RE: PH takes an Anglo-Italian road trip

RE: PH takes an Anglo-Italian road trip

Wednesday 12th September

PH takes an Anglo-Italian road trip

Why the pan-European drive still has worth, even if it is with your dad...



In these times of ultra-low-cost air travel, only goons like us think driving 1,000 miles from England to central Italy sounds exciting. Why suffer the torment of French motorway traffic and holidaymakers intent on climbing Swiss mountain passes at a snail’s pace, while paying extortionate continental fuel prices, when you can be in Tuscany in time for lunch with a £50 plane ticket?

Because cars are the best, that’s why.


Not your run-of-the-mill ecoboxes, mind, but proper enthusiast’s cars that make a journey of any length a real event. Take the Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche Cayman GT4 and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, plus an MG B and MG C, which teamed up on a road trip to Italy recently – one this PHer was very happily a part of. These are five cars that each will appeal to different people, as evident from the 35-year age gap between the youngest and oldest owners, but bring them all together on a transcontinental road trip and these machines offer much the same thing: completely enthralling driving experiences. That’s not something you can say about your average commercial flight.

The pace of these experiences would vary greatly on certain sections of our route, of course, with the 458 having 570hp at its disposal, and some of the older cars providing their rear wheels with less than 100hp. For this reason, the MGs were given a head start, leaving a day earlier so their drivers – which included my old man, no less – and passengers could complete a steady slog to Dusseldorf (to be explained) via a Calais ferry crossing. The Porsche, Ferrari and (at the rear) SL would take a different route comprised mostly of motorways to sprint to Dusseldorf station as quickly as traffic would allow.


Dusseldorf was to be the first stop because it is the starting point for a Motorail service to Verona. This train is 500 metres long and runs south through Germany via the gorgeous landscape that envelops the River Rhine into Italy, dragging double-deck carriages at its rear to carry cars. Using this was supposed to take the stress out the middle stint of our journey towards Italy, allowing us to relax and enjoy a night’s sleep as we’re hurtled southwards at speeds of up to 90mph – although it didn’t exactly work out that way. While the train ride itself was of no issue, the car carriages were a major cause for concern. The floor space they provided for the cars was barely two inches wider than the Ferrari 458’s tracks, meaning we had about the width of a thumb either side to navigate its 20-inch wheels into place on the train.

Then, of course, the inevitable happened.


Thankfully, the scuffs on the wheels looked worse than they eventually turned out to be. But even so, there was no getting away from the fact we’d stubbed the toes of a Ferrari 458. When we arrived at Verona it was therefore decided to crawl the car off the train with two people directing the driver which direction to steer – think of a lateral Chuckle Brothers and you get the idea. This took a long time, obviously, as the train is very long…

It did, at least, mean the Ferrari and its companions treaded onto Italian tarmac at Verona with – slightly scraped underside of GT4 front splitter aside – no further injuries. We therefore set about commencing our Italian road trip, ingeniously (ahem) nicknamed the Italian Job, in high spirits. Italy is home to some of the most picturesque, most technical and most enjoyable stretches of tarmac in Europe. We knew that from earlier trips there that involved hire car jaunts, so we were excited to get back behind the wheel, this time in some more interesting cars. But, for whatever reason – be it an economic downturn or extreme winter weather – the road surfaces we encountered were far worse than any of us recalled. The MGs rattled over seemingly endless bumps and broken surfaces, while the GT4, with its track-biased chassis setup, bounced and jiggled along; not even the 458’s Bumpy Road mode could make the surfaces feel acceptable. The SL, however, smugly glided over bumps, like a cloud passing above a densely packed mountain region.


At least the GT4 and 458 were presented with no shortage of tunnels to echo the barks and crackles of their naturally aspirated engines unto the eardrums of surrounding motorists. This being Italy, it seemed that every single passer-by appreciated the action, begging for more revs with waving hand gestures, flashing headlights and honks of horns. Driving supercars and sports cars in Italy remains as special an experience now as it ever has – and a stark contrast to that often provided in Britain.

