1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia – Varese, Italy (Part 5)
The trip to Varese, Italy, is a little bit of a long story, as it includes some repairs and also some wonderful hotels. We will think of this trip as:
- ‘The Drive’ from Manarola to Varese
- ‘Liberty style of Varese’ is a special architecture that has connections with the UK/USA Arts & Crafts movement.
- The hotels, ‘Art Hotel’ and ‘Palace Grand Hotel’, both are amazing.
- ‘Car repairs’, we had plenty. Thank heaven for friends.
- ‘Moving on’ as we leave Varese to Switzerland.
Before we start the trip, if you want to see the other posts, here they are:
1966 Alfa Romeo – Road Trip
1966 Alfa Romeo – Vesuvius and Pomepii
1966 Alfa Romeo – Perugia
1966 Alfa Romeo – Pisa & Manarola
Here is the map of where Varese is located. Not very far away from Milan. Varese is on one of 7 beautiful lakes in the area. Lots of industry and business activity in the region. George Clooney lives nearby.
Varese. I love Varese and have been here 5 times. The reason I have come here is Aermacchi motorcycles were made here, and I am a big fan of Aermacchi. MV Agusta has taken over the factory and the MV Agusta bikes are all made there, right on the shore of Lake Varese in 100+-year-old original Aermacchi buildings. There is an annual Aermacchi meeting put on by my good friend Enrico.
I think Varese is one of the nicest spots on the planet. Why? Mountains. Lakes. Clean air. Plenty of industry and commerce. Switzerland is close. So is France and Germany. Many museums, culture and activities. Car and motorcycle culture is deeply rooted here with Alfa Romeo, Aermacchi, MV Agusta, Moto Guzzi, and just about every other legendary Italian machine all made within 100km of Varese. Milan is a major airport. ‘Lovely place, easy access, plenty of smart people, and so much to do’™. Perhaps I should trademark the previous sentence, for the Varese Tourist Authority?
We left the amazingly picturesque Manarola and drove north to Varese. I was surprised at the mountains and plenty of tunnels. Jake helped me wash the windows, and fill up the car. Easy drive.
‘Liberty style of Varese’:
I did not get to document very much, as I was busy fixing the car. But there is plenty of pictures on the internet to see the style. One of the hotels we stayed at, ‘The Palace Grand Hotel’ (http://www.palacevarese.com/), is a fantastic example of this style, and we do share these pictures. You can see the style on the outside of the hotel, along with the iron work of the staircase, and an old house that was a little overgrown but had a lot of charm.
I like houses that have had a lot of life and are a bit tired. This one must be great inside. Next time I come I need to go with Enrico and hunt down some more Liberty examples.
The hotels; ‘Art Hotel’ and ‘Palace Grand Hotel’:
We booked 1 night at the Art Hotel, as we did not know what the car repair diagnosis was going to be. They were fully booked after the first night, so we needed to move. Luckily the Palace Grand Hotel had vacancies, so we move there for the next 2 nights. The pictures make it look like we are living in 5-star hotels, but they are modestly priced. The Art Hotel was $120/night and the Palace Grand Hotel was $110.
First, we will take a look at the Art Hotel. Looks old and is old, but the inside is very new and a mix of modern and vintage. Extremely tasteful. This is booked for many events and car/motorcycle clubs.
The Palace Grand Hotel is an iconic hotel in Varese, located high on a hill with a large amount of land with nothing but hotel facilities like a pool and tennis courts. The road going up to it is all switchbacks and turns with just trees and grass on either side, and you are literally in the middle of Varese. Quite rare.
Jake in the room, with a nice view of the lake.
The gardens are full of beautiful cedar and pine trees hovering over the outdoor lounge areas, and it is just so quiet and peaceful.
In Greece and in Southern Italy, I noticed the brakes were not very good, and sometimes would pull to the right. There was also a ‘clunk’ when turning the steering wheel lock-to-lock when you are parking. I was filling the tires on the left-hand side of the car with air every day. These things were unsafe and I needed to get them fixed.
Varese is the mid-point on the trip. It is a good place to make repairs. Luckily, I have been to Varese a few times and knew a great car/motorcycle enthusiast there, his name is Enrico. I discovered Enrico really knows everyone and found me a friend that took care of all the repairs. His name was Mario and he specialised in high-end Porsches.
