The Road Beat Extra, August 20,2014
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By Mitchell Weitzman
The Italians may not get everything right; just look back at their recent financial crisis. But there are many other things that the Italians do as well, if not better than anyone else. Cars are one of them (though let’s not forget their penchants for art, food, fashion, and drink either). When it comes to car design though, it’s hard not to argue that the Italians know best.
On Saturday, Aug. 16, Italian car fans from all over the world rejoiced again as the 30th annual Concorso Italiano was held, a staple event of the Monterey/Pebble Beach Car Week every August. Black Horse Golf Course, with its Monterey Bay vistas, welcomed the event back to their fairways after a several-year absence which saw the show move to several nearby courses. As usual, there was a fantastic showing of Italian autos, ranging from Alfa Romeos to the customary Lamborghinis and Ferraris. This truly was the mecca of automotive heaven for car enthusiasts alike.
Some noted entries included a collection of coach built cars from famed Italian design house Zagato, two rare Ferrari Enzos, Ferris Bueller’s wheels of choice: a Ferrari 250 GT California, the new Lamborghini Huracan and the exciting new Alfa Romeo 4C.
Zagato, a Milano-based design house is known for taking an existing car and then putting an entire new, unique body on it, producing their cars in very low numbers. A Ferrari 550 GTZ Barchetta was on display, a machine that features custom Zagato bodywork designed to resemble the 250 GTZ of 50 years earlier. However, it sits on a modern 550 Barchetta chassis with a large, howling V-12 engine. So rare is it that you can count all produced on one hand. Zagato is also known for several collaborations with British brand Aston Martin, creating a fusion of British engineering with Italian styling for the last half century.
Supercar-making legend Lamborghini was well represented, with examples of their first models, the 350 GT and an exquisite Lamborghini tractor, to their latest grin-generator, the all-new Huracan. The baby bull is Lamborghini’s new entry-model (entry is a bit modest here) V-10 powered supercar, replacing the highly successful sales-driven Gallardo. Harnessing a 600 hp V10 in the middle of the chassis, the Huracan can reach 60 mph in, wait for it, 1…2…3 seconds! Surely a quick and stylish way to lose your license. It’ll be on sale later this year with an MSRP of $237,250 before the many obligatory options.
However, if Italian style and performance are what you’re after, there is a very appealing and cost-effective alternative. Alfa Romeo, best known as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in “The Graduate,” is making a U.S. comeback. They are launching their assault with the 4C, a mid-engine, four-cylinder turbocharged pocket-rocket. And my, is it beautiful. Using an incredible array of voluptuous curves and creases, it is the personification of Italian design. The little Alfa (it’s the same length as a Mazda Miata) powers its way to 60 only a second slower than the big Lambo. It also has a state-of-the-art carbon fiber chassis, technology usually reserved for bungalow-priced supercars, which radically reduces weight and increases rigidity, being the only car in its class to feature such a bespoke construction technique. Best of all, the cost to all this excitement starts at $55,195. It will be a serious contender in the performance car category, with the Porsche Cayman and Corvette Stingray seen as direct and similarly priced rivals. The Alfa does have one thing going for it, though: nothing south of 100 grand looks this good.
Speaking with Jiyan Cadiz, Chrysler’s manager of media relations, shed some light on Alfa’s plans.
“The purpose of the Alfa 4C is to set the tone for the brand and the 4C has had a spectacular reception, our new pride and joy,” said Cadiz. “Alfa is planning to introduce eight new models to the United States by 2018, all of which will feature rear-wheel drive and many high-tech features as seen on the 4C, including turbocharging, lightweight construction, direct injection and dual-clutch gearboxes. The 4C is just an introduction, a taste of what more is to come from Milano.”
And about Italian design? Who better to ask than Lorenzo Ramaciotti, the head of design for the newly-named Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a group which includes Fiat, Chrysler, Ferrari, Maserati and, of course, Alfa Romeo. Signore Ramaciotti is a native of Modena in Italy, having designed many well-known (and beautiful) cars over his career. His credentials include the Ferrari(s) 550 Maranello, 360 and Enzo. His latest museum-worthy sculpture is the new 4C. Speaking of where he finds his inspiration as well as how Italians know style so well, Ramaciotti said, “Italy has 60 percent of the [western] world’s artifacts…we’ve been around it our whole lives.” It’s no wonder that spending a lifetime around the great works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Bernini can help influence (and improve) car design.
The Concorso Italiano will be back next August. For a more local viewing of similar cars, be sure to check out Italy on Wheels in Folsom at the Murer House Museum on Sept. 13.
Larry Weitzman contributed to this story.