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Modena, Capital of Motor Valley: the “Speedholics” Place of the Soul

Emilia Romagna is an ancient land of motors. Engineer Luigi Marmiroli traces back the historical and cultural reasons underlying the tradition and passion that has made this Northern Italian region unique for over a century.

Pictures courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive

“Speed” was born in Emilia Romagna. Renowned worldwide as the Motor Valley, it lies on the Po River Plain in Northern Italy. Modena, AKA the Land of Motors, is its moral capital: here in late May every year, the Motor Valley Fest is held.

The whole area is bursting with a huge passion for car and motorbike racing, for supercars and high-performing engines.

No other region in the world has such a large number of top-range car manufacturers, international racing circuits, famous museums and private collections, as well as research centres, universities and schools that focus on this topic.

On top of this, especially in the recent past, the motoring culture has really spread everywhere. In small towns and villages, rudimentary testing workshops were set up without any particular engineering knowledge. Here, people worked on engines of all kinds, their sole objective being to increase vehicle performance, within or without the limits of the law.

In this respect, I have come up with my own personal theory to explain how this area is so filled with mechanical and motoring culture.

The first reason: as said, Emilia Romagna is a very flat region, and rich in rivers it was ideal for the development of a flourishing farming community over the centuries. Consequently, it was bound to become a land of conquest. In 600 B.C. it was invaded by the Etruscans from the south-east; thereafter came the Celts and Gauls from Northern Europe. Then the Roman Empire took over, in turn conquered in 450 A.D. by the Huns, nomadic warriors from Northern Siberia. Then, two hundred years later came the Longobards from Northern Germany. This melting pot left the local people with a DNA that combines the creativity and passion typical of southern peoples with the rationality and determination of the peoples from the north. And the Emilian supercars are the happy marriage of these characteristics.

The second reason: this flat, fertile land was ideal for the transition from ox- and horse-towed agricultural equipment to mechanical traction and the first rudimentary steam-powered tractors. And in this “primordial soup”, two enlightened visionaries came up with some fast sports and racing cars.

In 1914, Alfieri Maserati founded “Società Anonima Officine Maserati” in Bologna, later moving to Modena. In 1929, Enzo Ferrari founded Scuderia Ferrari, with the initials “S.F.” in the symbol. The company became S.E.F.A.C, and this year is celebrating its 75th anniversary. In 1963, Lamborghini shifted its production straight from tractors to supercars.

This vintage postcard rather naively illustrates the bond between the world of sports and racing cars and the city of Modena. Alongside the city’s Cathedral and Ghirlandina Tower are its typical food products, zampone and Lambrusco, and of course car racing competitions. In the Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site and an authentic age-old gallery of “marble images”, we can admire panels portraying the wheat harvest, grape pressing and even a mechanical workshop.

As Enzo Ferrari liked to say, “You can’t describe emotion, you can only live it”.

In Emilia Romagna, the 7 top-class car and motorbike manufacturers, the 5 international race tracks, 12 major museums and over 20 private collections open to the public tickle that thrilling desire for speed that only “speedholics” understand. And, after all these motoring experiences, I don’t think there’s anything better than sitting down to enjoy the over 40 typical PDO food and wine specialities that underline this region’s second nickname: Food Valley.

To close, a photo of me, taken during an annual Motorvalley Fest: some car bodies, shaped by hand by the skilled local craftsmen, are on display in an ancient church. We could almost say that in this region, speed and supercars are a real … religion!


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