What is luxury? Often, there are contrasting responses to this question some leading to great misunderstanding. In the car industry, it gets even more confusing when distinguishing premium and luxury. Every high-end brand produce models that range from premium to luxury.
When I think of true makers of luxury cars, Italy, Britain, Germany and France come to mind. These are the makers of the Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maybach, Bugatti, Ford, Chevrolet and Alfa Romeo.
Luxury has been described as ‘‘a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense.’’
For me luxury goes beyond product. It is an event, an experience, a feeling that creates a memory so powerful it will be etched permanently in my mind. A visit the Alfa Romeo Museum in Italy was on to my bucketlist, I was like a child in a candy store. The luxury event placed highest on my bucket list is the annual 1,000 Mille Miglia race from Brescia to Rome and back.
It is the most prestigious road race in the world and brings together some of the greatest classic cars, all passionately maintained to perform in the 1000 mile (1,600km) event. Every car lover of repute want to participate and it costs thousands of dollars.
While in Italy, visit the Brescia square where the first 1,000 Miglia was held on December 2, 1926. Alfa Romeo dominated this race from the start until 1947 when Ferrari took over with the Ferrari 166S Coup and MM Spider in 1948 and 1949 respectively. This race remained an Italian affair until 1955 when the Mercedes Benz 300 SLR won with an average speed of 157kph, the fastest ever recorded in an impressive time of 10:07’48”.
Last month, the legendary race attracted 373 masterpieces including a 1950 Bugatti 101C, a 1949 jaguar XK 120 OTS lightweight and many Alfas.
Back to Alfa Romeo. I discovered so much about the marque that I am hoping for its return to Kenya. I got a personalised tour, conducted in Italian accent, smelt the metal, wood and leather on the first vehicles they hand-built.
Alfa was a well-organised and efficient industrial company, able to produce cars, aircraft engines and heavy duty vehicles but it was not until the Scuderia Ferrari era that it enjoyed great success as a brand with the 6C 2300, 6C 2500, 8C 2300 and the 8c 2900B.
Alfa Romeo has gone through many tough times and in 1986 FIAT came to its rescue with a timely buyout. Depending on your age, you may remember the Alfasud and Alfetta from the 80s. Later we saw the Alfa 147,155 and 156. Today, we have the modern 4C, 8C Competizione, Mito and Giulietta doing well in certain markets.
The gorgeous 8C Competizione, conceptualised in 2003, was produced between 2007 and 2010, so you could import it today. With eight cylinders, as the name suggests, it was an instant hit and received 1,400 orders as soon as Alfa announced it would produce the vehicle. Numbers were however limited to only 500 units, making it even more precious.
The fact that it used Maserati and Ferrari components and powertrains could not hurt much. In case you are interested, its top speed is a modest 292kph and you will be cruising at 100kph in just 4.2 seconds. Fuel consumption? If you have to ask, you do not deserve the vehicle. For planning purposes only, I will reveal that 16.25 litres will get you 100km away.
A visit to the four floor museum will take you back in time to 1910. You will see the ALFA R—Targo Florio as well as the ALFA Gp Tipo P2. I was very impressed by the creativity of the ALFA 40/60 Aerodinimica prototype.
This egg-shaped, full aluminium body, with a four- cylinder 6082cc engine producing only 70hp was able to achieve 136kph. It was six meters long with no ventilation to speak of. Only one example was built. Every level in the museum showcases one aspect of Alfa Romeo starting with history, beauty and speed on the lower floors.
Italy is surely the home of luxury.