MENTION anything Italian, automotive and here in Australia over the past 40 years and Andrea Vitale has probably worked on it, owned it or built it. Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, De Tomaso, Alfa Romeo...
Okay, trick question: Giocattolo? Andrea started it.
Since 2010 Vitale, now 62, has been proprietor of Andrea Motori, the go-to service centre for many of Sydney’s Italian car cognoscenti. Vitale has the sort of passion that can only be the result of a profound event in youth.
Born in the Sicilian town of Spadafora, he was apprenticed as a mechanic at his father’s garage. Then came the day he stood by the roadside to watch the Targa Florio... “My love affair with Ferrari and Maserati started there. I saw these cars going past and my skin, the hair popped up! I wanted to work on those cars.”
There was a major distraction in the shape of an Australian girl, Rosa, who’d been travelling through Spadafora. At 19, Andrea left his parents, brothers and sister and moved to Oz.
He and Rosa have now been married 41 years.
Vitale joined Alfa Romeo Australia as a mechanic, but the company’s move to the south side of the harbour prompted him to join a north-shore Alfa Romeo dealership. There, he worked on Spiders, Alfettas and Montreals – “The V8 was a bit tricky, but I was young and hungry!” – until 1983, when he got a call from Paul Halstead.
The computer boffin and car nut had opened The Toy Store, a now legendary exotic car emporium in North Sydney. Vitale became the technical manager, in which role he would do everything from servicing Lamborghinis and other ultra-exotics to full assembly of the De Tomaso cars (Pantera, Longchamps) for which Halstead was the agent.
“We were having lunch one day upstairs and he called to me, ‘Hey, Wog’ – he always called me Wog – ‘what are you reading there?’ And I said to him, ‘Ah, you f**kwit, I’m reading about this beautiful car, you could not even imagine what it is...’”
The Italian magazine carried a story on Alfa Romeo’s Alfasud Sprint 6C, a Group B rally prototype. Halstead was racing an Alfetta GTV6, so he was more than a little interested in the mid-engined Sprint. “And that’s when [the Giocattolo] started.”
In 1987, Vitale was lured by former Alfa Romeo Australia colleague Tony Graziani to join the latter’s new Maserati import agency.
“I was the mechanic, the sales manager and the cleaner!” The press was hard on the Biturbo-era models, but Vitale knows that a great car lurks within: “The engine, the gearbox, they will go forever. But the electrical was a spaghetti western! You put the blinker on, the engine cuts off.”
Vitale stayed with Graziani for more than 20 years, through Ferrari’s takeover of Maserati, then the change of Australian distribution in 2005 to Ateco Automotive. “I had full control of the workshop, but I never made the money that [Ateco] wanted. In 2010, they called me into the office and said, ‘You have to retire’.”
There was no way that Andrea – or his customers – was ready for that. So he opened Andrea Motori, staffed by himself, daughter Domitilla (‘Domi’) and former Ferrari-Maserati workshop colleague Nigel Smith. It has more the feel of a corner fruit shop than exotic car garage.
“We don’t make a lot of money, but we create a beautiful place! Customers come down, they make their own coffee. Mi casa, su casa – bravo!”
Andrea Vitale has a collection of Italian cars – Alfa Spiders, mid-90s Maseratis, a Fiat 130 Coupe – and classic bikes. His favourite? “A 1971 MV Agusta 350. Dad gave this to my brother, and a Fiat 128 to me.
We swapped.” He keeps the MV at the family house in Sicily where he was born, and where he “goes home” every year.