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Four collections and a museum gone missing



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Museo Stanguellini, Modena


May 5, 2009


Modena in the Italian Po valley region of Emilia-Romagna – it’s known for its cheeses, its pastas and the best of its many culinary inventions: balsamic vinegar. It’s also the heart of Motor Valley, the area the Modenese consider the design and production heartland of Italy’s and indeed the world’s finest hot-blooded sports and competition cars - although Alfa Romeo or the Agnelli family might argue with that statement…

We were in the area for a few days and targeted visits to four priceless car collections. The obvious ones were the enlarged Galleria Ferrari and the fairly recent Centro Eccellenza Lamborghini down at the Lambo factory. These are deluxe expositions glorifying some of the shiniest examples of what Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese have produced over the decades. Both are quite expensive in comparison to the relatively small collection of cars on display but it’s just about worth it in case you’re not merely a nostalgia-prone old fart and proud of it. The photogenic modern architecture of both museums offer an ample amount of angles in which to cadre its desirable objects and if you are the proud parent of a supercar-crazed teen-age son you’ll have a great time by simply looking at the rosy out-of-breath excitement on his cheeks, running as he does from one automobile extravaganza to the other. The same will apply to a wife dreaming of being the proud new owner of a glamorous red barchetta.

The Lambo museum will lessen the weight of your wallet even more than the Ferrari gallery, but adds the fact that it’s located at the front of the factory. While there, you’ll enjoy the latest SV models rumble past as they drive off the production line to meet their new owners, who are welcomed at ‘the other gate’. What’s more, the factory is open for tours on many days of the year – but sadly not while we were there.

Pictures of the Galleria Ferrari…
Pictures of the Centro Eccellenza Lamborghini…

There is sharp contrast with the Panini and Stanguellini collections. The latter is found in the back of the local Fiat/Alfa/Lancia dealership, which has been in Stanguellini family hands for ages. The former is located in a shed – a well-kept shed, one must add – on the yard of a parmezan cheese farm. Both are free to visit but it’s well advised to arrange an appointment in advance. If you do, you have the privilege of a personal visit, and both places are well worth it.

The Panini family of cheese makers became famous for the soccer cards that have been collected by millions of schoolboys all over Europe. The huge success of these collectibles allowed them to start collecting things that have a rather higher piece value – classic sports and racing cars, with a penchant for everything Maserati. Today, the family run Hombre, a brand of bio-organically farmed Parmigiano Reggiano cheese meeting the highest quality standards. You see the same meticulousness in the way the Collezione Panini is maintained. Each and every object is absolutely spotless, yet together in the warmth of the farm barn that is their house, the cars – and a handsome number of motorcycles as well, led by a couple of remarkable Maserati-built examples – ooze passion instead of cleanliness. The most breath-taking example of this is the Maserati Eldorado Special that starred in the hands of Stirling Moss in the phantasmagoric Race of Two Worlds at Monza in 1958. It's pure joy to circumnavigate this one-off creature forming such a strange blend between New World razzmatazz and Old World style. We met a former Maserati employee who had worked on most sixties and seventies models of the trident marque – from 5000GT to the Merak – and he told us everything he knew. He even grabbed his cell phone to try to arrange a visit to the brand new Maserati stabilimenti that very same afternoon. Of course he was rebuffed by modern management but we appreciated the gesture. Later in the afternoon he would meet up with two of his former colleagues, right there, to surround themselves by what they had once created. That’s what Italians are so good at – enjoying what they together have achieved and talking well about it.

However, our pick of the four collections goes to the Stanguellini museum, and for several reasons. For one, Stanguellini is the mother of all Modenese car makers. It’s been around for over a century, its founding father Vittorio was responsible for creating the very first Modena motorcar: 1 MO. The license number is road-legal up until this very day, as is the original car still attached to it. The Stanguellini heritage is recognized by all the other marques in the neighbourhood – if they celebrate their 50th, 60th or even 90th anniversary they host their party at Stanguellini’s, as if they all feel a need to receive the blessing of the town’s true automotive pioneer. The business is now into its fourth generation of patronage, with nephew Simone taking the wheel of F Junior Stanguellinis at the great historic venues, such as Goodwood and Monaco. Another reason is the dedication shown by Stanguellini’s long-standing chief engineer, Arturo Vicario, the most enthusiastic guide one could wish for. He’s been a pensioner for over a decade now but he can’t be torn away from what he considers his family – by which he does not only mean the Stanguellinis but their cars and engines as well. He provided us with countless new factoids about the low-displacement Fiat-based Stanguellini blocks and was kind enough to show us around the workshop as well. Mentioned as almost a sidenote was the fact that the 21st-century 8C in the room was the last one to have left the production line...

Pictures of the Collezione Panini…
Pictures of the Museo Stanguellini…

Modena is not just about cars – it can well be combined with a family holiday. Simply take Ferrari’s traditional testing route to Abetone in the mountains around snow-topped Monte Cimone. It’s littered with castles and fortresses from a very feudal past which can still be seen in many Italian ways today. Even though Maranello is not the prettiest of towns, it has its own castle, and many of the surrounding villages – such as Formigine and especially Vignola – are graced with extremely pretty historic centres, again with imposing fortresses as its centerpiece. To the north is the renaissance model town of Sabbioneta, which definitely deserves a visit. And Modena itself is an elegant and spacious city, with inviting arcades housing the best shops and cosy little bars. And with a bit of luck you'll spot the odd supercar as well!

Pictures of Modena and its family-friendly surroundings…

Driving some 35 miles further north will bring you to Mantua, where arguably the greatest racer of them all hails from: Tazio Nuvolari. The town and its automobile club honoured him with a museum quite some time ago, so a visit was long overdue. Sadly, we missed the news that the Museo Tazio Nuvolari had closed its doors for renovation on December 1, 2008. Indeed, when we arrived at its picturesque location at Piazza Broletto, right in the center of historic Mantua, an emptied building awaited us – with no signing whatsoever. A helpful policeman made some phonecalls to inform us of a new location at Viale Piave but there we were greeted with a closed iron gate. So the only things Nuvolari to welcome us to Mantua were the cardboard cutouts of enlarged photos of the Flying Mantuan, and a restaurant named after the ‘son of the devil’. Hopefully the museum will reopen soon.