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Castell´Arquato, 20th - 22nd of June

When one asks owners of classic cars about their favourite events certainly the main events in Goodwood, Monaco, Le Mans or the Mille Miglia are most mentioned but surprisingly often also the small hill climb of Vernasca. To find out what makes this so special we headed to Castell´Arquato near Piacenza and when arriving in the small Italian village one could see the atmosphere that is so refreshing after the huge sponsor dominated events of the last months. Now for the 19th time the local Historic Car Club of Piacenza welcomed about 200 cars and their owners on the only bigger parking lot at the Arda at the bottom of the old town centre. With hand painted spots for the cars and starting line the ambience is relaxed and friendly and as most of the drivers are coming every year it is more like a big family meeting.

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In three un-timed runs on Saturday and Sunday the cars will be demonstrated to the spectators who are welcome both aside the road and in the provisional paddocks and the selection of cars ranges from early pre-war race cars to sports prototypes of the 1970s and several Monoposto as the event is based on the original hill climb held between 1953 and 1972 as part of the Italian hill climb championship. Every year features a different theme and after British cars and the small Etceterini of the previous editions this year was dedicated to the history of Lancia. Today Lancia is the luxury brand of the Fiat group and one might forget that the marque from Turin has some sportive genes ranging back to the early Lambda Models. The oldest Lancia dating back to 1908, built just two years after their foundation, was the Lancia Alpha brought over by Corrado Lopresto, known for having a very interesting collection of one-offs or special cars. Sent off at the back of the field he made his way up the hill in rather gentle speed.

Lancia’s big time came after the war when the Aurelia was introduced, more than half a dozen of these elegant GT could be seen in Castell´Arquato. Based on the B20 Lancia went into the sports car category with some success of the D24 that even won the Carrera Panamericana, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio in 1954. Later the D24 was uprated to the final D25 specification before but the company soon quit sports car racing to get into the Formula 1 instead. In Vernasca the only surviving D25 could be seen at one of its rare outings brought along the D50 by the Lancia Collection. The innovative D50 F1 designed by Vittorio Jano with the tank between the wheels rather behind the driver to improve both road holding and aerodynamics gave Juan Manuel Fangio its fourth Championship after the racing department was sold by Lancia due to financial problems to Enzo Ferrari who entered the cars in the 1956 season. Unfortunately the original D50 struggled with engine problems on the long straight out of Castell´Arquato even before going up the hill.

Lancia reappeared in motor sports with the legendary Rally cars like the Fulvia, Stratos, the 037 Group B and later the Delta Integrale. Rarely so many of them could be seen on one place as no less than 5 Stratos, 4 037 and numerous HF Integrale including the works entered Alitalia Stratos and the Martini livery Beta and S4 Group B were in action that weekend.

But the about 60 Lancia were not the only feature in this year’s edition as French Le Mans legend Henri Pescarolo was reunited with his Matra MS11 to demonstrate the V12 engined grand prix car that was said to be the loudest in the 1968 season. The car was brought to Vernasca by the Classic Matra team together with two other cars and the original race transporter.

Several Ferrari and Maserati could be seen as well and especially Maserati in its centenary will be playing an important role in most of this year’s events. At Vernasca a sole pre-war Maserati could be seen with the 8CM, the other GP car, the 250F Aerodinamica unfortunately never made it up to the hill as it already had engine problems when warming up on Saturday morning. Four sports cars could be seen with a duo of A6 GCS/53 Fantuzzi Spiders, the 150S and a Replica of the 450S based on the engine 4511.
Ferrari featured a duo of Touring Barchettas, one the white 166 MM (0068M), the other the black 340 America (0114A) making a great couple in front of the Hotel Leon D´Oro. Just next to them was the Ferrari 250 GT (0829GT) that was born as Series I Cabriolet before being rebodied after an accident in period by Scaglietti to the then up-to-date California Spyder design, a 500 TRC and a 250 GT Ellena/Boano low roof (0697GT).

After three very entertaining runs the weekend ended with the price giving at the Castello in Vernasca overlooking the cars on the main square. With the absence of timed competition the organizers honoured the best looking cars in the various categories giving some repeating competitors a souvenir to this year’s event before they will be back for next year when the French cars will be featured.

Report & images ... Peter Singhof