Simon Kidston: The Real Ferrari Roma
As the old English saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” If there’s been one flipside to the economic and human cost exacted by the Covid pandemic, it’s been the chance for many of us to re-assess if we need to always be rushing for a plane or to attend every event on the calendar. It’s made us appreciate time and how best we spend it.
And so I found myself a few months ago flicking through a Financial Times weekend edition and in particular a story by their Italian correspondent tipping readers that now was the best time to visit Italy: the tourist attractions were almost empty, queues which normally took hours had vanished, and local businesses appreciated and needed customers like never before. Deserted streets. No traffic. Virtual silence . . . are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Too often the most important classic cars aren’t seen in context. Museums and concours d’élégance serve a purpose, but a great piece of art deserves a great frame, and cars take on a unique dimension when you pair them with a backdrop which mirrors their character and story.
Especially when there might never be another chance.
Let me tell you a story, starting with a famous film director. His name was Roberto Rossellini, a father of Italian cinematic neo-realism; lover and husband to several of its leading lights; and connoisseur of anything fast and beautiful on four wheels. An early and high-profile customer of Enzo Ferrari, who personally hosted him and his Swedish film-star wife Ingrid Bergman on visits to Maranello, Rossellini’s best-known motoring purchases were a pair of dramatic Ferrari 375 MM coupes built for him in 1955, each with one-off coachwork, one penned with elegant lines by revered Pininfarina, the other a more brutal affair by rough and racy Scaglietti. The former was intended as a gift to Bergman, who declined it. The latter remained with Rossellini until 1964 when, perhaps during the kind of cash crisis which seems to afflict most artists, it was sold off together with some of his other properties. The buyer, for a princely 265,000 lire (about $800), was a sixteen-year-old Sicilian student named Mario Savona, who scraped together the money without telling his parents.
»There are several versions of the Ferrari 375 MM, but only five were built for Ferrari by Scaglietti. The first owner of this particular specimen was Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. «
The powerful berlinetta’s best days were behind it. The bodywork was battered. The engine wouldn’t run properly. But the young new owner – who drove it home despite not having a driving license – wasn’t easily dissuaded. Helped by a friend and armed with more hope than knowledge, they disassembled the complex 4½-litre V12 and somehow managed to put it back together again. Even more surprisingly, it worked. The owner’s father remained blissfully unaware: “If you pass your exams, I’ll buy you a Fiat 500,” he promised. If only you knew what I’ve got in the garage, smiled his son.
Until, suddenly, it wasn’t in the garage. It had disappeared, seemingly stolen without a trace.