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Brass by Garda: Settimana Motoristica Bresciana

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Photos by the author.

October, with its often rainy days, may still be a lovely month for open-air nature lovers, and also classic cars’ enthusiasts may have their good occasions to see some really interesting jewels before the arrive of wintry months. However, albeit some of us may actually prefer October to summer months, chances are that most old autos’ fans may have fond memories of those hot, sunny moments spent under June, July or August sun, even if said sun could have been unbearably hot, all things considered.

However, it is a good bet that summer’ memories may have been hampered somewhat , once memory also helps to remember that thermometers could have had a tendency to show alarming numbers.

But if you like a compromise between the excesses of a hot summer and the cold air of an oncoming fall, there was still a month during which things may be as perfect as they get, a month with lots of events and occasions for us fans of automobiles, a month during which sun is still alive and well, a month during which climate and weather co-operate to offer some of the best mornings, afternoons or evenings one could possibly desire. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking about September.

Gentle breezes, gentle sun, here and there early marks of the upcoming fall, but diluted in grateful doses: that’s precisely what September should be all about.

However, there may be also notable exceptions to all of this, thus explaining why I made use of conditional. Some hateful weather behavior surely worked hard this year to make September a most gruesome period in many parts of the world.

But thankfully there were also places where September showed its best aspect, with no upsetting climatic mess.

Now, I want to share with you, gentle readers, some interesting and different occasions in some well known Northern Italy locations during which old cars, the type we love so much, gathered to show themselves.

And in similar circumstances, September may easily be the most fitting period in the whole year.

All of those events I am going to describe were able to offer long forgotten sensations. And I hope the various photos I took may help to understand this.

I think that this was also possible because of the climate, and not only because of wisely chosen places where those cars’ delicate wheels rolled over.

But what makes a typical Italian September a beautiful month?

First of all, the aforementioned gentle climate makes it one of the best months to visit Northern Italy: in latest years, typical Italian summers more and more had become unbearably hot, with long periods of frustrating humid weeks, downright tropical days, which were often plagued by sudden bad weather. This too easily translates immediately in violent hailstorms, rainstorms and windstorms. What’s more, in the most unfortunate cases, also landslides and floods became undesirable part of the equation.

Not that September was (and is) immune to some of these problematic events – as witnessed by horrible problems happened often along the Tyrrenian Sea coasts, sort of small scale but brutal reminiscence of what America was suffering during those same days, when East Coast and Gulf Of Mexico’ communities were brutally hit by those plagues called hurricanes; in any case, elsewhere in Italy, things were far more tranquil and, thankfully, despite a pair of episodes which were the proverbial exceptions confirming the rule, weather was especially pleasant for many days in the beautiful area which surrounds the Garda Lake, one of the most charming European places, bar none, and this was especially true from a classic cars fan’s peculiar perspective.

Those days, even when sun was covered by clouds, had at least a right temperature, ideal for open-air activities.

Second, it is important for whoever organizes events of this importance, events where extraordinary cars and rare gems are present in droves, that the weather may be clement, given the delicate nature of most of those cars.

In addition, a relatively gentle weather is important for spectators alongside roads and streets as well as for the cars’ passengers in themselves, even more so when you’re touring or racing aboard a barchetta or some kind of torpedo (spider and phaeton in English parlor): despite their nautical names, hardly they are the most fitting autos for some quick trip up and down rainstorms or wind’ gusts. And the same can also be said if most of the competitors are blessed by proper closed interior compartments, whether this meant a safe metal roof or a romantic cloth top. So, just like some spring weeks can offer similar conditions, also those precious few September days may be a suitable period for who fears hail as well as boiling water in the radiators. Those are surely factors to ponder, and here September helps a lot with its inner nature.

In addition, it is undeniable that Lake Garda and the nearby territories, located between some of the most legendary Alpine scenarios and some of the most magnificent Italian towns, looks perfect for antique automobiles romantic trips, whether in quick, relaxed or slug-slow formula.

Maybe, it is during this month placed amidst summer and autumn that those backgrounds reach their apex as far as sheer beauty and charm is concerned. If you think that only Lake of Como possesses a fascinating landscape, try to look at what the Garda offers, or try to look at those Dolomites which are equally stupendous despite lacking snow. Maybe they are even more beautiful, because of their green carpet of trees and nude light grey rock’ colors.

Therefore, those perfect shores, those splendid Renaissance buildings, those Dolomites and the surrounding granite rocks are desirable backgrounds for every conceivable kind of event where older wheels are the real stars. And no matter if they must travel at a reasonably fast pace, if they can afford to follow a firm yet calm gait, or if they’d better to keep every sporty ideals at bay, because their age is remarkably high. What events I saw during these last Italian summer days satisfy all of these three distinctly different sectors of the classic cars world; and I can say that all of them were splendid opportunities for the real aficionado to see some veritable rarities and feel some unequalled emotions.

Let’s start through this ideal travel up and down the southern, western and northern portions of land surrounding largest Italian lake with an early September adventure. Adventure is the right word, for also few miles around Brescia can be a veritable raid if done aboard really old and really venerable veterans. And Brescia seems like a natural for epic enterprises done using an engine and some wheels. Let’s see why.

1916 Fiat Tipo 2

Top Brass With Lots Of Class: The Settimana Motoristica Bresciana And Its Marvels On (Artillery) Wheels.
Of all the various Italian cities and hamlets intimately connected with automobiles, arguably Brescia is one of the most overlooked. Almost everybody knows Turin, Milan, Modena and Bologna’ epic and thriving legends surrounding some of their most renowned products, but also eastern Lombardy’ largest city has a really important heritage of its own.

A brass rad T arriving in Desenzano, with a welcoming crowd.

Not that it is suffering from being neglect, what with the Mille Miglia heritage and all the wide movement intimately connected with the Red Arrow race. But Brescia had always mean more than “just” the epic across-Italy race as far as automotive connections with its life are concerned, and also when a league of enterprising men chose to set that legendary 1000 miles very fast journey up and down the Penisola, starting and arriving in this charming Lombardy city, the then second largest town in the richest and most industrialized Italian region could already boast of a really well deserved tradition and significance in all the aspects of automobile’ life, whether this meant engineering and manufacturing processes or downright racing activities.

A stately Unic, followed by the Buick and by an Opel.

Another Italian monument, an Itala.

