One evening a few weeks ago, Martine and I took a stroll over to Piazza Navona, in Rome. As we negotiated the narrow passageway into the piazza from corso Vittorio Emanuele II, I noticed things seemed a little more crowed than usual. In the piazza, the periphery on the west side was cordoned off with metal barricades, as if they were expecting a parade, or maybe a demonstration. While a few distracted cops made a half-hearted attempt to keep the path clear, I heard a throaty roar from the north end of the piazza.

Roadster Rally, Piazza Navona, RomeAs the sound grew closer, the cops swept people back behind the barriers. I pushed to the front of the crowd to see what was coming, just as an old roadster from the 1930s roared into view, headlights blazing in the fading light. What a beauty! Behind it was a small red roadster, probably something Italian from the 1950s. Behind that was another roadster, then another.

Apparently there was some kind of roadster rally going on. Not a racing rally, more like a parade rally. The cars would stop, gun their engines, then surge ahead a few dozen feet and stop again. Occasionally someone would let a large gap open in front of them so they could stomp on the gas and close the gap in a thundering roar.

I’m no car expert. In fact, I’m pretty much against most auto racing because I see it as a loud and polluting exercise in irresponsible excess. But there’s something about a two-seater roadster that just gets to me.

Roadster Rally, Piazza Navona, RomeIt has nothing to do with speed. I don’t need them to go fast. But I love the styling and the connection with the road you feel in a small, open-air, two seater convertible. Especially the old ones with their loud spluttering engines. Those old engines are terribly inefficient, and they blow a lot of smoke, but the sound of those dual exhausts almost makes global warming worth it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever own a two seater roadster. One of my favorites is the Triumph Spitfire from the 1960s. Terrible cars, really. Unreliable, always breaking down, unsafe at any speed, and pretty gutless with that little 1300 cc engine spitting out about 80 horsepower. But what a feeling when you’re tearing down the street and your ass is only about six inches off the ground. All the knobs, dials, and switches are in miniature, and everything is entirely mechanical. No computers, no sophisticated electronics. Just an internal combustion engine banging away, inches from your foot, entirely at the will of that foot and a few mechanical linkages.

I can dream. In the meantime, I was a beautiful sight that evening in Piazza Navona. There were dozens of cars in the rally, mostly antiques. They seemed to be doing a loop through some surrounding streets, because two hours later we passed through the piazza again, and there were still some roadsters doing the circuit. Later still, around midnight, a few of the very dedicated ones were still going around.

rallyNaturally I took pictures. As you can imagine, taking pictures of moving vehicles at night isn’t easy. But I got some nice dream-like ones, with motion blurs and other strange effects. My favorite is here (this week’s Monday Morning Photo Blog entry) and some others are on Flickr, starting here.

3 thoughts on “Vrrrrroooooommmm!!!

  1. Well, that Quebec-based company ZENN motors is making some electric ones nowadays…i’d love to see an electric version of the Smart roadster (currently only available in Europe.)

  2. Your picture evokes memories of the opening scene of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where Chitty is featured as it’s former racing car self. I remember drawing in my own “speed/action” blurred lines in my coloring book. Fantasmagorical!

  3. The Triumph Spitfire! I remember, at the ripe old age of sixteen, being taken in one from Verdun to downtown Montreal over the Bonaventure. My girlfriend had kindly gotten into the rumble seat and her brother (a young man in the process of becoming some sort of doctor) was driving. It was his car. It was red. The hood was down. The Bonaventure was (as usual) empty. The engine buzzed noisily in front of us. And my ass was, or felt like it was two millimeters from the road! It was the closest I have ever come to driving on a race track. And I will always be gratefull to Molly and her brother whose name I have forgoten for giving me that memory.
    Years later, I was looking for a second hand car in a used car lot. Lo and behold, propped up in the back of the garage, I saw a little green Triumph with the place in which its little engine should have sat, laid bare. For a moment, before practicality and necessity overrode teenage memories, I thought of running in to ask how much it cost.

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