We score three monster Italian automotive icons in one day!
First, we see the president of Italy’s bulletproof beauty come off the line at the Maserati factory.
Then we watch six uniformed guys in a gas station detail an unlicensed, red, fresh-from-the-factory Ferrari Enzo.
For dessert we bag a spy cam snap of a MC12 Maserati slipping through town for a romp around the track.
Ok, we thought we were touring the Ferrari factory. Brother-in-law, Kix, had wrangled us a tour of the factory in Maranello, and we were counting the hours. At the last minute, Ferrari said they weren’t giving tours that week after all. But … as a consolation prize, how would we like to tour the Maserati factory? Well, fine, they’ve got cars in Modena, too.
A day later, Kix pulled the rented VW van up to the guard house at the shiny blue high-rise Maserati HQ, presented his invitation and parked. Inside, Giuseppe, our guide for the day was waiting for us in his dark blue Maserati golf shirt. And he could hardly wait to share the news that we might be seeing something really special at the end of the tour. I love it when car guys get excited. Bring it on, Giuseppi, bring it on.
The only fly in the Maserati Ointment that day was the guy from LA who was on the tour with us. He was the kind of guy that gives all pretentious people everywhere a bad name. Forty? But bald, paunchy, no socks and “groovy” ankle bracelet, the ear pieces on his glasses strangely outside his ears, all a nice counter point to his Ferrari branded shirt. He immediately (and condescendingly) let us all know that he had not only this spiffy shirt but at least one actual Ferrari at home. And a Maserati. OK, fine, but you know that “Friends” episode where Joey loads up on Porsche gear and pretends to have one? You just couldn’t help wanting to give this guy a wedgie.
With him as unintentional comic relief we jumped right into line behind Giuseppi and took off on a tour of The Car Factory of the Future. Somehow, I think the Jetsons would have loved this wonder as much as I did. Sleek, moderne, retro space funk architecture topped off with the logo on the tallest tower: the pointy end of a big white trident. The absolute only thing I didn’t like about this place (well, other than the guy from LA) was their no camera rule. Totally understand that they don’t want everybody and their dog taking spy photos and then going home and starting their very own Maserati factory. Oh, well. But, because of the no photo rule you will just have to take my word for it that they have got it going on there, visually. Hospital clean, almost sparkly, with primary yellow car lifts, dark blue tool chests, white walls. Forget oil, dirt, and sparks flying and long haired teamster union guys wearing ripped Harley Tshirts and hard hats. This was poetry in motion, building motion. Thirtysomething Italian guys, with their standard issue good hair and blue golf shirts like Giuseppi’s were each elegantly adding their own particular pieces on to the car while it was in their work area. If they had to lean over the car, it was draped with custom black leather jackets at their station. If they needed a door, why, there it was on a yellow carriage and an arm with suction cups would come out of the ceiling snap onto it and the operator would walk the door to the car and pop it in place with a couple of deft moves.
Giuseppi said the cars were in each work station for an hour before they gracefully slipped off to the next worker’s station. The company had done a time study analysis and found that the workers each needed 28 minutes, on average, to do their job, so they gave them an hour and called it even. Eight hours a day, five days a week, one shift. He added that they are considered the happiest workers in all of Italy. They only build as many cars as are ordered. No Maseratis are being built to sit on a car lot in Burbank, or anywhere else. Order one. Wait for it. These slinky Spyders and Quartoportes are hand-built, each and every one, and they only plan to build 5,000 a year. As sister-in-law Barbara pointed out, there is a Saturn plant where they live in Nashville that does 3,000. Every day.
You want a color, pick it. For the car. For the leather. For the piping on the leather, for the threads on the piping on the leather. Do you want the fitted luggage to match or contrast with the interior of the trunk? These are weighty issues. Maserati doesn’t care – they only want whatever you want. TV/DVD seem to be standard, so don’t bother ordering one of those and go thinking you’re special! All the kids getting new Maseratis will be getting that.
What they won’t get is what Italy’s President Ciampi is getting: his own personal bullet proof Maserati. A gift from Maserati. That was Guiseppi’s treat for us at the end of the trip. Everybody has heard of Silvio Berluscone. He’s the Prime Minister and he can buy his own damn Quattroporte as he is supposedly the richest man in Italy. Carlo Ciampi is merely one of the most loved and respected. Our friend Biano goes on and on about him at a moment’s notice. According to Biano, Ciampi is 83 years old, former WW2 resistance fighter, certified war hero and former head of the national bank. Whatever the resume, the nice folks at Maserati decided he needed a righteous set of wheels and made him this smoky, dark emerald beauty we got to see out back of the factory. Giuseppi was totally stoked to get a chance to show it off. It took me a minute to comprehend what he was pointing out on the windows. They were half way down to help make the point that the glass really was THREE inches thick. We had to pay attention opening the doors because the bulletproofing weighed so much that a runaway door could clip your leg off at about mid shin. Tiny, chrome medallions forward on the top of each front fender contain furled flags that can be automatically raised for parade use. I want that on my next car. My favorite part of the Palomino colored leather interior was the big hand written note taped to the dash that said ‘non si tocca niente qui intero” Italian for “don’t touch anything”, basically. You know when people say a car will “blow the doors off” the competition? Well this car literally can blow its own doors off. At the touch of a button. With explosives. Hence the sign. Evidently the doors are so heavy that in case of being caught tipped up in a ditch, for example, the car is designed to blow those heavy doors right off at the touch of a button, although I’m not sure I’d want to be in, or near it, when that happened. Luscious interior, just wonderful. Nice ride, Mr. President. Complimenti.
