The AACA Museum Hosts “Amore della Strada” Opening Reception

On the evening of November 18, 2016, the AACA Museum in Hershey PA officially opened its “Amore della Strada” Italian machinery exhibit with a reception at the museum. The public was invited to attend, and turnout was large, making for crowded aisles. The doors opened at 6pm, and your $20 admission included antipasti, beer, and wine. Those who owned cars on display were admitted “gratuito”.

Italian cars come in colors other that red!
Italian cars come in colors other than red!

There were approximately 20 Italian cars, and perhaps a dozen or so Italian motorcycles. The museum is arranged in such a way that there was no practical way for the curators to place all the special exhibits together. Therefore, they were arranged in smaller groups of 2, 3, 4, or more, and placards with each vehicle provided sufficient history regarding the make and model. Owners who were loaning their wares for the five-month duration of the show were dutifully acknowledged. (Last week’s blog entry covered this author’s drive to deliver his ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior to the exhibit.)

Fiat, Alfa, and Christmas tree
Fiat, Alfa, and Christmas tree

Fiats and Alfa Romeos seemed to comprise the bulk of the vehicle displays, and some might agree with me that it was a refreshing change of pace for an “Italian Car Show” to NOT be dominated by late-model supercars from the Big 3 of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. (Of these three makes, I counted only two Ferraris.)

 

Ferrari 308GTB shares floor space with modified Fiat 124 Spider
Ferrari 308GTB shares floor space with modified Fiat 124 Spider

Among the Fiats, we saw three 124 Spiders, two X1/9s, and an 850 Spider. The X1/9s were a study in contrasts, as the bright green one was a first year example wearing the original bumper-less design, while the white one from 1987 wore no Fiat badges at all, as it was manufactured and sold by Bertone, and badged as such, since Fiat left the U.S. market after 1982. The only Italian prewar car on the floor was a delightful 1937 Fiat Topolino (Little Mouse).

Adorable 1937 Fiat Topolino (owned by AACA Museum)
Adorable 1937 Fiat Topolino (owned by AACA Museum)

 

1974 Fiat X1/9 - note lack of battering ram bumpers
1974 Fiat X1/9 – note lack of battering ram bumpers

 

1987 Bertone X1/9, one of the last of the breed
1987 Bertone X1/9, one of the last of the breed

 

Nose of '87 X1/9 wears this in place of Fiat badge
Nose of ’87 X1/9 wears this in place of Fiat badge

 

 

Fiat 850 Spider
Fiat 850 Spider

The four Alfa Romeos included two Giulia coupes, one early step-nose and one 2nd generation design, a rare Montreal Coupe (with a factory V8), and the last Alfa sold in the U.S. market (until Sergio’s recent resurgence), the large front-wheel-drive 164 sedan.

 

 

Owners Ed and Shayna Geller with their stunning Alfa Montreal
Owners Ed and Shayna Geller with their stunning Alfa Montreal

 

Alfa GTV in red, Alfa 164 in black
Alfa GTV in red, Alfa 164 in black. Snake eats man; it’s part of the Alfa legend.

 

Yes, there were speeches too
Yes, there were speeches too

The show included vehicles that required an explanation how they passed the entrance exam, as two of them had big American V8 engines, and one had a British 4-cylinder lump. The DeTomaso Longchamp and Italia Omega are vehicles belonging to a class long known as ‘hybrids’ (decades before that term was used to describe a gas/electric vehicle).

Most car aficionados have heard of the DeTomaso Pantera, sold here by Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the early 1970s. The Longchamp is the squared-off, four-seat sister to the Pantera. The one on display featured a Ford 351 Cleveland engine mated to a 3-speed automatic. I’ve seen many a photo of Longchamps, and this was the first one I’ve ever seen in the metal.

The car labeled as a 1967 Italia Omega is more familiarly known to me as an Intermeccanica Italia. Based on my reading of the car’s placard, the history of this car company is convoluted at best. (Indeed, none of the several import-based compilation books in my library make any mention at all of this company.) The vehicle in the museum was an attractive convertible, using a front-mounted Ford 302 V8 paired with a 4-speed manual transmission.

