Travel: I Drove My Testarossa From Lithuania To Italy To Trace The Targa Florio

I Drove My Testarossa From Lithuania To Italy To Trace The Targa Florio

Avatar By Mindaugas Caplinskas
September 3, 2020
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Photography by Mindaugas Caplinskas

We don’t dream about our favorite vehicles in a vacuum. I think one of the reasons we pine for certain cars is because we already have our ideal road trip itinerary worked out. We dream about  climbing mountain roads, hugging serpentine coastlines, seeking plain old speed on the Autobahn, or simply exploring a region of the world, like when my wife and I took our Testarossa to Italy from Lithuania this summer.

Like many of you, I’ve been interested in cars as long as I can remember. Whatever the inciting factor was for my enthusiasm, I cannot say for certain. Maybe it was because my father worked at auto body shops and dealers when I was young, maybe it was a magazine cover I saw at the store one day. Whatever the cause, the result was another lifelong car enthusiast. Growing up, I would buy “Turbo” and “Auto-Moto”-branded chewing gum just for the little depictions of sports cars on the inside of the wrapper.

As I got older and started to make some money, I became increasingly drawn to the idea of owning a classic car, and to the atmosphere of historic motorsport events. Out of all the options to partake in the rich backstory of car racing—options like the Le Mans Classic, Monaco Historique, etc.—the Targa Florio in Sicily somehow became my focus. To attend the modern version of the legendary road race is a bucket list item on its own, but one day, more or less out of the blue, I told myself I had to drive the course myself, and in a classic Ferrari no less. I had several models picked out for my top candidates; the first was (and remains) pretty much unattainable, a 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. My second choice however, a Testarossa, would be a more realistic goal to set. It was my childhood poster car, unique in its design, distinctly ‘80s—my favorite era—and on a cheesier note, I confess to being a pretty big fan of Miami Vice. 

Seven years later, I found myself able to realize my dream. I had a 1987 Testarossa in the garage, an option to take a long holiday from work, and my very supportive wife, Milda, who agreed to embark with me into the unchartered territory that is road tripping a classic 12-cylinder supercar. We both knew that this wouldn’t be a typical rental car holiday trip.

When the COVID lockdown was lifted in Lithuania, Milda and I decided to take the opportunity and go for it. There was not much time to prepare because there were many talks about a second wave of the virus and another lockdown in our country—just a massive amount of uncertainty in the world in general. We needed to act quickly, and we did, setting July 5th as our departure date. The trip would last about a month, and in addition to tracing the historic Targa Florio, we planned to visit Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, our friends in Puglia, and wherever else in between.

Before we set off, there was still one unresolved technical issue with the car—a seal in the drive shaft which was slowly leaking oil—so we squeezed in an appointment with a mechanic. Our timing was tight. We planned to leave at two o’clock in the afternoon, and we went to the mechanic’s shop with our luggage. Of course, the car was not ready, and we waited three more hours in the shop before we could start making some forward progress. The mechanic gave me three liters of transmission oil and a liter of engine oil, some crucial tools to reach the gearbox oil fill, and that was that. We reached Warsaw without any issues later that evening and went to sleep straight away in preparation for the thousands of kilometers still ahead of us.

After traveling almost through the whole of Poland on the highway at higher speeds, I started to feel some unpleasant vibrations at the front of the car, so we stopped to check it out. I had all the original tools that came with the car, so I had no problem lifting it up and checking all the suspension. I did have a problem determining the source of said unpleasantness, though. While I was crawling under the car a lovely guy named Kamil and his son approached and offered us a helping hand. I learned that he is a motorcyclist, and a maker of sport exhaust systems, so the guy certainly knows one or two things about cars too, I figured. But still, we were not able to find the problem.

Kamil tried to find any shop nearby that could get the car up on a lift to be properly inspected, but it was late on a Saturday afternoon, so most were closed. After an hour of unanswered calls, Kamil finally found one guy operating a small shop from his home. Not exactly a Ferrari-approved service center, but we were more than happy to pay him a visit.

