The open road beckons!

Speed does not kill.
Speed saves.
It saves life by saving time,
which amounts to the same thing.
~LJK Setright

Autobahn 1934

Ah, the open road! Have you also been guilty of gazing wistfully at black & white photographs from Germany in the 1930’s ? No, not those photographs, you monster, the ones of the then-newly-expanded Reichsautobahn. How could it be, you must’ve at some point wondered, that those pristine expanses of pavement, stretched into infinity over the horizon and beyond, could’ve had barely a handful of cars on them at any given time ? How is it that their speed limits were fully double the maximum velocity achievable by the average cars of the day ? Wouldn’t that be like having >320 kph speed limits today ? And yet here we are, with speed limits of 80-110 kph, and even those largely unobtainable during the daily slog, to’ing and fro’ing with the other eight billion inhabitants of Planet Earth who all seem to be intent on living on top of one another.

But that was in “normal” times. Pre-times. That was back in 2019. Today, in the Year Of Our Virus Two Thousand And Twenty, the roads are once again remarkably unimpeded. Once again, liberty is regained! Emancipation from fixed location, that fundamental and embodied promise of all motoring, is reaffirmed, reavowed, and reborn. Like a candle’s light punished by wind but never extinguished, no sooner does the restriction relent than full brightness resumes.i

A normally busy intracity Canadian highway at 2:43pm on March 31, 2020

A normally busy intracity Canadian highway at 2:43pm on March 31, 2020

So it is that I’m going a bit car crazy at the moment, with a previously dormant fire in my belly once again raging as strongly as ever. Part of it is seasonality – when the seven-month deep-freeze finally begins to thaw, optimism redoubles quite naturally – and part of it is, of course, the multiplicative effect of COVID-induced cabin fever, which has amputated other expressive outlets, particularly flight.

So in addition to Blackzilla’s previously announced upgrades, I’m also eyeing up a little suspension fresh kit and racing harness for Dreidel. Of course, I wouldn’t be fully copingii with the whole shebang if I weren’t also shopping for ever more hardware to line my tranquil suburban street with. Current contenders are, with some seriousness and plenty of passion regardless, in order of production year :

  • 1988 Ferrari Testarossa – a bit flashy but a jaw-dropping Pininfarina design that continues to age splendidlyiii
  • 1990 Mercedes 560 TEL – aka Saddam‘s big-booty’d cousin, 1 of 3 built by coachbuilder Caro at the behest of its current CEO Joachim Birr circa 2000iv
  • 1991 Alfa Romeo SZ – supposedly surprisingly rewarding to drive,v not to mention relatively “collectablevi and a perfectly low-key/high-brow design statement to round out the packagevii
  • 1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth – the least compelling visually but a cracker of a history, being a homologation special for Group Aviii
  • 1994 Maserati Ghibli – affordable Gandini, what could go wrong ?ix
  • 1997 Ferrari 456 GT – not that pretty, not that edgy, still stuck with the ultimate poseur’s badge, but also possessed of a V12 with gated manual shifter and four seats for the whole familyx
  • 1998 Alfa Romeo Spider – even more striking than the already lusty GTV on which it’s based, very reasonably priced too, but is it special enough ?xi
  • 2001 Renualt Clio V6 Phase 1 – not dissimilar to the one I spotted on the street last spring, so lusty, but more gawk-worthy than a true lookerxii
  • 2001 Dodge Viper ACR – seems more like a “Jack” car than a “Pete” car but it has its burly charmxiii
  • 2002 Renault Avantime – truly ahead of its time in the crossover game, also very funky and French, if not all that “fun” behind the wheelxiv

But amongst all the contenders, it could really only be the SZ for this cowboy…xv

Alfa-Romeo-SZ-Main

The Italian,xvi CAD/CAM-drawn,xvii FRP-bodied,xviii bubbly-painted, unreliable?,xix Busso-engined, naturally aspirated mostro just seems to speak to this moment somehow, at least for me. “But Pete,” you ask, “Why ?! Is it that this Zagato-built four-wheeler was also a product of crisis ?xx That it too was a vote for optimism amidst a sea of uncertainty ? That it expressed, then as now, the profundity of superficiality in a world where time wasn’t a particularly scarce commodity ? That it almost certainly needs constant repair, much like the world, but is even more bewitching for its imperfection ? That it’s a pants-tenting excuse to go for a drive just for the hell of it ? That it’s just another conquest in your relentless exploration of the edges ?”

