Classic Cars

Reliving The Sweet Life Of The 1960s In Italy • Petrolicious

The sweet life—la dolce vita—of the 1960s isn’t limited to the past. It’s not easy to live as if you’re in a Fellini film, but if you find the right cast of friends, the right location, and scour your closet for costumes, it’s possible to spend a weekend doing so. Earlier this summer, I joined the Total Look Rallies’  “Dolce Vita 60” road rally for three time-traveling days around Rome.

This was not my first foray into the anachronistic automotive adventures organized by Stéphane Ratel and the team behind the rally—last year I spent a weekend in and around Paris indulging in the excess of the 1980s for “Le Vendôme 80,” which you can find here—and I was excited to see how the format would adapt to a new time period and style. The delirious fun we had cosplaying the 1980s would see us wearing different clothes and driving older cars, but the enthusiasm and camaraderie remained constant even when we were occassinsaly on our hands and knees underneath hot cars making roadside repairs.

We gathered on a Thursday, with the rally entrants convening on Villa Agrippina, just meters away from Piazzale Garibaldi where the weekend’s route would begin in earnest early on Friday morning. A light rain fell in the afternoon and evening, droplets beading on the freshly waxed hoods while the teams with convertibles deployed roofs for the evening before our party headed indoors, but it was no matter; grey skies and light drizzles weren’t enough to make a dent in our anticipatory excitement for what was to come.

Just like in Le Vendôme 80 last year, I was teamed up for the weekend ahead with my good friend Cédric Vaslin, who had provided our time machine in the form of a Nissan 300ZX Turbo from Collection Privée Automobile. For Dolce Vita 60, it was my turn to provide the ride, which took the timelessly pretty form of a short-wheelbase two-liter Porsche 911. It’s not the fastest thing these days, but there is a joy to driving a lightweight rear-engine car that doesn’t translate to stats and measurements. This was the perfect vessel for our journey, though the Giulia Spider we were often following made a strong argument for that title as well. 

As I parked our Porsche in the hotel lot after check-in at Villa Agrippina, I took a walk around to see the rest of the mechanical members of our group. These included an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA, a Facel Vega HK500, a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, a Porsche 356 Speedster, an Iso Rivolta, a Jaguar E-Type Roadster, an Aston Martin DB5, and more from England, like a Morgan Plus Four and an MGB… but as a long-roof enthusiast, I couldn’t help falling in love with the 1957 Chevrolet Nomad wagon that Alexandre Pesci had lent to some of his friends. He and his wife were there driving the Alfa GTA which was completely restored and rolling on authentic magnesium wheels (they’d crack the right rear on Sunday morning, the unfortunate risk of running lightweight racing wheels on the not-so-flat streets around Rome!).

Teams Lotterer and Gurdjian couldn’t make it unfortunately, but I had offered my friends Philippe & Natalie Médart to join, and they had registered with a Shelby Cobra—a fitting if not obvious choice, seeing as they represent Shelby in Europe. They loved the experience, and already have plans to enter Le Vendôme 80 next year with their Porsche 928.

As I had obtained one of the 25 Aston Martin DB5 Continuation cars for a friend a few years ago, it had crossed my mind to drive in Dolce Vita 60 with it, especially when I saw that someone else brought theirs along. It was always drawing a crowd, and it looked especially good next to the Tenuta Castelbuono—reminiscent of an early Bond villain headquarters—where we had lunch on Saturday.

No regularity rally timing and competition was involved, but there was a photo-based scavenger hunt focused on the architectural landmarks along our route. I always think it’s a bit odd to “compete” in vintage road rallies, but this was a perfect way to connect the group to both the historic and modern beauty of the area. Then again, almost any random glance out of the window would have revealed something worthy of a picture. 

The main gala dinner of the weekend was held in a gorgeous building owned and run by a nice lady in Bagnaia, a kilometers away from the Borgo Dei Conti Resort that served as our base camp for Friday and Saturday night (and as the location of our mini Concours d’Élégance on Friday evening). Each team had to make a speech to the jury made up of Emmanuel de Brantes, Mădălina Diana Ghenea, and Chiara Lungarotti, to explain their car’s history. I did my best to win one of the bottles of champagne, but it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of that being poured late into the night anyway. Again, it wasn’t really about the competition. We were sharing laughs and delicious food and drink all weekend; the whole point was to enjoy ourselves, which was all too easy. 

Between the period-correct cars and clothes, the immense history of Rome and its surroundings, and the friendships new and old, this rally lived up to its name. I’m looking forward to the next edition of Le Vendôme 80 which will take place May 5-7 next spring; perhaps I’ll see you (back) then?

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