In fact, Brescia is known as the main location of OM, the Milan-born factory which obtained much of its industrial success after it absorbed the ex-Brixia Zust Brescia-based factories: the latter was in fact a branch of the Piedmontese Zust, and albeit it didn’t enjoy great success for long, its plants, badge and tools, as well as engineering know how, became the basis upon which OM started to gain considerable success in the automotive world.

A Buick from an era when they were not so large ones.

If this alone wasn’t (and isn’t) enough to consider Brescia one of the foremost Italian automobile Meccas, what about its racing heritage ? Well before the Red Arrow race, everyday motorists, gentleman drivers and bona fide racers participated with fervor to important races disputed as early as 1899 in Brescia and its territory. The first ones of them all were therefore really old and glorious events, some of the oldest and most legendary among the various early Italian events of this kind: they were the Brescia-Mantua-Verona-Brescia automobile race (won by a Mr. Conti, from Florence, aboard a Mors), and the Brescia-Orzinuovi, the latter one a motorcycles competition.

Another batch of cars arriving in downtown Desenzano, with the really nice Opel preceding a Fiat.

A nice full frontal view of the Overland.

Not too later, other races contributed to definitely marry the name of the Italian Lioness (as it was, and still is, nicknamed Brescia) to the automobile in its intimacy. In fact, as early as 1900, Brescia was the center of yet another race, again using the same roads: this time, overall winner was Franchetti on Pahnard & Levassor.

A ladies team aboard a quadricycle, with the passenger comfortably seated ahead of the driver.

But it was in 1904 that Brescia became in a definitive way an undisputed star in the automobile races firmament. In fact, in September of that year, a road race was held on the Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Brescia route: it was part of a series of events which also saw dedicated challenges for flying mile and flying kilometer, and it became important because, among the various competitors, one reasoned that it was a really intriguing event, so much so that it deserved grand prizes in further future editions. His name ? Vincenzo Florio. Yes, the same man behind the legendary Sicilian Targa Florio was also a star of his own in Brescia’ automotive racings – driving a Mercedes, he finished a convincing third overall. By the way, 1904 event had been won by yet another important Vincenzo: in this case, his surname was Lancia; just like many other times, he was at the wheel of a Fiat.

A magnificent World War I veteran, a Fiat 15 Ter, complete with flags and a bullett onto the radiator.

Starting with the 1905 edition, Florio offered the dreamy sum of 50,000 Lire to the winner of the event and also gave him the opportunity to win a trophy, the Coppa Florio, which was destined to be definitely conquered by the car maker who had won the majority of these races during the first 7 editions.

A nice amount of brass for thie De Dion Bouton, one of the stars of early automotive world.

Overall winner of this first Coppa Florio/Circuito Di Brescia event was Giovanni Battista Raggio, who drove an Itala. Lancia was third overall, again on a Fiat, after Arthur Duray who was piloting a De Dietrich. A Darracq was the mount for the fourth overall, Hemery, while Vincenzo Florio in person again was part of the race (and again on Mercedes, albeit this time only 9th overall: still a honorable position).

Another stupendous Fiat.

In 1907, early September was again racing time in and around Brescia, and again Coppa Florio was the apex of the various series of events. This time, they were held under the Corse Di Brescia name. Trophies, for that matter, had multiplied, and on the same racing course there was the possibility to conquer, among others, the Coppa Della Velocita’ (Speed Cup), the Coppa Del Re D’Italia (King Of Italy Cup), the Coppa Dell’ Automobile Club Di Milano (Milan A.C. Cup). This time, overall winner was Ferdinando Minoia (one of the most important names in early Italian racing scene, and the first ever Mille Miglia winner), who drove a Isotta Fraschini. Second overall was Hemery, on Benz, almost a veteran of this kind of competition. This time, Brescia-Montichiari-Castiglione Delle Stiviere-Lonato-Rezzato-Brescia was the chosen path.

One of the first Flint’ products, complete with its mid-mounted engine.

In 1908, the Coppa Florio abandoned Brescia (instead focusing on roads around Bologna), but this didn’t mean that Brescia couldn’t have its well deserved competitions again for the future: for example, in 1909, heaths around Montichiari, just a few miles south of downtown Brescia, saw the development of an aeronautical course, six miles long; this was used for an airplanes race, something of a really daring and novel concept. Naturally, this dazzled lots of people who were there to bask in admiration for the intrepid flying pioneers. Among them, Louis Bleriot and Glenn Curtis, who was the winner.

The arrival of a real Fiat monument, notice the dual rear wheels.

In 1913, also motorcycles had again some glorious hours, courtesy of a race organized on May the 25th. But World War I was just about to stop all this racing frenzy, and naturally not in Brescia and surrounding neighborhoods alone. Those were sad times for Italy, for Europe and for most of all Western countries altogether. Difficult to imagine something as glamorous and carefree as automobile competitions to be organized just a few miles away from some of the harshest and cruelest war theatres back then: in fact, Brescia was closest to then-existing Italo-Austrian border, and mountains like the Adamello massif, just 40 miles up north the Lombardy city, saw some of the bloodiest battles of them all, even more gruesome because of climate and altitude.

A fantastic 1912 Renault, complete with the then common French front end treatment .

And also Lake Garda was a border line zone – Trentino was a fully-fledged Austrian land back then. In any case, because of the war effort, Brescia’ manufacturing system, which was based on time-honored metallurgical and armaments works, had gained even more industrial, technological and financial strength. And also automotive industry was ready to start again, after OM commenced proper car making operation following its Zust and Brixia-Zust take-over.

The obscure but spectacular Delaugere et Clayette.

Soon, also the renowned racing heritage which had made Brescia so important on the Italian scene started to become once again a part of city’ and its province’ life.

This car needs no introduction, for its role in the History is more than well deserved !

After WWI, Brescia was again honored by a grand automobile race in 1921, thanks to the comeback of the Coppa Florio (this time it was the 5th one, after that the 3rd and 4th were organized in Bologna, as previously mentioned, and in 1914, on the Gran Circuito Delle Madonie, Sicilian home to the very same Targa – again, please notice that the Coppa Florio and the Targa Florio were not the same events !). This time, the event linked to it was none other than the first edition of the Italian Gran Prix, and again Montichiari and its charming country were the location of what would soon become intimately married to the Monza track. For the occasion, Montichiari had a brand new circuit, christened Fascia D’Oro, built on the same old heaths already witnesses to previous legendary prewar competitions.

