The History of Motor Racing in Reggio Emilia
Motor racing before the Great War: from the
foundation of the Automobile Club to the regime
In Reggio Emilia, motor racing was born as the product of local racing competitions. In 1899, on the occasion of the Spallanzaniane Celebrations, a race was arranged to take place between the cities of Reggio and Guastalla. It was won by Bugatti, who rode a Stucchi-Prinetti tricycle. The first car to appear in Reggio would be registered only three years later.
In 1922 the Reggio Auto Motor Club (AMCR), founded in 1920, started sponsoring a series of sports activities, beginning with a Motorcycle Tournament. In July 1923 the 1st edition of the S. Croce Race took place, an event which would be held on a yearly basis until 1928.
The first car race, a "full-speed half kilometer", was run in April 1926 and won by Tassi's Itala, which reached the surprising average speed of 121.4 km/h. It was no small victory considering that road conditions were not exactly pristine, and that the main road was actually unpaved. Count Vittorino Palazzi (OM) won the "Turismo 2000" category, while Igino Marconi won the "2000cc" category with an Alfa Romeo, followed by William Raisini on a Lancia Lambda. They would later become the managers of the Reggio Automobile Club. However, the highlight of the day was an exceptional performance offered by a Canguro single-seater, built and driven by Giuseppe Giovanardi: with its small 350cc Brasdaw engine, it maintained an average speed of 86 km/h.
In terms of motor sports events, 1926 started with the Santa Croce Motorcycle Race and ended with the Auto-Motorcycle Provincial Championship - the first race to be organized by the recently-founded Reggio A.C. in collaboration with AMCR. The competition covered a distance of 10 kilometers along the main road connecting Canali, Fola, Cavazzone and Fattoria Cavazzone. Interestingly enough, even though this was just the beginning of organized racing, the competition was provided with road signs and police service.
In 1927 the Brescia Automobile Club, in collaboration with Reggio's RACI and the Fascist Federations of the individual provinces involved, organized a race which would leave a permanent mark in the history of international car racing: the Mille Miglia Cup. For Reggio, like any other city involved in the race, the event took on a double meaning: on one hand, it became the major sports event of the year; on the other, it was a tool designed to gain the approval of the general public and to promote the regime and its representatives. The race was organized by the Federal Secretary himself, who coordinated, supported and directed all preparations for the Cup. He also alerted the Militia and made sure they would be available to work as a sort of early "track commissioners".
The transit of vehicles along the road was greeted with joy and celebrations by the locals - a characteristic which would always distinguish the Mille Miglia from other races. Crowds of people would gather along the road and impatiently wait for the great drivers to pass by - a line of legendary names darting in front of their eyes: Borzacchini, Varzi, Caracciola and Campari, riding Fiats, Alfas and Bugattis.
The Mille Miglia represented the true highlight of the whole sports season.
Since no more races were held anywhere else in the county, fans and drivers would attend other competitions close at hand, like the Pozzo Race, which used to take place in Verona at the end of the 1920s. Nuvolari won this competition driving a Bugatti in 1928. Other popular races included the Parma-Poggio Berceto, an uphill street race.
In the meantime, drivers from Reggio were drawing a lot of attention to themselves by winning a number of national competitions.
Among these were Guido Barbieri, who won the Lecco-Maggio competition and the Ascoli Cup in 1935, and drivers Lasagni and Giovanardi, both from Reggio, who took part in the Tripoli Race in 1928.
It was only in 1935 that the RACI in Reggio achieved its first well-deserved success, when it organized the 1st Provincial Motor Race Championship, held on June 23. It was a different type of race, a combination of a "sports event on a circuit, a regularity race" and a "sprint race" which took place on a 160-km long road running through the villages of Reggio-Castelnovo-Monti-Vetto-S.Ilario-Reggio-Scandiano-Castellarano-Baiso. The last stretch of the competition involved an uphill sprint race along the main road connecting Cigarello and Castello di Carpineti.
The winner of the 1st Provincial Motor Race Championship was a young driver from Reggio, Franco Bertani, who would become the RACI's Head Manager later in 1939. He drove an Alfa Romeo 1750, equipped with a compressor, and outdistanced drivers like Tito Avanzini (driving a Balilla Sport), Nino Barbieri (on a Bugatti 1500) and Ferdinando Rebecchi (driving an Alfa Romeo 1500).
As the War drew closer, new, restrictive laws were issued in terms of road traffic and gas consumption, and as a consequence, local motor racing was forced to take a long break.
The post-war years: enthusiasm and reconstruction (1946-1957)
The organization of new sports events became an immediate priority for the Reggio Automobile Club, and a new Board was appointed. A new speed race was scheduled to take place downtown as early as May 26, following the route Viale Umberto 1- S. Pellegrino Bridge - S.Pellegrino Church -Viale Risorgimento (km 2.9). The race would be open to 700cc, 1100cc and 1500cc sports vehicles. Head manager Bertani was the main supporter of the event, and in the same year he would also prove himself a highly competent driver. In fact, he successfully participated in similar races held in Modena, Venice, Asti and Campione driving a Fiat 1100.
