Recently our friends at Jalopnik, specifically the talented Michael Ballaban, wrote an insightful piece on the seeming insanity of driving in Italy. Ballaban's experience as an American driving for the first time in Italy are spot on, but it did compel me to share a different perspective on Italian driving.
First, a bit of background and disclaimer about me. I am an Italophile. I love just about everything about the country and the culture except, of course, its ridiculous government and hopeless politicians. I still have fond memories of when we would travel to Italy for vacation and sometimes for my dad's work when I was only four or five years old. When I went back for the first time as an adult at the age of 20, I knew that Italy would play a significant part in my life. I immediately learned Italian and took every opportunity to go back whenever possible. Today, I'm lucky to have been able to spend 3-4 months a year in Italy for that past few years.
Of course, as an enthusiast road trips are integral to my experiences in Italy. Some of the best towns and countrysides are best reached by car and very inconvenient or impossible to get to by train.
So with that, I share with you some simple rules for getting the most enjoyment out of driving in Italy.
1. Choose The Right Car
You're going to be driving in some of the most spectacular roads in the world and going through beautiful historic towns. Italy offers you a tremendous variety of roads, from coastal cliffs, to rolling hills, to mountain switchbacks. Are you going to rent a generic modern front-wheel-drive econobox for your adventures? Absolutely not. That would be the automotive equivalent of going to Italy and eating at McDonalds everyday. No, you have to get something stylish and fun-to-drive. Your choice of car must pair with the locations you will be visiting the way a Ligurian Vermentino pairs with trofie al pesto.
You don't necessarily need a Lamborghini Miura to drive the Alps while reliving (re-dying?) the opening scene of the Italian Job. There are many great choices for all budgets. A Fiat 124 Spider, a Lancia Fulvia, or for the big spender, a Maserati 3500 GT, all make for great long distance touring.
I happened to choose a 1968 Alfa Romeo GTV in ocra yellow. The GTV with the 1750cc twin-cam engine provides the best balance of performance, handling, comfort, and fuel economy for touring Italy. And it's damn stylish. So what that there's no A/C and your back will be dripping with sweat when you get out of the car? It's much more fun driving through sunflower fields and winding Tuscan country roads with the windows open and the summer air rushing in.
There are a few places you can rent classics in Italy, but you may also want to consider buying a classic and shipping it home after your travels. There is one catch, however: unlike in the US, only Italian residents can register or insure a car in Italy. This brings us to rule number 2.
2. Marry An Italian
There are many reasons and benefits to marrying an Italian, and your priorities will determine how high this ranks on your list. Your Italian spouse can register and insure your classic car in his or her name, even if (as is the case with my wife) she can't drive nor has a driver's license. This frees you to buy the classic you've always wanted to drive in Italy. Or you may opt for some forbidden fruit, such as the Lancia Delta HF Integrale.