Another French queen, followed by a little American princess .

In addition, as per tradition, other events also took place during the same time span (early September days) and in the same basic location: namely, a pair of flying kilometer challenges and a gentlemen’ Gran Prix. Anyway, what was likely the most remarkable among them was the Gran Premio Vetturette, a race destined to the compacts and supercompacts of the day (in French, Vetturette translates in Voiturettes, probably a more familiar term for those used to veteran cars of any sort). The same Gran Premio Vetturette was again disputed a pair of years later, this time on June the 29th.

A gorgeous Metz, one of a plethora of American models,

In the meanwhile, further competitions began to be made up and down Brescia’ province, which was and still is among Italian largest ones. In fact, in 1921 too, the charming town of Salo’ was the location of a circuit made along the banks of Lake Garda which saw proper GP cars and really great drivers as stars: to name only a pair of them, Bugattis and Nuvolari. Disputed during three different periods, early one lasted through 1927 and had people like Eugenio Silvani, Guido Meregalli, Aymo Maggi and, last but not least, Tazio himself as winners.

Another rarity, a Rochet Schneider.

If all of those events weren’t enough to explain how races were really an important part of Brescia’ early automobile life, in the same Twenties also the Coppa Del Garda regularity challenge and Gargnano-Tignale hillclimbing race took place. In sum, Brescia had deserved a really enviable reputation by 1927, the year of the first Mille Miglia: no wonder if such reputation was further enhanced by the Red Arrow race, and no wonder why Brescia was a perfect start and finish stage for the most incredible, toughest and most glorious Italian road race ever. What’s more, in this narration of really old and glorious Brescia motor racing events, I easily forgot to mention something. Brescia’ province roads were really busy during last summer days !

The Chevy 490 while arriving in Desenzano.

This lengthy introduction was in any case necessary, because this demonstrates that Brescia wasn’t and isn’t Mille Miglia only: to the contrary, well before Canestrini and friends gave birth to the quintessential open road race in the world, Brescia had an already thriving life of automobiles, motorcycles and also other transportation means competitions. And what better way to remember and celebrate those pioneering challenges than a historical reenactment like the aptly named Settimana Motoristica Bresciana, born to revive those century-old days, when splendid samples of the best scenarios of Lake Garda and equally lovable Lake Iseo were stupendous backgrounds for epic duels ?

A superlative 1912 Fiat. Notice that its license plate is at least twenty years younger than the car !

Already two decades old, the Settimana is organized by MWVCC, the famous Brescia-based Musical Watch Veteran Car Club, known to classic car lovers above else for its early “modern” Mille Miglia redos. Nowadays, one of this club’ main and most prestigious event is this early September venue, named just like the early 20th Century “format” which hosted most of the epic challenges mentioned above. Things are now far more tranquil, tho, because the venerable age of most participating cars can’t lend to anything but gentle and commensurate gestures. In any case, this doesn’t deter these spry chariots to perform in so outstanding a manner that seldom, during the three days and 150 miles of the “race”, the cars needed really serious workshop helps. And so, seeing practically all of them on the Lake Garda southern shores in Desenzano’ downtown (a hamlet well known to Mille Miglia fanatics too) during Sunday 3rd September morning, before heading to finish in Brescia, was for me a really incomparable delight. Evidently, this is true also for the same teams, which took there almost a hundred or so of cars and bikes, and they came from no less than 7 different European countries.

On the road again, a 1917 Overland 90 Touring.

Imagine this: a symphony of brass, because this was the predominant tone of this show, ready to warm hearths of who can appreciate these charming ancetres, vintage, veterans and one precious classic. And brass was just what characterized most of them: yeah, this is no London-Brighton, but surely for a pre-1918 cars’ and bikes’ meeting it worked really fine, thanks to an outstanding selection of seldom seen cars. Seldom seen anyway, for it is really rare to see almost all of them in full action – full, that is, meaning that they could easily hit 18 mph on average: still a neat achievement for most of them, because it is always something to notice for so ancient cars with those engines, and, most important of all, with those brakes.

After previous days were a bit wet, what better occasion than this to take advantage of such a car.

And while during Friday and Saturday sun was a desirable item, what with lots of rain and long windy and colder than usual hours, Sunday’ morning – and afternoon – hours in Desenzano’ streets and places were blessed by a warm and desirable sun: just what a doctor may suggest for southern Garda climate, even more desirable for cars which had to cope with so adverse a weather in previous day’ journey to Lake Iseo and Franciacorta. And naturally, this was even more desirable for the various teams aboard those cars and bikes, all of them perfectly tuned to their mounts with clothes and accessories matching some Belle Epoque’ way of life, whether a gala event or a Gran Tour travel suit.

A superlative Buick roadster.

Therefore, all those cars, all those bikes, all their owners, drivers, co-equipiers, were an unforgettable vision. And as said, all that brass was literally glittering and basking under the sun: it was difficult to stare at it without risking some tears; but, after all, they were only the result of lots of nostalgia…

A heroical posing of the Gregorie, with Garda Lake in background.

The arrival in Desenzano was something to write home about: a literal, joyous parade of charming and romantic wheeled nannies (may I use this term ?), driven by teams clad just like they had jumped out of a typical Belle Epoque day. Perfect the cars, perfect the drivers, perfect the passengers – and daring also !

While waiting for its entry in the reserved parking lot, this patina-covered Fiat rested along the road.

Cars arrived in chronological order, or at least older examples preceded younger ones. But what made fascinating this “race” was the mere fact that also younger cars were jewels from a really distant past: so, proper terms to describe (and divide) them in two categories may be “oldest” and “older” cars, respectively.

The 1896 Benz.

Oldest cars were composed of an articulated array of vehicles: in fact, some of them are difficult to describe as proper automobiles, at least following our modern days’ forma mentis. When you see a Benz come directly out of 19th Century, chances are you are more inclined to call it a relic rather than a self-propelled vehicle (undoubtedly a most seductive relic).

A photo which shows the passenger accomodation for this ante-litteram ATV.

And when you see a sort of quadricycle, one like those often depicted on some really old calendars or some ancient prints, you know you are looking at a real-life time machine. What’s more, if you look at one of them you also see something rather unusual for our 21st Century way of thinking, ‘cause the passenger seats ahead of the driver.

