The drive of dreams: Lamborghinis on Tour in Italy

By Steve Blake

Steve Blake at the 50th anniversary Lamborghini celebration in Milan.

Steve Blake with his 2007 Lamborghini Callardo at the 50th anniversary celebrations in Milan.

Lamborghini celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2013. The celebrations went on all year but the big event was the Grande Giro in May.

The Grande Giro was a 1200-kilometre drive around Italy starting in Milan and ending at the factory in Sant’ Agata Bolognese for a Gala party.

Invitations were sent out to Lamborghini owners around the world to take part in this drive. Interest was strong and in the end, 350 Lamborghinis from 29 countries gathered in Milan in preparation for what was to be the ultimate drive.

Asgar Virji of Weissach Performance Ltd., proprietors of Lamborghini Vancouver, sent out invitations to local Lamborghini owners to see if there was interest to have a group of cars attend from British Columba and Alberta.

Seven owners chose to take part.

I turned down the opportunity originally, because my wife Susan and I had planned a 30-day expedition to Antarctica, just prior to the Grande Giro. However, Susan reminded me that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event and that I would be disappointed if we didn’t go. Thanks to her wisdom, we decided to add this extension to the end of our trip, travelling from Vancouver to Antarctica, up the mid-Atlantic Ridge to England, and onto Italy.

We were the couple that travelled the farthest to attend the Grande Giro!

On March 22, 2013, we dropped off our 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo at Weissach to have it serviced and the mandatory safety inspection completed. That would be the last we would see of our car until our arrival in Milan.

We left for Argentina to board our ship and the Lamborghini joined the rest of the contingent for its cross-continent trip to New York. It travelled in a closed transport with other Lamborghinis and in New York was placed in a container. From there, it travelled by sea to Genoa, Italy and was later transported by closed truck to Milan.

We arrived in Milan on May 6, 2013, as scheduled and did a quick tour of the city. We found the location of the start of the Grande Giro not far from our hotel. All the cars would be assembling in Piazza Castello in front of the Castello Sforzesco.

As we slept that night, the transport trucks were arriving and dropping off our Lamborghinis in the piazza.

We woke in the morning to the sound of the raging bulls as more cars arrived and owners of shipped cars were reunited with theirs.

We went to the piazza and found our car parked in a row of multi-coloured Lamborghinis next to the castle.  I retrieved my keys from the registration desk and checked to see if my car would start. It did, but I noticed the transporters had drained all the gas out of my tank. This gave us a chance to take the car for a drive as we went to refuel.

The drive across Milan looking for a gas station was a wild affair! Cars and motor scooters were flashing past, each knowing where they were going and not caring about anyone else. We witnessed many near misses and plenty of honking as drivers negotiated the crowded streets.

The number of columns of cars and bikes was always greater than the number of lanes painted on the road.

We found a gas station and were almost clipped by a motor scooter whose driver decided to pass us on the right as we exited into the station. We refueled and safely navigated our way back to Piazza Castello.

A row of multi-coloured Lamborghinis next to the Castello Sforzesco.

A row of multi-coloured Lamborghinis next to the Castello Sforzesco.

The cars were all parked in the piazza, which was cordoned off with fencing and Lamborghini banners, all monitored by a crew of security personnel.

We had several Canadian tourists lean over the fence and talk to us when they noticed our British Columbia license plates.

We use our BC plates for the drive for registration, but ICBC does not cover us for insurance in Italy. We had to buy a very expensive second policy to cover our car for this trip.

After cleaning and polishing our car and attaching our event number, #162, our car was ready for the next day’s start of the tour.

Simon Kidston, a British classic car dealer, was the announcer at the start, recognizing all the cars and drivers.

Three-hundred-and-fifty Lamborghinis, representing nearly every model produced, were to drive through the arch at intervals of 20 seconds. It would take more than two hours to get all the cars out of the piazza and on the road.

When our turn came, we were introduced to the spectators and then set off to the cheers as we headed out into Milan city traffic. Police were helping to guide us through the traffic and out of the city. Lamborghini had every intersection along the route marked with a black arrow on a white cardboard sheet to let us know which way to go. Many of the intersections also had a volunteer to point us the right way. We entered onto the freeway, the autostrada, and the journey began!

Before we left, we were told to obey all Italian road rules and keep to the speed limit. Our group of cars was divided into clusters, as the roads were not closed to local traffic.

Once onto the A1, we drove south to Piacenza. Freeway speeds were easily attained or exceeded by the drivers as we accelerated along the autostrada with minimal traffic.

Some cars stayed politely in line and others blasted past, ignoring the rules we were supposed to obey. We all got bolder as our police motorcycle escorts ripped by us. We followed in behind our escorts who cleared the way for us and blocked intersections to other cars. The Polizia Stradale (police) used their Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 as the lead car and a group of 20 policemen on BMW RT850 motorcycles provided escort.  The air was filled with the sound of 190,000 horsepower from the 350 cars, a line that would snake 4.5-kilometres long.

