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Castell´Arquato, 28th-30th of June

Every year the small village of Castell´Arquato and the road up the hill to Vernasca are setting for the Vernasca Silver Flag. The traditional hill climb was part of the Italian hill climb championship in the 1950s and 1960s before reappearing in the mid-nineties as a historic car event. Now in its 18th edition this weekend became a fixed date in the classic car calendar for those who love to drive their cars rather than just show them and although growing over all these years the event kept an character that was described by a regular entrant as “refreshing amateurish” in the best possible sense. Unlike many huge commercial events in the summer season dominated by main sponsors, professional organisation teams and media crowd the Vernasca Silver Flag is organized by the passionate Piacenza Historic Car & Motorcycle Club for like- minded to enjoy a weekend in comfortable ambience and as the three runs up the hill are not timed there is not even a sporting ambition the driving force of the participants but just the fun of it.

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On Friday afternoon the registration takes place at the “centre” of Castell´Arquato, for the next three days the small parking lot becomes the paddocks, the papers could be collected under the banner of the event in a small tent in a lovely alley. As (including some support cars and a parade of Porsche 911) more than 200 cars had to find a place in the centre the paddocks were extended to the piazza in front of one of very few hotels in the village, the Hotel Leon D´Oro is the place to stay for the regular entrants who tend to book their room years in advance. When talking to the concierge of the hotel he pointed out that they have almost every year the same guests but always with different cars, this year the line-up in front of the entrance was a row of four early racing Ferrari. Three 12 cylinder Ferrari from the 1950s and a 500 Mondial were set up in the sun that just came out this afternoon after a few cloudy days. All the three 12 cylinder started life bodied by Touring and whereas the two cars with the consecutive number, the 212 Export (0112E) and the 340 America (0114A) still have their Berlinetta and Barchetta body the third one (0102E) became famous as movie car at “The Racers” starring Kirk Douglas. For the movie it was rebodied by Autodromo with a new body, after a restoration a few years ago it was seen in this configuration at various events including the 2009 Mille Miglia where it was parked alongside the second car of the movie.

Two more Ferrari could be admired over the road with a 250 GT SWB (replica) and the 166P/206P Prototype (0834). The later could look back on a long racing history starting as a 166P Berlinetta in long distance races including the 1000km at Monza and the Nürburgring plus an unsuccessful outing at Le Mans in 1965 before it was converted to a 206P to be run in the European hill climb championship giving Ludovico Scarfiotti the title at the end of the year. In the next years it ran no less than three times the Targa Florio finishing 4th in 1967 in the hands of Vittorio Venturi and Jonathan Williams. The Vernasca Silver Flag saw the reunion of the car with Williams after 46 years, Williams took place on the small passenger seat on the last of the three runs up the hill.

The main rival of the 1950s, the marque with the trident was represented by four cars of this era with a Maserati 300 S (1840), a A6 GCS, a 150 S (1659) and a 200S (2402) plus a 1933 8 CM (3015) remembering that Maserati was already successful before the war.

But it was not just Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo holding up the Italian flag in the years after the war but numerous small displacement cars built by enthusiasts and small companies. Most of these barchettas and single seaters were based on parts of the mass production Fiat and built around light chassis with spartan aluminium body to compete in the smaller race car classes with huge success. Due to the ending “ini” (the Italian diminutive) these popular racers are today known as the Etceterini, names included Ermini, Stanguellini, Bandini or Siata. Many of these cars could be seen every year at the Mille Miglia and this year's Vernasca Silver Flag had them as main theme after Abarth, Ferrari and “Best of British” in previous editions. No less than 37 examples were entered in the class “piccolo bolidi, grandi passioni” (small racers, great passion), most of them for sure in Italian racing red. Beside the more common names mentioned above Gilco, Giaur, Taraschi or Volpini might by unknown to some of the spectators who lined up mainly at the start in Castell´Arquato during the weekend. It is always a pleasure to see the enthusiasm of the drivers and co-drivers in these very small cars waving and smiling all the way up the hill and one can hardly imagine what it means to ride for 1000 miles under these circumstances.

Further classes included the Tourismo class with several Alfa Romeo GTA, the Gran Tourismo featuring some Abarth, the Ferrari Export, Alfa Romeo Giulietta and TZ1 but also Lancia Rally and Stratos and a Porsche 935 Fabcar. The sports car class saw the Jaguar, Maserati and Lotus from the 1950s and early 1960s, the Prototype class McLaren, Chevron, Porsche and Abarth followed by single seaters and pre-war cars.

The pre-war cars included several Bugatti going up the hill in very different speed, whereas some were more touristic others took the hairpins in full drift. Two Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 with beautiful coachwork by Zagato and Castagna were followed by some fast blown MG. The two last cars were a duo of Fiat 501 from the 1920s and these were by far the slowest car taking the hill in a low gear to get to the top.

Fortunately the weather forecast was wrong this weekend with predicted low temperatures and barely sun. Even the opening dinner was relocated to the inside as the traditionally intended location at the archaeological area of Velleia Romana was expected to be too cold that evening but during the Friday afternoon the sun was out and especially the Sunday was very pleasant both for the drivers waiting in their cars at the start and the spectators.

The weekend ended Sunday afternoon after the last climb up the hill with a lunch taken on top of Vernasca overlooking the entire area with a great visibility. The lunch taken under the tent on ale- benches showed once more that most of the owners and drivers of these cars do not need a high-toned setting to enjoy themselves as long as the atmosphere is friendly and the day could be spent with like-minded. The event is a very familiar one with most entrants knowing each other for years and most of them certainly will come back as long as it is kept down-to-earth.

But also for the spectators the Vernasca Silver Flag was again a very interesting weekend with cars spanning 7 decades ranging from the small Peugeot Bebé to a duo of Lancia Rally Group B and one can be curious what feature we will see next year and what cars the regular entrants will bring along.

Report & images ... Peter Singhof www.classiccarphotography.de