Nonetheless, despite it is a really different looking “car”, thanks to the four wheels, the central saddle and the handlebars, it’s also got more than a passing resemblance to current ATVs so common in our modern wildernesses.

Good ideas, evidently, never die: if they seem forgotten or lost, it’s because they simply went to hibernation, and when they were again considered suitable for further application, they resurfaced in an unexpected way. So, there is a strong connection with our way of life also when looking at really ancient treasures like this one.

Staring at that pair of prehistoric chariots really gave anybody a lesson about the phrase horseless carriage’ sense. But, as natural for most of human things, also in such a circle, evolution soon started to work. And what cars participated in the Settimana surely gave hints at why.

In fact, things got a bit more “normal” when automobiles started to sport a proper hood, a steering wheel instead of a tiller, side-by-side accommodation for passenger and driver, proper roofs so to gain proper protection from weather adversities, running boards and long fenders which really resulted useful as mudguards. Further clear signs of evolution wait whoever compares the flat cowl sported by some of the oldest participants with the smoothly integrated items which became commonplace during the 1910s. Also the evolution of running boards and fenders in themselves could be studied comparing the oldest autos seen in this event with their companions only a decade or so younger. The latter adopted integrated, more graceful shape, distinctly distant from the primitive cart-like approach seen on older models, in a real dawn-of-car-design move.

And the list could go on, including also items like seating accommodation, availability of proper doors, instruments panels, controls placement and so on.

However, the fact that cars built in 1910s started to look more like the automobile object as we know doesn’t mean that they were closer to modern automobiles than to fin de siècle horseless carriages.

Detail of a typical chain drive transmission, here the one used by the Mercedes.

Similarities between century –old cars and nowadays vehicles end exactly where further discrepancies start to blossom, in an effective way to instruct us modern viewers about lengthy decades of automotive progress: as simple examples, I can cite the fact that many cars seen in Desenzano showed, after closer inspection, that their transmission still used chain-drive instead of shafts in many cases [Pic 45: details of the Mercedes Simplex’ chain drive transmission set up ] ; they showed that their electrics were still really primitive, and illumination was as a rule provided by acetylene, thanks to affairs which can be easily remember miners’ lamps, also incidentally showing how brass could be put to good use as far as automotive styling was concerned; also their attitude toward tacked-on controls and accessories was a bit distant from our habits regarding ergonomics and convenience, including the use of that really important item for early autos, the radiator-installed thermometer; and in addition to all of this, early cars’ pedals’ setting often defied modern logics – and this without taking in consideration Ford T’ legendary arrangement. For example, look at one of very first Buicks’ setup and you easily understand why driving habits until the Thirties were things for competent and skilled enthusiasts.

Peculiar pedals’ setup of the Buick.

Design proportions too, were quite odd: albeit most of those autos looks quite fragile, their sheer size is fairly bulky: in many cases, only robust SUVs can dare to compare, inches for inches, with some of them (in height especially), with many pre-WWI models towering above pedestrians and modern vehicles as well. A stupendous limo sadly spotted aboard a towing truck and an equally extraordinary Fiat which also had dual rear wheels, just like a proper truck, explains a lot about those really gigantic dimensions and proportions, so often seen on cars which exemplifies the passage from a horse-drawn carriage to the closed sedan as we know it.

A grandiose Fiat limo from the years immediately before the Great War.

And naturally, albeit most typical automobile’ elements are quite evident on most of the cars seen during this show, there is still an impressive difference in design: streamlining wasn’t a part of the equation, and aerodynamics study was still a remote dream.

In sum, the variety of cars available to eyes during the Settimana was a compendium of what automobiles were from their beginning to the years immediately before – or, in some cases, just after – World War I.

A grandiose example of early automobile’ era limousine, sadly aboard a towing truck.

So, there were splendid examples of autos coming from almost any of the then-leading automobile production countries, showing their respective state-of-the-art models and their respective fashions, fads, design and engineering distinctive features, which made many cars identifiable at first glance as a logical product of a given culture. Hard to believe this, while considering technology levels were, as mentioned above, still in their infancy; in any case, it was during this era that styling began to distinctly differ from one country to another. The seeds for those Schools Of Styling which began to have a most important impact in the decades to come began to germinate back in those early century’ years, and many cars seen during the Settimana showed some design distinctiveness.

In fact, there were some of those peculiar French cars with their unmistakable hoods. There were those Italian Fiats with their pear-shaped radiator’ frames. There were those American cars with their “form follows function” mantra: yes, albeit it may sound strange, mass-production implied that things got a bit simplified, thus explaining why best known American autos of the era were devoid of excessive frills, leaving the charming use of Baroque-like addendums to European cars (or high priced models).

Therefore, as early as 1910s, many cars were already able to instill a clear idea of how different they could look like, whether they were born in France, England, Germany or Italy, or how American cars were already setting the pace in developing an object for the masses, instead of a mere toy for rich and privileged ones.

Speaking of countries related to automobile production, at the dawn of this phenomenon they were few, and it was mostly an affair for the European industry, with the notable exception of the U.S. of A.

Despite the automobile concept had many fathers, early successful attempts must be considered those tried and tested in Germany. Soon, Germany’ primogeniture was followed by convincing attempts by Great Britain and France’ industries in order to establish a successful automobile production and conscious consumption.

Thus, France had a leading role in properly developing the automotive concept as a whole, and this role led to a primacy in the early automobile industry, so it should be no surprise to spot so many examples of what were doing all those factories scattered around Paris, Lyon and the like.

A symphony of unique materials, like brass, metal and wood, the Unic.

So, thanks to the Settimana’ selection of cars, it was possible to marvel at the lines of a model made by a legendary firm like Unic. It was possible to know some more about what Clement Bayard produced during its intense life (two examples of this glorious factory were present in this Settimana’ edition).

A stupendous Clement Bayard.

Nice front view of another Clement Bayard.

A detail of the intricate radiator’ frame design on a De Dion Bouton.

Naturally, every self-respecting reunion of ancetres or veterans must have some products of De Dion Bouton, and what was available in Desenzano showed a car more refined and more mature-looking than some of its earliest – and better known – stablemates. It was more rakish too: this demonstrates that also in those unsuspecting days evolutions (and revolutions) were quickly adopted wherever and whenever possible.

A delighful Darracq.

Darracq too was a part of this event, thanks to a compact yet really graceful model. In its case, this car was an example of a relatively simple design, but far from being crude and primitive: in other words, this Darracq is a viable example to show that also more than 11 decades ago there were proper looking automobiles, fairly removed from the horseless carriage’ original ideas.