Our tour complete, we returned to the showroom, looked at the tablecloth-sized leather swatches, sat in more cars, reluctantly handed in our tour badges (except for me, as I had “lost” mine). And then Giuseppi pointed us down the road to Maranello to at least see the Ferrari factory from the outside and to visit the official Ferrari store. As he said “You can’t miss it. Ferrari is Maranello, Maranello is Ferrari.” Big horse, small pond syndrome. He gave us copious directions to a “very nice, but very expensive” restaurant on the way. We took his directions. But ate in a real people restaurant with lots of trucks parked outside. Amazing, life alterning, cosmically memorable pastas. They really do feed you well there in the “pianura” of central Italy.
Let the big horses run.
Giuseppi was certainly right about the town of Maranello. Ferrari does take up most of the town. The Ferrari factory is many times bigger than its neighbor to the north and much more “factory” looking. Well, at least from our “outside looking in” perspective. Across the street is the red factory store in what was, surprisingly, basically a mall. A nice mall but still. Red roses up to your shoulders at the entry and formula one racing sounds coming from the inside. Strange karma in the place, so incomprehensibly over-the- top expensive. Nothing like the car prices, but just strange to the point of “are you serious”. Cute baby hat done in style of old fashion race car drivers? 250 dollars. Four espresso cups? About the same. Broken gears supposedly from wrecked or retired race cars? Hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. I don’t care if they do come with a Certificate of Authentication in a foreign language. It’s still a worn out gear, folks. We bought a ball hat and had some other tourists take our picture out front by the roses. And got the heck out of there. But not before spotting our buddy from LA looking none too glad to see us either. Ah, but at least we know where he gets all his fashion forward accessories.
Pulling the van out of the mall parking lot, we decided we’d just poke on down the street and see what the rest of the town looked like. Pretty much what you’d expect: a lot of use of the color red, Ferrari trinkets and banners in windows and such. But wait. What the heck was that shiny object the AGIP gas station? Alert nephew Eric says he’s sure its was an Enzo. As in, top of the line Ferrari-type Enzo. Questions fly from his dad and I to the point where he says ok, 85 percent sure it was an Enzo. We were headed back anyway. Or were trying to. One way streets and dead ends were diverting us from our goal at an alarming rate. We got to where we could see the big red car but not drive to, at which point we ditched the van and ran on foot up and over a grassy berm and … tahdah. There it was. The Holy Grail of the auto world – a bright red, unlicensed, fresh-from-the-factory Ferrari Enzo. Pulled up to the self service Fai Da Te pumps with everything open that could possibly open and six guys and one girl in AGIP uniforms were swarming over it like a polishing pit crew. What a sight. Off to the side was another equally screaming red Ferrari. A gorgeous 360 Modena which – in any other spot on Planet Earth – would be the total center of attention. Here, today, it was the shy bucktoothed girl at the prom. Enzo had pretty much everyone’s full and undivided attention. Needle nosed. Fly-up doors pointing at the sky. Engine open for the world to see all the pretty horses. Red, liquid silk body polished to within an inch of its life and we’re here to gawk and drool to our hearts’ content. Nobody paying any attention to us, either. Does it GET any better than this?
WHAAATTS THAT!?!? STEW! GET IT! QUICK! I hear my brother in law yelling to me. I look up from shooting Enzo to see a nasty white bullet aimed our way, slowing down a bit to check out the manicuring of the Ferrari King. I point and click. And come away with the evidence. Gotcha. The driver, as he gets past the Enzo, taps the throttle. One menacing snarl and its g-o-n-e gone. We had just passed the track on the way into town, so we assumed that’s where they were headed. We know what that bad boy in rough paint was all about from seeing one like it in a magazine. We’ve spotted the legendary MC12. EVO magazine calls it Maserati’s Enzo. And here they are side by side at the AGIP. Be still my heart. At Maserati this morning, they specifically said we would not be going anywhere near any MC12’s. “Sorry, Top Secret Racing Division”. They’ve only made enough of these to qualify as a street car for a specific racing category, Only 25 of them have been made and exactly zero are destined for the US of A. Maybe some year in the future. For now, it’s stand in long line with 600 large in hand and see if they call your name.
What a day. That was a lot of horses in one little “Fai Da Te” AGIP gas station. We are so not in the Mobil in Yarmouth, Maine anymore. We’ve clearly died and shot straight to car heaven. Who knows? Maybe its always like this here on the streets of Maranello.
IN OTHER ITALIAN HORSEPOWER NEWS. Side note on Italian horsepower large and small on this trip: On the way into town the Italian precision formation flying team: the Frecce Tricolore (Flying Arrows. Italy’s answer to the Blue Angels, but with 10 in formation) was practicing for the US president’s arrival in the next day in Rome. We drove along the freeway, and they kept pace beside us there on the flat plains of central Italy for a long time, scaring us with their crazy tight wing tip to wing tip acrobatics. One minute all of them would be at ground level and then they would all be going straight up, tight as wires on a cable and explode like fireworks into 10 different directions and then dive head first to the ground -pulling out at the last second. That was impressive.
At the opposite end of the horsepower scale was the Smart car. The newest one is the one with the great play on word name: ForFour. It was just being promoted in the newspapers but, even though we saw several of ther new-ish sports cars, we didn’t see any of the four door versions on the street yet. Smart’s display building is a smart piece of modern design, by the way. Several story’s high – all glass and just filled with nothing but tiny Smart cars. Would love to see it at night. Wonder if all their little headlights come on?