And he diagnosed the problem almost immediately. While Kamil and I had been checking bushings and bearings and doing all sorts of scientific jiggling of suspension components to pinpoint the probelm, it ended up being quite benign (and thankfully quite cheap!)—the front left tire had started to form a bubble. We decided to drive carefully on the spare until we could find a service center on our route with the correct size tires in stock. We have reached Vienna late in the evening and went to sleep early, tired from the stress of the day.

In the morning we continued towards Tuscany, trying all the while in vain to find a way to ship a set of front tires to a shop ahead of us. We tried our luck at a few tire shops too, but even in Italy, none had the right sizes for the Testarossa. After several hundred kilometers of driving in Italy, the spare tire started to vibrate, so we reverted back to the bubbled original tire to get us the last few hours to our first multi-day stop where we could wait for shipping.

Arriving to the hotel was a relief and a half. I had met the president of Ferrari Club Passione Rossa, Fabio Barone online, and I can’t thank him enough for his help in finding tires for us, and for having them shipped to our hotel the next day. We went to the local car repair shop as soon as the tires arrived, and of course the driveway was too steep for a Testarossa’s long and low front overhang. No matter though, the owner called his friend, a retired Ferrari mechanic, we found a nearby gas station, and swapped the tires no problem. The ex-Ferrari mechanic looked over the rest of the car and brought all the original Testarossa repair manuals along with him. It was incredible to see how passionate people like this are, and how much they genuinely enjoy working on these cars. I thanked them for their time, and with new tires and restored confidence in our Testarossa, Milda and I left for the Amalfi Coast.

I’d seen the photos, but no amount of punched up colors and post-processing can compare to being there. You have a beautiful sea on one side, and cliffs pocked with some of the most charming small towns in the world. Everywhere you go, plenty of old Fiat 500s, too. They have no trouble shuffling past each other on these narrow roads, but our car required a bit more spacial awareness let’s say. I was careful not to lose a mirror to the rock face or an oncoming Fiat, but I could still enjoy the Ferrari and the more importantly, the view through its raked windshield.

As we continued south the weather became increasingly hotter, and soon enough we faced another small problem with the car. The starter solenoid refused to work while the engine was hot. This is a relatively widespread issue with Testarossas, and Ferrari remedied it in later model years. It was frustrating to be sure, but all in all not a big issue, nothing that would dampen our moods. After 15 minutes of cooling down it would start up with no issue, and later on in the trip I “invented” a remedy of my own: holding a damp cloth around the solenoid to cool it down in a matter of a few minutes. As long as we didn’t stall in traffic—and thus hold everyone up—there was nothing to worry about. Then again, perhaps waiting for someone to fuss with their Ferrari is a common cause of Italian traffic?

These small problems aside, it was a spectacular experience. Everyone where we went people received us (well, the car) with open arms and raised cell phones. The car’s picture was taken everywhere, and Milda and I were happy to return every thumbs up. My wife ironically said that we are rock stars in Italy, but of course it had nothing to do with us. It’s great to receive appreciation from others—it makes driving an interesting car that much more fun—but I think the best part of all this fanfare was the fact that we always managed to get the best parking spaces in the town centers we stopped in along the way.

After three days of enjoying the Amalfi Coast and Capri (without the car), it was time to move on and steer towards the Puglia region to meet our friends Mark and Tracey in the province of Martina Franca. The last time we saw them was two years prior during a sailing trip, and we were all very excited to catch up. Thankfully we had that reunion to look forward to, because the drive down into Puglia was more or less on the highway and altogether uneventful. We could have chosen a more scenic route, but we’d been saturated with villages and tiny cobblestoned streets, and besides, once we got to Martina Franca we would be right back in the middle of stereotypically beautiful Italy.

The scenery was different from Tuscany (our first destination in the country) and the Amalfi Coast, and it just proved to us yet again that Italy is an incredible country to explore; every region is different. You can find breathtaking views of alpine peaks and sun-soaked fishing villages, and this is to say nothing of the country’s vast scope of architectural beauty. We were in the middle of one such conversation about the wonders of Italy when we approached Mark and Tracey’s driveway. Too steep for the Testarossa’s nose yet again, but a friendly neighbor offered us a parking space at his place. Just another instance of people being incredibly kind to us.