The Rochet- Schneider.

Speaking of cars removed from the primitive lines of a cart with an engine and with no animals to pull it, another old monument of France, a neat Rochet-Schneider, showed how distinct the engineering and the technology of an object born only a few years before had already become. In this case, this car looked more like it was inspired to boats of some sort rather than by chariots or buggies, also if its headlamps gave it an even more pronounced bug-like face than some of other cars spot during that day. What’s more, its cowl shows the beginning of a trend toward a general integration of main body’ components; compare this car with the Darracq, for example, and this evolution becomes apparent.

The Panhard & Levassor, with its quite advanced look – at least when compared with some of other stars here.

Speaking of evolution, a nice example of a Pahnard Et Levassor shows us a further step in styling refinement and evolution. So far, there is no trace of an overwhelming revolution of sort, but surely automobile was fast improving both its looks and its engineering, a clear sign of maturity. From the 1910s on, who argued that the automobile was an invention with no surefooted future could finally be immediately confuted.

The Chenard & Walcker superb front end.

For that matter, this was even more difficult to argue when looking at a car like the Chenard & Walcker seen in Desenzano; here is a jewel of car made expressly for racing or fast leisure trips: in other words, a perfect example of what a proper Grand Touring auto should be. If the previously mentioned Fiat limo in red surprised for its coach-like height, this speedster in yellow surely astounds for its torpedo-like length. But there is more than sheer size to make this car a spectacular one: in fact, it can qualify both as an ancestor of those revered French specials otherwise known as Grand Routieres and as a granddaddy of sort for all those GTs which became all the rage some decades later. Evidently, drivers started to dream of similar machines as soon as better dependability, improved performances and alluring styling became available. Roads, on the other hand, weren’t still ready to welcome a huge amount of similar machines, but things were about to forever change.

Detail of the Gregoire’ front end.

If all the aforementioned cars weren’t enough to demonstrate the role of France’ industry in the early automobile days, there were further proof of how important this industry had become in the whole life of the Gallic nation: Just take a look at that gem of a Gregoire, a 1908 14/20 HP model clad in an essential yet nifty cloth.

Those Made In France models testify the revered automobile industry of that country: while most of their parent firms and factories went out of business many years ago, their heritage and their experiences were not at all lost by lovers of good technology. And while most of them went out of the market a long time ago, some of them, like Renault, successfully fought against all kind of odds, so they are still with us, providing enormous numbers of modern cars for us 21st Century motorists.

Here is a 1912 Renault, with its crocodile-like hood.

And Renault’ fashionable, romantic shapes – especially those with that “aero”-look hood with the radiator located just aft the engine – are still remarkable after more than 100 years later, quite the icon of what has been described as the last carefree era, the Belle Epoque. Their crocodile-like hood are likely what people can best remember about cars coming from the pre-WWI era, and it was so successfully a feature that also other factories adopted it (compare them with the Clement Bayard previously shown), even if the resulting radiator position could be a bit challenging, as far as really ideal engine’ operations must be considered.

Nice angle of the Delaugere Et Clayette.

In addition to all of this, France was also home to some really obscure manufacturers, like Orleans-based Delaugere et Clayette. Did you ever hear about it ? Well, just to offer an example of the exquisite allure also minor makes could show back then, a suave 1911 model was present in all its candid glory. Really a treat for eyes !

But early motordom’ adventures aren’t a France exclusivity. Other countries’ industries were thriving and busy, and in Europe this did mean mainly Germany. Thus, there was a neat nice car showing a very well known name of German ancestry: Opel. This Opel, easily describable as a brass cathedral, was everything a Belle Epoque car should be.

Opel’ striking lines as seen from three quarter’ front view.

However, back then, many a German car could count on its creators’ undisputed love for well-done engineering, in order to achieve acceptable levels of dependability – a neat step toward a widespread car diffusion.

And all this was often done marrying imposing looks with sober no-nonsense solutions, a neat portent of things to come.

Under a beautiful sky, a beauty in grey.

A nice example of such a vehicle – a neat contrast to the Opel with its assorted cornucopia of brass – was an automobile which oozes high levels of overbuilt engineering, sober yet imposing proportions and simple yet aggressive styling: a Mercedes from the very first years of the century. It might have been a racer, but from some angles it looked also like a military car, with all the attributes one can associate with a sturdy tank – and all of this while preserving a certain lightness of lines. It may look like many other coeval vehicles built elsewhere, but still it exudes just the right amount of German peculiarities we tend to take for granted on Teutonic autos.

No surprise if most German cars in the last hundred years or so adopted most of the principles found on this Merc; more intriguing, maybe, is the fact that as early as 1905, German industry was already setting its personal own way.

Nice view of a glorious WWI veteran, the fiat 15 Ter.

Italian industry, by the way, was represented by automobiles whose sturdiness, dependability and practicality were proven and tested during WWI: so, no wonder if also Italian cars of the day looked like properly built and mature products of a seriously-minded industry, with a rather well-engineered and well-built range of products. All the fuss linked to supposedly inadequate Italian cars’ quality dissolves when taking a look at things like that immense closed berline already offered to readers’ eyes at the beginning of this writing, or like that old soldier of a truck (complete with a frontline’ “souvenir”, a bullet, firmly rooted in its radiator) which was arguably one of the most beautiful vehicle ever to be seen on military duty.

Nice shot of this Fiat in torpedo format.

Neat view of the 1914 Tipo Zero.

Naturally, many other Fiats were there to be discovered by unsuspecting eyes or to be better known by those who already knew a things or two about them and desired a good occasion to study them first-hand. Cars like a 1913 Fiat Zero, in a rakish two seater configuration, or like a pair of coeval tourers, one with its classic lines where there were some concessions to fads of the time like the fenders’ shape, the other one with similar but evolutionary lines which show that after only a brief amount of time body parts tended to be more integrated, were a clear indication that Fiat too was able – and more than willing – to build some stylish and elegant models. And all of them were also built in a sizable amount of examples, at least when compared to other Italian cars of the day. Yes, since very early 20th Century’ years, Fiat had begun its run to become Italy’ undisputed number one car builder, and in doing so the Turinese marque simplified some of the stylistic’ exaggerations of the time, all this with few if no relinquishments to good styling and dignified elegance.

