The other day, Roberto Goldoni called me up to announce that he was in the City of Angels, and could we get together? We had dinner.
Roberto Goldoni, Alitalia's Senior Captain, is tall and quite distinguished looking with his full Roman nose, full beard and full head of hair now turned snow white.
As we enjoyed our leisurely repast, Goldoni left us with many examples of Roman wisdom in his deep baritone voice. (An example, as a very stylish young thing passed our table, "A thin woman is like trousers with no pockets; you don't know where to put your hands"). Toward the end of the evening, Roberto suggested that Phoebe and I spend our vacation at his beach house, 60 miles from Rome. He described it as "like Malibu". Maybe we will.
Unless your name is George Neutill, Dick Merritt, Lyle Tanner, or Gordon Culp, you probably will not have met Roberto Goldoni. He is 55 now, but I first met him when he was 16. He was an exchange student, spending a year of his life going to John Marshall High School in Los Angeles while residing with my parents-in-law.
I must have been 31, my third son had just been born, and I had owned the usual assortment of hot rods, VW's, MG's, Austin-Healey's, and Jaguars when I first met Bob. During the 39 years that I have known him, Roberto has seen me through 2 marriages and over 100 Ferraris. He was responsible for quite a few of them. (Ferraris, not marriages).
It happened this way: In 1959, 3 years after I had first met him, I went to Europe, taking the grand tour from England, through the continent, ending up in Rome. We spent a few days at his family's apartment on Via Flaminia Nuova (his parents are now dead, but he still owns the apartment, and I still remember the address by heart). It was my first trip to Europe. I had been advised to "buy a car", as the economics were such that I was almost sure to have some fun and make some money. On the very last day of our European vacation, Roberto took me around to some of the dealers in Rome who might have used Ferraris on hand. At our final stop of the day, we found what was to become my first Ferrari.
Ah, now you get the connection! Remember, in an earlier episode, I told you about the "sale by terror" which caused me to buy my very first Ferrari. Yes, Roberto was responsible.
After I sold that first Ferrari, and made a nice profit, Roberto and I agreed that he would look for Ferraris to buy in Rome, he would handle the transaction at the Italian end, and I would supply the funds and sell the car over here, after giving it whatever work it needed. If there was a profit, we would share it in some fashion. I never did figure out a way to share with him the fun that I had importing all those cars from Italy!
After he had sent me a few cars, I began to realize that his descriptions uniformly said: "In very good over-all conditions". Some of them were not. One in particular, a short wheel-base berlinetta, was in such terrible condition when it arrived that I can't put the image out of my mind.
When we had dinner the other evening, I gently chided Roberto about that turkey, and a few others almost as bad, and he gave me another bit of Roman wisdom: "In Italy, there are only two kinds of Ferraris; new and used!" It reminded me of Dean Batchelor's expression. "There are only four kinds of wine: Red and white, good and bad."
It was after the short wheel-base berlinetta arrived in such outrageously poor condition that I devised a check list, on which Roberto could grade every part of a car on a scale of 1 to 10. In all honesty, I must confess it didn't help much.
The short wheel-base berlinetta of which we are speaking bore serial number 2689, and it was an alloy-bodied berlinetta of 1961 vintage. With the car came the Carta di Circulazione, the Ita