Welcome To Italy, Unless You're A Speeder

Tim Marrs

Regular readers will recall our "Viva Italia" issue, released five months ago and packed chock-full of stories about Italy and Italian cars. For that issue, I was supposed to go to Italy and do something with a Ferrari, but within hours of my departure I had a bit of a personal situation. Long story short, you can tell your wife that there's a very slim chance of a baby being born a month early, but that won't prevent a baby from arriving a month early and royally derailing your plan to drive a Ferrari in Italy. When he's old enough, I plan to sit the boy down and give him a lecture about excessive punctuality.

However, I recently got another chance for Italian adventure, this time driving an Alfa Romeo to a wedding in Florence. And based on my latest experience, I might be glad the Ferrari drive got scrubbed. That could've been just an exercise in frustration, because Italy is no longer a place to drive fast.

I first drove in Italy in 1998, and the place was a complete free-for-all. In any ten-mile stretch of road, you'd be guaranteed to witness at least two cars upside down in a ditch, one set of fresh skid marks leading to a Fiat-sized hole in a fence, and three new world speed records for diesel Lancia station wagons. As far as I could tell, there were no speed limits whatsoever, anywhere.

Back in those days, the average Italian citizen would reluctantly wrap up his cappuccino hour, bid farewell to the cafe regulars, deliberately straighten his tie, then get in the car and streak toward the horizon at 135 mph while weaving, honking, and screaming enraged profanities. To an American, it was perplexing -- you know, maybe if you had coffee to go, you wouldn't need to drive so fast.

Some years later, I was driving around the Bologna region in a Lamborghini Murcielago. Out on the autostrada, traffic still moved at nearly a 100-mph clip, with occasional adventures north of that -- one Audi R8 needed to be reprimanded for having the insolence to pass its V-12-powered Italian cousin. In the city and on secondary roads, however, the manic Italian driving style that I remembered seemed to have morphed into a more orderly sort of aggression. Compared to 1998, most drivers seemed to keep four wheels on the ground more of the time.

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