This Fiat roadster was a nice blend of sportiness and practicality.

This was further demonstrated by a car like a green Fiat Tipo 2 which was a striking beauty in its own, thanks not only to its good amount of brass but also thanks to the body, which married a certain simplicity of principles with the inner qualities of a bespoke outsourced bodybuilder’ creations. In the case of this machine, the sporty cloth was tailored by Carrozzeria Riva in Merate, a name already known to us thanks to far later special Fiat 1400s, and the result was positively discrete and austere, also making a concession to a then current fad, where there were elongated rear decks on certain austere yet dynamic two seaters. It was possible to see further examples of this early fad in Desenzano.

A neat view of the Fiat Tipo 2.

But times were mature for further industrial and production improvements, and a more modern appearance was just a sign of these novelties – and changed tastes. Also Fiat, like many others, especially American names, muted somewhat the philosophy toward mass-production of automobiles: this did mean that less gingerbread and more simplification were new formulas to be explored, and what worked for Ford surely could work for Fiat too. Furthermore, there was also one noticeable external event that prompted much faster and much more surefooted production strategies, strategies good to implement both the numbers and the overall dependability and quality of automobiles. This external event was naturally World War I, and Italy won it also thanks to the extraordinary effort of its still young industries. Among them, arguably the most important may well have been Fiat itself, for its impressive expansion, its strength and the formidable qualities of its products enabled Italian Army to have encouraging amount of well built, sturdy and dependable goods. Many soldiers could say thanks to Fiat trucks and Fiat autos, and many came to appreciate them while fighting. In sum, Fiat applied to good profit what men like Henry Ford and many other automotive pioneers taught about fast mass production, and while first examples of that new ideas came to fruition mainly for the supporting war effort, also some autos created during those years gained from this change of attitude. While real mass-production Fiats began to show themselves in full force only after the 501 debut, a car like the 1916 Tipo 2 seen in Desenzano already offered a neat example of a car where gingerbread had been replaced by neat style, and when body integration had reached new heights. Its almost basic appearance, after we have seen a plethora of cars with lots of glittering gingerbread and complicated shapes, may be seen as an example of a sober and elegant vehicle also developed to provide sensible transportation. Just what those times and the changing tastes began to require.

The Fiat 520.

Last but not least among the various Fiats conveyed under the Garda shores’ cloudless sky, we can also appreciate a 1928 520. It wasn’t part of the official cars on tour: it was rather a sort of auxiliary vehicle which helped press and media representatives to follow other autos with a charming model close in styling to other Settimana’ vehicles, albeit one supposedly more modern and therefore, more dependable. This Turin-born flagship of the late Twenties – one of the largest Fiats of the time – really did this in a magnificent way.

Thanks to its roomy interior and “important” size, it was fit for the role, showing , on a plus note, that also a car almost 90 years old may appear (and effectively be) younger both in looks and engineering than others: what with its sleeker body, more refined mechanicals and more modern rubbers. It also got four wheel brakes and full electrics, so it was really a standout among other vehicles !

The 1919 Itala Tipo 50.

Also another well-known Italian firm, Itala, was present with a model, a 1919 Tipo 50. This was relatively older than the Fiat 520, yes, but if compared with most other cars, it still offered ample details to understand the design evolutions occurred after WWI. It also showed that despite Fiat’ dominant and obstructive presence there was still precious room left for others. Itala sadly became another victim of the crisis which sent into oblivion hundreds of factories during the period between the two WWs. The early first postwar crisis, the woes of the Roaring Twenties and, obviously, the ’29 Crisis gave a very poignant mean to the term survival of the fittest. In Italy, Itala was one of those firms not fit enough to cope with changed perspectives and immense problems. And, worse still, some of its last models weren’t known for overall dependability, which was, on the other hand, one of the foremost qualities usually associated with this illustrious Italian pioneer – the Peking-To-Paris 1907 car is maybe the best known example of that lineage.

Speaking of lineage, I was surprised that no British cars were on hand during that exceptional Sunday, just to offer some examples of Edwardian cars, which no doubt would’ve made quite a sensation among others. I suspect that the car seen aboard the towing truck, which was suffering from some small ailment, no doubt caused by the venerable age, was a car built in Great Britain. I wasn’t able to see its name, and I am not expert to the point to instantly guess what it was. In any case, it had all the right looks an ancient English limo should possess. And its rich details, its supremely superb looks may act as a proper example of what early cars – especially closed cars made during King Edward’ reign – should look like.

Maybe, it is not by coincidence that I left another sizable number of cars seen in Desenzano as the last ones to be described; but arguably, their role in the automotive world, what they did to the whole industry and to the whole humankind, what differences they had with German, French, Italian or British cars, in sum, their inner qualities, made them special. And what better way than writing something about them after citing words like mass production, dependability, affordability, sturdiness ? What better way to write about them than after having seen how European cars had acquired, during their early years of evolution, most of the qualities offered for the first time by cars like Ford, Chevrolet, Buick, Overland and the likes ?

Yes, it is now time to write something about all those American cars which were in Desenzano. And, quite unexpectedly, they were in a noteworthy number, offering some not-so-obvious examples of United States’ state of art.

The 1909 Hupmobile 20 Runabout.

To begin with, while cars like some Ford Ts, a Chevy 490 and an Overland showed what mass-production processes and designs and engineering devoted to maximize development and production costs could do, there were also cars which showed that at the very beginning, also American-made autos followed typical mantra of those days, still linked to the concept of a toy for rich people, instead of a concept of a wheeled tool to improve lives of everyday citizens. And like Europe, also America was a fertile ground for whoever was able to tinker with some tools an had ingenuity coupled with a business-minded head. A nice example may be the venerable Hupmobile name: in Desenzano, you could look at a car bearing that glorious badge, a 1909 20 Runabout. It had a neat similarity with the Gregoire already seen. They were both almost delicate looking affairs, but with a reason: they were neat sporty models, showing that the old adage “weight is the enemy” was already aged once Carrozzeria Touring made it its slogan. This also shows that for some time, and for some concepts, American and European cars followed rather similar stylistic paths. Later on, things would changed forever. In any case, the stylistic revolution was commenced by American industries, and for some precise reasons. But before taking a deep look at that, a look at some other U.S.-born cars, which I had never seen in metal and which were therefore even more grateful surprises.

The beautiful Metz under a matching sky.