I was escorted to Mario, tailing Enrico and his convertible Beetle. I handed Mario the keys and he diagnosed the various clunks and the brake issues. Mario was kind enough to put his other customers work aside and put my car on a lift and we looked at the various systems. Without going into all the details, we decided:
- All new brake disks, rebuild the callipers, all new rubber brake lines.
- Top up all the oils in the differential, transmission, steering box, and engine.
- New tires. The current tires had a manufacturing date mark from 10 years ago. They were also ‘tubeless’ type and this car needed ‘tubes’.
- Replace 2 more tie rods (2 were replaced in Sorrento).
- Front end alignment.
- For an added bonus, I bought a high-tech distributor that is 100% electronic and controlled from the iPhone via Bluetooth. It is the 123ignition.com distributor. I will talk about that later.
I think most of you are gasping at this moment, but these items are relatively easy to repair.
For the next 2 days, my car was on Mario’s lift. Enrico and I drove around dropping off callipers to get rebuilt, dropping of wheels to get new tires fitted.
The brake disks were a little more elusive. Mario was calling around for 50-year-old NOS disks (new old stock). The rears were easy to find. The front disks were another issue entirely, and after a day of calling Mario found ‘the last 2 left in Italy’ and were at a premium price – I said ‘OK, let’s do it correctly’.
For the last stage of the repair, I needed to drive the car back to the tire shop, and get a ‘front end alignment’ because we replaced the tie rod ends and we wanted the wheels to be perfectly aligned. The alignment shop was very modern with very nice new computerised equipment. They gave me a nice computerised report of the alignment.
I do not blame the seller for these issues of the breakdowns and repairs. Antonis (seller) gave very clear and accurate information about the car. I bought with eyes wide open a 51-year-old car. The car had been sitting for 10 years on an older restoration, so things like the tires and the brakes were issues from lack of use. I should have known better and asked for new brakes and tires (and battery, fuses, top up all liquids, etc…). Whenever I buy an old car, I typically replace a lot of parts immediately, as they will eventually break and strand you, ultimately costing you more. This car somehow made me forget all that!
The wheels went with Enrico and I to the tire place, and we got new tires. This is a picture a day later with the car re-assembled, going for the front end alignment. I think this car has never been so accurately aligned in its entire life.
Mario also installed a special electronic distributor for me, from the good folks at 123ignition.com. Perhaps it is psychological, but the car runs much better, the grass is greener and the sky is bluer, colours are more vibrant, and there is a spring in my step. Pretty good value for just a replacement distributor! But seriously, it cleans up all the vagueness of a mechanical advance distributor. The distributor I had in the Alfa Romeo was supposed to be a mechanical advance, but it also had a vacuum on the side, so it was not original. The new distributor also has Bluetooth built in, so you download an app for the iPhone and you can change the ignition and MAP curves, and you get a pretty cool digital dashboard for the car! This is a screenshot of this Alfa Romeo’s engine running, as we ascend up the Alps. I will write up more on this topic in the future.
Note: Some will see the GPS speed is 0 km/h, and that is because this phone did not have a roaming connection to a cell provider.
We spent 3 days in Varese, a little longer than planned. But we enjoyed it as we saw friends, and got to sleep in the same bed a few nights in a row. Did some laundry in the sink!
We very much enjoyed Domenico, who has worked at the Palace Grand Hotel for a long time. He was really superb at taking care of all the guest and making everyone feel special. He has a real gift.
Giant colossal special thanks to Enrico, for all the help. Without Enrico, I would be booking a school for the fall semester for Jake, in Varese. Honestly, I could not have finished the work without his help. The next big annual Aermacchi meeting is at the MV Agusta factory on 3rd of September. Hope I can make it, but more importantly, I hope some of you take the trip. Here is Enrico’s website. http://www.aermacchimoto.com/
Funny thing is, we told people we were taking a ferry from Italy to Switzerland, and they wondered how that worked! I will leave you with a parting photo of the ferry that crosses Lake Maggiore, and then just a short drive you are in Switzerland. Hope you can join us for that part of the trip.
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