We spent the next week taking day trips around the small towns near our friends’ home, visiting towns like Alberobello, Cisternino, Locorotondo, and too many others to count. Our short reunion over, we head off to the next stop, towards the Calabria region to stay for one night in the town of Tropea. While driving from Puglia to Calabria, we crossed mountains, almost tropical-looking forests, and more coastal roads. The view around every corner amazed us all over again. At a certain point it almost became exhausting to comment for the thousandth time on just how beautiful Italy is. After our one-night stay in Tropea, we were nearing the ultimate goal of our trip—the roads of the Targa Florio in Sicily.

With the Testarossa being a bit low, I was worried about getting on and off the ferry to Sicily, but it proved to be no issue at all. After arriving we drove towards our first destination on the island, the pleasant seaside town of Taormina. On the way, we missed one turn which forced us to go an additional 9km to find a spot to turn around. Not a big deal, but those roads turned 9km into nearly half an hour of extra driving up and down the hills in the pouring rain. The weather cooperated for the rest of our time in Taormina, but when we were ready to leave the alternator belt decided to retire. Not a big problem from a mechanical standpoint, but finding the correct belt in this tiny touristic town on a Friday afternoon was a little tricky. If we couldn’t get it fixed we would likely have to stay put for another two or three days. I was determined to keep our schedule, and thanks to one of the guys at the hotel we met our savior, Carmelo.

After showing him the belt, he hopped on his motorcycle and left for Catania to look for a replacement. Two hours later, he texted me that he managed to find one! I thought that our troubles were over, but in the process of changing the belt, I engaged parking brake too tightly and the cable snapped. The second problem was that after removing the air-conditioning belt to replace the alternator belt, we found out that it too was counting its last days. I decided not to risk it snapping and creating more problems, so I simply removed it. No parking brake is not a big deal, but our air conditioning would certainly be missed. I was glad nothing really important was wrong with the car, but in the Sicilian heat, it’s nice to have some cold breeze.

We left Taormina during the slightly cooler nighttime, stayed for a night in a town in Syracuse, and arrived in Trapani where we had a lovely time renting a small boat and sailing around Isola di Levanzo and Isola di Favignana for an entire day out of the car. As our good fortune would have it, Salvatore, the guy we rented our place from, helped find secure parking spot in a private marina. It’s funny how much more you can enjoy life when you know your car is safe and sound.

The next day we were in Palermo. The city left us speechless. Its architecture, food, and people were incredible alive. A sense of freedom, an expanse of sea, a place brimming with beautiful and friendly people, all in a laid back atmosphere. Here I must say that I love Rio de Janeiro for the same reasons, and I felt a very similar mood from both cities.

Getting down to more practical matters, I tried to find someone to fix the A/C belt and handbrake, but with no luck. Many shops refused to work on a Ferrari in general, and others said that they need at least a week to source the parts. One shop agreed to help, though, but the entrance was so steep that it was impossible to reach it. A common and recurring issue, this. No matter, the big day was getting closer and closer.

We left Palermo with the GPS set on the Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie’s (a famous configuration of the Targa Florio) starting point. We reached the track, took some pictures, and drove that loop for more than two hours (covering 72km, of course), taking pictures and admiring the views and letting imaginations take over. We were not racing—quite the opposite actually—and in between admiring the views I would get swept up in picturing cars like Ferrari 250s and Porsche 908s making history here.

Afterwards we went for a simple pasta lunch at a nearby restaurant. I parked the car in view, and an older local man approached us. By then I had learned some basic Italian, enough to say where we were from, how many kilometers we had done so far, and how much horsepower the Testarossa has, naturally. We had a conversation with the man and by the end of it he’d invited us to join the Palermo Ferrari club. He showed us pictures of his F355, and we got along immediately—yet another friendly and pleasant conversation with someone who appreciates the same things we do. The Ferraristi is like one big family, no matter where do you go in the world. But it’s especially noticeable in Italy.