The 1961 Triumph Italia on display is one of 329 built. While the design is certainly in the Italian mold, the sheetmetal hides what is essentially the drivetrain and chassis of a stock Triumph TR-3.  One of the outstanding features of the Italia is that it is the handiwork of a young Giovanni Michelotti, who would later pen the restyle of the TR-4 into the TR-6.

1961 Triumph Italia, with TR-3 mechanicals
1961 Triumph Italia, with TR-3 mechanicals

Scan through the photos below for shots of other vehicles which were on display. (And as always, click on any of the photos to enlarge them.)

Among the motorcycles, which are not my primary interest, I could not help but be drawn to the 1958 Iso Moto, built by the same company that originally designed the Iso Isetta. Like the Longchamp, it was a first for me to actually see one of these in person.

The “Amore della Strada” exhibit runs through April 22, 2017. There’s plenty to see at the Museum besides the Italian stuff. If you’ve never made the trip, this is a good excuse to do so. If you have, the Italian cars are a nice addition to what you may have seen before.

 

1960 Fiat Autobianchi
1960 Fiat Autobianchi

 

1954 S.I.A.T.A, with Fiat 8V engine
1954 S.I.A.T.A, with Fiat 8V engine

 

1957 Vespa 400, designed in Italy but built in France
1957 Vespa 400, designed in Italy but built in France

 

1971 O.T.A.S. 820 Grand Prix, built on Fiat 850 chassis
1971 O.T.A.S. 820 Grand Prix, built on Fiat 850 chassis

 

This 1954 Fiat 1100 wears custom sheetmetal reminiscent of the Alfa BAT cars
This 1954 Fiat 1100 wears custom bodywork reminiscent of the Alfa B.A.T. cars

 

Unlike the cars, the bikes fit into one room
Unlike the cars, the bikes fit into one room

 

Yes, it's an ISO; same parent company as the Isetta and the Griffo
Yes, it’s an ISO; same parent company as the Isetta and the Griffo

 

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

1988: My visit to the Bertone Factory in Italy

Happy New Year!

There’s some unfinished business from 2015 I need to cover. Back in September, this story ran on the Hemmings daily blog:

http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2015/09/01/remainder-of-the-bertone-concept-car-collection-rights-to-the-bertone-name-goes-up-for-sale/

Similar stories about the end of this storied Italian design house can be found in other locations on the internet.

Reading this saddened me, and not just because a Bertone-designed car currently sits in my garage. First, on a higher level, we have observed that the car business goes through changes, and those changes can drive away marques that you thought would be around forever. When I was 15, posters of the 1969 Pontiacs were Scotch-taped to my bedroom walls. Never in my lifetime would I have believed that the day would come when Pontiac would be no more. The last 20 years have also witnessed the demise of Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Mercury, and Saab, among others.

Second, on a more personal level, I am fortunate to have once visited the Bertone factory outside of Torino, Italy. It was one of the most memorable business trips I have ever taken, and it’s a story that I’ve never told in its entirety. Allow me to tell it here.

In January of 1988, 15 months into my employment with Volvo Cars of North America (VCNA), the management team decided that I should travel to Volvo’s world headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, to be trained in the investigation of vehicle fires. While fires were not a huge problem for the company, very little was known at that time about the cause and effect of “thermal events” (the euphemism we used). The Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg (VCC) had done some investigative work on its own, and they had an in-house fire expert who would train me. For me, it was an opportunity to travel to the land which gave birth to all those Volvo 140s and 240s I had wrenched on as a technician, so off I went, my delight completely undiminished by the concept of winter in Scandinavia.

Arriving in very snowy and very dark Gothenburg was a culture shock. Given that “daylight” such as it is lasts from about 9am to 3:30pm in January, this combined with a 6-hour time difference made the first few days at work a struggle. Nevertheless, my hosts were cordial and accommodating, and always polite about speaking English in my presence. Within 3 days, we made a field trip to investigate a Volvo which had gotten crispy a few days before. What a thrill – I was getting my hands dirty.

The author and Viking Hallgren examine a crispy critter, Jan. '88. From the author's collection.
The author and Viking Hallgren of VCC on the job, Jan. ’88. From the author’s collection.

Then Friday came.

During my first four days at work, no mention was made of a looming “engineers” strike. In Sweden, unlike the U.S., many of the white-collar workers are unionized. Lots of banter in the native tongue was overheard but not understood about management, the union, the labor negotiations, etc. On Friday morning, there were union representatives outside the now-barricaded chain link fence in Torslanda (the Volvo factory). No one was being allowed admittance to the buildings. My Swedish colleagues were on strike, and I was on my own.

