What do you take to Italian Car Day? Why, a white 2015 Fiat 500 Turbo, with a splash of red and green stripes for a little extra brio. With its alert and peppy stance, the smartly rounded contours of the small car harked back to an era of earthy romance. Generously outfitted with bright red – rosso, excuse me – leather seats, that were deliciously accommodating, while the dash and doors were embellished with shiny silver accents. And with 135 horsepower, I knew I’d be able to hold my own with the other paisans – at least in the Fiat neighbourhood.
All week long, I wheeled around town in the Fiat, gathering smiles and nods of approval. Inside, the white, red and black interior was tinged with a vintage feel in a bow to the Cinquecento’s glorious Italian past. Why, even the silver door handles could have siphoned espresso on a Gaggia!
The organizers promised a park full of Italian cars, old and new, exotic and bizarre, and just plain mouth-watering. Naturally, the festivities were happening in Woodbridge, the heart of the Italian community, at a great sprawling campagna of a lush park. As I pulled up to the entrance, I caught sight of a De Thomaso Pantera in my rear-view mirror – yes, I was in the right place.
Below me, the rolling green lawn was awash in a sea of stunning Italian metal. There was a row of Lamborghinis here, several rows of Ferraris there, a quartiere of Fiats going back through the decades. In fact, both a Fiat and an Alfa Romeo club had travelled from Ottawa and Montreal just for the day. And was it just my imagination, or were three-quarters of the cars red?
Roped off in its own corral, the undisputed star of the show was a brand new sizzling red LaFerrari, weighing in at a cool $1.3 million. Surrounded by paparazzi (which almost outnumbered the cars), the extravagantly voluptuous beast seemed barely constrained by its humble barricade. Finally, it roared, an angry glissade of a screech that shook the park, and seemed ready to take flight.
But the romantic strains of Italian pop and opera soon resumed, and as I wandered past the Maseratis, with children chasing each other and tumbling on the grass, the smell of pizza and sausage on the grill, I could have been in Italy, at a grand family outing on a generations-old palazzo. Complete strangers offered me sandwiches, beverages, desserts, and joked with me like a long-lost member of the clan.
Finally, I wandered over to the Panteras, the refined and sexy exotics sporting a Ford V-8 under their hoods, and fell in love with a 1972 blood red head-turner, with an unusual black spoiler. The Pantera was designed by Argentinian cattle baron Alejandro De Thomaso, who fled to Italy when he invoked the ire of Juan Peron. His visionary vehicle was a quixotic amalgam of Italian sleek with American muscle, and for some reason, only appealed to enthusiasts with a taste for the otherworldly. Sold in North America at Ford Lincoln dealerships, maybe prospective buyers simply got confused.
Like any avant-garde sexpot, the Pantera has a checkered history. Elvis Presley had a yellow 1971 model that he shot in a fit of pique, right in the steering wheel and the dash. The car is now safely in a museum, with the bullet holes still visible.
Another celebrity owner was hockey player Tim Horton, who met an untimely demise in his Pantera. Other noteworthy owners include Ricky Nelson, King Gustav of Sweden, and of course, Jay Leno. There are even rumours that the rock band Pantera named themselves after the car, but … those are only rumours.
After a full day at the Ital-fest, I was pretty spent. Chomping on a hunk of pizza, I reclined on the comfy rosso seats in my Fiat and glanced around me. The late afternoon sun beat down on the grass, and I could smell leather and motor oil. Children were laughing, and Pavarotti was singing Puccini.
Chilling in my Fiat, I almost felt like la donna e mobile. But that was probably the sun.
Still, who knew? Italy really is a state of mind.
And about 140 spectacular Ital-mobiles.