When I saw the article in the Griffon about Mark Sassak's Bizzarrini Spider S.I. model project and read he was going to Italy to present the Engineer Giotto Bizzarrini one of the first numbered sets, I contacted Mark and proposed I escort him on the trip. I had not seen Mark since 1990 in Monterey and I was happy to see him again. We planned to meet in Nice, France where we would rent a car and drive to Livorno, Italy. On my way to Nice I received a phone call from Mark stating his flight was delayed in Detroit. Mark missed his flight out of JFK and could not get a flight for another 6 hours. Mark conveyed to me he spent this time reflecting on the trip ahead and remembering at fifteen when his father drove the Bizzarrini Spider up the drive way, he knew right then he saw the most beautiful car ever built and that some day he would own it. He never thought 42 years later he'd be at the same port of Livorno where Ing. Giotto Bizzarrini exported his Strada and GT America models including Mark's two SI Spider's to the US. in 1968 and 2000. Then have the opportunity to sit down with one of Italy's most accomplished "Engineer Giotto Bizzarrini" a genius's of our time, most notable is his contribution to the development of the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, one recently became the 2nd most expensive car ever sold at an auction for 32.1 million dollars. Mark finally arrived in Nice so we settled in the hotel after dinner to start our drive to Livorno the next morning. We rented a French Peugeot with a five speed. The car handled the winding roads and 100 and some tunnels we traveled through at a relaxing speed of 100-140 kilometers. When we arrived we met with Mark's friend Hugo at the Rex Hotel on the seaside in Livorno. Hugo is the owner of Sparks Model Company who produced the model sets and he was very excited to meet Mr. Bizzarini and be part of the presentation. Hugo insisted on driving us in his new Audi turbo charged 550 horsepower station wagon.
We anxiously jumped in the car that afternoon and drove to Mr. Bizzarrini's home. Thanks to the GPS in Hugo's car we were able to find our way through the winding roads, up a mountain to his home nested away at the top. When we arrived the Engineer was there to welcome us with his son Pietro and wife Rosanna. Mark couldn't wait to present Giotto with his model set and he was thrilled to receive it. Bizzarrini could not believe the precise detail, quality and accuracy between the three Spiders in these 1/43 scale model productions. Mark also brought many photos, which Mr. Bizzarrini was very gracious to autograph all of them. He joked that in his semi retirement he would rather be signing his name to his works rather then physically working on new projects. A little repetitious but was happy to do it.
We talked all afternoon about cars of course, remembering the past and above all he told us that at the age of 85 years old it was the year of his definitive retreat. It was early evening by now so we invited Giotto and Rosanna for dinner. Hugo was on a time restraint and needed to head back for meetings in France. He drove us back to the Hotel and we said our goodbyes. After a short rest we headed back up to Bizzarrini's home where we spent an hour of so before dinner talking more cars and sports. We discovered he loved soccer and played as a young adult so Mark presented Mr. Bizzarrini with a few soccer balls and Frisbees he manufactures to give to his grand kids. He loved them. Rosanna was too tired to go with us so we set out to the restaurant of his daughter called "La Mascalccia" in a little village, Castelunovo della Nisericordia. The first time I met the Ing. Giotto Bizzarrini in 1970 I visited his home in this village.
During dinner we reminisced about the past and Mr. Bizzarrini related two stories to us. The first was during the war; he was about 13 years old and was in the house of his parents when suddenly he heard a very big noise outside. He thought it was fireworks, but unfortunately in fact it was a bomb falling from an aircraft to the sea.
The second story was some years later when he was 17 years old he and his friends created a band and he played a bass guitar that he made himself. "To finish my instrument I took strings of the US Army telephone. It was a fastidious job he said" It was late night when we returned to Giotto’s home. We said goodbye and thanked him for the magical moments we spent with him.
