I never thought I would be a driver. I loved speed and mechanics, but I never imagined that I would have a career in racing. My family worked in the construction field, and my father made no mystery of the fact that one day I was to carry on the business.
And in fact, it all happened by chance, after the first race, the Coppa FISA d’Autunno in Monza. I still remember the exact date: 14th June 1962. I was racing in the family Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce, wearing race number 300, and I stood my ground against the many more expert drivers and more competitive cars in the race.
At that time, the benchmark car was the Giulietta SZ, and after that first race I convinced my father to buy the one that I call the “drop” model, with the round tail.
It was white, and to give it a sportier look I painted coloured circles on the bodywork where the race numbers could be applied. The circles were orange or green, and I matched them with a set of wheels in the same colour. I remember that all this work was done at the Pirovano body shop in Erba. The owner’s son was a friend of mine, and on Saturday afternoons, when the business was closed, we could use all the equipment to freely express all our creativity. I also remember that they were the first in the area to have a jig for repairing the Giulietta. It all seemed like science fiction.
The first race I took part in with the SZ was the 1963 Coppa Intereuropa. Then I went on to the Tour de Corse, which went something like this: first bend, second bend, end. I went off the road. It was really embarrassing, and you have no idea how difficult it was getting the car home. Then Mario Angiolini, founder of the Jolly Club, called me. He was one of those people who at the time we called “patrons”. Just like in the art world, he was someone who scouted and supported talented young drivers. And he gave me the chance to take part in the Rally of Sardinia, and paid for the petrol, the trip and the hotel.
It was my first official engagement, and I was in seventh heaven. I came first in the “GT up to 1300” category.
A few days later, a registered letter addressed to me was delivered to my house (in Civenna, in the province of Como ed.). My mother signed for it. “Here,” she said, “let’s see what you’ve been up to this time.” I was twenty years old, and I must admit I was a bit of a tearaway. In the envelope there was a cheque for 1,750,000 lire: it was the prize money from the Rally of Sardinia. To give you an idea, the average salary of a worker at that time was around 80,000 lire.
I was still getting over the joy of feeling like a professional driver when I received a phone call from the Jolly Club. They asked me to go in as soon as possible and hand over the cheque, because the prize money belonged to the Club and not the driver. I went in the following Wednesday, in the evening, when the weekly meetings were usually held. I found myself in a room with some of the legends of the time, drivers who raced in some of the most important competition cars. Mario Angiolini was there too.
Well, I’d always been a bit of a rebel and so in front of everyone I said that the cheque had my name on it, so it was mine.
I left, closing the door behind me, certain that that was the end of my career. Waiting for me in the car downstairs was Anna, my future wife. At that moment, I had my whole life ahead of me.
(To be continued…)