However, despite the time and effort that the Club put into the organization of events, things did not turn out to be very successful: the number of participants was often insufficient and most events never made it past the planning stage. Nevertheless, the number of sports enthusiasts kept growing, and after the horrors of the War a widespread need for fun and entertainment translated into the urge to get back onto the streets and race. The first postwar race would take place in Reggio Emilia only in the spring of 1949.
The 1st Reggio Circuit Race was held on May 8, 1949.
In Reggio, everything about motor racing was always done on the quiet, and most of the races were organized either on a local level or for Club members only. However, the town's drivers always proved themselves "ace drivers" - be it in hard competitions, regularity races, the Mille Miglia or in one of the many racetracks in Italy and abroad. Two of them, Bertani and Barbieri, are still the main reason behind the town's renowned fame in sports.
The establishment of an inner-city racetrack was an extremely important step for the promotion of motor sports in Reggio. Since there were no permanent tracks in the area, and only Monza could boast an active racing circuit, inner-city races had become standard practice. Following the example of races like the Mille Miglia - which had now been held for almost twenty years - or the older Targa Florio, local competitions became more and more common. Security requirements were certainly not comparable to modern-day standards - as may be seen from pictures taken at the time, where spectators were standing dangerously close to the racing vehicles, or where bales of hay were used as an all-purpose form of protection. The tragic accident which took place in Modena in 1947, when Bracco's vehicle - a Delage - veered off the road into the crowd killing five people, stands as a dreadful confirmation of what has been just said.
As we said, the 1st Reggio Circuit Race was doomed to be a one-time event. As a matter of fact, it would not have been possible to use the inner-city track again, or relocate the competition to the airport runway - like in Modena. There, the Aerodrome/Racetrack hosted very important competitions - including Formula One - until the Sixties.
However, due to the incredible success of the race, the Reggio Automobile Club's Board decided to expand the number of sports events it would be involved in. After resuming a long-time collaboration with the Reggio Motor Club, the Reggio A.C. organized an uphill speed race based on a successful competition which had been held the previous year, 1948.
Since its very first editions, characterized by the combination of cars and motorcycles, the competition was extremely popular. The start was set in Vezzo and the finish line in Casina. The ten extra kilometers added to the original race became a sort of "testing ground" for drivers from Reggio, a sort of standard by which the skills of the contestants would be judged year after year.
Starting from the 1954 edition, the success of the event was confirmed on one hand by the large number of participants (94 vehicles entering the race against the 30 vehicles recorded in the 1951 edition), and on the other by the clear predominance of cars over motorcycles (whose number had dropped down to 32 in 1954). By that time, the race had become popular enough to include prestigious vehicles, like the Ferrari 3000 driven by Giovanardi, from Modena, who got the upper hand on Bertoni's Maserati 2000. Some drivers from Reggio also stood out for their skills and prestige, as in the case of Renzo Cigarini (who drove a Lancia Aurelia B20) and Paolo Milanese (on a Fiat 1100 TV). The vehicles involved in the competition were extremely wide-ranging in make and size: from the tiny Isettas to the timeless Fiat 500 "Topolino", from the 1100 sports cars to the powerful Porches, Maseratis and Ferraris. In addition, a special category was created for propane-powered vehicles in different engine sizes.
The 1954 edition also marked the end of the first part of the Vezzo-Casina race history. In 1955 the race was cancelled after the tragic events of the 24 Hour Race of Le Mans, which called into question all future car races.
In 1956 a new law ruling out the organization of speed races on state highways meant that there would no longer be an uphill speed race in the area. The Sports Board of the Reggio Automobile Club, which was presided over by Guido Barbieri and included such members as Cigarini and Mario Bisi, immediately started looking for another location. In the end, they chose the street connecting Compiano to Vetto. 70 contestants entered the first edition of the race, confirming the extreme popularity of uphill competitions in those days.
The winner of the Compiano-Vetto was Pietro Pagliarini, who drove a Maserati at the average speed of 88.82 km/h. Pagliarini also won the second edition of the race, which took place two years later, in 1958. As a matter of fact, there would never be a Compiano-Vetto in 1957, due to a temporary suspension of all street races following De Portago's accident at the Mille Miglia in the same year. The dramatic events which took place in Guidizzolo in 1957 - where 2 drivers and 12 spectators lost their life - caused a strong emotional reaction to motor racing, a shock wave which would bring the legendary Mille Miglia to a sudden end. It also shed a bad light on motor racing in general, whose reputation had already been seriously tainted by the dramatic events of Le Mans two years earlier. All races scheduled to take place in Italy from March to July were cancelled by Government order and car manufacturers were portrayed as "profit-making serial killers" by the press. Enzo Ferrari ended up among the accused. During that sad month of June 1957, the Reggio Automobile Club joined a campaign supporting motor races with its own press release. In a way, what had happened marked the end of an era, which the Mille Miglia had so powerfully helped to create. This long period of widespread 'motor racing enthusiasm' had been the result of two separate historical moments: the first one - or the most "legendary" phase of sports motor racing - took place before the War, while the other - a time when motor racing was so popular that it contributed to a renewal of the nation and its hopes for the future - was a product of the post-war period.