Full of emotion, we took another ferry towards Sardinia. This time the boat was not so “user-friendly.” Several crew members came to help us, and thanks to their efforts we managed to get aboard with only a small scratch underneath the car. I can live with that.

After the overnight voyage, we landed in Cagliari. A lovely town, totally different from where we’d been in Sicily. Hotel parking was again very steep, and we improvised as usual. A small metal plate was the main impediment, and to remedy the situation the hotel provided an employee with several pieces of wood and a big hammer. He hammered the hell out of that plate and laid the wood over so we could get in. I thought it was strange to damage part of the property, but he insisted it was overdue to be “fixed” anyway.

During our time in the area we visited all the major towns in Sardinia, but most of the time was spent on the beaches. Very picturesque, perfect sand, and between each spot we enjoyed driving with the windows down in our beach clothes. Total freedom, separate from reality. A time I will cherish.

We then went to Genoa, luckily with no issues on the ferry this time. After spending several days exploring the city, we next visited Portofino and the surrounding areas. The roads were spectacular once again, with mega yachts patrolling the bays, happy people lounging on and launching off of the high rocks into the sea. After saying goodbye to this fantastic place, Nica was the next dot on our map, where we stayed for two nights, explored the city, and made “glamorous” night drives down the main promenade. 

The last stop of our trip was in Monaco. It was the first time for both of us, and we were excited to check out the scene and follow along the famous F1 circuit. Monaco is heaven for a car spotting if you’re into modern supercars and luxury vehicles, but when we parked next to a line of them it was the Testarossa that most people wanted a picture of. The hotel valet told me that it is not very often they see vintage cars like ours.

All too soon it was time to head home. We carefully checked the COVID situation (at the time there were some quarantines in effect in some places, and not in others), picked a route, and headed home to Vilnius. We had 2300km to cover, and the Ferrari gave no complaints whatsoever. With several stops to sleep, we arrived at our finish line very satisfied with the car and our adventure. This trip was worth every cent and every minute spent, all the stress and sweat (and without air-conditioning, there was definitely some sweat). Overall, we managed to add 8145km to the odometer, and we spent 31 days living in a dream.

 Before the trip, many people said that we should take another car. Something newer and more reliable. I like a short weekend morning drive as much as anyone, but for me, owning a dream car means really using it. Not just going down my favorite road over and over, but to explore and find new ones. I want a true relationship with my car. I will never forget this trip, but by that same token I am already thinking of another ideal car and location. Maybe BRG Bentley Continental T and a month’s worth of British B-roads… For now, though, the afterglow will do just fine.

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Joseph Pylesdidipunk_daddyyFrank AnigboWally Flatfour Recent comment authors
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Joseph Pyles
Joseph Pyles

It’s great to see these cars being used for a purpose more than dust collecting!

didi
didi

Great article, hope you find many likeminded Petrolistas in Lithuania

punk_daddyy
punk_daddyy

So rare to use these cars as their makers intended. Congratulations on an inspiring trip and entertaining story.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo

Wonderful. Bravo and thank you for a refreshing read.

Wally Flatfour
Wally Flatfour

Nice read and great story. Next Time you should consider a basic spare parts list. I always have belts, tubes (fuel line !), spark plugs, and so just in case.

Hugo Batista Mendonça
Hugo Batista Mendonça

Amazing. Last year I tried to do Lisbon to Amalfi Coast and back in a 1970 911t. I got to cross the Italian boarder but then the old Porsche started to have some problems. Was stuck for 4 days in a small village in the north of Italy (Albenga) waiting for spares, before we were able to drive back to Portugal.
It was also an amazing adventure that I’ll remember forever.

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krabiz
krabiz

Greetings from a Latvian neighbour!

Great story of a wonderful roadtrip, truly feels like you guys were living a dream, perfected with the 80s vibe of the Testarossa.