Terre di Canossa 2018 – perfect classic car rally in Italy’s most attractive regions

The 2018 Terre di Canossa rally is perhaps best summed up in the words of Luigi Orlandini, president of Scuderia Tricolore, organizer of the event: “After 3 days like this,” he said in his closing remarks, “it will be difficult to do any better, but we love challenges!”. This comment perfectly echoes the general feeling at the end of the rally, this year held for the eighth time. It had taken the participants on some of the most beautiful roads and through some of the loveliest scenery of an area of Italy that once (about 900 years ago) belonged to Matilda di Canossa, and today covers part of what we now call Emilia, Liguria and Tuscany. Always perfectly organized, the Terre di Canossa tour, almost 700 km, was this year further enhanced by some amazing weather: three full days without a single cloud in the sky, and ideal temperatures for enjoying open classics. The Saturday night beach party held at Bambaissa, the most exclusive Forte dei Marmi beach club (always one of the highlights of the rally), was also made even more enjoyable by the summery weather.

A great formula: serious driving and plenty of fun

When you have a great recipe, why change it? The formula for the 2018 Terre di Canossa rally was therefore the same as that of previous years: a mix of serious driving and relaxed, entertaining evenings. The route for Day One went from Salsomaggiore Terme to Forte dei Marmi, passing via Passo di Cento Croci, Portovenere and Lerici, and taking the drivers on some of the most amazing roads to reach places renowned the world over for their beauty. We were able to appreciate the effort required of the drivers and their cars when, on the Cento Croci pass, following Belgian entrant Willem Timmermans in a 1933 Talbot (a car as big as it is beautiful), we saw how he had to use his whole body in order to manage to steer the car. The much-awaited end of the first stint, the longest and most challenging of the tour, come in Porto Venere, where the food was great and the view even better, enhanced by the crystal clear waters of this most southern part of the Ligurian coast.

The nearby La Spezia naval base offered a wonderful sight to be admired, namely the Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian Navy’s oldest serving ship, which is considered the most beautiful wooden vessel in the world. Day two started and finished in Forte dei Marmi, after a trip through the Apuan Alps, famous for their marble, and a most amazing drive through Pisa, where the cars passed in front the “Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa”, one of Europe’s top universities, whose home is Palazzo della Carovana, designed by architect Vasari and famous for its sgraffiti. After a visit to Piazza dei Miracoli, where many of the entrants were unable to resist going up to the top of the Leaning Tower, a buffet was laid on in one of Pisa’s most exclusive squares, directly opposite the tower. The long day ended with a party on the beach at Bambaissa, complete with oysters, champagne and the famous (and diet-killing) chocolate fountain, followed by late night dancing. After just a few hours’ sleep, and with some of the entrants clearly in need of a second espresso in order to wake them up, the final stint, destination Reggio Emilia, got under way. The highlight of the day was the drive through the Passo del Cerreto, a wonderful road for those who love to drive but also enjoy beautiful scenery. The wonderful weather, not always guaranteed, made this event, already considered among the best that Italy can provide, even more charming than usual.

Terre di Canossa 2018 – the trophy

Terre di Canossa is, if you want it to be, a competitive event, comprising regularity trials. It is a great formula, as it allows the majority of the drivers to have some fun with their stopwatches while on the road, but at the same time it represents a serious challenge for true specialists, who arrive with winters of preparation behind them and armed with the latest electronic devices. Most of the entrants, like us, took part in a light-hearted spirit, without worrying too much about the classification, and happily skipping a time trial or two in order to sip a glass of wine or enjoy a view. The trophy we were really thrilled to see awarded was, without a doubt, the one given to the Stherenbergs, a Russian team who drove the 1600 kilometers from their Saint Petersburg home in their family’s 1961 Volga-Gaz 21 Sedan, crossing Russia, Finland, Germany and Switzerland even before starting the rally. The trophy for the car driven the furthest was definitely well deserved.


1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Alexander Ospelt, together with his wife Hedy-Marie, drove from Vaduz (FL) to Terre di Canossa in his 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. It was not an uneventful journey given that the car, bought two years ago and restored after many years spent in an American museum, broke down not far from Salsomaggiore Terme the evening before the start. “One of the driveshafts came loose,” explained Mr Ospelt, “and Plinio, the Terre di Canossa mechanic, spent almost all night fixing it. He did a really good job: the car did the whole journey without a mishap.”