Motor Racing in the Sixties
In 1957, the interruption of competitions in the county of Reggio marked a change in the generations of drivers coming from the area. The two "big names" of early car racing - Bertani and Barbieri - had now disappeared from the scene, while drivers like Cigarini and Bisi were still very popular. At the same time, new generations of younger drivers, like Aldo Ferrari, Luciano and Giorgio Lombardini, Achille Marzi, Romeo Galaverni, Romano and Giovanni Ferretti were enjoying increasing popularity. While the organization of speed races was still forbidden, the Automobile Club's Sports Event Board decided to focus on regularity races for a while. In May 1958 the 1st Automobile Tour of the County was held on a 160-km-long route passing through the towns of Gualtieri and Castelnuovo Monti, and ending at the Foro Boario in Reggio. The competition, which focused on speed regularity and precision at check-points (some of which were kept secret), allowed for a larger number of participants, as it did not require the use of specially-equipped vehicles. Unsurprisingly, it was an immediate success. 45 drivers entered the first edition of the Tour, which was won by two women: Lalla Ferrari and Anna Riva.
With its 1960 edition, the race was expanded to include a Tour of the Matildici Castles. At that time, a new group of drivers came on the scene: Achille Marzi in 1959 and 1961, Giovanni Ferretti in 1960 and Aldo Ferrari in 1962.
In the meantime, street races had been allowed again and in 1958 the 2nd edition of the Compiano-Vetto boasted as many as 84 participants. The race was won by Nando Pagliarini - brother of the winner of the 1st edition of the race - who drove a Maserati, while Cigarini, the highest-ranking driver from Reggio, came in fourth.
The 1959 edition of the Compiano-Vetto would be remembered as an unforgettable event. It was won by a young driver, whose name would become famous all over the world: Ludovico Scarfiotti, winner of the 1966 Formula 1 Championship in Monza. With his OSCA 1500 he got the better of Edoardo Lualdi by a mere second, and reached the remarkable average speed of 102.358 km/h. First among all drivers from Reggio - and provincial champion of the mountain race - was Romano Ferretti, who drove an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, while Marzi and Luciano Lombardini came in second place in their category.
The rise and success of a new group of drivers from Reggio encouraged a transformation in the Automobile Club's Sports Group, which soon changed its name into the "Tricolor Team". With Guido Barbieri himself as the first Team President, the "Tricolor Team" would support and promote car racing in Reggio for almost 25 years.
The last two editions of the Compiano-Vetto were held in 1960 and 1961, and won respectively by "Wal Ever" (Walter Breveglieri), on an OSCA 1500 and Mennato Boffa on a Maserati 2000. As we said, uphill street races had reached their peak of popularity by this time, and in Emilia-Romagna alone an incredible number of races were being organized, like the Bologna-S.Luca, the Fornovo-Monte Cassio, the Salsomaggiore-S.Antonio, the Castellarquato-Vernasca, and the Predappio-Rocca delle Caminate.
On the whole, vehicles were still reasonably priced at the time: a Fiat Abarth 750 convertible, for example, cost about £. 1,475,000 (26.2 million Lire today), a Giulietta Sprint was £. 2,600,000 (or 44.8 million Lire), while the price of a "race-ready" OSCA 1500 (the model vehicle which won the Compiano-Vetto) was £. 4,800,000 (or 85.2 million Lire).
At that time, the introduction on the market of the first go-karts - equipped with a small two-stroke 100cc or 270cc engine - gave rise to a new trend in sports and technology. Go-karts represented the competitive side of mass motorization: they were designed to appeal to younger customers, and thanks to their relatively low price (about £. 150,000) they were an instant success. Since go-karts only required small non-dedicated spaces for competitions, they suddenly became a stepping stone into the world of car racing for many aspiring drivers.
The new go-kart trend became quickly popular in Reggio, too: after a first competition organized at the Foro Boario, a permanent, dedicated track was built in the suburbs along via Emilia, in a village called Villa Cella (the actual "Marabù" area) where, starting in April 1962, the "Tricolor" kartodrome would be in business for over 10 years.
In 1963, the 11th edition of the Vezzano-Casina announced the resumption of all major racing events and, after being recognized as a qualifying competition for the Italian Championship, it brought even more prestige to the city of Reggio. The 120 vehicles participating in the race and a crowd of over 15,000 spectators confirmed the great success of the event. Vittorio Venturi won the competition driving an Albarth 1000 - doing better than more powerful vehicles like Colombo and Pagliarini's Ferrari GTC.
In the following years, the popularity of the Vezzano-Casina would keep growing: in 1967 the competition boasted nearly 250 participants - among whom were two young men who would be blessed with a long successful career in the field: Nanni Galli (on an Alfa Romeo Giulia) and Arturo Terziario (on a Fiat Abarth). An incredible variety of vehicles entered the event that year: Fiat 500s, Fiat 595s, Abarth 850s, Mini Coopers, Giulias, Fulvias and Abarth Sport, but also single-seaters like Monza 875s, K250s, Formula 850s and Formula 3s.
