The Mystique of Italian Cars
By James Wong
It’s a rare thing these days, with every car manufacturer claiming a full-blooded engineering marvel every time they release their latest sports car. How many of the cars in the world today actually tugs at our heartstrings and make us crumble in joy whenever we see or hear one pass by us on the street? And where do these cars always come from?
Undeniably, Italy is one country that will produce automobiles that no any other country can ever replicate – and, although it’s a personal opinion, I do believe that they produce the most passionate cars in the world. Just articulating their names to yourself makes you smile, having spoken one of the most beautiful names you can ever give to a brand. Maserati. Ferrari. Pagani. Lamborghini. And their cars itself, each and every one revered by car enthusiasts worldwide, are no empty vessels either. They are true driver’s cars, built for the winding B-roads and the Autostrada that Italy is so famous for. So, this article hopes to explore why Italian cars hold a special place in every one of our petrolhead hearts, and why they are probably going to be on bedroom posters of young boys for a long time to come.
Italian cars are no stranger to history. Dating back to as early as the 1920s, Maserati has been making racing cars to compete in races that included illustrious competitors like Auto Union (which eventually became Audi) and Mercedes. Ferrari, a name synonymous with the F1 Grand Prix, is still a force to be reckoned with in the racing scene, having taken 1st place in the Constructor’s Championship for both 2007 and 2008. In the 1960s, Lamborghini built a car called the Miura which, up till today, is still looking as good as ever. Pagani, although a relatively new company set up in the 1990s, restored whatever lost faith people had in Italian cars by building outrageously opulent, gorgeous, manic cars that did not live by the constraints of conformity and tastes of the bourgeoisie. As one can plainly see, the reputation of Italian cars did not come out of nowhere – their colourful and deep history serves in some way or another to contribute to the appeal of Italian cars.
It is notoriously said that FIAT stands for ‘Fix It Again, Tony’. Although FIAT is not exactly a brand famous for its reliability, its counterparts do not have such a good reputation either. It is not uncommon to see, once in a while, a Ferrari wrecked in the highway because the engine overheated and caught fire. Some of you may remember how you had to pray every time before you started up an Alfa, in a hope that the crank would be a successful one. Speaking from personal experience, my family once owned a Maserati that had the ‘christmas lights’ gremlin – where, after starting the car, all the lights of the interior started blinking uncontrollably. This continued throughout the hour journey of the school run, until late in the morning when the car was restarted again.
All these reliability issues, while glaringly denouncing the otherwise perfect report card of Italian cars, are gladly forgotten when one starts to drive the car. If you ever had the privilege of owning an Italian piece of machinery, you will know what I mean. Even before you sit in the car, it already wins you over. The drop-dead gorgeous looks make you weak on your feet. The culprits are, of course, the Italian design houses responsible for the designs. Pininfarina, Giorgetto Giugiaro – they sound like bespoke tailors who carefully trim and sew your perfect dinner suit.
You sit in the interior and plush, supple leather surrounds you everywhere – carefully stitched, no less, by the best Italian leather experts in the business, for example, Poltrona Frau (for Ferrari and Maserati). Italian cars always had a flair for being gorgeous both inside and outside, but wait till you start the engine.
Modern day drool-worthy Italian cars start from a V8, working their way up to a V10 and then to the flagship V12. No matter whatever floats your boat, they all sound truly spectacular. Nothing can quite describe the symphony that plays when you take the car from idle all the way to its redline; the resonance that bounces between the buildings of the street, the sheer loudness of the engines, and the unique orchestra played by every car serves to make every drive pass entertaining. Okay, so Italian cars may lack the big-bore grunt of American cars or the mechanical efficiency of the Germans, but they certainly know how to make an arrival. Just ask yourself what car you would rather be in when arriving at a hotel lobby full of people, and it is apparent which cars will impress the most. Among the more notable sweet-sounding cars include the Maserati Granturismo S, the Ferrari F430 Scuderia, the Lamborghini Superleggera and the Pagani Zonda F.
Then you take them on a drive and your love is sealed. The way the chassis responds to your every command, how the steering is weighted so perfectly, the clutch reassuringly heavy and the gearchanges satisfyingly quick with a blip at downshifts (think Ferrari’s F1 transmission). And of course, the exhaust note that accompanies your gait as you speed down the motorway and the twisties. People cannot help but gawk. I gawk.
Some people see owning an Italian car like full-time job. There is an interesting cartoon I once read, and a lady asked a man: ‘What do you do for a living?’ And the man aptly replies, ‘Me? I drive a Maserati.’ Jeremy Clarkson also puts it so succinctly when he tested the Alfa 8C: ‘Buying an Italian car for its reliability is like buying a porn film for its plot.’
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