This car was originally sold in the USA, where it spent the majority of its life in a museum. It was bought and then restored in Germany, and subsequently bought by the Ospelt family in 2016. “Terre di Canossa is our second rally in the car, after a tour in northern Europe”, said Alexander “We have found Terre di Canossa to be well organized and we are very happy with it. Driving in Italy, as always, is a real pleasure, full of wonderful scenery, enthusiasts and smiling faces. But to be able to be more relaxed on the road, we would love it if there could be a briefing each evening, informing us of the most difficult parts of the following day’s route”.

1933 Talbot AV 105 Roadster by Abbott

A 1933 Talbot AV 105 Roadster one-off by Abbott, driven by a Belgian team (Willem Timmermans partnered by his wife Anne-Françoise), was, by far, the Terre di Canossa 2018 entrant with the most amazing lines. Built on the 105-type chassis and equipped with a six-cylinder three-liter engine it also has a dynastarter, a starter that works at 24V, while the rest of the car’s electrical system, and the engine charging it, works at 12V: a complex solution, but highly efficient. The car, dressed with a one-off body built by English coachbuilder Abbott, was shown at the 1933 Olympia Motor Show in London, before being sold to a private owner. With the exception of an approximately ten-year period (around 1960-1970), when it was in the USA, the car has a known history. By the early 1980s, it was back in Europe, where it was restored by the leading Talbot specialist. “I bought it a couple of years ago and I have driven around 5000 kilometers in it” says Willem. “It is a heavy car, weighing about 1850 kilos, but it handles very well and has a wonderful electrically actuated gearbox. As with all Talbots, the brakes are excellent, but it is a very long car and therefore driving it on twisty Italian mountain roads demands concentration. We know from pictures of the 1933 stand at Olympia that its original color was, and still is, black.”

1962 Lancia Appia Sport Zagato

Mario Berselli and Monica Bertelli are long-term entrants in the Terre di Canossa rally, but this year work commitments meant they were unable to be present on the first day. For this reason, they participated as special guests in their 1962 Lancia Appia Sport Zagato, a very rare car, of which only 200 were built in total. This one, the 92nd manufactured, was resprayed in the original color, and also restored, using the correct material for the interiors, in the 1990s. They love to return to this rally because of the beauty of the scenery. For them, other highlights of the drive are the parts that take in the fortified walls of Lucca and Lake Massaciuccoli, the latter being one of the most picturesque stretches of the whole tour, characterized by a twisty narrow road that is perfect for their neat little Zagato.

1958 Triumph TR3A

Sometimes, like this year, a humble little car will steal the show. At first glance, Filippo Berselli’s TR3A looks like any other one, but in actual fact this one, having featured in one of the most famous movies of all time, is no ordinary TR3A. Directed by Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita became a symbol of the 1960s economic boom in Italy, and led to the coining of terms like paparazzo. One of the most epic scenes in the movie is where Anita Ekberg is rescued from the Trevi Fountain in Rome by Marcello Mastroianni, at the wheel of the very same black TR3A now owned by Berselli. “I found it by chance,” he says. “I was looking for a TR3A and decided to buy this one simply because of its black Italian number plate, even though it was registered as a 1956 car, which I knew couldn’t be right given that it has a “wide mouth”. Nobody had a clue about its history, and the car was quite sad looking when I bought it. Its story came to light when I asked the Italian vehicle licensing authority for a the list of its previous owners, just to check the original first registration date. This turned out to be considerably later than the date reported at the time of a subsequent change of ownership, which had since been taken as read. Already feeling relieved to have established this, I then spotted, in the long list of previous owners, Riama, which is the name of the company that produced La Dolce Vita. After a quick check on YouTube, where I found a clip of the famous scene, I was able to see that the plate on the car featured in the movie was the same as the one once worn by my car. This important part of the car’s story is the reason why, when I restored it, I resprayed it black, as it was in the movie, instead of the original white. Now when driving it, I like to imagine I am Marcello, but when I look to my right, instead of Anita Ekberg I find my old friend and co-driver Flavio!

All photos courtesy of the author.

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