The next day we left Livorno to Carrara to meet Mr. Prampolini Mauro who had worked in the past under the Engineer while at Ferrari and now owned a garage where he restores and services Ferrari's, Lamborghinis and Maserati's. We were impressed with his facility that had about twenty Ferrari's he was currently servicing along with a few restorations. Mark recalled seeing a yellow 5300 Bizzarrini Strada eleven years ago at Prampolini's facility that he serviced for the famous designer Prada, Originally restored "By SD" Diomante. Prampolini left Ferrari to work with Bizzarrini and worked on the original prototype 1966 -5300 Spider S.I Geneva show car that Mark purchased in Italy eleven years ago. Mark brought the book "The Genius Behind Ferrari's Success, Bizzarrini, The Man, His Projects and Cars" by Jack Koobs de Hartog where Prampolini was pictured working on the production line as a young man. He was also pictured at racetrack fine-tuning the P538. He was presently surprised to see these photos so Mark gave him the book and in return he signed a model set and photos. We spent a few more hours talking cars and touring his facility.
Mr. Salvatore Diomante started out as a body supplier from Torino , then in 1967 moved to Livorno where he was responsible for body selection and saw over final assembly for Bizzarrini S.P.A of Livorno ,Italy . Today Mr. Diomante carries on with his own shop in Nichelino, Italy doing what he does best refining & restoring the old classic as well as building the new.
We next had planned a visit with Salvatore Diomante in Nichelino, Italy near Torino. We took to the road again and arrived in the afternoon where Salvatore was waiting for us with two interpreter reporters. The first was Mr. Gianni Rogliatti, author of "Ferrari Story" and the second Mr. Roeland Frere from "Passione Automobile". Salvatore had just finished the restoration of an Alfa Romeo 950 Spyder racecar owned in the past by Faugio himself. We met his son Maximillio who just finished changing the plugs. Salvatore told us he remembers his children's birthdates by the car he was working on at the time. Maximillio was born while he was working on the first production Bizzarrini Spider that Mark owns today. He asked Mark to take a trial ride and of course Mark was elated. We had to pry Marks hands off his seat after the ride. Salvatore Diomante drove the car as if a test driver at Lemans. One close call as they were speeding up behind a large white van that abruptly decided to backup and luckily Salvatore hit the horn just before this million-dollar racecar front nose was crushed. OMG Mark expressed and he turned to Diomante who had a big grin on his face, no big deal! The streets of Nichelino are his private racetrack. To calm Mark down he then drove up to his favorite café for an ice cold Gelato. Mark then took another trial ride in a Europa that Salvatore finished last year.
Salvatore Diomante then took us on a tour of his shop to show us the work on fabricating the front end of an early Lamborghini Miura. Three new Europa's were in various stages of production being built well equipped to race. A skeleton of a Bizzarrini frame that needed a body as well as a few electric concept vehicles. Very impressive. In his office Mark presented him with a model set and in return he gave Mark rosary beads blessed by the Pope, with a big smile, he was happy. On his desk he had a set of concept drawings of a new Strada Targa that was quite impressive and expensive.
We then went to Salvatore's home where in the basement we saw his AMX/3 and a very rare black Iso Grifo with brushed stainless steel T-tops. Also off to the side was a rare Alfa touring car under restoration. He had a wall full of Bizzarrini and Iso replacement parts any owner would envy. That evening Salvatore took us to an excellent restaurant in the area. We again spent the evening talking about our passion. We said goodbye and thanked him for a marvelous time.
The next morning we set out on the last day of our trip, back to Nice, France. We drove from Italy to France through the "Pass of Teude" a beautiful mountain ride with lots or narrow winding roads. Our car handled the trip very well.
Finally I said goodbye to Mark, wishing him a safe trip back to the US and thanking him for his company. It was great to reconnect with old friends. A trip we'll never forget.
Notes: Jacques Lavost lives in France and has been a member of the IBOC since 1983's. He has owned a Bizzarrini Strada since 1970 Chassis Number 1A 30301.
Notes: Words are by Mark Sassak and Jacques Lavost from France. July 15,2011