Travel: An Alfa Summer Affair Pt. 1: The Speed Date

An Alfa Summer Affair Pt. 1: The Speed Date

Afshin Behnia By Afshin Behnia
October 31, 2012
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(This is the first of a six-piece article series filled with tales of passion and intrigue. Follow the adventures of our Petrolicious protagonists as they navigate blind romance, love triangles, and Italian roads in a 1968 Alfa Romeo GTV. Click here to catch up on the series.)

When I first saw Ludovica Fiorini, I knew I had to have her.  I can’t blame it on her classic silhouette, her impeccable style, or even her spiritedness—I knew she had her fair share of flaws. Those flaws simply didn’t matter.  Not at that time.  Not in February, in Italy, when the weather was unusually beautiful but on the verge of turning sour.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t overly romanticizing my Ludie.  I’m not the type to try to convince myself that she could ever be my one and only.  I knew, for a fact, that there would be others.

For me, the question of love was irrelevant.  Because, let’s face it . . . Ludie was my teenage fantasy.  She was the object of my lust and desire.  A promise of adventure ready to unfold. And she was going to be my yellow ochre 1968 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Veloce, aka GTV.

I met Ludie the most conventional way during an otherwise unremarkable trip to Milan.  A quick search through online classifieds led me straight to her.  Her description piqued my interest and her photos sent me into an immediate frenzy.  She was forbidden fruit: showcase color, fuel efficiency, plenty low-end torque, and a motor perfectly matched for grand touring in Italy. But best of all, she was the 1968 model.  1968!  The year Alfa decided not to distribute to the US market.

That January, I called the number listed, found out she was in Asti.  I had just landed in Milan from Los Angeles a few days earlier, but I repacked my bags that very same day.  A trip to Asti wasn’t necessarily on my itinerary, and yet I couldn’t turn it down.  I had to see Ludie.

I confess I enjoyed the anticipation of meeting Ludie.  I even prolonged it.  I fantasized about driving her through Italy’s coastal roads, mountains, fields, and valleys, as I took the slow, local regional train from Milan to Turin before going to Asti.

In Turin’s city center at a piazza whose name I never knew or I just can’t remember, I vaguely recall noting that despite its industrial reputation, the city was rather chic and stylish.  I found myself sipping local artisanal vermouth in a bar by some arches, passively watching its owner flirt with what looked like an ancient prostitute.  The bar was well-preserved and high society otherwise.  Its style – was it baroque? Or something from the 20’s?  Perhaps Art Nouveau?  Whatever it was, it and the unique blend of herbs, roots, and bark of my libation started to make me feel nostalgic.

I was transported to the tail end of the 1800s when Fiat established its headquarters in Turin. I imagined the cobbled streets teaming with those eight sole copies of the 3½ CV.  Who would have thought then that the company would have become the largest automotive manufacturer in Italy?  That it could have competed with its famed rival Alfa Romeo and its reputation for expensive sports cars and then later acquire its long-time competitor?  I moved through time to 1968 when Alfa Romeo presented its delicious GTV in that sublime ochre color right here in Turin.

But most of all I thought of Ludie.

I wondered how she would feel under my feet and in my hands.  I wondered how she would sound.  Would her bucket seats feel perfectly right or wonderfully wrong?  Either way, I had to find out.

The next day, I met Enzo.  I wanted to hate him but he made it too hard in his friendly, warm Italian way.  I took Ludie out for a test drive.  Her motor had me impressed.  Her transition shifted smoothly.  Sure, there were some gap alignment issues—maybe the car had been in an accident.  She might have been painted—I hardly cared.

I knew I had come to Italy to buy yet another classic and it had to be a vintage Alfa.  I had had my fair share of road trips in the standard rental economy box throughout Europe.  I did not want to do that again.  I needed to fulfill my adolescent fantasy.  I had to do it the right way this time: in style, chasing adventure.

Thick clouds gathered as I quickly listed all the reasons why she was perfect.  Ludie was, after all, the grown up version of the Giulietta—with groundbreaking engineering packed into every square inch of that tiny car.  She was just one of 14,240 copies that were made before production finished.  And she was a Gran Turismo Veloce (a masterpiece designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro for Bertone), and a classic ideal for road trips.

Besides, it was going to start snowing in the next hour, so I had to make a decision fast.  An hour would barely give me enough time to drive her from Asti to Milan.  Blizzard looming, seconds ticking, and that fantasy just an offer away.  The walk of shame back to that slow regional train station somehow didn’t seem as enticing as spurring Ludie on through the thick of storm clouds on smooth Italian highways.  The sky darkened.  I made the offer, and Enzo happily accepted.

Ludie and I were on our way, racing flurries and melting flakes with the heat of her engine and the burn of her tires.  We sliced through the A4, a streak of golden pigment ablaze on the otherwise drab six-lane motorway.  She was faithful and determined.  She sped passed standard Econo boxes.  I smiled.  Ludie had me impressed.  Together, Ludie and I made it back to Milan seconds before the clouds dumped their fury.

She had me the instant I viewed her online profile.  But her performance that night I knew I would never forget. Sadly, our encounter would have to be limited to just that night.  A longer tryst will have to wait for better weather.  I had to go back to Los Angeles.  Ciao, Milan.  Ciao, Ludie.  Until we meet again.

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