“You need to park outside,” said Tina, the gate-keeper at the entrance to the 2017 Best of France and Italy car show. She wasn’t being mean, I was in fact completely unqualified to participate in a car show celebrating French and Italian automotive brands as I had pulled up in a 1971 Opel GT, a car made in Germany and sold as an American Buick. That didn’t stop me from trying though. “It has a French body,” I said, in what I hoped was a charming and knowledgeable-of-provenance manner. Citroens and Alfas began to stack up behind me. Finally she caved. “Ok, I did let the Delorean in. Go park in the back. Really, I’m just impressed this is running and not in somebody’s backyard.”
I wasn’t lying when I said the Opel is a little French. Its mini-Vette steel body was stamped out by a French train company. Not wanting to push my luck, I stuck the German interloper in the back by the trailers and headed out on foot to see what the rest of the field was like. Immediately I spotted another car with multinational heritage. A copper Iso Grifo with a startling pagoda of a hoodscoop required a closer inspection. The Iso Grifo, like the English Jensen Interceptor and Swiss Monteverdi is a defunct car brand marrying European styling with big American engines. The Iso is famous for Corvette running gear, starting with a small block and moving to the 427 and then 454–thus the required hood extension. The copper machine we parked near was a rare 351 Cleveland Ford version. “It’s a brute but a joy,” said the owner. Then he looked back at the Opel. “My car and your car have a connection. Do you know it?” I did not, so he told me how Giotto Bizzarrini, who was involved in the design of the early Grifo then went on to design his own car, the Europa, which used an Opel 1900–the same engine in my GT. I told him that made our cars practically siblings and equal in value and he laughed and we parted as friends.
The next machine to catch my eye was a raised yellow blob which in no world ever would I have expected to be a Ferrari, and yet, the “Ferves” in Ferves Ranger stands for Ferrari Veicoli Speciali. It’s more of a Fiat though, using bits of different Fiat models from ’67-71 to make a sort of off-roading Fiat 500. Adorable and so silly. It was for sale. I didn’t look at the price. A general rule of thumb is that anything that can get into the French-Italian car show without begging is probably out of my price range.
You would expect Ferraris and Lamborghinis to rule any Italian car show, but the largest concentration of any brand was Alfa Romeo, followed closely by Fiat. It was really a massive collection of tiny cars. At one point a large group of modern Abarths all left at once, like a grumbling line of ants headed for a picnic blanket. We left with a lingering desire for something with lots of carburetors or a French rally history. Scroll on through the gallery to get your own taste of France and Italy.