It is not an exclusively Italian trait, but spend any time in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and you soon learn that deification is a popular pastime. Instead of the vulgar creeds of football and celebrity, however, the religions that enchant the denizens of the corridor linking Piacenza with Rimini are altogether more refined: good food and righteous cars.
The gods of the former are, in the main, pasta (handmade), parmesan and balsamic vinegar, while dominating the latter doctrine are such familiar names as Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini. So revered are these two that you might imagine they led lives entirely free from moral blemish, yet after surveying and savouring the motoring creations that bear their name – and which wouldn’t have existed without them – you forgive the more hyperbolic aspects of the tourist “experience” attached to them.
Modena is the de facto capital of Motor Valley, as the tourist chiefs have branded it: here you will find Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani, while just outside the city limits you’ll find Lamborghini. Of the four, Pagani cares not for the attentions of the hoi polloi and Maserati has no official museum or factory tour, but the other two marques have created predictably high-quality tourist experiences.
It’s at a farm outside Modena that I get my first exposure to a platoon of indescribably handsome Italian vehicles. Built by Umberto Panini (of the sticker dynasty), Hombre is a quirky operation that, on one hand, produces organic Parmigiano-Reggiano and, on the other, houses the late publisher’s collection of cars, motorbikes and tractors.
Maseratis – polished to within an inch of their lives – form the bulk of the collection, and being a child of the 1970s it’s the Bora, Khamsin and Merak that bring me out in a sweat, but the 3500 GT and Ghibli Coupe are impossibly handsome too. There are also examples of the short-lived Maserati line of motorcycles on the ground floor next to a staircase that leads to a row of lovingly fettled classic two-wheelers, among them models by Moto Guzzi, Ducati, BSA, Norton, Ariel and Triumph. There’s even a Scott Super Squirrel from the 1920s.
Unlike collections closer to home which we won’t name, here you are free to wander among the treasures away from the prying eyes of CCTV. Astonishingly, entry is free, as is parking.
A few miles east of Modena and a few hours later I find myself on a guided tour of the Lamborghini factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese. As we are led through the various stages of assembly, first for the V10 Huracan then the V12 Aventador, it’s quite clear the company has come an indescribably long way from its founder’s origins in the manufacture of agricultural machinery.
Conspicuously clean and tidy and operating to a meticulous schedule whereby the vehicles spend exactly 37 minutes at each stage on the production line, this is more laboratory than assembly line, making 11 Huracans and five Aventadors every day, Monday to Friday. That’s correct: Monday to Friday. So exclusive are Lambos that the cars are built to order and the chassis are put together by parent company Audi in Germany. This means the assembly line staff can work from 8am to 5pm, five days a week, with the factory closing at weekends. The perks aren’t too bad either: while they don’t qualify for a staff discount, workers are given the use of a Huracan for the duration of their wedding day. The guide laughs when asked how many times an employee can take advantage of the offer.
Next door to the factory is the Lamborghini museum, where you’ll see the first car to wear the marque’s fighting bull badge, the understated 350 GT, which Ferruccio Lamborghini was prompted to create after a disagreement with Enzo Ferrari about the Ferrari 250 GTO he had bought. But it’s the Miura, arguably the first supercar, which takes the breath away. Designed by Marcello Gandini, who would go on to create the outlines of the Miura’s unapologetically futuristic successor, the Countach, as well as those of another Top Trumps ace card, the Lancia Stratos, there were fewer than 800 Miuras made from 1966 to 1972. If you can find one, it’ll cost you several million pounds.
Less pleasing on the eye is the prototype of a car Lamborghini is placing a lot of faith in and building a new factory for – the Urus, a 4.9m-long SUV. The mere idea of the Urus seems anathema to the marque’s ethos, but money talks and the market research says more and more very wealthy people want very big vehicles in which to gad about. It’ll reputedly top out at 205mph; in my book, anybody who wants to drive an SUV at such a speed is welcome to throw their money away. Also worth mentioning is the fact the prototype has 24-inch wheels (305/35/R24 to be precise). I endeavour to price a full set online but draw a blank.
Running upstairs at the museum until October is an exhibition that will appeal to fans of Formula 1 before it became a sanitised snorefest: Ayrton Senna – The Last Night. Here you can feast your eyes on all the Brazilian’s race cars, including two Formula Fords and his Toleman TG184, as well as the McLaren with a Lamborghini V12 which Senna test drove but never raced. Again, you can get as close to the exhibits as you like short of sitting on them.
Back up the road in Modena it’s time to see what Ferrari has to offer. The answer is not one but two museums. One, dedicated to the company and its creations, is in Maranello, also the location of the Ferrari factory and the F1 team HQ (Ferrari’s test track, Fiorano, is nearby). Here in Modena, however, the motivation behind the Enzo Ferrari Museum appears to be ensuring if not the deification of the car maker’s founder then at least his canonisation.
Firstly you can saunter through the house Ferrari grew up in and the officina or workshop of Ferrari’s father, Alfredo, who died when his son was 18. Ferrari persuaded his widowed mother to sell the building to fund his racing career, and many decades later the company leases it from its owner, who (understandably) refuses to sell it back. If ogling engines is your thing you’ll like the exhibits, but if, like me, you can’t tell a piston from a pulley then you’d do well to march over to the hyper-modern museum itself.
As with Umberto Panini’s Maserati collection, it’s here that you can behold from all angles some of the most elegant objects ever designed by man: a 330 GTC Speciale (one of four), the 166 Mille Miglia, a Dino 206 GT and a 246 GT. After these the more modern models – everything from the 288 GTO to the LaFerrari via the F12tdf – seem rather crass, which perhaps explains why the modern equivalents of celebrated Ferraristi such as Peter Sellers and John Lennon, depicted in a film projected on to a wall of the museum, include Justin Bieber and Gordon Ramsay.
Give me a Dino 246 GT any day, or a 330 GTC Speciale. In fact, make it a Bora. No, scratch that. Give me a Countach.
That’s the effect Motor Valley has on you. It places you at the heart of automotive utopia. Even if only for a few hours, it’s a very nice place to be.
British Airways (ba.com) has return flights from Glasgow to Bologna via London Heathrow from £232.
Where to stay
Central Park Modena (centralparkmodena.com) has double rooms from €135 per night.
Where to visit
Umberto Panini Motor Museum, Modena
Free entry. Visit paninimotormuseum.it
Museo Automobili Lamborghini and Automobili Lamborghini, Modena
Guided tour and museum entry costs €75 (adults) and €50 (children). Visit lamborghini.com
Museo Enzo Ferrari, Modena
Entry costs €16 (adults) and €5 (children). Visit musei.ferrari.com
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.