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the splurge

Toronto restaurateur David Minicucci smiles in front of his 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV.

This continues our series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences -- purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!

For most of his life, Toronto restaurateur David Minicucci dreamed of owning the car that aficionados call "the poor man's Ferrari" – a 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV.

So as soon as he was certain that the first of his two restaurants was financially sound, he bought one.

In the three years since, he has spent $60,000 and countless hours rebuilding the car he calls "Giulia" and "my baby."

"It was the first thing I did just for myself," said Mr. Minicucci, the 33-year-old co-owner of L'Unita Restaurant Inc., which opened in 2007, and Maléna Restaurant Inc., opened in 2010.

"I was so happy, unbelievably happy. It was very romantic for me," he added. "People would say she was my girlfriend. I paid all my attention to her."

Mr. Minicucci's love affair started when he was five years old, growing up in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan.

Two teenaged brothers who lived down the street were the proud owners of two of the Alfa 2000 GTVs. One car was white, the other was navy blue and the brothers spent all their spare time working on them.

Mr. Minicucci spent his spare time hanging around the brothers' garage, breathing in the tantalizing scent of oil and gas and nervously handing them wrenches as they tinkered.

The two-door 2000 GTV coupe model, built from 1971 to 1976, was one of the most sporting of the Alfa Romeo series. (GTV stands for Gran Turismo Veloce. Veloce is an Italian word for fast.)

Many modern collectors build modified engines and turn them into racing cars. Mr. Minicucci fell in love with its clean lines and the "throaty, high-spirited growl" of its engine.

"Nothing sounds like an Alfa," he said. "We would play ball hockey on the street and I'd hear the car from a distance and I'd say 'Okay, guys, we have to move the nets.'"

The brothers would occasionally offer him a ride, and he recalls sitting wide-eyed in the passenger seat as the car sped around corners.

"It wasn't like being in a car with my mom," he said.

Mr. Minicucci searched for two years before he found his own 2000 GTV.

Alfa Romeo had built just 37,459 of them, and most have long since been scrapped or neglected.

Most of those that survived are in Europe. There are only about a dozen "in half-decent shape" in Toronto, Mr. Minicucci said.

He bought his – painted a dark blood red called rosso amaranto – for $15,000 in 2008 from a mechanic in Rochester, N.Y., who had to sell one of the two he owned after he and his wife retired and moved to a smaller home.

Mr. Minicucci immediately nicknamed the car Giulia, the Italian version of the woman's name Julia and the name of an earlier series of Alfa Romeos noted for their lively performance.

He has since refurbished the car with modern engine parts and vintage body and interior pieces sourced on the Internet and imported from Italy or Britain. He said it took him several months to learn to drive, since there are no power components.

"The car is raw," he said. "It is just metal and mechanics and grease and oil."

For Mr. Minicucci, owning the car is a "hobby that will never end." "

To avoid rust, he only drives the vehicle when the weather is dry. But he spends Sunday afternoons cleaning and polishing it, and takes it in for a tune-up every three weeks.

It has also become a promotional piece for his two Italian restaurants. He sometimes parks it outside to help draw in potential customers and to entertain those who step outside.

"They want to see the motor. Sometimes they want to go for a ride," he said.

"For me, it's just fun to see the smile on their faces."

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