Our trip included overnight (and sometimes two-night) stops in Artimino, Assisi and Castel San Pietro Terme (just outside Bologna), meaning there were plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and, more significantly for this trip, many miles of technical country roads to explore. Yours truly was called into action in the 458 on the twisting and refreshingly smooth section of tarmac called the SS222 (no, that doesn’t stand for special stage!) that was signposted to Siena. Not that I needed reminding, but the experience cemented my opinion that the 458 remains one of the greatest supercars to have made production, with its razor sharp throttle response, hunger for revs and single-seater-like dartiness. We know the GT4 is no less of a thrill, of course, and it proved to be ferociously capable on these billiard board-smooth surfaces. But, well, driving a Ferrari 458 in Italy is always going to be an unbeatable experience, isn’t it?


The cars weren’t without their problems. The Ferrari required two trips to main dealers for dash lights that, upon investigation by engineers, were simply switched off and followed by instructions to, as far as we could tell via broken English, stop worrying. One of the SL’s exhaust brackets needed tightening and the MG C was developing a worsening oil drinking habit. But every car completed the near 2,000-mile round trip successfully and without incident beyond the scuffing.

Yes, we spent many hundreds of pounds on petrol – so much that none of us dare add up the receipts – and yes, at times we were exhausted and longing for the next coffee stop. But mostly, we saw massive expanses of one of the world’s prettiest countries up close, soaked up the atmosphere of a car-obsessed culture first hand, and fell even further in love with driving each one of the cars that were piloted.


Not only does that make for a trip worth remembering, it also emphasises why so many of us continue to embark on road trip holidays in an age of bargain air travel. Long live the transcontinental driving holiday!









Author
Discussion

BFleming

Original Poster:

754 posts

79 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
A nice read, and some nice photographs too - particularly the ones featuring that lovely primrose MGB. A very photogenic car.
Article said:
The Ferrari required two trips to main dealers for dash lights that, upon investigation by engineers, were simply switched off and followed by instructions to, as far as we could tell via broken English, stop worrying.
I bet the bill was presented in the universal language of decimalisation. Not much goodwill at a Ferrari dealership in any country.
The Porsche would probably have been my initial choice if I were doing this trip, but reading about the track set-up chassis might have made me change my mind.... nah, the Porsche it is!

markiep1

156 posts

72 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Great story cool love doing a euro tripsmile been on many adventures over the years including Italy, Finland, Corsica, Switzerland, Austria and anything in between. Many of these trips were in Impreza’s a MK2 Focus RS and more recently a Vantage V8 all great cars in their own rightcool setting off for Austria this weekendcoolsmile spending 5 days just outside Salzburg then just south of Innsbruck, place called Navis for a further 5 days, plenty of fun roads to go have some fun on coolbiggrin from there we will be heading back up through the Black forrest for a further 3 nights, whilst there we plan to take in the Porsche museum, be rude not to as our friends will be in their 911 cool I plan to wear an Aston Martin T shirt that daybiggrinbiggrin

Turbobanana

1,189 posts

137 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
I was a little disappointed that the touted "road trip" actually turned out to be a "rail trip", at least in part. I think, given the array of cars on offer, I'd have wanted to drive as much as possible - maybe the train was more for the passengers?

I've done the south of France many times, always by car driven all the way: for me, that's part of the holiday!

We did Italy a couple of weeks ago - Amalfi Coast - albeit by hire car. Agree about road surface quality: even our Dacia Sandero Stepway (woo-hoo!) suffered as the parcel shelf broke and needed some ingenuity to fix.

