Tour of the Italian car world

Bentley GT Zagato

Italy tour

A touch predictably, though still by chance, I bumped into an old friend from Zagato design house recently. We were attending a motoring event with a classic car collector who is also a good friend of mine, and whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for a number of years.

We started discussing the Aston Martin DB7 Zagato which my friend and collector, one of 99 lucky owners, had purchased from new.

A suggestion had been made by Aston Martin that he may be able to view his car being built at the Zagato factory in Milan.

However, this never took place; blessed with the meticulous nature of a collector, he therefore asked if he could drive to the factory with his car and see where it had been produced.

The request was greeted enthusiastically by Zagato: within a couple of days an invitation was sent by the design house and arrangements made for us to drive my friend’s car, the only automatic Aston Martin DB7 Zagato out of the batch of 99 produced, to Milan.

As someone who regularly attends the best motoring rally in the world, the Mille Miglia, I suggested that we watch its start and visit some friends at Ferrari Classiche and Pininfarina at the same time. This was to be the trip of a life time, and the suggestion was met with open arms.

Routes were planned, hotels booked and a full service carried out on the car. We set off from the heart of Kent on the Tuesday morning before the Mille Miglia was due to start, to give us time to enjoy the scenery and delights of the European countries we were to pass on the way.

Covering an effortless 800 miles in the first day, the Aston Martin Zagato just seemed to gobble up the stretch of road in front, with the car averaging around 90 mph and returning 22mpg. Only the fuel stops unfolded the distance we were covering.

Arriving at Zagato’s in Milan in the morning, after a well earned rest, we were greeted warmly by everyone, with a very special welcome from Andrea Zagato. When he cast his eyes on the Aston Martin DB7 Zagato and its number plate ‘D9’ he was ecstatic: there was his favourite number, nine, on one of his cars.

Aston Martin DB7 Zagato

With plenty of photographs taken, handbooks signed and wonderful stories being told, we wished the day would never end.

After a quick wander around Touring (Superleggera), which has offices nearby, we were off to the Italian city of Brescia, to see some more stunning motor cars.

Wandering around the garages the night before the start was like being in a giant toy shop for grown-ups: so many cars to see and talk about, with every owner and driver ready to tell the story about their car and its past.

Only twelve hours to the start, and the centre of Brescia was buzzing with the exciting atmosphere typical of a rally.

A bustle of cars and people ebbed and flowed as cameras clicked engines were being revved, exhaust cleared and drivers and co-pilots brushed up on their routes. People sitting in cafes were watching it all unfold. This really is the place to be if you love classic cars.

We wandered up to the Mille Miglia museum to watch the start and see the teams dining before the start and then… it all began. The cars made their way to the start line, with the accompanying police escort. Crowds waved. What a sight! Where else in the world can you drive without watching and worrying about speed cameras?

​Back to the Zagato, we drove off to Maranello, where we parked the Aston Martin right outside the Ferrari reception. The attention received by the car was amazing and it was not a little odd to see the red machines all around us, with the British Racing Green Aston attracting all the looks.

The boys at the Classiche were, as always, very welcoming. The workshop is just as amazing as the people’s warmth. The cars they work on are stunning and the results of their efforts make the place almost surreal.

Before long, we were back in the Zagato and off to Torino for our evening visit to Pininfarina. The Zagato did not feel out-of-place amidst the collection of beautifully-designed motor cars on show at the impressive entrance, with what looked like a massive swimming pool in the grounds overlooking the production plants and design houses.

Only a short drive followed, for both the Zagato and the drivers needed to rest before the graceful drive back through Europe.

Aston Martin DB7 Zagato
Mille Miglia Bentley Boys

Window screen cleaned and fluids checked, we were on our way. Again, we drove through snow-capped mountains and bolted through the long tunnels: the Zagato just took everything in its stride, graciously and without one murmur. Its aniline soft green leather-covered Recaro seats regaled us with a comfortable, ache-free ride. Getting in and out of the car was no effort, and the modern air-conditioning kept us cool. 

In short,this trip promises to become one of my most treasured and joyous memories.

On the way back, we fantasised about what car one would have taken on the Mille Miglia of old. Obviously, with a 1957 entry date, it would have had to be a DB3S. Or, as we did, one could have just followed the route in the DB7 Zagato and enjoyed the scenery.

I wish to extend my thanks to all the people involved with making this trip possible, and to all the drivers and owners on the Mille Miglia, who dedicated some of their time to talk to us about their glorious cars.

Simon Hope

For more details of European tours or Rally prepared Classic Cars, contact:

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