multiple, producing 16, which is Sedici in Italian. Sales in Italy were strong, and by November 2006, it was the second best selling SUV in that market, and by June 2007, it was the best selling vehicle. It never fared so well in the UK, from where it was withdrawn in 2010, leaving the Suzuki model to capture all the sales.
There were a number of current Fiat models on show as well, The long running, but still good looking Mark 3 Punto was joined by the popular 500 seen in the Ferrari Dealer Edition of 2008 and one of the 2014 Summer Edition cars in a particularly appealing shade of bright blue, and there were examples of the larger cars with 500 in their name, the 500L and 500X to complete the picture.
The three Lamborghini models made a spectacular and rather noisy in a convoy, all together late in the morning. They comprised a yellow Gallardo Spider, an orange Gallardo Performante Spider and the evilest-looking of matt black Murcielago models, a rare LP570 SV which was a real crowd puller all the time the models were on site.
Oldest Lancia here, and also probably the rarest ,was this Appia Berlina, a model which was introduced in April 1953 at the Turin Motor Show. Named after a Roman consular road, the Appian Way. just like its larger brother, the Aurelia, it had much in common conceptually with its stablemate, which had been introduced three years earlier. The Aurelia was Lancia’s first post war model with a long list of innovative design and sophisticated engineering features to its name, such as the first ever V6 engine, inboard rear brakes and a transaxle gearbox. Instantly it made the smaller Lancia Ardea, a pre-war design that remaiined in production seem out of date even though it had been seen as innovative when first launched in the 1930s. Lancia’s chief engineer Vittorio Jano took on the task of creating that replacement,. Initially an updated version of the Ardea’s 17° V4 engine was considered, but a clean-sheet design was ultimately chosen. At little over 10°, the new V4 had the narrowest angle of any V4 engine, and used solutions unprecedented at Lancia, like dual in-block camshafts in place of overhead ones. As the Ardea resembled a scaled-down Aprilia, the Appia mimicked the Aurelia’s appearance, substituting its exotic parts with more cost-effective ones, such as a solid axle and a four-speed gearbox in block with the engine. For its mechanical features—sliding pillar front suspension, V4 engine, rear-wheel drive, absence of a centre pillar—the Appia can be considered the last in a line of Lancias which stretched back to the 1922 Lambda. The chassis code was C10 for the right hand drive saloon—the standard version, as was still customary at Lancia in the early 1950s—and C10S (from Sinistra, Italian for “left”) for the left hand drive variant, available on request. Under the Appia’s bonnet there was a 38 PS 1.1-litre engine, which according to the manufacturer could push the car to 120 km/h. To save weight, on the first few thousands of examples the doors and rear wings were aluminium. The bumpers were also aluminium, making them easily dented; after some owners complaints, rubber stripping was added, to protect them from minor impacts. In a tradition inaugurated by the 1933 Lancia Augusta, the front doors were hinged forwards, the rears aft, and there was no central pillar. A spare tyre, the fuel filler and the battery were housed in the boot. Inside there were independent front seats, a column-mounted gear lever, ivory plastic steering wheel and switches, and panno Lancia wool cloth upholstery in grey or beige. In total 20,025 first series saloons were made, from 1953 to 1956. Of these, the majority—10,257—were right hand drive, and the remaining 9,768 left hand drive. The Appia did not prove the success it was expected to be. In 1956 Italian car magazine Quattroruote attributed this to the steep price, fierce competition put up by the cheaper Fiat 1100/103 and the fresher Alfa Romeo Giulietta, as well as to the quantity of minor defects. The car was mechanically sound, but was littered with small flaws (like the feeble aluminium bumpers) not well tolerated by Lancia’s discriminating clientele—probably consequences of the hasty, low-priority development, in a time when Lancia was diverting many of its limited resources to its sports car racing efforts. A revised Series 2 car was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1956, with a more powerful engine, a modernised body and better interior room. The rear part of the body was redesigned to enlarge the boot, and the wheelbase was stretched by 3 cm (1.2 in) to provide better rear seat accommodation. From the front the second series could be recognised from its rectangular instead of round indicators and the steel bumpers with over-riders. Despite—previously critical—Quattroruote having declared the Appia “finally accomplished and convincing”, sales did not take off yet. In May 1958 daily production still lingered at 27 cars per day, far short of the 50 anticipated during the car’s development. In total 22,425 second series saloons were made, only 3,180 of them C10 right hand drive cars. In March 1959 the third series Appia was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show with a new front end. Lancia’s traditional radiator shell-style grille was ultimately abandoned, in favour of an horizontal one inspired by the Lancia Flaminia flagship. Engine power went up again to 48 PS, as did top speed, to 132 km/h. The braking system was improved with twin leading shoe front drum brakes and a “Duplex” dual hydraulic circuit during the 1960 model year. Model designations were different from the previous two series: 808.807 for the LHD variant, and 808.808 for the RHD one. In its third iteration the Appia was finally mature, and 55,577 saloons were made, the vast majority in left hand drive. Numerous Italian coachbuilders produced Coupe models, and there was even a Light Van (Fuorconcino), and you tend to see these variants more frequently than the Berlina model.
