Ten Things I Learned While in Europe

A recent trip found me and girlfriend Debra immersed in automotive culture, creations, factories, and events while winging our way through Switzerland, Italy and England. For the most part the weather was lovely, the food and wine delicious (I came back four pounds heavier), and the people wonderful.

Here are ten things I learned, in the order in which they happened:

One: A Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $70 million.

Literally within minutes of walking into Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como on May 24, a well-connected friend with a great collection approached and said, “Did you hear a GTO sold for $70 million?” I’ve subsequently heard the price at $68 and $80 million, but whatever the actual number is it’s stunning. It took the press several days to start reporting on the sale of s/n 4153 GT to WeatherTech’s David MacNeil, and in the next two to three weeks I will have a blog entry that will be different from anything you’ve read on the sale, and the market. Interestingly, MacNeil had a lovely 250 SWB at Villa d’Este.


Two: Villa d’Este raised its game, again.

From what is likely the best concours program I’ve seen at any show, to the depth and quality of the field, the fireworks show that ended everything, and more, Villa d’Este was nothing short of stupendous this year. The aforementioned MacNeil SWB won its class, but that barely scratches the surface of the “talent” that was there. Other delectables include the one-off Lancia Stratos HF prototype (pictured), a 33 Stradale Alfa, Pininfarina’s Jag XK, two Fiat 8Vs, a luscious prewar Lancia Astura, and so much more. Next week will be an in-depth look at Villa d’Este, including a trip inside the judges’ room, for deliberating Best of Show this year was a joy.


Three: If you want a 200+ mph custom-tailored suit, try ATS.

Automobili Turismo e Sport is one of the great “What If” stories of the 1960s, for ATS tackled Formula 1 and more memorably, made the world’s first mid-engine supercar. A talented and ambitious group of ex-Bertone guys have brought the nameplate back with an elegant 200+ mph mid-engine machine, and are focusing on a philosophy that is so hard to find in the automotive world today: clients will truly be regarded as family. Their goal is to have each of the 30 or so they plan to produce entirely different in color configuration and specification, making each car unique. We will take a longer look at ATS in the near future.



Four: There are still discoveries to be made in Modena.

For decades amongst the area’s knowledgeable tifosi there was a rumor of a Ferrari 275 GTS with Modena plates that no one could find, leading many to wonder if it existed. The answer was yes, for it recently surfaced after being purchased from the original owner. The car is completely untouched, with less than 17,000 kilometers (10,500 miles) on the odometer. Intriguingly, it’s currently stored in a building that once housed Modena’s now mythical Serenissima marque.



Five: Is “mystique” disappearing?

While visiting Ferrari and Lamborghini it was shocking to realize how, in many ways, both factories have become like Disneyland. Each has organized tours with specific stops along the way, which all makes sense. But when you see a new group at the viewing spots every 90 seconds to two minutes, it felt like these two magical places had lost their mystique. In many ways it reminded me of Beverly Hills, where 15 years ago it was simply a famous upscale southern California city. Now, there are so many buses and vans touting “tours of the stars’ homes” that it is nearly impossible to go more than a minute or two without seeing one. Talk about suddenly living in a fishbowl…



Is the Bologna the only airport with an appreciation for exotics? When getting ready to fly to London from Bologna’s small Guglielmo Marconi airport, what greeted us near the terminal’s entrance? Lamborghinis and they weren’t curbside, dropping someone off. In a marvelous nod to nearby Sant’ Agata’s most famous resident, there was a small display with a new Huracan and Urus for all to see. Somehow this seems more appropriate in promoting mystique than“workers in a fishbowl” tours…


Seven: London is a Lamborghini town.

After three days in London, I had to question all the doom and gloom prognostications for the city, post Brexit. While the amount of new construction (especially high rises) is staggering, even more startling was the number of Aventadors and Huracans roaming the roads. Just head to Mayfair, Kensington, Oxford or any of the upscale districts, and there are far more Lambos than Rolls, Ferraris, and Astons. Of the “ultra luxury” nameplates, only Bentleys seem to be more prolific—and it will be interesting to see what happens when the Urus hits the showrooms.


Eight: A great place to gain perspective on coachbuilding is the Buckingham Palace Stables.

I’d never been to the Stables, but the tour really got me thinking about coachbuilding. I’m focused on the 20th century and especially after World War II with things such as Pininfarina’s luscious one-off Jag XK (more next week), but then you see things like the “Golden State Coach” from 1762 and the “Irish State Coach” from 1851. It makes you really appreciate how the term “coachbuilder” came to be, and just how long the industry has existed.


Nine: Analog truly lives at Porsche.

There is a big difference between “speed” and “involvement,” for while the two can go hand-in-hand, there is much more to “involvement” than increasing g-forces. Rather, the magical “I word” is about sound and tactile feel, various vibrations and more, and the more I drive modern Porsches the more I realize the marque grasps this. Nothing hammered that point home like the new GT2 RS, for Porsche’s latest cruise missile sounds utterly sensational, whether at idle or hard on it. Plus it feels delectably delicious on the move for all your senses are being bombarded in a very (and most-refreshing) non-digital way. And that the GT2 RS happened to shatter the production car record at the ‘Ring, well, that’s just the icing on the analog cake.



Ten: There’s no place like Rolls Royce.

When needing a comparative to underline the excellence of something, how often have you said, “It’s the Rolls Royce of…?” I’d been to the company’s factory at Goodwood but never in it until this trip, and stepping through those doors made me appreciate the marque more than ever. It started with something quite subtle at the reception desk, where there is a Visitors logbook made with wood. I’d never seen that before, nor anything like the “Flying Lady” suspended above your head that’s composed of hundreds of individual Flying Ladies. That type of exacting craftsmanship and care goes into every car, and on the production line were various models in more shades and creative color combinations than I had seen in any factory anywhere—so much so that I think they should just name the place the town of “Bespoke.”

There were other things discovered on the trip, including how the bucolic Cotswold area in northern England has a quiet but very serious automotive culture, and how the trip concluded with a legendary machine reaffirming its status when testing it for an upcoming video. But all that is for another time, so we will end our whirlwind intercontinental tour here. See you next week when we dive into the magic of Villa d’Este…

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