Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy
Editor’s note: Click here for the follow-up to this piece, with photos provided to us directly from Mr. Nabokov.
By Roger Boylan
Two of my lifelong interests come together in the person of Dmitri Nabokov, son of Vladimir: his father’s work (Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, etc.), and cars. Dmitri is an authority on both, having assisted his father in the translation of the latter’s works from Russian and English into French and Italian (in all of which he is entirely fluent) and having raced cars for a living while, in counterpoint, touring the world as an opera singer–in which guise, singing basso, he debuted (awkward hybrid of a word) in 1961 in Bohème with Luciano Pavarotti. As a racing driver, he participated in most of the major European racing events, including the Mille Miglia, and in 1980, three years after his father’s death, he almost killed himself at the wheel of his rare fiberglass Ferrari 308 GTB on the Lausanne-Sion autoroute in Switzerland (within these parentheses, I add the parenthesis that this road is one of the most beautiful in the world). Most recently, he has been instrumental in letting us, the public, get a look at his father’s last, unfinished novel, The Original of Laura against VN’s express wishes. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve requested a copy from Santa. (I’ve gone back and forth on this whole issue but have finally concluded that Dmitri was right. If VN had really wanted the manuscript–actually, index cards—destroyed, he would have done so himself).
Dmitri lives, as his parents did, in Montreux, Switzerland, but he maintains a place in Florida. In an interview last year with Matt Evans for The Morning News, he reminisced about the cars in his life:
“My inventory has varied greatly since my first car, a 1931 Model A Ford 2-door, bought for $70 when I was 17 and a freshman at Harvard, and driven to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for my second season of serious [mountain] climbing.
“Some 40 automobiles have followed, including such rarities as a 1964 Alfa Romeo Tubolare Zagato … prepared for racing by Facetti and custom-bodied by Zagato with roof humps to accommodate my 6’5” frame with helmet; a lightweight Bizzarrini Stradale GT; a unique Iso Rivolta GT with fuel injection and supercharger once offered as a Corvette option; a rare fiberglass Ferrari GTBi Quattrovalvole; and, more or less contemporaneously: two 1993 Viper convertibles (one imported to Switzerland and the other elaborately modified by Hennessey); a Viper 1998 GTS coupe; a Viper GT2, one of 100 built to celebrate the marque’s GT wins at LeMans and in the World Championship; a Ferrari 348; and a Ferrari 456 GT.
“A footnote to the Alfa GTZ: the registry entry and hence [the corresponding entry] in an official Alfa volume were falsified, by his own admission, by a disgruntled employee, a minor Italo-British baronet named Raimondo Corsi di Turri, so as to make the car appear to have been his own.
“Since 2001, I have been partly disabled by neuropathy and unable to drive in my usual style. Therefore, most of my sports cars have been sold. All that remains is the Ferrari 308 GTBi Quattrovalvole plus a 10-cylinder Dodge Ram 3500 to tow my offshore powerboat.”
In an email shortly after the interview, Dmitri hastened to add: “How embarrassing: I forgot my most frequent motorized companion in Montreux, a 10-year-old Jeep (a green Grand Cherokee Limited, in more or less pristine shape).”
Now, the Jeep GC’s a fine vehicle, but it falls to few men to own a Bizzarrini Stradale GT.