Unfortunately, during the race a small single-seater was involved in a very serious accident, which brought the legendary uphill race to a definite end. At the entrance of La Vecchia, a small local community, Walter Froldi's Biradi - n.52 - swerved to the left-hand of the road and then veered off into the crowd on the opposite side. 1 person was killed and 15 were injured - including the driver - in the accident, which was probably caused by a mechanical breakdown. Around the same time, another accident - an even more dramatic one - took place in Caserta and generated a series of debates against car racing. Eventually it would bring uphill street competitions in Reggio to an end.
The Seventies and Eighties
The prohibition against uphill speed races - among which the Vezzano-Cassina was unquestionably the most popular - led to the organization of new kinds of competitions, like "regularity" races. These races were the first examples of modern-day rallies. The 1st Rally of the Reggio Apennines was scheduled to take place in May 1968. However, bad luck was not yet over for sports in Reggio: in January 1968, while participating in the Montecarlo Rally with Sandro Munari on a Lancia Fulvia HF, Luciano Lombardini lost his life in a tragic accident in Yugoslavia. In recent years, he had been one of the leading figures of motor sports in Reggio. He had started out his career as a talented driver and had then become a co-pilot for many leading drivers. After winning the Spain Rally with Leo Cella in 1966 and the Oriental Alps Rally with Sandro Munari in 1967 (always as a member of the Lancia Team), Lombardini had achieved elite status in the ranks of national rally. The 1968 Montecarlo Rally would have brought his career to the highest levels of international rally competitions and would have paved his way to great success.
The 1st edition of the Reggio Apennines Rally was therefore dedicated to the departed champion, with the introduction of the Luciano Lombardini Trophy, which is still in use today. With 122 participants and great popular acclaim, the 1st edition of the race was an immediate success. Bruno Benetti, from the Genoa Grifone Team, won the competition on a Renault Gordini.
After the 3rd edition of the Reggio Apennines Rally, a long period of inactivity was to follow, hindering the organization of sports events in the area.
In 1978, a new Sports Events Board was appointed, with Romeo Antonio Galaverni as its President and a number of renowned drivers like Marzi, Cigarini and Luigi Pasini as its members.
In 1979 Vittorio Cigarini was appointed President of the "Tricolor Team" and among his first few undertakings as a President was the organization of a training course for race officers. In the following July, the Sports Events Board, in collaboration with director Guido Riccio, started planning the new schedule of Rally competitions.
This newfound interest for motor racing resulted in the 4th edition of the Reggio Apennines Rally - the 6th Luciano Lombardini Trophy - which was held in the summer of 1980.
The Reggio Apennines Rally
With the organization of new, longer rallies on the roads of Reggio and surrounding areas, the modern phase of motor racing events promoted by the Reggio Automobile Club finally began.
At a time when rally competitions were becoming increasingly popular, the Reggio Apennines Rally stood as proof of the incredibly varied number of skilled drivers in the local area. In fact, the competition would prove to be a very well-organized training ground for new drivers each year.
The era of "traditional" teams was now over and had given way to a time of newer "teams" - a time marked by massive commercial sponsorship, requiring a level of operative and managerial flexibility which would have been impossible to achieve for any public institution.
Another important page in the history of motor racing in Reggio was the separation of the Automobile Club from the "Tricolor Team", which would go out of business in the mid Eighties. During that decade, the involvement of the Automobile Club with motor racing events would be limited to the Apennine Rally.
After a first "invalid" edition in 1980 (significantly won by "Ragastas" and "Padimatteo", from Reggio, on a Lancia Stratos), the race soon became part of the National Rally Trophy, and before long it was officially recognized as valid for the Italian Championship. Nowadays it is actually a leading event among national rally competitions.
With its rich tradition of technical expertise and know-how, rallying has taken on the role of unofficial "promoter" of all motor racing categories and we could say that it now represents the "business card" of motor sports in Reggio. With as many as 14 editions, the Apennine Rally has become the most celebrated competition in Reggio, whose history stands as a true record of local motor racing. As such, it is sure to have many more pleasant surprises in store for us in the future.
A history of cars in Reggio
The foundation of the Reggio Automobile Club in 1926 represented an official recognition of the increasingly dynamic - and obvious - presence of vehicles in town and in the surrounding areas. At the time, the number of vehicles to be found in Reggio Emilia was rather limited. In 1899 a "Marchand Vehicle" would be the first car to make its appearance in town. It was driven by Mr. Ruini, from Milan, while Edoardo Sidoli, a pioneer driver in Reggio, was sitting on the passenger seat.
Lanzas, Cirano's Welleyes and Fiats were the first few cars to travel around town. Since 1902, when the very first car was registered in the county - a 1-cylinder De Dion Buton sold for £. 6,000 (or over 19,000 Euros) to Augusto Ricchetti, a merchant - the increase in the number of vehicles to be registered in the area seemed to mirror national trends. Three years later, in 1905, there were only five vehicles in the county of Reggio.