Alternatively, what about a 1911 Metz model 22, superb in its cerulean body, really matching that superlative Sunday’ sky? Here is another exquisite example of the pioneering American scene, a car built during the early days of US car manufacturing. That’s an interesting automobile also because its radiator is painted, rather than being made in the then almost-mandatory brass. A portent of things to come, albeit its exquisite lines are far from appearing cheap. Those lines are in effect quite substantial-looking, and the general impression of a quality car is enhanced by what was a desirable trait for any given American auto, the artillery-look wheels. In addition, its purchase price was more than acceptable when compared to its competitors. So, instead of being a frail econobox, this car exhibits a dandy flavor which really adds to its pleasant demeanor. What a treat for connoisseurs it was ! Glidden Tour anyone ?

So, also during very early days of American motors, the concept of giving people more bang for the bucks was already alive and well: take for example, the unassumingly simple yet entirely delectable 1909 Buick Model F, one of those peculiar Flint’ products which featured a mid mounted OHV engine. Despite it was a relatively simple machine for its days, it was a refined automobile, distant from some primitive cart-like affairs which still populated certain factories’ line ups. And despite its engine was placed under front passengers’ seating area, it again had a front hood: useful as a mounting case for the radiator, useful to cover the fuel tank, useful for a touch of character on a car which looked like costlier machines of larger displacement. This “important” look surely worked, for these kind of Buicks helped Flint to gain second position on the market behind Ford.

A different look at a different Buick, the 1909 Model F.

What’s more, this Buick also showed that since a very early era, American designers and engineers (and in this case, there were absolute legends like D.D. Buick, Walter Marr, Enos Dewaters and naturally Billy Durant) were set to provide people with cars which coupled great looks with practicality whenever and wherever possible. And it also offered a two-speed planetary gearset. Sounds familiar?

The same applies also to another early Buick, a 1909 Model 10. This time, there was a four instead of a twin, and 165 cubes conjured up to make 22.5 hp (versus 159 cubes for the Model F, whose engine offered any horses between 15 and 21, according to sources of the era). However, basic Buick styling was maintained, albeit on a slightly larger scale, a first symptom of that market repositioning which was perused by Buick starting with its four cylinder models. At the time however, this Buick was conceived and perceived as a strong competitor in the low priced field, perfect to do battle against a certain four introduced in Dearborn. Thus, albeit early Buicks were focused more on the popularly priced spectrum fo the market, they were a neat American-made example of a practical yet elegant car, a perfect mean of transportation for those families which began to approach the automobile world.

The D-44 slim appearance marks some contrast with its length.

But in Desenzano there was yet another Buick, one which helps to see how far the Flint firm had gone since its early days as a producer of basic but fascinating autos. In fact, by the time the 1916 D-Six-44 Roadster was offered, Buick was building far bigger cars than the early twin it offered just ten years before. They were still relatively cheap when compared with many other models then on the market: under wise Walter Chrysler’s guidance, Buick’ early Tens’ woes had been overcome, and the firm was again busy at providing handsome profits for GM. The passage to a larger six was likely obvious, since Ford was dominating the market so much so that more and more people could afford to own a car, thus discovering how important could it be for their lives. Those already accustomed to smaller models could therefore appear to be more interested in larger cars, both dimensionally and financially; so, Buick again relocated, and again with success. The D-44 seen in Desenzano was one of the 13,000 odd examples peddled in 1916, and it was already a grand looking car, courtesy of its noteworthy 115’’ wheelbase and its six, a 225 cube with 45 hp. Yeah, for American standards of following years the D-44 didn’t appear to be excessively expansive, but when compared to what was now making the bulk of GM sales, it was surely a perfect midmarket offering. It is also another one of those noteworthy examples showing the distinct evolution automobiles were practicing back then, an evolution towards cleaner, simpler lines, generally more integrated body design, where superfluous add-ons started to be superseded. Only necessary items continued to be featured outside of elongated hoods and fully enveloping interior compartments, where proper doors were more and more a part of the equation. In the case of this Buick, also genuine trailblazing items like electric starting and lighting added to the impression of a very modern car for its day.

The 490 in all its splendor.

What was making most of GM’ sales was by mid Tens Chevrolet, which, after its initial models’ luxury and grandeur inclinations, had repositioned to fight against Ford: this strategy surely worked fine, and the 490 was the first car to offer old Henry some outsourced headaches. No doubt, the 490 followed most of the Dearborn Man strategy and production methods, also copying a similar approach as far as basic styling is concerned. Basic in effect is an apt word here, ‘cause the 490 was now a rather simple job, clad in the quick-dry black introduced to automotive fame by the Model T. It also had few external frills, with also precious few glittering metal, even if those white wheels offered another interesting piece of conversation. For simplicity sake, its engine still featured a crank, but tried-and-true approach meant a sturdier car, and that alone mattered most for lots of buyers. This car, true o its nature, exudes ounces of uncompromised sturdiness. It is easy to understand that those methods needed to cost-cutting production and to shorten minutes on the assembly chain applied also on Ford T’ competitors. They also worked fine to further remove car’ design from cart-like appearance: now it was more inclined toward a certain nautical flavor, especially because of proper doors applied to each side of the vehicle, thus providing a continuously closed overall appearance to still roofless bodies. It was a pity that no Lancia Lambdas were available in Desenzano so to offer comparative standards for those late Tens cars. Surely, it would appear clear that Vincenzo Lancia’s stupendous intuition about automobile’ body structure was also due to the mere consideration that more and more late models of that era looked like boat of some sort lifted out of water. Applying nautical construction too, in addition to looks, was simply a matter of time.

The 1917 Overland Touring.

Alongside the 490, also another revered Ford T-fighter was there so to offer yet another comparative model: this time, it was provided by a 1917 Overland in touring configuration, thus one of the best selling body types then available. What can be said about the 490 can also be said about this Overland: simple lines, where frills were replaced by sober concepts used to make the car more economical and stronger. This car also marks the end of an era, an era when brass was de riguer on automobiles: to further enhance production economies, painted metal replaced brass and bright metal almost overnight, once it was clear that this did mean lower purchasing price. Naturally, Ford again was at the forefront of this phenomenon, but cars like this Overland were also available with painted radiator shells which made perfect sense back then. In any case, this specific example spotted during the Settimana Bresciana looked fine with its polished steel ensemble. From then on, cars gained in practicality, reliability, economy, whatever you want, but arguably they started to lose somewhat in charm. Evidently, American public knew that also an excess of frugal lines, an excess of dowdy looks was only a temporary solution along the way to produce the ideal automobile: after some years of stark black painted cars which looked all the same, individuality started again to be a selling item, so cars gained again their well deserved glittering portions. Naturally, this time those parts would’ve been chromed ones.

