Interview with Mario Belati Mario Belati
by Ruggiero Capone
An economist, banking expert, and world-class manager, Mario Belati appears the classic man of letters, always wearing an unadorned suit and tie. Nevertheless, every strong man has his weak point: in this case, historic automobiles. Mario Belati dedicates his spare time to this passion and this website is a pledge of his love. In this interview, we’ll look into the human aspects hidden in the metal.
I visited your website “A car, its history, many stories
How did this passion arise in you? Is it connected to a sporting past, to a real thrill of speed?
This passion is rarely connected to a win in the racetrack or to having the money for a very expensive car. It is something that struck many of us who were young during the economic boom, when people stopped to look at the modifications that a neighbour had made to his Fiat 600, or simply admired a Giulietta Sprint parked in front of a bar or in a car showroom.
These were our dreams: We were anxious to work, to gain and, with some little sacrifices, to travel by car. And because in the movies everybody had a car, we just wanted to keep up.
Erano i sogni di noi italiani, gente a cui premeva lavorare, guadagnare e,
con qualche sacrificio, poter girare in auto. E poichè vedevamo che nei film le auto
le avevano tutti, anche noi non si voleva essere da meno.
My love for cars and motor racing started when I was a boy. My father loved this sport, too; he bought some magazines and told me wonderful stories of legendary drivers and races between the two World Wars; of people who, with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver in their hands, were able to restart in the most desperate situations. Today all this doesn’t exist anymore. Today we’re in the on-board computers era. However, among the historic car lovers we try to keep the mythical four-wheel era alive.
Your baptism by fire?
When I was 6 years old, my father brought me to see the Tour of Umbria. I was especially impressed by the Maserati 2000 Sport driven by Luigi Musso. I still keep an autographed picture of Castellotti. Then I started to read some great motor magazines like “Quattroruote” and “L’auto italiana.” I ran to the newspaper stands to buy them. “L’auto italiana” was the first magazine I bought with my own money: the issue was dedicated to Ferrari 250 GTE with the first disc brakes.
Which car will be in your Hall of Fame forever?;
The car of my dreams has always been the Bizzarrini Strada 5300 with its curvaceous body. But I remember very well the Jolly Club Giulia Ti Super, driven by De Adamich. More than one car occupied my dreams. I remember the Giulia TZ 2: its Zagato design and chassis literally transformed the former TZ body. In November 2006, when I saw one in a friend’s collection, my heart skipped a beat!
In the same collection I saw a Road 33, a symbol of Scaglione style: I still hold onto some pictures of Susy Raganelli, daughter of the owner of the Alfa Romeo dealer in Rome, cruising around the city in her Road 33. But I have fulfilled some of my dreams. In 1975 I bought a Giulietta Spider (a used one, of course) and I still have the Raganelli plate, with the address in Montecitorio Square, just in front of the Parliament. The Giulietta Spider is still in my garage..
A car you let slip away?
I missed out on an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, which is a model of perfectly balanced proportions and aggression: a real giant feline. Unfortunately, somebody was quicker than me and bought it. Anyway, I get the same sensation driving the Giulietta Spider.
What did you feel when you bought your Giulietta Spider?
I was excited. It was assembled in 1961 and I bought it in 1975. At that time, the fans of historic cars were few in number. I soon decided that if I wasn’t going to restore it or drive it anymore, I’d transform it into a sculpture, into an object to be exhibited in the living room. My Giulietta Spider is still like this.
It is a work of art perfectly corresponding to the canons of twentieth century, so I’d display it in the living room. The Giulietta is much more graceful than its stylistic ancestor, Lancia Aurelia B 24: both designed by Pininfarina, in close succession. Giulietta continued all the Aurelia’s stylistic traits, but improved and increased them. At that time, Pininfarina worked for nearly all the Italian automobile manufacturers, infusing his style into each model. Now many people identify Pininfarina with the Ferrari myth, as the body manufacturer Scaglietti from Modena who, in the same period, worked on the Ferrari Sports.
Do you think that people who love a beautiful auto body are afraid to destroy it during a race?
Some cars are born for racing and others are born for dreaming, and sometimes the two coincide. In the Fifties and Sixties, motor racing represented a passion involving all Italians, like football today. At that time, motor racing was quite popular. There were city racetracks, many drivers, and more than once I came close to buying a racing car. Unlike today, fifty years ago motor racing was much less expensive. Obviously, now we can’t race as we did fifty years ago; it’d be ridiculous and anachronistic. Drivers were handymen, they knew about mechanics, body work, wiring, and they were able to start over with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Today this philosophy is inapplicable, but it survives in the historic automobile competitions.
Did you finally buy a racing car?
Yes. I signed up with the Milan Jolly Club Racing Stable, which was starting an important venture with Lancia automobiles. I bought the very first sports car derived from Lancia mass production after Aurelia’s success: the Flavia HF, a very difficult car to drive. It was assembled into 25 different models, developed by Bosato, that ran in the great long-distance races of12 and 24 hours with Frescobaldi, Cella and other gentlemen drivers of that period.
When I had an accident, I was forced to get rid of it, reluctantly. Then I bought a more manageable Fulvia HF. However, the Flavia still calls out to me when, on the road that carries me home to my beloved Umbria, I shoot past it in a new car or in my dear Giulietta. The Flavia, despite itself, is still proud. And it is not jealous, although it has been stripped of its mechanical jewels. Now it functions as a henhouse for a peasant who has salvaged it in a very odd way.
When I bid farewell to the world of racing, I had to work in a bank. But every once in a while the idea of the freedom that just a ride in my Spider could bring me would pop into my mind. In front of a grey desk, my heart was gladdened, thinking that some day I’d repair the car of my dreams, and I’d enjoy the roads of my youth once again.
Now on this website I’m trying to gather all those who really share this enthusiasm for the plates. And those who have great stories to tell. We know that a lost love always keeps a magical place in our hearts.
Therefore, I invite all of our visitors to work hard on their stories. Stories full of feelings, ecstatic nostalgia, worthy of that futuristic dream that marked the Short Twentieth Century.