Maybe it’s all of those things. I’m not sure…

But finding out could save a life.
___ ___ ___

  1. This is all, of course, assuming that your interpretation of “Shelter In Place” includes intrastate travel ad libitum. And why shouldn’t it ?
  2. “Coping” is an oft-abused term but it plays the part here. Niko, my 4.5-year-old, is “coping” by packing our Rimowa suitcases to the brim with every conceivable toy and every last piece of clothing he can fit, all so that we’re ready to go on “holidays” as soon as… the world is ready to take our money. No firm ETA on that one just yet, but the Wandering Jew gene is strong with this one…
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  5. At least according to the ever-entrancing signore Davide Cironi.
  6. Eduard van de Beek has a fantastically comprehensive registry of all 1036 SZs produced during the run of 1989-1991. His webpage is generally a remarkable resource for those similarly afflicted. Don’t you just love quality blogs ?
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  15. Update 24/06/2020: Harry Metcalfe has gone and stirred up all these dormant emotions again – teh bastid!
  16. I’ve been on this ridiculously irrational “Made In Italy”* kick since at least the Mah Jong, but now that the Mediterranean Boot’s locked down and its factories shuttered, I’m left with the used shit, the second-hand shit, or what’s increasingly called “vintage,” I suppose.
    ___ ___
    *Of course the whole “Made In Italy” thing is even more of a scam than “Swiss Made.” The former has a meagre 20% threshold while the latter is at 60%. Neither is great though!
  17. Considered to be the first computer-assisted design car, this technological crutch isn’t entirely to blame for the SZ’s jarring angles. We need look only at the Pininfarina, Bertone, and Italdesign concept cars from the late 1960’s onwards to see that the polygonal aesthetic seen later on Lara Croft’s tits was prefigured by greats artists like Marcello Gandini, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and Paolo Martin. The Nuccio Bertone-penned 1976 Alfa Romeo Navajo, a production contemporaneous with the first Star Wars film, in particular laid the groundwork for the Robert Opron-designed Sport Zagato more than a decade later. 
  18. I love composite materials! Almost as much as I love titanium… But regarding the fibreglass-reinforced plastic used on the SZ, it didn’t “add lightness” nearly as much as anticipated (weight reduction targets were missed by ~3x), even if it did allow for advanced shapes to be constructed, for rusting concerns to be allayed, and for the bodywork to be bonded directly to the steel frame.
  19. Speaking of repairs, talking to a reputable dealer selling a 1990 SZ, one imported from Japan in late 2017, the current owner spent USD$17,500 just in the first year of ownership to fix pretty standard shit that inevitably goes wrong even on a well-cared-for example of a 30-year-old Italian thoroughbred. Like fuuuuuuuuuck.
  20. Italy in the late 80’s and early 90’s underwent a significant economic boom in the north, fueled by exported luxury goods, wage deflation, cheap oil, and privatised media (ahem, Berlusconi). The south lagged behind, but the whole country also underwent an immunological rejection of sociopolitical influence by mafias and trade unions (same thing) around that time, mostly because the body politic wasn’t strong enough to fight the corruption of the “official” bureaucratic mechanism also present, so it took out its anger on the next weakest victims. Natural selection, she’s unforgiving. 

3 thoughts on “The open road beckons!

  1. Liam says:

    About the 1992 Ford Escort, any of these cars or ones similar to them, they look like a Subaru but without any balls. Truly putting the ‘homo’ into homologation.

    This is me trying to sound like I’m a gearhead on (name any car mod / rally enthusiast message board). Still, this car, not my flavor of ice cream lets just say.

  2. Pete D. says:

    Updated with Harry’s Garage vid.

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