It was only after the end of World War I that the motorization of the country became a relevant phenomenon, and particularly in Reggio, where the economy was still closely tied to farming, and "Officine Reggiane" was the only industrial business existing in the area.
By the end of 1926 the number of vehicles registered in Reggio was just below 1,000, and the town ranked fifth among other towns in the region, after Bologna, Modena, Parma and Ferrara. However, the motorization of private citizens would prove to be a faster-growing phenomenon than the motorization of businesses.
Public transportation had been an issue for quite a while in Reggio: in 1923, the Town Hall had delegated the management of routes like Piazza Battisti-Railway Station-Porta S.Stefano - expanded to Reggio-Sesso and Reggio-S.Maurizio-Masone in 1925 - to SARSA, a transportation company founded in the previous year.
At the time, the use of vehicles was still a privilege closely related to social rank, and overall, cars were a luxury which only a handful of fortunate citizens could afford. However, the purchase of a vehicle for private use also represented the first step towards a more widespread distribution of such goods. In time, the common association of terms "driver-mechanic", which had sustained the motorization process since its very beginning, would become less common. "Chauffeurs" would slowly disappear from the scene to leave room to private drivers who also owned their vehicle. The figure of the specialized "mechanic", who could take care of his vehicle from top to bottom, gave way to that of the average driver, who could do some repairing but would sooner or later need to get technical assistance. The driver-customer was born.
Among the privileged group of vehicle owners - which in 1926 amounted to about 1,000 in Reggio and surrounding areas - the awareness of being part of an exclusive social class encouraged the formation of small associations.
Therefore, joining a club or an association entailed on one hand the recognition of one's privileged status, and on the other the assurance of the type of legal and technical services which had become indispensable to every driver. This is the main reason lying behind the foundation of the Automobile Club.
Local motor racing was born with the Reggio Automobile Club
The years between 1923 and 1927 were marked by drastic changes on many levels. From a legal point of view, 1923 is the year when rules like driving on the right side of the road and passing on the left became official, thus bringing a period of widespread confusion about traffic laws and of potential danger to an end. Other reforms were promoted on a fiscal level, like the introduction of a paper "road tax" stub, which replaced the metallic plate previously in use. In addition to that, the P.R.A. (Public Automobile Register) was founded, thanks to a Royal Decree Law dated March 15, 1927. In the same period, the Ministry of Finances delegated the collection of vehicle-related taxes to the Automobile Club. This is how the RACI - the Royal Automobile Club of Italy, which would supervise Italian drivers until 1946 - was born.
The first headquarters of the Reggio Automobile Club were established at Corso Cairoli 4. According to a Decree Law dated November 14, 1926, at the A.C. citizens could pay their "road taxes" and also pick up their license plates. Based on a system devised in 1904, license plates consisted simply of a number/abbreviation of the province (written in red), followed by a progressive number written in black. Therefore, in those days a typical license plate would have looked like this: 54 (Reggio Emilia) - 150.
From 1927 to 1935 the Mille Miglia was the only motor racing event dedicated to car enthusiasts. In Reggio, two well-known citizens like Councilor Spallanzani and associate Crotti participated in 1931 edition of the race.
In the early 1930s Reggio's RACI was relocated into a new main office at Palazzo Cassoli, in via Roma. The Royal Automobile Club of Italy's activity was very much determined by its President, Vittorino Palazzi, until he died in a car accident in December 1943. Palazzi had led the Reggio Automobile Club for 17 years, and after his death, on April 1, 1946, a new President was unanimously appointed: lawyer P. Carlo Salvarani.
In May 1949, after breaking through the board's reserve, the 1st Reggio Circuit was finally held. The race followed the Viale dei Mille-Porta Castello-Viale Montegrappa-Porta S. Pietro route, and since then, May 7 would remain a very important date for motor sports in Reggio. An incredibly large crowd of over 15,000 people was in town to attend the race, which ran smoothly, without any problem.
Thanks to the undeniable success of the sports events it had sponsored, the Reggio Automobile Club was now one of the most active Clubs in postwar Italy. In the following years, the Club would put a lot of time and effort into consolidating its position. (…) In 1950 funds for sports events were cut. At the time, the only competition the Club would sponsor was the uphill race, organized in collaboration with the Reggio Motor Club. This would allow the Club to focus on its Customer Assistance Office, which it could run with a near-monopoly both in town and in the county.
The revival of motor sports in the Eighties
The Eighties represented a rather difficult time for motor sports. In 1983, a new President, engineer Marco Franzoni, was appointed for the Sports Events Board of the Reggio Automobile Club. From that moment, the Board's efforts concentrated on resuming the organization of sports activities - like the 1980 Apennine Rally. However, local sports events were affected, as might be expected, by the profound evolution which motor sports were undergoing at the time.
