“VALENTINO BALBONI TOOK ME, ALL OF 11, FOR A SPIN IN A WHITE COUNTACH. I CAN STILL FEEL THE ADRENALINE TODAY”
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES often revolve around journeys. That is particularly true when your father has lived a life in cars. I can’t remember a holiday with him - and by him I mean Peter Robinson, whose writing has appeared in these pages for almost 50 years - that did not involve a car and a drive.
There were the countless trips between Sydney and Melbourne of my early childhood. On one of those, my younger brother accused dad of “taking the long cut so you can listen to all your music”.
There was the drive from Italy to Prague a year after the end of communism. I had just turned 20, and that soot-covered but solemnly beautiful city made me realise how history can turn more quickly than it seemed to in sedate and far-off Australia.
And there was the manic journey a little over a decade ago along the road between Delhi and Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalaya, a drive full of near misses, some vomiting and maybe even the occasional swear word. And my father wasn’t even driving.
Last month, we met in Italy for our latest road trip; the car, a BMW 8 Series convertible in deepest dark blue. It was the kind of vehicle that two men of a certain age should not be driving, my wife had said as I left our house in London for the airport. But what did we care? The Beemer would serve us well on our drive from Bologna to the area in northern Italy where dad had lived for almost two decades, and then further north again to Germany.
Before all that, though, was a visit to Ferrari. As long-time Wheels readers will know, my father has been visiting Maranello for decades. This was my first time. We had spent a morning at Lamborghini in 1982 on my first trip outside of Australia. Valentino Balboni, Lambo’s legendary test driver, took me, all of 11, for a spin in a white Countach. On the country roads around the factory we hit well over 160km/h. I can still feel the adrenaline today.
Now, 37 years on, we were outside the Ferrari factory, its modest and functional entrance a throwback to an earlier time and a cover for the bigger and more modern buildings beyond.
Am I a car nut? Not like my father. I can’t tell you the complete model history of every major manufacturer in the world. I don’t know enough to gleefully interrupt a movie with the news that a car that had just appeared wasn’t released until six months after the time the movie was set. And I don’t know the name of every last CEO, engineer and designer.
But I do like cars. And through what has been an unavoidable process of osmosis, I know something about the industry. So when, after a tour of the Ferrari factory and test track, one of my father’s old friends at the car maker handed over the keys to a Portofino convertible for the afternoon, I was as excited as I had been when I was 11. I sent photos to friends. One texted me: “OMG. How predictable. A boy in a Ferrari.”
Again, what did we care? The next few days of our journey were ahead of us: a long chat about family and friends as we blasted along the autostrada north; swapping podcasts through the Alps; the occasional squabble about directions or where to park. For that afternoon, though, it was just us, the car, and the gorgeous Italian countryside. I’m already looking forward to the next trip.
Simon Robinson is Global Managing Editor, Reuters