And finally, a look at the Ford Ts: I have much anticipated their presence in Desenzano, and they naturally were a part of the festivity.

I also told that much of the early fascinating , almost archetypal design features which characterized early automobiles were soon put out to pasture once Henry Ford found newer and newer methods to finalize his quest for faster, bigger, cheaper production. The Ts, however, since their inception, were setting a path which would led in following decades to the mythical “one car in every chicken cop” way of life. In fact, also early examples provided plenty of no-nonsense, down-to-business, as-simple-as-it-gets examples: short hoods, wide and tall passenger compartments, built to maximize interior volumes in a compact package. Plenty of road clearance, coupled with sturdy but basic, almost crude, front and rear suspensions, perfect for the non-roads of the era. Rugged drivetrains, with simple but not minuscule engine coupled to ingeniously elementary transmission. Absence of unnecessary glitters, and few concessions to festooned paraphernalia which might have add weight and breakdown issues.

In sum, the perfect car for those used to ox-carts. Quite a distant car from the other automobiles wandering about. Furthermore, if it is true that early Ts still looked a lot like coeval cars on the outside, it is also true that when really fast production started, evolutions of the original Ts began to seem more distinct from other autos than earlier models. And what was good for Ford, was good for all others too.

Thus, those aforementioned “nautical-like” bodies (in truth, evolution of a time-honored construction method which had deep roots in the carriage trade, but perfectioned under chain assembly principles) began to show in sizable numbers once Fords adopted them, as an acceptable way to simplify body construction. The lack of needless glittering metal became an industry-wide phenomenon just when Fords replaced their brass radiators with painted units, and so on. Maybe the basis behind these upsetting novelties weren’t a Ford exclusive, but arguably they met public (and industrialists’ ) favor once Ford made them so popular. And as anticipated, once Ford T put Americans on wheels, its impact began to make inroads in Europe as well: much simplified bodies, with more integrated volumes and easy-to-produce main sheet metal, relative lack of bright decorations, smaller wheels and so on were all part of T’ original features.

The Ford T overturned the previous automobiles’ approach regarding both the production and the styling, and for a while popular priced American cars were likely the best representatives of the “form must follows the function” credo, albeit with some dilution and divergence from this: no American cars was ever on the verge of appear so stark and Spartan as to be considered sort of motorized lunacy – at least, not at a level of later Ts.

The Fords were, in any case, studied to provide affordable motif power for a new kind of clientele.

A clientele unwilling to consider cars as toys, and more inclined to call them a life support item.

From Ford Ts on, it was clear that the same route had to be taken also by others in America: the Overland, and even more the 490, with their clean, basic lines maybe traded sheer personality for more trivial shapes, but surely made possible for lots of people to take part at a dream come true: owning and driving a car.

It is difficult to imagine that without the standardization, without the mass production, without the simplified industrial processes, all this could ever happened: to better understand this, just look at those spectacular but labor-intensive European creations, look at their exquisite but slow to dry paint, look at their cornucopia of accessories; and then compare them with the fairly simple American designs, their comparatively large but roomy bodies, their almost Spartan but still well refined interior appointments, their sturdy-yet-elegant flavor.

And if those Transatlantic models gathered in Desenzano’ downtown would’ve been left with their hoods opened up, it would’ve also been possible to better discover most of their inner secrets, showing once and for all, that as early as 1910s most important keywords in production automobiles were becoming things like engineering simplicity, time-proven mechanicals and parts interchangeability.

Also overbuilt components were a part of the equation, especially considering the artillery wheels so often associated with American vehicles. For some of the worst roads (tracks, indeed, if not quagmires) ever to be found in some of the States back then, they were the only acceptable mean to deliver power to the ground; everything else, especially the wire wheels which were already becoming a common trait of Euro cars, wasn’t so well fit for that role.

Only in later years also Old World industry would’ve accepted some of these principles, and then not in the grandiose way America did.

After this “study” of sort, it is easier to understand why American cars were able to offer to the masses the proverbial “more bang for the bucks”, and why Europeans had to follow the same path. Naturally, all of us car lovers had benefited since then from this Detroit’ forma mentis, and so it is no surprise to see that a century or so after they left the factory, those American autos were still eager to gobble miles of crowded roads.

Speaking of what was visible in and out Desenzano in that hot sunny Sunday, American cars aside, whose dependability should have been out of question for the aforementioned reasons, what surprised me most, however, was the apparent nonchalance exhibited by older European chariots too, while running through a really enthusiast crowd: limited amount of noise, reasonably limited amount of smoke, negligible amount of starting issues – and never-ending amount of charme and innate sympathy made them folks’ winners. Maybe unsuspecting onlookers didn’t imagine such a charismatic behavior, with century-old cars still good to run with surefooted speed, with surefooted handling. But while expert drivers deserve kudos for this splendid essay of old-style motoring, let’s not forget the hidden qualities of their mounts, so good that also a full 100 years after their everyday life can still show something to the whole world. This alone explains why automobile became the 20th Century symbol.

One last consideration: also those precious motorbikes accompanying this motorcade were superb essays of motor history, teaching an interesting corollary lesson in the development of self-propelled means of transportation. This time, also some nice British models were part of the group, and they offered an intriguing look at the fascinating world of the pioneering motorized two wheelers. But there were also numerous Harleys, including one surprising sidecar used as a taxi in Italy. All of them deserved lots of attention, and surely they too were (and continue to be) a proper symbol of past century.

A glorious Henderson full of patina.

Before concluding this fascinating time travel, a look at the surrounding scenario is necessary. Without doubts, that glorious landscape was really as perfect as it gets, and those cars which parked with the lake behind them offered arguably one of the most romantic visions of the year. But even without cars in the nearby, Garda Lake was really a most irresistible proposition for whoever has a penchant for romanticism.

That wouldn’t be the last time I would’ve seen that water landmark offering a viable backgrounds to some delicious old cars – and in the same month, that is. But that’s another story, a story which is worthy for another narration.

The Unic parked with a glorious scenario behind it.