As a matter of fact, the appearance on the scene of sponsors interested in investing money in the field meant that suitable choices had to be made. The condition of monopoly which the "Tricolor Team" had enjoyed so far was threatened by the sudden arrival of a number of sponsors and sports associations, which stood as proof of the extreme vitality of motor racing. New teams were founded in the county of Reggio, like the "Bora Team", located in Casalgrande, and the "Lupo Team", in Castelnuovo Monti.
The Automobile Club chose to collaborate with these new organizations, while at the same time maintaining a neutral position. However, through its Sports Office, the Reggio Automobile Club would still maintain certain administrative privileges, like assisting licensed drivers, promoting motor sports (with contributions to CSAI licensed drivers) and organizing major yearly sports events.
This is how vehicles came to change the city of Reggio.
Reggio, a city in the county (1899-1928)
By the end of the Nineteenth century, there were only a handful of major roads in the county of Reggio. Via Emilia, which had been classified as a first-class imperial public road by Napoleon himself, and was recognized by the Kingdom of Italy as a state highway, was one of them. The only other national road traveling across the county of Reggio Emilia was the n.63 "Cerreto" State Highway. Other major roads, like the Reggio-Mantova or the Parma-Mantova, were just county thoroughfares.
All over the country, Via Emilia - which had been built in Roman times - was an axis along which many important towns had been founded. Reggio Emilia was one of them, and found itself at the center of a radial pattern of large highways built in the Middle-Ages, which connected the city both to the surrounding hills and to the valley. It was an extremely functional road system, which made the city easily accessible from the surrounding farming communities.
When the first few vehicles were put into the market, Reggio Emilia was still tightly anchored to its medieval road system, and enclosed by the traditional almond-shaped city walls which are common to many towns in the country. The demolition of the city walls began in 1849 and continued throughout the late 19th century. Starting in 1900, the ramparts surrounding the town center were gradually replaced by toll gates.
It was only after the construction of the Piacenza-Bologna railway in 1851-1856 that the city experienced a significant improvement in its process of modernization. Like other cities in Emilia, the railway traveled along the northern part of Reggio - next to the city walls - and therefore the railway station was designed to also serve as the new city gate. Nevertheless, the railway would also come to represent an inevitable obstruction between areas located north of Via Emilia and their southern counterparts. This would have a deep impact on the establishment and location of business areas outside the town center. (…)
In the early Twentieth century, encouraged by a relevant increase in its population, the city started expanding beyond the perimeter of city walls which had enclosed it for centuries. The early phase of settlements outside of the toll gates had finally begun.
The "Itinerary Guide of Italy", written by Luigi Valerio Bertarelli and published by the Italian Bicycle Touring Club in 1899, gives us an interesting perspective of the main highways in the county of Reggio at the time. According to the Guide, they were generally good, well-kept, much "trafficked", dusty in the summer, often shaded by rows of trees, and, in some cases, partially covered in gravel during the fall.
Via Emilia, which was 7-8 meters wide and exposed to the sun, was marked by milestones all along its distance - specifically, one every 2 kilometers. The Guide of Italy also tells us that in those days Via Emilia was served by a wide range of inns. Dust and mud would still cover the local streets for a few decades.
In Reggio, the beginning of the new century was metaphorically announced by the passage, on April 25, 1900, of a "steam carriage" coming from Parma.
In 1901 a joint survey carried out by the Prefect's Office and the City Hall confirmed the presence of "4 automobile carriages" and 6 "motor machines" in town (bicycles, tricycles and similar).
With the arrival of motorized vehicles, the first traffic regulations were issued, while the "rumble" of engines was about to become a classic component of life in the city - as well as a common reason of complaints and controversies among city-dwellers. In 1905 the Mayor of Reggio ordered that all motorcycles be equipped with brakes, a high-pitched "horn", a lamp and a "silencer chamber" - also called "muffler" - to reduce the roar of engines. 'Velocipedes', on the other hand, had to have a bell, while cars had to be supplied with a "loud" horn. Also, local traffic laws indicated that speed had to be carefully monitored, so that vehicles would not create impediments or potentially dangerous situations for people or things. The speed limit was set at 15 km/h in residential areas and 40 km/h in the countryside (however, speed had to be reduced to 20km/h when driving at night).
The difficulties created by the diffusion of motor vehicles would soon affect public transportation, too. The first public transportation company of the area, S.A.R.A. (Anonymous Automobile Company of Reggio) was founded in 1907 and its first service route covered the 6-kilometer distance between S. Maurizio and Via Emilia by means of two "Dietrich" carriages. However, before long S.A.R.A. went bankrupt and service was resumed at first by two companies from Parma - "Scipioni" and "AEMILIA" - and then, on June 1, 1919, by the County Administration itself. The Administration had at its disposal 11 vehicles from AEMILIA, 4 from "Scipioni" and 2 10-seat vehicles from the town of Castelnuovo Sotto. 4 years later, on July 21, 1922, a new transportation company, newly-founded S.A.R.S.A (Anonymous Automobile Service Company of Reggio) took over. It would operate the local public transportation service for the next 44 years, until 1966. By doing so, it played a fundamental role in the process of connecting local towns and communities with the provincial capital.
