“If one likes supercars,” esteemed travel writer Peter Orosz once wrote, “a first visit to Modena is loaded with subtle anticipation.” Those words hold as true as ever in the last half-century.
Once I checked into rain-soaked Modena on a cold November day, however, a quick look at the map next to my official Maserati schedule led to several bitter conclusions. Namely, that I wouldn’t have time to visit Museo Enzo Ferrari, and there was no point walking to the gates of Ferrari in Maranello either. And I really shouldn’t expect to run into Horacio Pagani at a nearby café in the old town, since the week was so hopelessly wet that even nearby Venice was suffering through its worst flooding since 1966. Also, all stores selling cheese stay closed until 2:30 p.m., because siesta times are sacred, come rain or shine.
As a car nut, the situation left me disappointed and with the sole option of walking around.
Most call Modena the heart of the Italian motor industry, others prefer to focus on its outstanding cuisine. No matter what your reason for visiting, parked in front of the 17th-century buildings in Modena’s center you’ll find the usual run-of-the-mill European cars. The vast number of subcompact hatchbacks made me wonder why FCA is abandoning this segment, but the overall situation is similar to what you’ll experience in all the wealthier cities up north: The old junk is just gone from these streets.
After seeing two equally beaten Peugeot 205s, a couple of boxy Fiat Pandas, and a kitted-out Chrysler Crossfire that must have been created as some sort of a Lancia joke, it became more and more certain that the only real score that day would be the three pounds of decent Parmigiano-Reggiano in my bag. Then a man opened a large wooden gate, preparing to leave in style in his orange Citroën Méhari. I had to delay this process with my questions.
As evidenced by his 2CV/Dyane 6-based beach car’s plates, our man came from Padua, and he was ready to leave on this 50ºF afternoon before learning that I am familiar with both the qualities of Méhari’s ABS (thermoplastic) body, and the origin of Citroën’s double chevron logo. This granted me not only a friendly smile, but also at least another minute or so of conversation, during which he revealed that the Méhari’s body is original but got resprayed and that he also has three more Méharis in storage, which are destined for his three sons—aged 14, 24 and 26—the oldest of whom works in London.
By then, both cylinders of his Méhari were at their optimal temperature range.
Not everybody can drive a Ferrari, Maserati, De Tomaso, Pagani, or even a Bugatti EB110 prototype around Modena. And since the Emilia-Romagna region is mostly agricultural farmland full of happy cattle, nor should they. Instead, I’ll always be happy to run into a Méhari man.