Lancia replaced the Appia with the Fulvia in 1963. This was a clean-sheet design reprising the longitudinal front-wheel drive layout of chief engineer Fessia’s larger Flavia, but with Lancia’s final narrow vee V4 engine. Coupe models were added to the range in 1965, and these went on to enjoy a successful career in motorsport as well as appealing to those who wanted a stylish small car. There was a program of almost continuous improvement in the 11 years of production, with larger and more powerful engines finding their way under the bonnet, and various styling and upgrades being applied. Seen here were examples of the Second and Third Series cars.
The Y10 was launched in 1985 as a replacement for the long running Autobianchi A112. It retained the Autobianchi badging in some European markets, but in the UK where that brand had never been sold, it was a Lancia. A boutique city car, it created a small market niche all of its own long before the world had become obsessed with “premium” at every point of the market. When first launched, the top model of the range was the Turbo, which was a slightly raw pocket rocket created by the simple expedient of strapping a small IHI turbo on the 1050cc engine, resulting in a car with 85 bhp at its disposal. When the Y10 was facelifted in 1989, the Turbo was gone, replaced by the GTie, which is the version seen here. The new unit, a naturally aspirated 1301cc engine of 1301 cc and Multi Point fuel injection was derived from the previous 1050, and although not quite as potent, with maximum power of 78 hp at 5750 rpm and a maximum torque of 100 Nm at 3250 rpm was still able to propel the car to 178 km/h and to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.5 seconds. It also delivered more comfort and a smoother drive than the rather raucous turbo version, which made the GT a much more “usable” and “all-rounder” of a GT. As was common with sports models at the time, the GT i.e. is characterised by red border that frames the front grille, by an adhesive strip, with the mark of identification, which runs through the lower edge of the side, by original hub caps (optional alloy wheels) and chrome tailpipe, are internally presents itself like its LX i.e., with different types of coating. It was the lesser models which achieved most of the sales, of course. Over 850,000 Y10s were made between 1985 and 1992.
Needing no introduction is the Delta Integrale. It may be more than 20 years since the last examples of this car were sold, but there are a lot of people out there who still aspire to owning one. With prices for the surviving models on the price, that is likely to remain a dream for most people.
The most numerous “Lancia” at the event, with 4 examples present, is technically not a Lancia at all, in the UK, as following the end of Lancia sales in 1994, the decision was taken to launch this car with Chrysler badging. The third generation Delta had been on sale for a couple of years before UK market cars arrived, and it is fair to say that this car has never recreated the magic of the earlier models to bear the name. Slightly unusual looks were doubtless part of the problem, though dynamically, the car never quite hit the standards of the best in class, either.
There were far more Maserati than the other “exotic” brands. Nicest of them all, in my opinion, and a view clearly shared by others was this Bora. I had quite a long chat with the owner, John Chatley, who confirmed that this was indeed the same car as I had seen at Wilton House a few weeks earlier. He has spent three years restoring the car, and now he uses it, telling me that he was poised to take it down to Nice – driving it all the way. At an average of 15 – 18 mpg, fuel was going to be quite an expense, but how nice to hear that a car built for high speed grand touring was going to be used for just that. His wife confirmed that the car is comfortable on long journeys and far from the compromise-demander that were the Ferrari and Lamborghini models against which the Bora competed when new. It still seems wrong to me that they are worth several multiples of the value of this car, but then classic car values always have been, and always will be somewhat fickle. Much as I love the rivals of the day, this car would be my pick of the mid 1970s hypercars.
Maserati replaced their entire range in 1982 with a single car, the BiTurbo. Over the years, this model proliferated into a complex list of different models, and three body styles were offered, the original 2 door Coupe being joined by a 4 door Saloon and the model seen here, a Spider. These cars are fearsomely complex under the skin, and with values still low it is not economically viable to restore them. That may change over time, of course, but it does mean that you don’t see them that often even at events like this.
Far more common, of course, are the glorious 3200GT and later 4200 models that Maserati introduced in 1999 to replace the car that had morphed from BiTurbo into Ghibli 2. Although there were some niggles in the early cars, few could fail to be seduced by the looks of this car, and when the modifications that saw more power from the larger 4.2 litre engine were applied, most of those imperfections were banished, It is a shame that the gorgeous crescent shaped rear lights were replaced with some more square looking – allegedly based on customer feedback, which I find hard to believe – but the rest of the car in Coupe or Spider form looks just spot on.