TooMany2cvs

29,008 posts

62 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Let's go on holiday in cars, because cars are the best!
Oh, no, we don't want to drive them there. No, let's take them on the train with us...

big_rob_sydney

2,167 posts

130 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Done many road trips from the UK. Lake Garda a few times, and Barcelona via Andorra being the most recent. Cost wise it's not as bad as the article may suggest. If you fly, you still have to get yourself and family to the airport, pay for parking, faff around through security, pay extortionate prices for airport food, wait, wait, and more waiting, and when you get to the other side, you lose time there getting an expensive hire car, plus faffing around at the airport.

Don't get me wrong, it can save time for sure, but on the cost front, it's not all plain sailing.

And then there's something I just love about being able to control every step of my own trip, stop if I want to stop, take a detour if I want, etc. I also appreciate being able to carry extra bags, pillows, presents, mementos, etc that the miserly plane allowance precludes.

This sounded like a nice trip, and makes me want to do another. Thank you.
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cookie1600

1,035 posts

97 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
I think you'll find there already is a very successful annual charity classic car run to Italy called The Italian Job:

http://www.italianjob.com/this-years-rally/

They actually drive all the way......

gazza5

431 posts

41 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
My last driving holiday was in July - went to see british gt at spa circuit - drove 2 laps of nurburgring (hired a car rather than my own as its a lease), was shocked by the fuel prices in Germany (maybe I shouldn't have driven so fast) - also our base was liege - which was fine for what we needed it for - but not really somewhere I would rush back to.

Overall yes the motorway bits can be a bit dull, but you can take what you want, bring back plenty of wine / belgian beer if you want to - and just pray that your sat nav unit doesn't take you round traffic which actually took us longer due to roadworks the sat nav didn't know about - still got to see some belgian countryside.

After our lap around the nurburgring tbh we just drove round some of the roads around the nurburgring after - did stop for coffee immediately after the lap, had breakfast in the cafe there and enjoyed looking at the cars and we also drove to some of the corners on the track. Certainly not something you could do with the missus.

Europe does have a lot to offer though - I would like to drive to the alps and do a few roads round there, plus a few in austria too. The driving doesn't really bother me and I can drive 4 hours in one stint no problem - its more the passengers that can get restless if you do it with family.

Alex

9,505 posts

220 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Love road trips like this. I'd like to see a map of your route.

How much is the motorail to Verona?

JMF894

2,670 posts

91 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Damn you PH I only returned from Lake Como on late Monday and now this. frown

hornbaek

2,976 posts

171 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
In theory a rail journey should be ideal, taking your car and luggage from home to the destination of your choice. In practise this option hardly ever works. The rail/car network is underdeveloped and rolling stock is poor. Sad but true. Having moved from the UK to the Continent recently I have discovered, that whilst Italy, Schwitzerland and Southern France are the most talked about destinations, the reality is that in my humble opinion driving in southern Germany and Austria are the best driving experiences. In Germany and Austria you can safely park your car anywhere. The roads are smooth. Speed limits are fair ( 100 km/h out of towns on rural roads ) and if flashed fines are manageable. Outside Germany and Austria there are always precautions. The worst I find is Switzerland. Roads are fine but overzealous speed limits combined with draconian fines makes it a destination best to avoid. So for a continental trip I would always steer left from Calais and head towards Achen and then head south on the German side of the Rhein. Entering Baden Württemberg the fun begins. The Bayerische Hochalpin Straße is superb as Is Großglockner in Austria. Bonne Route !

TooMany2cvs

29,008 posts

62 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
gazza5 said:
Overall yes the motorway bits can be a bit dull
The worst bit is the really crowded stretch from Calais through Northern Germany... The bit that this trip actually drove!

gazza5 said:
and just pray that your sat nav unit doesn't take you round traffic which actually took us longer due to roadworks the sat nav didn't know about - still got to see some belgian countryside.
Simple answer: Don't use a satnav, then. They do a job - A-B - but that isn't the job you want on a roadtrip. Spend some time looking at an atlas, a guidebook, and thinking about where you want to go and how you want to get there... Lost skills!

acme

1,898 posts

134 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Intrigued by the H plate 107 SL, never seen anything later than a G reg, given they stopped making them in '89, it'd be interesting to know the back story on this one, a rare beast indeed.

suffolk009

3,893 posts

101 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Looks like fun.

