I’m a fan of the underdog. I’m also a contrarian. So in a sea of red Italian automotive icons on display at Concorso Italiano over the weekend, I gravitated toward non-red cars that might not be considered the most loved—with the goal of selecting, subjectively, one from each key brand.
The 33rd annual Concorso Italiano gathering was held at the Black Horse Golf Course northeast of Monterey during the seven days of extensive automotive festivities known loosely as Car Week. The show gathers vintage Italian vehicles from owners around the world and displays them on a lovely golf green for attendees to review, ogle, worship, and kick themselves for not purchasing years ago when they cost one-tenth of what they do now, even if they didn’t have the money back then either.
Notable car collectors, racers, and designers are interviewed onstage and their conversations are broadcast throughout the grounds. Local restaurants serve traditional Italian foodstuffs like deconstructed breakfast burritos and quinoa salad with raspberry vinaigrette (there were tiramisu cups for desert.) And there are typical opportunities for local vendors to peddle their wares. With VIP tickets costing nearly $500, and basic admission running nearly $200, the offerings are of quite high quality.
There are also cars hundreds of cars, of course, scattered across the sunny course—vehicles that are poked and prodded by experts in order to determine which select few will be awarded. This year, the featured marques were Alfa Romeo, DeTomaso, Ferrari, Fiat, Iso & Bizzarrini, Lamborghini, Lancia, and Maserati. All of your obvious, favorite red-painted cars are there from these brands. But, I hate red cars. So I focused on a whole host of not-red cars.
Since this year’s show was also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ferrari Daytona, Lancia Fulvia, Iso Rivolta, and Lamborghini Espada and Islero, these models received special treatment.
1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI
Owner: Dave Ogle
Alfa coupes and spiders are sexy, but the four-doors are my true love, especially since the snake and cross brand pretty much invented the modern sports sedan back with the Giulia in the early ’60s, stuffing a potent engine and upgraded suspension and brakes into a typical family car. This ice blue model looked lovingly restored. But even a modern stereo system couldn’t detract from one of the coolest steering wheel and dash designs ever, demonstrating the Italians’ expertise in industrial design.
Panteras get a bit of a bad reputation as too chest-thumping, in part because they were sold at Mercury dealers and attracted a non-traditional clientele for a ’70s Italian exotic. But they sport an incredible, louche Tom Tjaarda design (Fiat 124, Ford Fiesta, Laforza 4x4) outrageous Ford Cleveland power, and a ball-roasting windshield. This navy blue specimen has every outré detail nailed including a rear spoiler, louvered rear glass, and raised white-letter BV Goodrich Radial T/As on Campagnolo Mayan block mag wheels.
1979 Ferrari 400i
Owner: Carl Lopp
No one liked the 400i. It was heavy and underpowered. It was the first Ferrari available with an automatic transmission, a sloggy slushbox sourced from General Motors. And it had rectilinear styling that broke with Ferrari’s curvaceous history. But it was a proper GT, in the classic Ferrari tradition, with a big V-12 up front, four seats, and a big trunk. I’m not a huge fan of white cars, but the color gives this wedgy model a bit of subtlety and class, and there is no resisting the pentastar Cromodoras. The automatic 400i was good enough for the Rolling Stones back in the day (Keith had a manual), so it should be good enough for you.
1979 Fiat X1/9
Owner: Larry Sacks
The craze for affordable mid-engine sports cars hit hard and broad in the ’80s with the Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero, but Fiat beat them to the category with the angular X1/9. Light on power, but equally light on mass, and perfectly balanced, the X1/9 is a hooting delight to drive, cornering like it is rotating around a pole driven through a point just behind the driver’s right ear. This auric model had a perfect patina, an even more perfect matching gold velour interior, and a glorious set of tri-spoke Cromodora CD 58 wheels that cued in us a profound throbbing love.
1974 Iso Grifo
Owner: Werner Iseli
Like the Pantera, and other “hybrid” vehicles of the 1960s and ’70s, Isos combined sexy European design (in this case, by Bertone) with potent American firepower, though the brand used both big- and small-block Ford and Chevy power. (For more on American-powered Europeans, check out this recent story.) This example is one of the last Grifos produced, and also one of the most original, with less than 6000 miles on the clock and only one owner. This rust-colored Series II car has the updated hideaway headlights and a desirable five-speed manual. It is also dignified (or, maybe not) with a “penthouse” hood scoop, which was tacked onto the bonnet to make room for a bigger motor.
1969 Lamborghini Islero S
Owners: Perry and Judith Mansfield
Lamborghini is known as a maker of insane hexagonally-themed mid-engined supercars. But the brand got its start mimicking archrivals at Ferrari by building front-engine, V-12-powered Grand Tourers like the 350 GT and 400 GT. The Islero is the successor to that original heritage, and this one—in limelicious Verde Carabo with a pristine white leather interior—is so period correct as to delight a grammarian. Did we mention that it also features an in-dash 8-track tape player?
Lancia sold its mid-engined, two-seat, targa-topped Monte Carlo for just a couple years in the States during the mid-’70s, but it had to rename it the Scorpion because Chevy already had dibs on the MC moniker. This was a generally unloved, underpowered rust-prone model, though it had interesting Pininfarina-designed flying buttresses. A small number of these cars were sold in the U.S., and an even smaller number still survive. Rarer still is this VX model, which features a supercharger fitted to the impotent Lampredi I4, giving it a bit more guts. Lest you think this car is red, the color is more orange-tangelo in person.
1991 Maserati Shamal
Owners: Don and James McCallum
When one says “Maserati,” most people conjure up images of exotic classic racers, grand tourers, or mid-engined oddball Ferrari fighters. This is not that. But it is outrageous. The Shamal was a compact, rear-wheel-drive 2+2, and it was the brand’s flagship at the time. It featured insane box-flared origami styling, and an equally bonkers motor—a twin-turbocharged, quad overhead cam, four-valve-per-cylinder V-8 that put out 320 horsepower and rocketed this little coupe from 0–60 mph in just over five seconds. This color, which we’ll call Prune Wine, coheres perfectly with the rest of the lunacy on display here, as does the glamorous gold marquise-cut analog clock in the middle of the dash.