A city adjusting to the technical development of its means of transportation
With the introduction of motorized vehicles, the town center was bound to start a slow process of structural and functional adjustment to the new means of transportation. In 1911 the first parking spaces for public vehicles were created. (…)
The Provincial Administration was responsible for most traffic regulations at the time, while signs indicating distances and directions were provided by the Italian Touring Club. By 1921, there were 82 regulatory signs in the county, while 29 warning signs had been placed especially in mountain areas.
On the eve of World War I, the county of Reggio boasted a much larger national road system than average in the country, consisting of 775 meters of practicable roads per square kilometer, or 5,422 meters per 1,000 residents.
The city was strategically laid out along three main roads: Via Emilia, a major thoroughfare; State Highway n.63, leading to the mountains, and the provincial highway to Novellara. Needless to say, the two highways represented the traditional decumanus and cardus of ancient Roman city planning - the east-west and north-south-oriented main streets of ancient Roman towns.
As far as the town center of Reggio is concerned, most of its streets were cobbled with stones, collected for the most part from the Crostolo River, and sometimes from other watercourses, like the Enza and the Secchia. In the second half of the Nineteenth century, new materials - like 'granite' and 'schist' - were introduced as alternative materials for cobble stones, while terracotta - and, to a lesser degree, cut stones - were generally used to pave sidewalks. Porta Castello and other downtown areas were paved between 1908 and 1914.
After World War I, a plan was devised to improve road conditions in town - a necessary step to take for a city determined to adjust to the slowly but steadily increasing local traffic. Improvements would be made throughout the following decade (1920s).
In 1928, following Royal Decree n. 179, issued on December 2, 1928 and titled "Regulations for the safeguard of roads and traffic", the City of Reggio started enforcing specific laws about pedestrians, who were instructed to always walk on the left-hand side of the road, except when strolling under archways (…).
At the time, there were 2,151 vehicles on the road, 827 trucks and 2,350 motorcycles - not to mention, of course, thousands and thousands of bicycles.
It was right around this time, when vehicles were becoming more and more popular, that the number of horse-drawn carriages slowly started to decrease. Before long, the first speed limits signs would be posted along the city streets.
In 1933 the Royal Automobile Club of Reggio, supported by the local Police Office, invited the Podestà, or town mayor, to set up a platform in Piazza del Monte where an officer could stand and control the traffic. Following the Club's request, the officer should also wear gloves and mittens.
In 1935 the first issues of a monthly bulletin edited by the "Royal Automobile Club of Italy - Reggio Emilia County" were published, advertising the Fiat Balilla as a "triumphant utility vehicle" and the Fiat Ardita as an "economical, comfortable, 3- or 7-seater luxury vehicle". In the same year the first 5 streetlights were installed in town.
Traffic and road conditions were becoming a pressing issue for the authorities: interestingly enough, the main problem was not the amount of vehicles on the streets, but rather the general lack of road safety awareness, aggravated by structural deficiencies, like the shortage of personnel and of specific regulations.
Some of the safety measures that were taken in those days included increasing the number of traffic officers and of road markings - which had to be made with easily visible, indelible materials.
Vehicles in Reggio - History and Memories
The legendary post-war period
During the post-war period an increasingly large number of professionals starting showing interest in cars. Although chauffeurs, truck drivers and car-hire company managers were still a very strong professional category and most vehicles were owned by merchants, more and more cars were being purchased by doctors, regular employees and a small - yet growing - number of homemakers. These were the years of the first Fiat 500 "C", or the more powerful Fiat 1100 and Fiat 1400, of the Lancia Ardeas and Aurelias. Hardly any foreign car could be seen traveling along the city's streets in those days.
When the Fiat 600 and the new "500" were put into the market - in 1954 and 1956, respectively - mass motorization officially began. These were also the years during which utility cars came to represent a "segment" of the market where car manufacturers could actually start to compete - although the results of such competition would not be relevant in the first few years. As a matter of fact, vehicles like the "Bianchina" or the "Isetta" - bought by the German company Messerschmitt in hope to turn the country's car industry around - would prove to be no more than a weak attempt to create alternative solutions to the Fiat monopoly.
Buying a car, a lost ritual
In Andrea Soliani's memoirs - heir to an historical local car dealership - we can find that in those days "selling a car was whole ritual in itself. There were middlemen, who hung out at public places, and sometimes they would overhear somebody say that they were interested in buying a car. So they would inform the car dealer… Selling a car would often take days: prospective buyers would come and check out the vehicle a few times, often taking the whole family along. They wanted to see the engine, and know everything about the car … Nowadays, on the other hand, young people come here knowing exactly what they want - and they are ready to buy it right away. (…) Back then, there were no contracts: once a price had been agreed upon, a handshake was all it took to make the sale final. (…) On Sundays whole families would show up to check out our cars - it was a very important moment. You didn't really see too many women at the dealership, only the ones who had come along with their husbands and family. The dealership remained for a long time a place for men".
