Americans think they know cars and motorcycles. Sure we do, why wouldn’t we? When you’re the land that gave the world the Shelby Mustang, Dodge Charger, and Harley-Davidson, it’s easy to get a little cocky about your place in automotive history.
But let’s think seriously here for a second, if you’re going to really pick a place to visit as the “Land of Motors”, the Mecca of Automobiles, are you going to prefer to book a flight to cold, industrial Detroit, or to the warm foothills of the Italian motor Valley, through Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, and trek through the Apennine mountains? Not convinced?
What if I told you you could take a trek through the Ducati factory and museum to watch the bikes being built just miles outside Bologna, an Italian city best known for the oldest western university which means a fun student population with active nightlife centered around terracotta-roofed buildings and porticos?
Yeah, I thought that would get your attention.
Most people start their adventures in the Italian motor valley by touring through Modena, birthplace of genius engineer Enzo Ferrari, and home to the Ferrari museum (Museo Casa Ferrari). Although the yellow futuristic museum looks out of place in a historic city like Modena, it’s actually just feet from the Ferrari’s home.
The museum boasts over 40 vintage cars and is constantly rotating exhibitions, so there’s never a trip to the same museum twice. There’s also a wing dedicated to Formula One racing and its history, featuring the helmets, gloves, shoes, and cars of dozens of champions past. I’m not really sure who the gloves and shoes are supposed to appeal to, but I suppose a museum consisting of nothing but cars would just be called “a garage.”
But the yellow color does make sense as it’s the color Ferrari chose himself to represent the prancing horse from the world famous Ferrari logo.
However, you might want to hijack a Ferrari F430 from one of the nearby racetracks to cruise over to the official Ferrari Museum in Maranello.
Photo courtesy of Dave Bouskill of ThePlanetD
It “offers an amazing insight into the world of Ferrari where the classic cars and history are a pretext for getting to know today’s models and their Formula One content and technology. As well as important, memorable cars, this insight comes in the form of big screens and videos, the possibility to become a Formula 1 driver on board of a semi-professional simulator and an extensive range of publications and memorabilia of the marque’s history.” – via Official Ferrari Museum in Maranello
But the Italian motor valley doesn’t stop there, it’s also home to Maserati, Lamborghini, and other companies that end with the letter “I” and build really fast machines. If you prefer your speed on two wheels instead of four, you need to stop in Bologna for a tour of the Ducati factory and museum.
While visiting the Ducati factory with the BlogVille project I found myself behind the scenes with a dozen other moto enthusiasts. Just a seven minute train ride from Bologna’s train station and a short walk I arrived to the sight of Grazie Carlos adorning the wall of the original Ducati factory.
Here I stepped inside the Ducati premises to hang out with 500 mechanics and engineers, all at least partially clad in the iconic red, as they crank out up to 200 of the fastest machines on the road every day. It is the real deal.
I constantly shuffled my feet away from rolling forklifts, mechanics running around with espressos, and brainy looking engineers entering heavily guarded rooms where the research and development is conducted.
Walking around the facility led by my female guide I felt trapped inside the most glorious IKEA like facility where both men and women workers shopped for specific parts to assemble together like a pack of elves.
It’s a motorcycle fan’s dream to look at these machines being born, and even take a history lesson as they walk through the halls detailing the company’s culture, both past and present. Unfortunately, much like Willy Wonka’s factory, the secret development lab is off-limits, and there’s no touching the merchandise. This walk through the factory convinced me that Bologna is the kind of Italian motor valley city that appeals to the distinguished traveler, warm and authentic without the commercialized feel of many of the more touristy cities and museums.
Ducati and Ferrari aren’t the only companies who make their home in the Italian Motor Valley, you can also visit the places where Lamborghini’s and Maseratis are made.
Maserati, unfortunately, only lets people who own Maseratis tour their factory, but you can still visit the showroom floor and see exciting new models in the Museo Panini just outside Modena. I understand the reasons for keeping the factory tour an exclusive secret, but honestly, if you’re a Maserati owner, why would you ever want to do anything but drive a Maserati for the rest of your life. It’s like getting your girlfriend breast implants, then going to a silicone plant.
Like Ducati, you can also do an on-site factory tour of the Lamborghini plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese. However, while no two auto manufacturers are alike, I prefer to describe one of the most fascinating events to hit Emilia Romagna in recent years. The Lamborghini 50th Anniversary took place in Bologna during May, 2013.
The most fascinating piece of news was revealed with the surprise debut of a one-off car called the “Egoista”, built to resemble Apache, attack helicopters with a 600-HP V-10 engine.
But precluding this announcement, a convoy of around 350 private Lamborghini automobiles and their owners took the most epic road trip from Milan all the way to the party in Bologna.
I attended the final event on a bright Saturday afternoon in the center of Bologna at Piazza Maggiore to chat with the participants of the Grand Tour and see their cars up close at the ‘Concorso di Eleganza Lamborghini 50° Anniversario’. This is now the biggest gathering of Lamborghinis ever. It is here where judges are checking out each car to award various prizes for many categories while thousands of fans are gathered around the outside of the plaza snapping photos as best as they can.
One of the many highlights is one of the more well known test drivers, Valentino Balboni, driving only one of the two 350 GT convertibles ever made to the stage.
I watched all of this from up front, to the side, and even above atop a castle with the perfect birds eye view of some of the most beautiful cars ever made. This is only a small representation of what the Italian Motor Valley really is.
All of these exciting places are available in the small section of Italy between Bologna and Modena, and all their outlying hamlets. If you get up early enough, and if your car is fast enough, you could probably tour through the Italian Motor Valley in about a day, which makes it the perfect destination for taking some time off from your traveling buddies who might not own all seasons of Top Gear on Blu-Ray.
The Italian Motor Valley is a testament to the power of human ingenuity and it’s amazing to think that so many ideas and innovations came from such a small area. It’s incredibly humbling and inspiring. Enzo Ferrari himself once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” and a day trip through the Italian Motor Valley is enough to convince even the biggest cynic that it’s true.