Ferrari dealer Remo Ferri is not only a consummate car guy, but a consummate Italian car guy.
And that means the indicator needle on the "contagiri" measuring his "entusiasmato" for all "la bella machinas" built in that car-crazy country – such as his recently acquired 1961 Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale – is permanently pegged in its red zone.
I ran into him – as always outgoing, animated and fashionable with artfully draped scarf – at this year's Toronto auto show, and almost his first words were, "Have you seen my Alfa?"
I hadn't, but soon found my way to the Auto Exotica display, where among the futuristic fast-looking modern Ferraris scattered about the area I found his curvaceous little Alfa-Romeo coupe.
"I love old Alfas' style, and this is a beautiful car, it's perfect. And I like the Giulietta engine with the double Webers," he explained later about why he'd acquired the beautifully restored and wonderfully named Giulietta Sprint Speciale, at one of last year's Monterey auctions. He admits the purchase was a heart-over-head decision. "It may be more valuable one day, but you buy them because you like them; you don't look at what you pay."
Well, maybe a little thought was involved. "We're probably going to handle Alfa again and I think, like with Ferrari, it's important to have some old ones to display, to connect with history, to tell people: look what we built," he said.
Alfa-Romeo is owned by Fiat, and its CEO Sergio Marchionne is determined to restore the fabled brand, which has seen sales running lean in recent years. The process will involve introducing new models, but also its return to North America by year-end. Alfa-Romeo hasn't been sold on this side of the Atlantic in almost two decades.
The first model to appear here will be the new $60K-something, mid-engined, two-seater 4C sports car – a spiritual successor to the Giulietta Sprint Speciale – that will reportedly be launched at this fall's Los Angeles auto show, and go on sale shortly afterward. A new Spider, developed in an alliance with Mazda, could follow.
Ferri, a former Alfa dealer, says about 1,000 4Cs may be sold initially through selected dealers. "I think the brand is still very strong and, if it's done right, will have a future, which Marchionne is very committed to. And I'm very excited about."
Ferri's still-evident enthusiasm for cars began as a kid sitting by the roadside in his home town of Castelliri and waiting for a locally owned Ferrari to drive by. He became a motorcycle mechanic in his teens, and then the fates found him a job at the Ferrari factory in Maranello – where he once had an audience with the great Enzo himself. He came to Canada in the early 1970s and opened Maranello Motors, a repair shop specializing in Ferraris, and later acquired Saab and Alfa-Romeo franchises. His dealership portfolio these days includes three each of Ferrari and Maserati, a pair of BMW outlets, Mini, Fiat, Chrysler/Jeep, Ford/Lincoln and a recently acquired Subaru store.
Along with collecting dealerships, Ferri has also put together a wonderful collection of classic Italian cars and motorcycles. The current restoration projects include four Ferraris, a '65 330 GT2+2, a '72 246 GTS, a '72 Daytona Coupe and a '74 Daytona Spyder, a '71 Maserati Ghibli Spyder, a 1970 Lancia Fulvia Coupe and a Fiat 500. And he also finds time to field a racing team that competes in the Grand Am and Ferrari Challenge series.
"I love my job," he laughs. "I can't do anything else. People say, 'Remo, when are you going to slow down?' I say, 'What's the point? If you feel good and love doing what you do, why not'." Although, with his daughter and son now taking some of the strain, he does sound like he's actually taking a little more time to enjoy things, like his new old Alfa, which joins two others in the collection.
And what a delightful and charming little car it is. As the name suggests, it was a "special" sporting evolution of one of the most iconic Alfas of the 1950s, the Giulietta Sprint coupe of 1954, which was followed by a sedan and an open Spider. They were powered by a little jewel of an inline-four, which displaced 1,290 cc and had twin-overhead-cams.
The prototype of what would become the Giulietta Sprint Speciale was first shown at the Turin auto show in 1957, with the production car following in 1959. Only 1,366 were built between then and 1962.
The Speciale's stunning, aero-curvy bodywork had its genesis in a project Alfa-Romeo commissioned Nuccio Bertone's design house to undertake in the early 1950s to study low-drag forms. This resulted in the three radically shaped, aero-efficient concept vehicles that became known as the Berlinetta Aerodynamic Technica, or BAT cars, penned by chief designer Franco Scaglione.
Based on a variant of the Giulietta's monocoque structure and with steel bodywork, the Speciale weighed 960 kilograms. Handling that lives up to Alfa's sporting heritage was provided by a coil sprung independent front suspension and rigid rear axle, with aluminum drum brakes providing plenty of stopping power.
The 1.3-litre Giulietta engine in the original produced 100 hp but when Ferri's car was built in 1961, this had increased to 116 hp, which was fed to the rear wheels through a four-speed gearbox. Top speed, thanks to its sleekly aerodynamic shape, was more than 200 km/h.
The Speciale was equipped in grand touring fashion, with a pair of comfortably leather bucket seats and carpets in a airy cockpit with plenty of glass.
Interestingly, Ferri's Speciale was originally delivered to the Renault factory in France. Just why isn't known, but the French car maker and Alfa were involved in a joint venture that saw Renault Dauphines and R8s produced in Italy at the time.
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