At the time cars were becoming an increasingly important part of people's everyday life. It was not just because they represented a prestigious "status symbol": as a matter of fact, people were developing an interest in engines and mechanics, while on the other cars were seen as an opportunity to travel and visit new places. And in those days selling a vehicle - or repairing it, for that matter - was still a very specific skill, a form of art in itself.
The craft of sheet metal workers
For the most experienced drivers, names like Bigliardi, Tassoni, Barchi, Carollo, Zanti and Guerrieri, Lodesani and Sanfelici are still a synonym of professionalism and creativity. As described by Gianni Albenghi, son of Reggio's legendary auto body mechanic Ernesto "Tetto" Albenghi: "Our car shop was located in via Ferrari Bonini, in Piazza Brolo, opposite the Capuchins Church. Before us another mechanic, a certain Ariosti, had his shop there. (…) It was not like today, when even if the problem is a small dent, people will just buy a new part and have it replaced. At that time there were some skilled mechanics who could create parts from scratch using a metal sheet. Back then there were about five or six body shops in Reggio Emilia. My father was one of the first to actually transform cars - like cutting "Topolino Cs" along the sides, to make a "Giardinetta", which is exactly the same thing Fiat did a few years later. (…) After the war my father hired a few employees. I wouldn't call them auto body mechanics, like we have today - they were sheet metal workers. (…) It used to take a long time to do things, as they were done by hand. Equipment was different and everything used to be handmade (…)".
The car "boom" years
The increase in car sales in the Fifties was a prelude to the boom which would take place in the following decade. The Sixties were a time when cars would finally become affordable for many people in Reggio, making their life and daily activities much easier. On the other hand, this was doomed to be also the time when the first issues on the relationship between citizens and traffic would arise: as a matter of fact, in those days the liberal use of one's own vehicle was considered a fundamental right for any citizen, and nothing else mattered. It was therefore common to read complaints in local newspapers against the Town Administration, considered guilty, for example, of allowing a bar to put tables in central Piazza Vittoria when that space could be used as a parking lot (1962). In another case, citizens were upset with the Administration for putting one way streets downtown (in via Farini, via Vittorio Veneto and via Squadroni).
In summer 1964, just a few months after the new Traffic Plan had become effective, parking was already a pressing issue - or at least in the downtown area. Streetlights were also a major concern, especially at a few large intersections which still lacked proper traffic control. In those days, people realized that in most cities air was "polluted" - even if according to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Reggio was ranked as a "class A" city, one where air quality was still fairly good.
The spirit of the time was very well reflected in contemporary newspapers and other media, which published price lists of new and used vehicles on a weekly basis. The market was no longer offering just Italian cars, and prospective buyers could find an interesting selection of vehicles for sale. Beside traditional models like Fiat 500 (selling for 450,000 Lire and now at its 10th edition) Giulietta (1,235,000 Lire) or Fiat 1300 (1,178,000 Lire), dealerships were now offering foreign vehicles like the "Bug" (with a suggested retail price of 885, 000 Lire for the standard model) the Opel Kadett (975,000 Lire) or the Ford Taunus (1,055.000 Lire).
1966 was a crucial year for the automobile market. That winter, while Florence was being ravaged by the great flood, Fiat decided to replace all its models. The glorious 1100 gave way to the new 128 - the first front-wheel drive vehicle - while the 124 took the place of the 1300-1500. After being on the market for 12 glorious years, the old 600 was replaced, too - by the famous 850, available in two models: Coupé and Spider. This new model, geared towards a younger audience, finally allowed young people to become more independent. With its sporty line, compact size and reduced costs - very appealing features for a younger market - the 850 would be ironically defined as "the poor's luxury". At that time, there was a boom in vehicle registrations, which skyrocketed to 1,200 a month. In 1964 alone, the number of new vehicles available in stock at the Reggio dealership amounted to over 12,500 units, while three years later, in summer 1967, there would be 62,000 vehicles in town.
Traffic conditions in those days are well illustrated by a local journalist writing on the "Gazzetta di Reggio". The results of the automobile boom were undeniable: "The roads are the same as they used to be, but the number of vehicles in town is multiplying like grasshoppers. Driving has become a problem even on brand-new highways: as soon as they are built, they are already obsolete, their designs being years and years old. They cannot handle heavy traffic. Towns are a total chaos, except during the summer, when all the mayhem moves to the mountains or the beaches. However, as soon as the cold season starts, there will be no relief. One-way streets will put every driver's nerves to the test; you have to sit in very long lines to drive just a short distance, and then drive around for hours and hours just to find a small parking space".
New issues in the Seventies
By that time, individual mobility had taken over collective mobility, causing traffic congestion issues and growing levels of air pollution everywhere.
In 1966 Siena was the first city in the country (and the second in Europe, after Spalato) to close off the downtown area to traffic. A more responsible market was starting to devise new solutions for the future. The energy crunch of the early Seventies would question the role of such consumer goods as cars. But this - as they often say - is a different story …
Page edited by Nunzia Manicardi, excerpts written by Massimo Storchi and published in "Reggio Emilia Automobile Club, 1926-1996".
Courtesy of the Reggio Emilia Automobile Club