I recently wrote a piece arguing that a car should never be seen as a utility and that whoever you are you should have a car that excites and moves you rather than an old runabout. I stand by this viewpoint, however, I would like to point out an exception to the rule. There is one surprising place where I would recommend driving nothing except a scrapyard dodger. Italy.
While this stunning country may have given us the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and more recently Pagani, it turns out that the people of Italy have no concept of how to drive. You certainly could not reasonably expect to happily drive any of the above in the country they were conceived.
I recently spent just a short amount of time in Rome, but it was long enough to experience the madness that is the Italian road system. Our driver turned up looking like a Mafia hit man in a smartly pressed suit and aviators, it turned out though that he was more like a getaway driver.
The first rule of Italian roads is that there is no such thing as a ‘lane’. While white road markings are visible to outsiders, Italians are incapable of seeing them. They are experts in creating new imaginary lanes should they need them, simply by placing their car wherever they please. Straddling lanes is not an issue and people chop and change lanes violently in heavy traffic, for no apparent reason. Can you imagine how stressful this would be in a Countach? I saw a man in a DBS Volante driving through the city centre who looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
There is no gap too small and no car too expensive to nudge out of your way. Drive like a Brit and you would never, ever move. The method for getting around in Italy is to put your blinkers on, hold down your horn and elbow your way through. You must be totally ignorant of other road users and you certainly must not stop. Don’t think you can ever build up any speed either, as someone will always pull out in front of you no matter the road conditions. Trying to get the best out of a Zonda here would be like trying to enjoy a refreshing pint on a roller coaster, you are going to spend more time trying to preserve what you have rather than enjoying it.
As a result of this lack of road awareness, every car you see in Italy is sporting a scratch, bump or scrape on each panel. It’s not like you can rely on people trying to preserve their own paintwork; if it’s a choice between Antonio scraping his car with yours or being late for dinner, he is going to be scoffing down ravioli before you can say “bastardo”. Would you want to park your Ferrari Enzo in a place like this? Or a 250 GTO? Thought not.
Speaking of parking, the Italians have a system whereby it is totally acceptable for someone to park next to a parallel parked car, meaning that the person who got there first is stuck until the other chooses to move. This gives you an idea of the Italian road mentality, it is war, you look out only for number one. If you think this is an exaggeration then ask the poor soul in the back of the ambulance we saw that no one would let past, they would rather the poor chap beat them to the afterlife than beat them in the traffic.
The driving in Italy is genuinely surreal, in fact, the Mario racing games are very realistic interpretation of two normal Italian brothers driving home from work. Because the sun is shining and the place is so ridiculously beautiful everyone is too relaxed to worry about something superficial like death. Another driver we had spent the journey doing 160kph across two lanes only slowing down when something was in his way or he had to answer his mobile. Around 40 minutes into our 45 minute journey he decided it was probably time to put on his seatbelt.
I can understand why the Italians make supercars; to drive something bland in such a beautiful flamboyant country seems wrong somehow. But believe me, with the exception of a few mountain roads, there is almost nowhere I would want to drive a supercar in Italy. Its streets are too old and narrow, the people too blasé and the highway code too non-existent. It would be like wearing the crown jewels to a football match, you would never feel at ease. The only way to drive there is in a small, cheap car you don’t care about hurting. It seems then, that the country that invented the supercar is incapable of accommodating them.