A 50-Year Journey
Study Hall was invented to allow high schoolers the opportunity to do what they didn’t do the night before. For me, not so much. I preferred to slip my new issue of Car & Driver, into my English Lit notebook, so Brother Gabriel “the punisher” wouldn’t catch me. I couldn’t see the difference between reading Chaucer and his insufferable use of the English language and reading David E. Davis waxing poetically about the benefits of disc brakes and radial tires. David E., the editor of Car & Driver, once said that “god does not charge us for driving before breakfast”. Brilliant.
My grandfather on my mom’s side died unexpectedly in March of ’65. I was a freshman back then. When the dust settled and the last cannoli devoured, my grandmother declared she wanted to return to the old country, the country where she grew up and met the love of her life. My mother was the only sibling of 4 that had a command of the native language so she packed grandma’s black dresses and off they went.
First stop, Rome, the eternal city where cousin Simone was the Questore di Roma. That position was like a police commissioner and prosecutor rolled into one. Because of his high rank, he sent a car and driver to meet the grieving Americans. The car and driver (no pun intended) would be at their disposal during their stay. And their planned stay would be 4 weeks. A long time to be without a mother. But there was time for letter writing.
Her first letter included a picture of her standing next to a Ferrari 275 GTB. She stopped a gentleman who had just parked the car and told him how much her son would enjoy a photo. She stepped behind the open door as he captured my favorite image of her. I wrote back asking her to make sure she made it to the Baths of Caracalla, the largest in ancient Rome. We were studying ancient Rome in Latin class and I knew I could use the extra credit the pictures would get me. After her stay in Rome, the grief tour headed south to Sicily and my grandparents’ home town of Savoca.
Savoca is one of those ancient mountain towns so typical of Italy. Allegedly, Savocans are more pure Sicilian than most because they were able to defend the town from the invaders. And there was no shortage of hordes desperate to take Savoca. There are many blonde haired, blue-eyed Savocans and I am not one of them. I have the blue eyes, but the hair, not so much. It is here in Savoca, back in 1966, that my current story takes shape.
Not long after her arrival in Savoca, I received another welcome light blue air mail envelope from my mother. The letter told me of her travels with Grandma and their first visit in Sicily with another cousin, a radiologist by the name of Salvatore Bongiorno. They call him Turredo. The next paragraph in the letter would set me on a 50-year journey that will end sometime in the very near future – Turredo was a car guy and allegedly had a collection of really neat old cars. I couldn’t convince my dad to let me call mom that very night. I needed to know what cousin Turredo had tucked away in that little mountain town in Sicily. I wrote back but there wasn’t enough time left for her to answer via snail mail.
That grief tour turned my mother into a true Italian. Not a version of Carmela Soprano. More like Olivia de Havilland as Meg Johnson in Light in the Piazza kind of Italian. When she left for Italy, her first name was Louise and when she returned, it became Luisa. Her trips became more frequent, almost annually and always 4 weeks or more. She brought back Gucci, Trussardi, and recipes from family cooks but never information about Turredo’s car collection. One trip yielded a clue. She brought home a black & white image of Turredo’s son, Carmelo, when he was a boy. He was featured piloting an Auto Corsa Indianapolis children’s car. He posed wearing a helmet and driving gloves in front of an Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Quattroroute- an Alfa Romeo recreation built between 1965 and 1967.
Fast forward 49 years. My beautiful mother who posed in front of a flaming red Ferrari was now confined to a wheelchair, ate purred food and hardly uttered a word. Some part of life sucks and then you die. And she did, just days ago on March 31st. But what a life she had. Our connections to family in Italy remain strong because my sister, Rosemary, took over the responsibility. She could never figure out how to master a manual transmission however Rosie had a way with languages that escaped me. In life there are forks in the road and I took the one with lots of curves.
Rosie was in Florence visiting another favorite cousin, Mario Bongiorno. She sent me a text with a picture of her with her husband, Lou and Mario at a restaurant in Florence. Rosie was eating my mother’s favorite dish, braised rabbit with olives and rosemary. I knew Mario kept in touch with Turredo who is now 93 years old. I jokingly sent back a response that said something like “ask Mario to call Turredo and tell me what cars he has”. There aren’t many things in my life that have turned my knees into less than reliable support. But the next text I would get an hour later made me reach for a chair. Turredo has 53 cars and he wants them all gone.
That was October of 2015. Since then, I have been in touch with Carmelo, his son, who must be in his late fifties now and is handling things for his father. He isn’t the best communicator and doesn’t write to me in English. I rely on Google for translation. I wanted to book a flight right away but he urged me to wait for spring. Since then I have been given a list of the cars in the collection. Months went by as I try to pry more details from Carmelo. He has learned well from his father. Don’t say too much and that I am told that is a typical Sicilian trait.
The collection has 8 Alfas that I am interested in. There are Giulietta Sprints and Spiders, a 2600 Sprint and a brace of those cool Giulietta 1300Tis. I think a few 1600Tis too. The Lancias range from early Augustas, Ardeas and Aprilias to a cool B10 and B21 Sedan; almost all Mille Miglia eligible. The Fiats are ancient too including a rare 2800 Ministeriale that was used as a parade car. There are Topolinos, Balillas and 1100s too. Turredo has a rare Moretti Alger Le Cap and one of these cars is a real Mille Miglia survivor. I don’t yet know which car is the survivor nor do I know the condition of any of the cars. Carmelo says some need to be “restored”, others “renewed” and some “revived”.
My wife and I are 19 days away from our flight to Rome with a direct connection to Catania. From there we head inland to Savoca. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time studying and researching as I probably should have done back in Xaverian’s study hall. I now know where to find chassis and motor numbers for most of the cars I will be inspecting. My wife and self-appointed infectious disease doctor, Ronnie, has acquired latex gloves and dust masks to fend off the unknown pathogens lurking in the various “houses for cows” where the collection is hidden.
I bought a new camera that takes HD video at 60fps and can handle 5,000 photos before saying “uncle”. We’ve got batteries and chargers and an Audi A1 rental that has WiFi. So images will be coming back to loyal readers and collectors of interest faster than images from the Mars Rover. Stay tuned and watch for news from Sicily. Please know this, loyal readers and friends of Mint2Me: If I discover that some or all of the cars are worth bringing back, you will be the first to have the opportunity to acquire one. Let me know what you might be interested in and we can stay in more formal, personal contact.
Ciao, and my Instagram account is Mint2Me. Follow us on the trip!
BTW: I have changed the name of cousins and the actual town the cars are located for obvious reasons…to protect the innocent.