Attilio Fantini’s Collection Is A Never-Ending Story
Photography by Rosario Liberti
It was 1969 and he was an 18-year-old boy. At that time, nobody could ever imagine the actual scene, not even himself, that transformed passion into his real purpose of life.
Everything began almost by chance when he was little more than a teenager. His passion spread gradually, and day by day it grew and strengthened until it became what we should now define as a unique reality in the modern Italian scene of old cars.
His mother gave him ₤500,000 to buy a Fiat 500, but he got back home with a flaming red Giulia SS 1600—and he still remembers its license number all these years later. 47 years have passed, but that was the moment his life changed forever. My father is now an icon for many car lovers, a real benchmark in his field. Whenever he washes one of his cars or when he is driving, his childlike smile lets people understand that no matter how much you grow up, that initial passion remains. That passion, he says, is “a frantic vortex of petrol-scented emotions.”
Shortly after its purchase, his Giulia SS 1600 was exchanged for a Giulia 2000 GT Veloce.
Until 1:00 pm, for 47 years, my father Attilio has been working as a math teacher at the elementary school, and all of his young students have become car lovers like him. After 1:00pm, he used to work as a real estate developer.
With cars and collector’s items and automobile everywhere, it can seem hectic, but nothing in his museum is left to chance. Not even a single object is placed where it is by accident; everything has its meaning and its logic that justifies its presence in a specific spot.
From the age of 25 to 35, my father took part in many hillclimb meetings and in some local car rallies with cars that he still owns. During that period, Attilio began to collect important Abarth models as well as Lancias for competitions; an 037, Stratos, Fulvia, and a never-restored Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA 1600 road car he had bought in the late-‘70s.
It was my mother who noticed that car because of its particular door handles. It was the car of the baker of a small town near the city of Arezzo. My father, unwilling to believe in what his girlfriend was telling him, immediately ran straight to the baker’s shop to see the car. He was very lucky because the baker was about to give it back since “It was using so much gas.” My father doubled the car dealership’s offer, and he bought the car.
In 2016, my Giulia GTA 1600 allowed me to win the famous Vernasca Silver Flag. It is noteworthy that the car has never been restored since it came from the factory. This car together with a GTAm is one of the three GTA Alfas that Attilio guards in his racing stable.
He often tells me of times when he found cars hidden in barns or abandoned in old garages buried under a thick layer of dust and books, or even saved from car wreckers just in time before their demolition. I remember that day when he did not bring home a Miura because there was not enough space in the trailer and he bought a smaller Abarth 1000 for the same price, or when he decided not to buy the TZ2 ex-S.C.A.R. Autostrada car because he said he didn’t know what to do with it. What a bad call!
I also remember when he realized that the Giulia Spider he bought in the ‘80s had belonged to Fausto Coppi’s lover, the so called “White Lady.” Unfortunately my father sold this car to a buyer who thanked him a lot when he found out this small detail!
He had an amazing ability in selecting the Giulia GTA 1600 Gr. 5 Silhouette car though, a unique model with this configuration, as well as in choosing the Gilco 1100 MM, a one-off that boasts five Mille Miglias so far.
All the cars Attilio decided to collect are not the result of mere market logic, they are the result of his passion. After 45 or so years we can clearly state that Fantini’s collection of cars represent and belong to the most important automotive periods in the Italian history: from the ‘20s with the Ansaldo, to the early ‘90s with the Lancia Delta Integrale. This car deserves additional emphasis since it’s the protagonist of a curious and funny anecdote: in the ‘90s my mother used to drive it and the police always stopped her and asked “Is this your car madam? Where are you going with this car? You must go slow, it’s a very particular automobile.” My mum smiled and answered “I went to the grocery store and now I’m going back home to prepare lunch.” You cannot even imagine the incredulous facial expressions of the policemen who was astonished at her reply that she was using that Delta as a normal economy car to run all her daily errands!
I grew up between cars, wheels, engines, gearboxes, axles, steering wheels, carburetors… My after-school activities were different from those of all the other children and teenagers who played with toys and video games. I used to spend my afternoon’s spare time with my dad and his cars. I’ve been a very lucky boy because I’ve been playing with real cars from when I was a child and I also have had much fun with dodgems.
The first vintage car I drove was a Porsche 911 2.7S produced in 1974. At that time I was an 8-year-old boy and as soon as I got in the car I turned the key and the Porsche jolted and rattled over the ground because I didn’t realize that the 3rd gear was engaged! This drove my father crazy because with that car he won an Italian hillclimb championship in his category in the mid-1980s.
When I was 19 years old, I took part in my first hillclimb race with a 124 Abarth Gr. 4. After a few curves, I drove into a tree because I intended to take a hairpin bend in 3rd gear! Attilio didn’t take it very well considering that this was the car of his first hillclimb race too, and his debut competition ended up with my father running away from the car because of an outbreak of a fire (which was promptly extinguished).
I am lucky the same way my father is lucky. His passion transferred to me. I’ve been able to be part of many important events, auctions, and shows all over the world; I’ve met famous drivers, engineers, collectors and, unfortunately for my mother, I also began to spend money on cars! My newest addition is a Z3M Coupe painted Evergreen that I have already introduced to Attilio because it will son become a fully-fledged member of the collection.
Years go by, for my father as well, but his will to live for cars can be defined as sort of a daily routine. He usually has breakfast at 6:00AM, and then he goes to the cellar, yes, the cellar. He does not go there to drink some good wine, but instead because all our cars are housed there, where, day by day, he keeps on creating his own car museum. I am doing nothing but trying to carry on my father’s work. There is no doubt that it will be not easy to continue his foolish undertaking! He, who is jealous of a simple screwdriver that you cannot touch if you don’t want him to notice that you’ve moved it, considers himself a temporary holder of his cars. Cars are works of art and we must pass on knowledge and traditions.
Thanks to his wide-ranging experience and competence, my father is now one of the most important experts in his field and that is the reason why the FIVA appointed him to be a Mille Miglia technical member in 2017. He represents a benchmark for all those who want to restore Alfa, Lancia, Abarth, as well as any other Italian model really.
His entire story would take more than a long time to be written down. We should sum it up though by saying that nowadays his collection boasts about fifty pieces, each one with its own glorious past.
Attilio never stops buying new old cars, and it is best to keep an eye on him because, still today, on the threshold of his 70th birthday, he is like a young boy who needs to buy his new little toy, one after another, in a never-ending story.