Valley of the Car Kings (Modena)
From The Wall Street Journal:
“At his farm in the rural outskirts of Modena, Italy, Umberto Panini produces about 4,300 wheels each year of the finest Parmigiano-Reggiano you will ever the busted air conditioning in my rented diesel, I am confused and in no mood for cheese. Mr. Panini, I have been told, runs a museum of extremely rare Italian cars, the collection that originally belonged to the Maserati brothers, who launched their famed racing company in Modena in 1914. Yet there is no sign of a museum at this farm, which was exceedingly difficult to find. I see no exotic wheels anywhere—unless you count the rounds of Parmigiano.
“Automobili?” I say to the woman in the farm’s cheese shop.
She guides me to an office where a man is hunched over a desk. Mr. Panini, I presume. He gets on a bike, rides about 100 yards to a box of a building and unlocks the door. Then he disappears without a word. Inside, millions of euros worth of vintage Maseratis from the 1930s to the 1980s are lined up on the tiled mosaic floor. I am alone with the most important collection of Maseratis in the world. In the sunlight beaming through the windows, paint gleams and chrome glows. Every one of these automobiles is a piece of hand-built Italian sculpture, and every one is an embodiment of modernity’s defining ambition: to harness power. On the second floor, vintage motorcycles stand side by side like the most expensive row of dominoes on earth.
There is no security guard, nor was I required to buy a ticket (though I was, apparently, supposed to make an appointment). Only in Italia.
Mr. Panini’s farm is one stop on my trip through Italy’s Motor Valley, the small slice of Emilia-Romagna that contains Modena and Bologna and the hamlets between. This region is known for its eminent cuisine—famed cheeses, prosciutto di Parma, tortellini and zampone (salty pig’s feet). The greatest chef in the world, as ranked by France’s International Academy of Gastronomy this year, is here in Modena—Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana. But it’s the song of engines that lures visitors from all corners of the globe.
Motor Valley is the home of the greatest names in exotic motoring: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati, De Tomaso, Stanguellini and Pagani, maker of the new $1 million-plus, 230-mile-per-hour Huayra. The tradition of hand-building beautiful vehicles in Italy goes back to the days of Roman chariots. Today, the streets of Motor Valley, carved out during the Middle Ages, swarm with supercars old and new.
As the curator of Bologna’s Ducati Museum told me: “This is Silicon Valley for the need for speed. If you don’t like to drive 55, this is heaven on earth.”
Most of these firms have museums and factories a tourist can visit (some by appointment only). The collections are about more than cars; they trace the history of the 20th century through works of mechanized art that were owned by celebrities and royalty. As the Italian film director Roberto Rossellini put it in the 1960s: “There is no finer thrill in the world than driving a Ferrari flat out.”
During my stay, I see as many women as men touring Motor Valley. Yet for couples who want to go their separate ways for a day or two, the quaint piazzas of Bologna beckon. You can brave the area with a GPS and a prayer, or you can book a customized guided tour. You can travel in a standard rental car, but even better is a classic Fiat 500 (about $700 a day) or a sparkling new Ferrari (about $700 for two hours).
If the journey is well planned, all of the following can be conquered in two days. You will have to drive fast—but on these roads, that’s the name of the game anyway.
Down the street from the imperious gates of Enzo Ferrari’s factory in the Modena suburb of Maranello stands the Museo Ferrari. Priceless racing and sports cars abound, but the pièce de résistance is Mr. Ferrari’s simple office from the 1960s, recreated behind Plexiglas. From this worn-leather chair next to a vintage telephone, “the Magician of Maranello” conquered the world’s roads and racetracks in the postwar years. About $18, Via Dino Ferrari 43, 41053 Maranello; ferrari.com
Francesco Stanguellini is considered Motor Valley’s Godfather of Speed. He started building racing cars in the early 20th century and his progeny continued until the company went belly-up in the 1970s. The ultimate treasure in this industrial space is Mr. Stanguellini’s 1900 Fiat, the first car registered in Modena, with license plate Mo 1. Legend has it that Enzo Ferrari learned to drive in this very car. Free, appointment necessary. Via Emilia Est, 756, Modena; www.stanguellini.it
Ferruccio Lamborghini Museum
From the outside, the building that holds the Lamborghini family museum, founded in 1995, is as banal as an old Fiat. Inside it’s like a Willy Wonka factory for gear heads. There are vintage tractors, a helicopter used by the Rome fire department, a custom golf cart in which Pope John Paul II was chauffeured about Vatican City, all branded with the Taurus logo. Numerous one-of-a-kind Lamborghinis are on display, including the first ever built, from 1963. It all sprang from the fertile mind of Ferruccio Lamborghini (1916-93). Today, his nephew Fabio runs the museum. About $18, appointment necessary, Via Statale, 342, Dosso (Ferrara); museolamborghini.it
“In Italy, we don’t make cars or bikes,” says Livio Lodi, curator of the Ducati Museum, located at the factory in Bologna where Ducati motorcycles are hand-built. “We make emotion.” The collection follows Ducati production from the post-war years to present-day racing and road bikes—muscular two-wheeled athletes, each a rolling monument to testosterone. Make an appointment and you can tour the assembly lines. About $14, Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, 3, Bologna; ducati.com
Maserati Factory and Showroom
Only owners of a Maserati or Ferrari can tour the Maserati factory, and only by appointment. But if you’re in Modena, a stop by the corporate headquarters’ showroom is definitely worthwhile. Every Maserati that rolls off the assembly line here is test-driven on the city’s ancient thoroughfares. Viale Ciro Menotti, 322, Modena; maserati.com
The Lowdown: Motor Valley
How To Get There: You can fly into Bologna or Milan. The latter requires a 90-minute drive southeast on the A1.
Where to Stay: Modena’s Hotel Real was the spot for Grand Prix drivers and their paramours in the ’50s and ’60s. The Real Fini (renamed for the family that bought it) is still old-school—elegant and clean, with no extras. (From about $80 per night, hotelviaemilia.it) For a more modern feel, try the Art Hotel Novecento, a boutique hotel in the heart of Bologna. (From about $140 per night, novecento.hotelsbologna.it)
Where to Eat: Ristorante Cavallino—across from the Ferrari factory—is where Enzo Ferrari dined with his Grand Prix drivers in the Golden Age of Speed. The tortellini and Lambrusco are supreme. (Via Abetone Inferiore, 1, Maranello; ristorante-cavallino.it) Don’t miss Modena’s Osteria Francescana, the dining Mecca of northern Italy. (Via Stella, 22, Modena; osteriafrancescana.it)
Booking a Guide: Local agencies like Modenatur (modenatur.it) can create custom itineraries that include factory tours, exotic car rentals and meetings with the likes of Fabio Lamborghini, director of his family’s car museum, as well as tours of Modena’s balsamic vinegar industry.
Source: The Wall Street Journal