I'm just back from a few days driving up and down the French Alps. Can't wait for next years trip.

TooMany2cvs

29,008 posts

62 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
acme said:
Intrigued by the H plate 107 SL, never seen anything later than a G reg, given they stopped making them in '89, it'd be interesting to know the back story on this one, a rare beast indeed.
<shrug> Sat about unsold before being registered in Sept 90, perhaps simply because buyers wanted the shiny-fashionable-new-shape 129 instead of the by-then-ancient 107 (launched 1971)?

gazza5

431 posts

41 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
TooMany2cvs said:
Simple answer: Don't use a satnav, then. They do a job - A-B - but that isn't the job you want on a roadtrip. Spend some time looking at an atlas, a guidebook, and thinking about where you want to go and how you want to get there... Lost skills!
Whilst i do get your point - I preloaded it with points of interest etc along the way (for stop offs to see bits - memorial in belgium for world war being one) - far easier than trying to stay to a map. The sat nav took us the weird route due to a accident and roadworks - I have no idea if the accident was a big one or not. The sat nav is helpful with expected journey times, estimated time of arrival (although do take this with a pinch of salt). Also good to find cheaper petrol stations (now thanks to EU I can use my data abroad).

I don't see the point in driving around lost for a hour - that to me is a waste of time, even when we did road trip in america (california, nevada, arizona and also florida) we used sat nav - that was a god send - havign your wkife try and read a map while you are on holiday and having arguments is not my idea of a holiday. We tried it once - tbh never again.

acme

1,898 posts

134 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
TooMany2cvs said:
<shrug> Sat about unsold before being registered in Sept 90, perhaps simply because buyers wanted the shiny-fashionable-new-shape 129 instead of the by-then-ancient 107 (launched 1971)?
Quite possibly, certainly the difference between the two cars is night and day, but then one is a 60's design, one an 80's....almost unthinkable today that a car would be left on sale with few changes for 17 years. Come to think of it I wonder what the longest a current cars been on sale for with minimal changes?

RicksAlfas

9,240 posts

180 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Are Italian autostradas toll roads?
Do they take credit cards like the French ones, or are they on tags?

TooMany2cvs

29,008 posts

62 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
gazza5 said:
I don't see the point in driving around lost for a hour
Nor do I. But that's because I know how to use a map... <grin>

We've driven to most European countries - the furthest we've got to starting from the UK is the Gambia. From the UK, we've driven to and around Greece, Tunisia, Poland, Scandinavia, most of the Balkans. Further afield, across the US and Australia. All without satnav. I loathe the things, and never use them with the exception of very occasional "last-mile" location-finding. I don't own a satnav, never have, and don't have any data on my phone at all (because I work from home, and have no phone signal at all here). When I do use a local-mapping app (Sygic) on my phone, I find the display massively distracting and confusing.

We used to have "Recalculating Rita" (Garmin of some flavour) in the office, but I gave up on the hateful cow completely when she tried to tell me the best way up the A21 towards the M25 was by turning left down forestry tracks into the forest... After telling me that the "truck mode" route (in a LWB Sprinter with car trailer) to a mate's workshop involved going through a housing estate and across a field.

Turbobanana

1,189 posts

137 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
RicksAlfas said:
Are Italian autostradas toll roads?
Do they take credit cards like the French ones, or are they on tags?
Both - you can get "season tickets" if you use them regularly, or just pay on card / by cash for the rest of us.

RicksAlfas

9,240 posts

180 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
Both - you can get "season tickets" if you use them regularly, or just pay on card / by cash for the rest of us.
Great thank you. I was caught out in Florida this year as the road I was on was automatic toll only.
No cash or card!