ALFISM: stories of PASSION
3 centimetres for a waist
9 JUNE, 2017
What's three inches in a man's life? Try counting them and you'll realize that they're very little. Yet three inches can decide his life, provided that something or someone doesn't intervene to change the course of things.

This story begins in a galaxy far away, many years ago. In 1973 my father bought the second Alfa Romeo of his life (the first had been a Giulietta TI in '63), the Alfetta sedan first series. White, with its narrow shield, four headlights and three chrome "moustaches", the Alfetta would go down in history and family legend not only for its speed, power ("It had 140 Sae horsepower, I could climb the smooth walls at 140 per hour and I could climb Bagnara as much as I wanted"), elegance, courage; but also for its flaws that made and still make an Alfa Romeo almost human ("The cockpit was a gut, Alfa cars have always been like that. But it had an enormous boot. After six months the rust had already come out, if they had done well the cataphoresis I would have kept it"). And for an unexpected aptitude for saving lives.

fiat 682

It was the spring of 1975, 42 years ago. At that time to reach Bagheria, his village, my father had an obligatory route: A3 to Villa San Giovanni ("45 minutes going slowly"), ferry, A18 from Messina to Catania ("It took me more or less three quarters of an hour, at that time the asphalt was smooth as a billiard table and there was nobody there. There weren't as many fast cars as the Alfetta"). And then the great inland motorway of Sicily, then close to completion: the A19 Palermo-Catania.

That day the Alfetta was travelling on the 120 in the Catania plain, towards Palermo. Here the motorway is great: the carriageways are separated from each other by a very wide space filled with gravel, it seems to be in America and instead behind, in the rear-view mirror, there is always the unmistakable outline of Etna soaring in the middle of the orange groves.

"behind you, in the rearview mirror, there's always the unmistakable outline of Etna soaring through the orange groves."

Ordinary routine, then, for our Alfa: the Bialbero spun like clockwork ("You could adjust the chain like in Formula 1 cars, accurate to a tenth of a millimeter"), the transaxle architecture and the De Dion bridge guaranteed neutral curves and well brushed, the radio after market, a very powerful Grundig capable of picking up even short waves ("I could hear the BBC and the Voice of America without problems when I traveled at night"), was the background. The driver's side baffle, as always, was slightly open to ventilate the cockpit in the first warm weather that only in Sicily can be so pleasant. With his hands on the wooden steering wheel at 10.15 a.m., a legacy of the 1100/103 that had been his first car (they were held at 10.15 a.m. to manoeuvre the gearbox at the wheel), my father watched the road from behind the windscreen.

A Fiat 124 on its way just before a blind curve: my father raised the arrow to the left, unloaded and overtook at the beginning of the curve, which opened as always slow and lying. And in the middle of the corner the thing happened.

"This is what my father and Alfa Romeo, from his cars to his workers (first of all them) and engineers, have done for me. This is because I too am an Alfista."

A Fiat 682 with its trailer parked in the fast lane. "In the fast lane? But are you sure?" "And I'm sure it was you. How come the big guy was stuck in the middle there, I never understood, but he was there." Break. Then: "That day I had to die and surely with another car I would have died, but I had the Alfetta in my hands and the Alfetta was a Formula 1 car disguised as a normal car". "What did you do then?" "I put the brakes on the ground and the Alfetta stopped three centimetres from the '82 bumper." Yes, gentlemen: ready to control the pedal, the callipers on the four disc brakes tightened the discs and locked the wheels. The Alfetta bit the asphalt in a braking from everything for everything, everything against everything while the time was cancelling itself: it slid forward screeching in the smoke of the braking, but it didn't break down and angrily managed to stop without damage to itself, to things or people. He made it, yes, gentlemen, he made it: and he froze a few inches from the possible end of this story.

All of a sudden, everything was silent: as he lifted his left foot off the clutch pedal, the engine stopped. It was endless moments, but then once again my father's swaggering spirit came out and took him back: "And after you saw death in the face, what did you do?" "And what was I supposed to do? I lowered 'u vitru, I said to them, I said: 'What the fuck are you doing?', I pulled up 'u vitru, I started the car, I backed up, I backed up and Ileft." (I pulled down the window, I said all the bad words I knew, I asked him: "What the fuck are you doing?", I pulled up the window, I started the car, I backed up, I backed up and I left). Only three inches had decided on a life.

The Alfetta, which accompanied the formation of this family for 11 very fast years and 198,000 honoured kilometres, has saved at least three lives. My father, in this affair; a gentleman who was battered in a car accident that he picked up in '76-'77 on the state road before Cefalù (Pa) and took to the hospital urgently; and I, in 1980. When almost forty years later I got out of San Raffaele after having undergone an operation for a cancer that I fought and won, driving another white Alfa Romeo (a colour chosen especially for my Giulietta that I bought here at Cozzi) my father was still there, almost closing a circle.

The others may not understand the meaning of this story, but we Alfisti do. Because an Alfa Romeo is not something with four wheels and a very powerful engine. An Alfa Romeo has a soul and carries a story: and if it doesn't, it takes them by putting together a piece from each of the souls and stories of each of us who choose them as travel companions. This is also why you should never fear the blind curves and difficulties you may encounter on the road as in life: if you throw your heart over the obstacle, you will succeed. This applies to Tazio Nuvolari or Manuel Fangio: it applies to our small and big stories.

This is what my father and Alfa Romeo, from his cars to his workers (first of all them) and engineers, have done for me. This is because I too am an Alfista.

Dedicated to them, to Alfetta and his four headlights, with gratitude wherever you are now.