Also scoring highly on the looks front is the large Quattroporte saloon that was premiered in 2003. Three of these were displayed here, including one of the later GTS models.
Final Maserati was one of the current Ghibli saloons – again a visual masterpiece.
Perhaps the rarest car of the day was this one. When I saw it pull in, I guessed it was probably an Osca 1600GT, but as you see these cars so infrequently, I was not totally sure until I went up for a closer look and got the chance to talk to the owner. He was called Chris Shore, and he has previously wowed the crowds and the judges at this event, with a dark blue Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato which was an overall MITCAR winner, but this one was even more special. Fittingly, it was awarded the Organisers’ Award for the day.
A bit of history. Under financial pressure, the Maserati brothers–Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo–sold their race car and racing parts business in 1937 or 1938, but stayed with the company, Maserati, under contract for another decade. When the term ended, Maserati the company was making road cars, while Maserati the brothers wanted to go back to racing; thus, they started OSCA, Officine Specializzata Costruzione Automobile de Fratelli Maserati, as Maserati owned the Maserati name. Over the course of about 20 years, they built several hundred cars, mostly sports racers, before growing weary of constant flirtation with bankruptcy and selling their assets to MV Agusta in 1966. Elsewhere in Italy, Fiat generally kept a small sports car in the lineup and, in the Fifties, had used companies Moretti, Abarth and Stanguellini to build them. Fiat contracted with OSCA in 1958 and arranged for the Maserati brothers to develop a version of their twin-cam 1.5 for the little Fiat 1200. For OSCA, this was a golden opportunity to do engine development on someone else’s budget, and it made a crucial arrangement: Not only would Fiat hand build the OSCA 1500s for Fiat; but it would produce additional engines for OSCA’s use, as well. Both companies benefitted from economies of scale, as well as making it much easier for OSCA, as always concerned with racing, to produce 500 engines for homologation. Fiat may have intended to race 1500s, but no program ever developed. OSCA’s 1,568cc engine resembles the Fiat version in many respects and was built by Fiat, but is a racing-oriented unit and built with a different block casting, with mechanical oil pump in an alloy assembly, and vertical oil filter. Rods, pistons and five-main-bearing crank were forged versus cast Fiat units. The finned cast oil pan, front cover, intake and hemi heads were also alloy. After casting, Fiat shipped engines to Bologna where OSCA technicians did the machining and assembly. OSCA engines had larger oil passages, and should be easily distinguished from Fiats by visible “OSCA” castings and unique numbers, if you’re inside the block. Four versions were available: a short-lived GT, with 95hp and a single twin-choke Weber 36 DCLDE; the GT2 (PR2 if Touring-bodied), with twin Weber 38DCOES and 105hp; a 125hp, twin Weber 42DCOE GTV (PRV) trim; and an ultralight, twin-spark, dual 42DCOE 140hp GTS. A number of coachbuilders offered different versions, but you could get any version from Zagato, which bodied almost all of the cars produced. How many that was, no one knows. OSCA indicated it intended a production run of 128, but it didn’t accomplish that. A keen owner started a registry for the 1600 GT and, working with several other enthusiasts, has identified 60 chassis sold (43 Zagato, 14 Fissore and 3 Boneschi), with 31 of those surviving today. Other sources suggest that just 22 of these Touring bodied versions were made.
NON ITALIAN CARS
First of the non Italian cars to drive through the event was an Esprit Turbo. Clearly there is an Italian connection, as the car was styled by Giugiaro, but even so, I suspected that it did not really belong, so I was a little surprised when it was parked up at the end of the area allocated for Italian supercars. A striking and interesting car in its own right, though, no-one was really likely to complain about its presence.
During the day a few more cars arrived and assembled in this area, which was a little surprising, as the main car park for the venue was some way away, and much nearer the house and gardens. Most of the cars that did park here were (currently, as they are new) unremarkable machines, the sort that you see on our roads more or less on a daily basis, but a couple that did stand out were a rather nice Rover 2200 TC and a far more recent second generation Ford Focus RS.
Many have said that this is their favourite Italian car event of the year. And it’s not hard to see why. For sure, the Auto Italia organised ones are bigger, and more likely to attract real rarities, but there is something about the intimate nature of this one, and the friendly atmosphere that ensues, along with the careful selection of a new and interesting venue every year that it is clear why the MITCAR formula is so appealing. Plans for 2016 have not been announced yet, but as soon as they are, the event goes straight into my events schedule.