Monday, July 16, 2007

Paris 16 July 2007

After Garlenda we returned to Torino to have meetings with Italian
companies regarding sponsorship. We put back our USA shipping date and
returned for four extra nights in the nicely situated Hotel Villa Gualino
with its very friendly and helpful Director, Claudio Gilli. Lang took
advantage of the considerable spare time to purchase new front tyres ready
for the little Fiat's USA leg while I packed two large boxes of equipment
(and gifts) that were no longer required and shipped them home.

On Thursday we went to Modena where we joined an interesting hour tour of
the Maserati factory, they produce about 35 cars a week in a very hands-on
operation. After the tour, their semi-retired historic collection
"curator" Ermanno Cozza, who has a lifetime at Maserati and restored many
of their historic cars, took us to see the private collection of Umberto
Pannini. This is situated at the farm, Hombre, where the cheese of the
same name is produced for which Umberto is famous. He has an impressive
collection of Maseratis as well as many other makes and a large range of
motorbikes and tractors. In his workshop he is at present building replica
steam cars.

From there we went to the Ferrari Museum. This is a very slick commercial
operation, well set out and full of beautiful bright red racing cars and
different model Ferrari's as well as a couple of their parent company
Fiats. Not far out of town was another private and very impressive
collection belonging to Mario Righini. This was a unique collection as the
majority of the of the cars were in original condition and consisted of
Italas, De Dions, Alfas and many other European brand names, dating back
more than a century. Mario is a very friendly fellow and we were invited
to join a busload of visiting Japanese car enthusiasts to sample the local

During the few days in Torino we met up again with Antonio Carella who is
a president and very enthusiastic member of the RACI – the Italian Vintage
car club. He has worked with Fiat all his life and is a wonderful fund of
knowledge on the history of the car and its manufacturing.

Mario Vannozzi, who has also spent his working life with Fiat, lives in
Torino and has an amazing driving history. In 1989 he drove the original
Itala from Peking to Paris, Paris to Dakar rallies, and a trip to the
Arctic just to name a few of his accomplishments. Mario accompanied us on
our 3 hour drive to Modena and also had to wait at a wayside restaurant
with us after a large truck and Paolo's VW Golf had a coming together at
a roundabout. Fortunately nobody was hurt but the VW has gone to the big
car yard in the sky. Paulo called Claudio Gilli at the Villa Gualino
hotel who dispatched his night porter with Paolo's other car. We
eventually got home at 3.00am!

Prior to our trip, the French Fiat 500 Club had contacted us to attend a
day of celebration of FIAT France's launch of the new 500 here in Paris in
the Place Vendome. While we were in Garlenda they met up with us and
personally renewed the request. On Friday and Saturday we traveled mainly
on the very expensive motorways to Paris. The trip over the mountains and
through tunnels many kilometres long was absolutely spectacular. Mont
Blanc reared up beside us, still covered in snow.

After spending the night in a small village hotel on the Bourgnone Canal
we booked into a Paris hotel in the La Defense area which is a very modern
business district with glass-walled skyscrapers, so unlike the rest of the
city. Although it sits right on the water on the Seine, weekend rates
(like most Paris hotels) make it cheaper than the village pub we stayed
in. Of course once Monday comes prices double and even triple and it is
time to move out of Paris!

Just 3kms away is the Place Vendome, a large square surrounded by ancient
buildings housing designer label shops and featuring a central Napoleonic
obelisk monument. This was where 100 French Club Fiat 500's of varying
colours and styles were displayed along with a number of new release 500s.
Fiat were offering test drives, so I took one for a spin around Paris, and
am seriously thinking of a swap for the rest of the trip, not sure if Fiat
will come to the party.

We were treated to morning tea and lunch and then at 2pm we did a
one-hour parade around Paris. It included a drive up the Champs Elysees
around the Arc De Triomphe Etoile, past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame,
a very pleasant sunny Sunday drive (apart from the ten thousand tour
buses). I had a great camera outing and spent much time at each
significant point photographing people, photographing people,
photographing something over the head of the crowd.

We then returned to Place Vendome to sing Happy Birthday and cut the huge
Fiat 500 fiftieth birthday cake.