At Piacenza, we left the autostrada and turned southwest following Highway SS45 along the Trebbia Valley. Ernest Hemmingway described the Trebbia Valley as “the most beautiful place in the world.” The drive along this road was quite spirited as we each drove the winding road at speed. There was not much chance for drivers to enjoy the view, as you needed to give full attention to the next turn coming at you. We played cat-and-mouse as we wound our way up the valley and arrived in Bobbio for our lunch break. The town square was decorated for Lamborghini and all the cars were parked in and around the square on display for the locals.

350 Lamborghinis, representing nearly every model produced, took part in 2013 Grande Giro in Italy.

350 Lamborghinis, representing nearly every model produced, took part in 2013 Grande Giro in Italy.

After a sumptuous lunch at the Abbazia di San Colombano, an abbey founded in 614 AD, we were off again to drive through the mountain passes and out to the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. We left Bobbio followed by another Gallardo and a Murcielago. I drove as quickly as I could safely along the windy road. The other two stayed close behind as we each pushed our limits along this road. As we got higher into the mountains, it started to rain. I pulled over to let the others pass, but they pulled in behind me instead.

We all got out and high-fived, smiles on our faces and exclaiming what a great drive that had been. I didn’t want to push it on wet roads so my ruse to pull over to let them pass didn’t work. I asked the fellow behind me if he wanted to lead this time, which he quickly agreed. The other two cars took off and we were able to then drive at a more civilized pace until we got out of the rain.

At some point along these roads, we missed one of the arrows. Each time we came to a major intersection, they were devoid of our black arrows to point us the correct way to go. I looked at the map and could see where we went wrong, devised an alternate route to correct our mistake and we set off again. Once we got to the coast road we fell in with a group of seven other Lamborghinis and knew we were back on track.

At that point, one of the police escorts passed us looked over his shoulder and waved at us to follow him. Our speeds increased to 160kph and kept that speed, through seven tunnels and 50 km further down the highway. At that point he turned to us and waved us past, telling us to go faster! From that time on, we realized that the police had thrown the rulebook away and expected us to drive safely, but much more quickly!

Speeds now ranged between 180-200kph on the autostradas and as fast as we could on the two-lane highways. Some cars chose to go faster and rocketed past us at speeds up to 300kph.

This was over-the-top when you are on a highway with regular drivers and you have no helmets, Nomex suits, and tires that may be questionable.

There were some drivers in rental cars and they were not necessarily experienced with the cars or knew how well these rental cars had been maintained. One mistake would have been disastrous.

Fortunately, in the whole event there was only one accident that occurred at slow speed in a town. One Lamborghini driver was too busy waving to the spectators and didn’t realize the car in front of him had stopped.

The rules of the road had changed for us and we quickly realized that the Italians had a certain expectation that if you were in a Lamborghini you should be going fast. The crowds of people lining the streets would be giving us fist-pumps to get us to rev our engines and you would hear, “Bella machina” being shouted out by schoolchildren and old people alike.

On the autostrada, we were taken around the tollbooths so we didn’t have to pay the tolls. We were waved through red lights. We passed anyone who was moving slower than we were, including passing on double solid lines. The police would ride down the row of cars and if there were any other than Lamborghinis in the line, they would signal them to pull off the road. They would also ride in the oncoming lane and push the cars to the side of the road so we could make those double solid passes. We sped past police cars with their lights flashing.

It was as if we were in the Mille Miglia and the whole world was watching!

We made several stops at historic sites such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the papal residence in the Etruscan town of Orvieto. We didn’t have time to look at these sites ourselves because we were there for the people to observe us. It was like we were rock stars, although we knew it was the cars that were the stars, not ourselves. Each location we visited would have a group of school students waving Lamborghini flags and yelling encouragement.

Stops along the five-day drive included Forte dei Marmi, Pisa, Grosseto, Rome, Orvieto, San Giustino Valdarno, Arezzo, and Bologna. We parked on via della Conciliazione in front of St. Peter’s square at the Vatican. I am sure the Pope looked out to bless our automobiles.

Along the route, we were wined and dined and stayed in five-star accommodations. While the focus was on the drive and enjoying the scenery through Umbria, Tuscany, and the Tyrrhenian coast, we all appreciated the organization and stops that included gourmet buffet lunches and four-course dinners.

Our weather was brilliant and even included a spot of rain on the last long day’s drive to show that our cars handled well on wet surfaces as well as dry.

On the last day, we made a triumphant return driving back to the birthplace of our automobiles and into the gates of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. in Sant’ Agata Bolognese.

Every Lamborghini employee and resident of Sant’ Agata appeared to be lining the streets as we crawled the last kilometres back to the factory.

President and CEO Stephan Winkelmann, who joined us on the drive, was there to greet each car as we drove through the finish line arch.

We parked in the Lamborghini compound and took part in the festivities and Gala dinner to honour these great automobiles and celebrate Lamborghini’s 50th anniversary.

Buon compleanno Lamborghini.