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A Maserati, A Puncture, A Prince, A Palace, A Race, A Strike, and More in this Month’s Letter from Europe

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SEE ALSO:Maserati Buyers Guide

Letter from Europe
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

London June 14, 2007; Virgin Atlantic’s Flight VS 20 from San Francisco, was, as always on time. My problems didn’t really start until I’ve reached The Auto Channel’s European HQ in London.

Getting everything ready for Modena and Monaco was pretty hectic as was leaving for London’s Gatwick Airport at 5 o’clock in the morning. I had a feeling that something was wrong when I saw thousands of people making frantic telephone calls.

Our good friends the Italian air traffic controllers decided to stage a half day strike for reasons I know not. Anyway, a 400 dollar upgrade secured the last seat on the later flight to Bologna.

Things were getting fraught, the Maserati people were waiting for me and I had a long drive ahead of me to final destination-Monaco.

Oh, further dramas before departure! There I was standing on an escalator on the way up to the departure lounge when the lady ahead caught her high heels in one of the grooves and started to roll rapidly backwards.

Enters The Auto Channel’s own Superman who catches the flying object before she had a chance to roll all the way down to the bottom taking 25 other people with her! “Well done” said the British Airways captain who was standing behind me and was rather grateful for my rapid intervention.

Anyway, finally we left, made it to Bologna, on to Modena and to the factory. Old friend Luca dal Monte and his colleague the ever-helpful Andrea Chittadini were still there and waved me on my way.

The Maserati Quattroporte is a beautiful big car rapidly gaining recognition in the United States. The bit it played in the award winning TV series 24 certainly helped. Not only has it very distinctive looks it also has that “what is it?” factor as the numbers compared to BMW and Mercedes are miniscule.

Off I went on the by now familiar route to Genoa and to the South of France just across the border. The car was running beautifully, I was sitting in total comfort listening to the radio when disaster struck!

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I pulled up outside the Casino in Menton to ask whether to take a short cut when the doorman said-“Monsieur, you have a puncture.” I thought I wasn’t hearing it right. Look he said, pointing to the huge gash which I must have collected trying to navigate through innumerable road works. Must admit, by this time it was well after midnight, I haven’t slept for 72 hours and was completely wiped out. There was absolutely no way I could have put on the tiny spare.

Enters Frederico Pascolo, the most helpful man I’ve met in a long time. He had on an immaculate suite, lots of security bits and bobs, wires everywhere and yet, he got on his hands and knees and changed the tire. Afterwards he wouldn’t even accept a cent! “I am Italian” he said, “This is an Italian car, I am happy to help.”

God bless you Sir! I should add that the jack was from the 19th century, something Maserati will have to look at. Finally at around 2 in the morning I crawled into Monaco and TACH’s regular haunt, the Meridien Beach Plaza.

Wednesday, as always, was spent picking up the accreditation and other papers associated with the race. Thursday on the hand was something very special indeed! Senior Editor Nicholas Frankl and I were the lucky recipients of two tickets for the world premiere of Ocean 13 in Cannes.

The film festival is always a pretty hectic affair but having Clooney, Pitt and the gang there guaranteed total mayhem. There were “suggested parking places” a good 5 miles away but in view of the Maserati s sheer presence we decided to proceed towards the cinema.

The French riot police are not known for their charm and understanding but even they knew a great car when they saw one. Bored by the sight of the “official” and bland Audis they waved us through until we ended in the parking underneath the cinema itself. The red carpet was something I’ve never experienced before it was huge fun as well. The after party was the usual mayhem but fun, nevertheless.

Once more roads opened before the Maserati a bit like the Red Sea in the Bible. After this things should have been going rapidly downhill but the best was still to come! Friday afternoon a rather smart looking gentleman arrived from the Palace in Monaco bearing a hand written invitation from Prince Albert to his private garden party.

I cannot, in all sincerity pretend that it was due to the enormous influence of The Auto Channel; after all there were no media people present. No, this one was due to the personal friendship between Prince Albert and my son. They raced against each other in three consecutive Winter Olympics and while these days both of them have retired, the friendship remains.

So once more the faithful Maserati was on duty, taking us up to the square just outside the Palace. To say that it was a magnificent occasion is probably an understatement-it was magic. A bit like an operetta by Franz Lehar-it had everything.

The champagne was flowing, the band was playing and lots of lovely people mingled to the delight of all concerned. I must admit that going back down the hill afterwards was a bit of a let down. Still, it was and remains something to cherish and remember for a long time.

The race.

The Monaco Grand Prix was a boring procession but it didn’t seem to bother the mindless rich who congregated in the various clubs drinking Crystal champagne until 6 in the morning at 1000 dollars a bottle. Pathetic if you ask me.

On Monday it was time to pack and head back to Modena. You would have thought that with all the hassle on the way out things would get better on the way back. Not a bit.

As a result of fire on the French autoroute all cars and trucks had to crawl for hours on minor roads until we reached Italy. Still, we made it back with the Maser unscathed.

The verdict: a wonderful car with a glorious 4.2 liter Ferrari engine. Made for high-powered businessmen to travel in total comfort and safety. Great ride, great handling, reasonable fuel consumption.

Negatives- the jack and also the lack of luggage space. You and three friends will not go to play golf in it-the trunk is too small. If you are a tennis player then it is perfect. The voice navigation is excellent, the map less so.

The following morning we went to Ferrari for our annual visit. There were no cars to drive this time, everything was being prepared for the company’s 60th anniversary. So instead we had a fascinating chat with their marketing people about the planned theme park in Abu Dhabi and all the stores they are opening world wide.

After an excellent lunch at the new Maranello village we went to the test track where we came across a fascinating young Chinese gentleman. Rick is an IT tycoon in Shanghai. He attended the first Chinese Grand Prix and fell in love with the sport. Bit like the guy with the Remington razor, he liked the winning car so much he bought it!

It was in fact Michael Schumacher’s which just added to the excitement. So there we were at the Fiorano test track just as Rick was getting into his newly purchased (well over 1 million dollars but who is counting?!) Ferrari Formula One car. He was so nervous he could hardly get into his dream. Still, once he was in the mechanics buckled him in and he was off. Well, sort of. The lap record at Fiorano stands at around 55 seconds; he went round in a truly miserable 1 minute 25 seconds. Still, getting out of the car he was smiling like a Cheshire cat. Talk about fulfilling a dream!

Next day it was time to visit Lamborghini just down the road but that, as they say, is a different story. (which you can read- CLICK HERE)

More from Europe soon.