by Afshin Behnia / 22 Nov 2012
(An Alfa Summer Affair is a six-piece article series filled with tales of romance and intrigue. Follow the adventures of our Petrolicious protagonists as they navigate blind romance, love triangles, and Italian roads in a 1968 Alfa Romeo GTV. Click here to catch up on the complete series.)
Some say that honeymoons originated as a Babylonian practice that involved drinking mead for one lunar month after marriage. Others believe that it is a concept borrowed from the elite of the Indian Subcontinent, or that it is a sardonic reference to the inevitable waning of love, like the phases of the moon. I didn’t know much about honeymoons, but I had a premonition that my honeymoon with Ludie would soon be over. While at the same time, I was sure that my honeymoon with Kika would have no end.
Just married, Kika and I decided to take a little detour during our Tuscan honeymoon. By that, I mean we decided to drive 300 miles back up north. We were going to Balocco!
Hardly a tourist destination with all of its 273 inhabitants, Balocco would be a curious stop for the common honeymooner. But for an Alfista, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—especially this year.
Ludie was turning fifty years old. Well, no, not Ludie exactly. She was only 44 and I’m sure that, like any lady, she wouldn’t appreciate tacking on an extra six years. To be more precise, it was the 50th anniversary of the Alfa Romeo Giulia and aficionados from all over Europe would be congregating in Balocco. Of course, we had to go. Ludie was a Giulia, after all. She was our Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Veloce, and we certainly wouldn’t want to miss her celebration.
On the one hand, Ludie certainly had a lot to be proud of. The Giulia series was an important landmark car in Alfa Romeo’s 100-year history, and well sought-after on an international level. The combination of her twin-cam heart, sleek silhouette, and affordability made the Giulia irresistible globally. She was a commercial success—selling a million models—nd a style icon that became part of the collective imagination.
And now, the series was hitting the mid-century mark. I was thrilled to be a part of it all. But I couldn’t help but wonder how Ludie felt about the upcoming anniversary. Would she flutter with the excitement of a child, in anticipation of all the attention? Or would she recoil with dread, at the thought of so many eyes on her,like a woman who has already memorized her fine lines and wrinkles?
I mean, no one likes to age,not when they’re approaching that 50 mark. It’s virtually impossible not to take a step back, look over your life, and review if not dwell on the past. Did Ludie have regrets? Loved ones, lost ones, opportunities missed? Roads not traveled? Places left unseen? Was aging a journey she took on enthusiastically, or in fear?
As we approached the Circuito di Balocco, I couldn’t deny that there are changes that come with aging. There was Ludie’s wheel alignment, her popping hood, her inadequate performance (at least by my standards). But I was soon swept up by the camaraderie of the event. The Giulia series span 50 years and a variety of lines. I was greeted by an assembly of sedans and coupes, 2-doors, 4-doors, 1600 Ti’s, 1300’s, Nuovas, Supers, GTVs, GTA’s, Sprints, Spiders—an entire fleet in every model and color, all lined up like beauties in an open casting call.
I did my best to socialize with other Alfisti, admiring their cars and listening to their stories, but I felt like a shadow of myself. I felt that other-worldliness you get when something is too good, that disembodiment when you know magic is about to happen. I was counting down the seconds to when it would be my turn on the Balocco test track.
A proving ground for all standard Alfa Romeo models from the Giulia onwards, Balocco boasts more than 80 km of circuits and tracks. This is a big deal for any Alfisti. It’s a rare occasion and a privilege. The Balocco track is private and very few drivers have had the honor. I was about to be one of them.
As she reminded me later, Kika quickly, breathlessly, urged me not to drive too fast, but at the time, I couldn’t hear her. Nothing could get between me, the track, and Ludie. I climbed in, started her engine and relished her roar. I wrapped my fingers around the stick, got in position, and took off.
I was tempted to push Ludie, to drive her hard. I wanted her to fly on the test track, to prove that she would forever be the style icon Bertone intended: a fast grand tourer, the object of lust and desire.
I hit the gas. Ludie’s hood popped open. Not only that, but I was also concerned and disappointed that Ludie was falling short. She was having trouble keeping up with some of her fellow Giulias.
After taking a particularly tight turn, Ludie started to thump. She thumped awfully from somewhere around the driver’s side front wheel. I was disheartened. I pulled off at the first opportunity to inspect her, but could find nothing wrong. “Ludie, don’t let me down, not now.” I climbed back in, hoping she would give it another chance.
We finished the circuit together, Ludie and me. But there was no denying it; our honeymoon was certainly over.
Still, Kika and I decided to continue on our road trip. We made our way back down to central Italy (this time, to Le Marche) to visit a friend and fellow Alfista, Mario. Mario has an impressive collection of cars and a personal mechanic, Graziano, that works for him full-time. Once there, we asked whether he can help with the hood issue to cut down the number of times we have to pull over and slam it shut. A perfectionist, Mario not only happily agreed, he had Graziano put Ludie on the lift for a thorough examination of her body and mechanicals.
Meanwhile, Mario took us for a wonderful lunch at a restaurant run by his friend, a local fisherman. We were treated to a feast of the day’s catch prepared in a variety of dishes. Mario and Kika made their way through piles of fritto misto, sautéed octopus, and the freshest of fish. I bit my nails.
We drove back to Mario’s place; Graziano was waiting outside. The corners of his mouth inched their way downwards in a frown. He didn’t look too happy. We walked solemnly together to the garage where Ludie was splayed on the examination table. Graziano gave his prognosis—an avalanche of issues: “The transmission isn’t sitting right along the crank shaft…I could shimmy it, but it would be better to pull out the engine, but if I pull out the engine, we might as well paint the engine bay. If we paint the bay, we might as well paint the whole body…” Graziano went on and on. I felt dizzy. It looked like her transmission and engine needed to be completely redone, her body sanded and repainted.
We were faced with a choice: fix a few issues to make Ludie safer and more road-worthy or to hand her over for a total restoration. We decided to do what’s best for Ludie. We took the train back home.