The Poltu Quatu Classic: A Modern Rendition Of La Dolce Vita In Sardinia
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
The classic car event calendar has its pedigreed cornerstones, but every now and then something emerges with a freshness and focus that sends other upstarts back the drawing board. Driving tours, concours, and the many forms of historic motorsport are familiar choices and easy to fill a summer with if you have the time and travel budget, but imagine flitting between these at will, unconstrained by strict timetables and guided by whatever you feel.
Like a tasting menu at a prestigious restaurant, the Poltu Quatu Classic delivers the best in the world in restrained portions, but with the gusto that sometimes only Italians can muster. Set in the scenic Costa Smeralda, the experience brings together, over three unforgettable days, a group of people who have developed, throughout the previous editions, a sense of friendship and conviviality that is only matched by their welcoming of the newcomers. Participants, attendees, organizers, sponsors, jury, all share the same tables, bound together by a love of cars that blurs the differences between them.
It all starts in the oasis of the event’s namesake, the Grand Hotel Poltu Quatu. Designed to capture the look and the spirit of the traditional Sardinian fishing villages, its white walled seemingly vernacular architecture extends upwards from the shore of the Poltu Quatu fjord, from the moored yachts all the way to the foot of the mighty cliffs that surround it. It feels more like a film set than a hotel, a mood that’s only exaggerated by the caliber of cars that take over its courtyard during the event.
Guests on the way to the beach are presented with a wide variety of classics and collectables, organized into competitive classes for the concours portion. The incontestable stars of the show are the Sex on the Beach fleet of buzzing Spiagginas, and other assorted little wonders destined for seaside life, such as the Meyers Manx class-winner, which while originating in Southern California, is effortlessly suited to this locale. As you step a little further away from the sea, the elegant creations of the Dolce Vita class take hold of your attention. Post-war icons of beauty and sport such as the Lancia Aurelia B24, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, or an always cheerful Triumph TR3—the model that Marcello Mastroianni drove in the famous film itself. These are complemented by Mercs, Isos, and Lancias.
Glamorous and otherwise compelling cars aside, the Poltu Quatu Classic is probably best defined by the quiet village of San Pantaleo, and its momentary transformation. It marks the starting point of the brimming weekend, and I guess the best way to describe it is as a flash mob—but instead of lame choreography and some incoherent singing-adjacent yelling, there are dozens of remarkable cars. The quiet piazza, at the foot of a beautiful mountain, usually claims the songs heard through the open door of the local church as its soundtrack, mixed in with some birds chirping and the clicking of a few tourist cameras. That scene is then transformed into a slice of life reminiscent of the Mille Miglia (or our imaginations of it, anyway), much to the amazement of the visitors who had no idea that a car event was taking place. They are totally bewildered by the frenzy of revving engines, bright paintwork on metal of all types and sizes, making up one of the world’s better-looking temporary parking lots in this already beautiful place.
Rally cars and sports racers crawl past the brick walls, supercars are carefully maneuvered and guided by the crew in an attempt to climb over the curbs surrounding the center of the piazza. Children and adults have climbed the surrounding walls for a better view in a scene reminiscent of the Targa Florio’s spectators. Local matriarchs set up their souvenir stands, toddlers with big eyes lurch themselves out of their strollers on a mission to go examine these massive toys around them. It’s a kind of Italy one might think only exists in old movies. Under the white flowers of the trees that line the square, fashion models mingle with racing drivers, locals with visitors, kids with elders, those in the know with those who were clueless but unequivocally intrigued.
Driving on the narrow roads that hug the island’s topography is fun at any speed, but there is no way you can open up some of the engines and extract their full potential. Next we enter the abandoned Venafiorita airport. Built by the Aga Khan, whose vision of what Costa Smeralda could have become helped make it what it is today, the once luxurious gateway into the indulgent lifestyle that the island is known for, the airport is now all but completely deserted.
On Saturday, for a few magical hours, we changed that status. In a more than slightly surreal setting, a few drag races were organized, ostensibly in order to let the jury evaluate the “dynamic capabilities” of the cars involved. The drivers seem not to need an excuse. This surely helped the judging though, as nothing informs one more thoroughly of the performance of a Fiat 500 Jolly than seeing it square up with a Ferrari. It was apparently also imperative to get a sense of the BMW M12 Nazca’s donut-making talents.
Under the piercing midday sun, the Fabrizio Giugiaro concept car, his first, not only opened up its V12 on the runway, but also lit up its tires, presumably to warm them up for the next race. Are you wondering what Fabrizio would think of that? Easy enough to assume his approval, as he was the one driving.
With the airport antics complete, the tour continued on to stop in a vineyard, then on the shores of the Capriccioli beach, made famous by the James bond scene where a white Lotus Esprit emerges from the sea, before making our merry way on to the scenic waterfront of Porto Cervo just as the sun was setting. It was time to wind down from the eventful first day and take in some of the magnificent views from the island, yachts dotting the otherwise secluded-looking gulfs almost ad nauseam. It was wise to take it easy though, as the party continued long into the night, well after the cars were parked for it. Following the awards gala, which also saw the introduction of a new class for this year reserved for restomods, the we all had fun sharing our opinions on what we’d seen. One thing everyone agreed with was the top prize, won by a splendid Stanguellini-bodied Fiat 1100 Sport Barchetta that was originally designed for the purpose of competing in the 1948 Mille Miglia.
As the sun rose on Sunday, the beautiful escape from mundane life continued, but only for another day. It’s so easy to get used to being surrounded by these cars and the people who appreciate them, to the point where we felt some genuine collective sadness in the fact that we’d have to wait another year to reconvene. Perhaps no other event is run so much from the heart as this one. Its complexity of planning is disguised by flow-like manifestation of the hard work in making it seem so carefree. Its uniqueness is compounded by the fact that it is essentially hidden in plain sight. There is no ticket required to see the cars, no fences or no grumpy guys scanning tickets, but there are long tables, where a true car enthusiast will surely find a seat if they make the journey over. Simone Bertolero and his team have created something very special, that I believe it exceeded even their expectations.