The strike, at first predicted to last only several days, was soon seen to be stretching out to a week or more. As part of my business trip, I had made tentative plans to also travel to Brussels, Belgium for an auto show; to Hamburg, Germany, if only because my father was born there and I had yet to visit; and to Italy, because I had been there 10 years before and had fallen in love with the place. Besides, I told my boss back in the States, visiting Italy was really a “business trip”.

In 1988, for the second time in its history, Volvo contracted with Carrozzeria Bertone to design and manufacture a limited-production, 2-door specialty car. First was the Volvo 262C, made from 1978 to 1981. Next came the Volvo 780, which was in production at Bertone at the time of my planned visit. Such was the extent of freedom with business travel that I needed no more of an excuse than that. Euro-rail pass in hand, I headed south through mainland Europe, arriving in Italy, and finding it less snowy but just as cold, dark, and damp as Sweden.

The Volvo 780. From the author's collection.
The Volvo 780. From the author’s collection.

Through contacts in Gothenburg, I was given the name of someone who would host my visit. Taking a cab from the train station in Torino to the suburb of Grugliasco, I somehow found my way to the correct office building in the sprawling Bertone complex, and was greeted by a Mr. Mario Panizza. He welcomed me, and asked me to sit while he fetched my Swedish host. Within a few minutes, Mr. Roine Lundin arrived.

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Roine was a Swede temporarily relocated to Italy in order to oversee Volvo’s interests there. (As an aside, Roine told me that he had a Chinese wife and a 6-year-old daughter, both living in Italy with him. The daughter went to an English-language school, and she was already fluent in Swedish, Chinese, English, and Italian. Wonder what she’s doing today.) Roine gave me the behind-the-scenes tour of the factory. Photographs were strictly prohibited. But I have a clear memory of watching the factory workers as they assembled FOUR distinctly different cars going down the assembly line at the same time: in addition to the Volvo 780 were the Lamborghini Jalpa, the Fiat (Bertone) X1/9, and the Opel Kadett Cabriolet. The point was made to me that at Volvo’s insistence, Bertone significantly upgraded their painting facility in order to meet the Swedish carmaker’s standards, and the Fiat, Opel, and Lamborghini also benefited from the improved painting process.

The Lamborghini Jalpa. From the author's collection.
The Lamborghini Jalpa. From the author’s collection.

 

The Fiat/Bertone X1/9. From the author's collection.
The Fiat/Bertone X1/9. From the author’s collection.

A previous-generation Opel Kadett. For the cabrio, picture a Chevy Cavalier convertible in Euro-trim.
A previous-generation Opel Kadett. For the cabrio, picture a Chevy Cavalier convertible in Euro-trim. From the author’s collection.

At lunchtime, Roine and I dined in the factory cafeteria with the line workers. That lunch was the best meal I had during what turned out to be an almost 3-week-long visit to Europe. After lunch, Roine invited me to have espresso with him in the executive dining area. As coffee was served, he asked me if I wanted my drink “fixed”, a time-honored Italian way of asking if I desired a shot of liqueur, such as Sambuca or Amaretto. I demurred.

Knowing he was setting me up, Roine pointed to a sign hanging over the bar and asked me what it said. It was in Italian, so I had no idea. He translated: “There shall be no alcohol served at this bar during work hours”. He paused and, as a smile crept across his face, waited for my reaction. “But Roine, you just offered to ‘fix’ my drink, what gives?” He answered “you have to think like an Italian. The sign means that you cannot drink the alcohol by itself. But in the coffee, it’s OK!”

The tour concluded, I left the Bertone complex and found a hotel to spend the night. By the next morning, I was again on a train for the return trip north. Convinced that the strike would be over by the time I got back to VCC, alas it was not. Calling my boss back home one more time, we both agreed that enough time had been spent waiting (and wandering). The long-planned training event lasted for 4 days out of its expected 2+ weeks.

Since that trip in January of 1988, I made business trips to VCC in Sweden in excess of 20 times. Yet that first trip remains most memorable. And someday, I’d like to have another one (or three) Bertone-designed cars in the fleet.