AN ENTREPRENEUR AND VESPARADO WANTS TO BEAT THE SPEED RECORD AT SPEED WEEK ON THE BONNEVILE SALT FLATS IN UTAH, WTH TWO VINTAGE MODELS EQUIPPED WITH SIDECARS
The two Vespas, 100 and 125cc, prepared for Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats
Marco Fumagalli, 43, from Seregno (Milan), an entrepreneur in the metalworking business, is a record-breaking collector and true Vespa cult follower. His collection boasts more than 130 catalogued Vespa scooters, including such rare vintage models as the sporty “Sei Giorni” and “Circuito”, the fascinating 150 GS and the 1950s models built for the French armed forces. The vehicles are flanked by hundreds and hundreds of memorabilia items (models, toys, films, flyers, posters, books…), including accessories, workshop tools, components such as instrument dials and so on. Marco has converted his basement into a paradise for Vespa fans of all ages. In this interview, he tells us about his passion, and about his next exciting project: to be the first person to enter a Vespa scooter in America’s Speed Week.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU WERE “STUNG” BY A VESPA? “In the summer of 1991. Unlike my friends, I didn’t think much of scooters. And then… I remember I saw an advertisement in the Corriere della Sera for the Vespa 50 Special, a limited edition with an output of 3,000 vehicles... and that’s when it all started.”
WHY DID YOU START THE COLLECTION AND HOW DO YOU KEEP IT GOING? “I don’t really know why I started collecting Vespas, perhaps because they were a sort of reminder of the years of the ‘Dolce Vita’ which I knew about from films, a record of an Italy experiencing great change. I began looking for Vespa scooters through classified ads in the papers, today I use the Internet, and over the years I have built up a network of friends who call me if they find something I might be interested in.”
WHICH ARE YOUR FAVOURITE MODELS? “The 125 from 1951, the classic two-wheeler in the film ‘Roman Holiday’, perhaps because it was my first model with a low headlamp. I love using it, both for short daily runs and for rallies, I feel as though I’m on an armchair with wheels. It’s like a time machine, it lets me look at the countryside and everything going on around me from another point of view, I feel as if time has slowed down, it eliminates that frenzied approach we all have to daily life.”
Marco Fumagalli with his vintage “low headlamp” Vespa 125 model, at the Audax in the Dolomites
SO YOU USE YOUR VESPAS TO TRAVEL, TO TAKE PART IN RALLIES…? “I don't have much time to devote to rallies, but I savour every second of the little time I do have. Rallies, and trade marts, have become a way to meet friends. Lately, when I’m travelling for business or on holiday, I try to contact the local Vespa Club to spend an evening with fellow enthusiasts, swap gadgets from our respective Clubs, I’m a member of the Milan Vespa Club, and gain a more global view of what’s going on outside Italy, in daily life and in the ‘Vespa world’. The longest trip I've made was to London for Vespa World Days. It was great fun, especially because I was with a small and very mixed group of friends, I think the youngest had only just got a 50cc licence a few days earlier. Four days on the road without knowing where you’re going and what to expect, it’s unheard of today. We didn’t take the motorway, the entire journey was on normal roads... almost a pilgrimage.”
Marco Fumagalli at the Vespa World Days in London (2012)
APART FROM THE VINTAGE MODELS, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE SCOOTER FROM THE CURRENT RANGE? “I’ve got a GTS 300 and a 946. I wanted the 946 in my collection because its design is so reminiscent of the initial project from 1946… Things always come round again.”
THE VESPA ISN’T YOUR ONLY LOVE: YOU ALSO HAVE A PASSION FOR THE APE… “Yes, I have some Ape three-wheelers, Moscone outboard motors and a Piaggio water scooter. I even have an ACMA 400, which was manufactured in France. I’ve just decided to restore it and I expect to be riding it in the spring.”
DO YOU RESTORE VINTAGE MODELS AS WELL? “I’m not a real restorer, let’s say that if there’s some mechanical problem I can sort it out. Usually I manage to deal with problems, but if things are getting tricky, I take the Vespa to the ‘Dutùr’ [doctor, translator], a dealer friend in Cologno Monzese, Marco Caloi, who patiently deals with the problem.”
LAST YEAR YOU WANTED TO RACE IN THE USA, AT SPEED WEEK, ON THE BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS, WITH TWO VESPA SIDECARS; HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA?
“It all started with the Anthony Hopkins movie ‘The World’s Fast Indian’, which interprets the real meaning of Bonneville. Talking about it later with friends, we had the idea of replicating the adventure with the Vespa. We built two vehicles, a 100cc and a 125cc, which we called Dafne, after the daughter of my friend and fellow adventurer, Marco Quaretta from Livorno. We had to overcome a number of obstacles, regulatory, practical and logistical, considering that you’re racing over a huge empty salt flat. The closest village is about 20 km away, the closest town is 400 km away. I organised everything in the container, power generators, photovoltaic panels, water tanks, tents, flooring to protect the salt from oil spills... and a ping-pong table and a table football set when we were off duty.”
The Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
THEN THE RACE WAS CANCELLED, WILL YOU BE TRYING AGAIN IN AUGUST? “Last year we shipped the container in June, then in mid-July we were told the race had been cancelled because they couldn’t guarantee the quality of the surface; it had rained a lot and the salt was a bit ‘soft’… By then, we had everything organised, and we went anyway, there were 11 of us. It gave us an opportunity to visit part of the States, from Utah to Nevada, on the road. This year we're trying again, and I already have a back-up plan if the climate plays the same trick.”
The “Dafne” team with Marco Fumagalli on the Salt Flats in Utah, last summerp> “You can’t describe passion, you can only experience it,” Enzo Ferrari used to say. Marco Fumagalli agrees, but not about the marque: in his family, the four-wheel tradition is labelled Bugatti. He tells us more: “In 1935, my grandfather’s brother raced with a Bugatti. I've restored one, and driven it in several rallies; then I decided to collect scale models of these fantastic cars, especially the ones in sheet metal, and I have a number of rarities from the 1940s.”
The vehicles ready for Speed Week 2016: the two Vespa sidecars for the race, more the 125 from 1951 and the Ape Calessin ( vintage model) for riding around the paddock
Marco Fumagalli continues: “Speed Week is organised by the Southern California Timing Association, with Bonneville Inc., and has its own regulations. These are different from the FIA or FIM regulations, and are intended above all to safeguard the competitors’ safety. There are two main categories, motorcycles and automobiles. The categories are subdivided into classes according to displacement and level of preparation. A scooter like the Vespa is not contemplated by the regulations; it is similar to a motorcycle, but has two intrinsic characteristics that will always be off-regulation: the size of the wheels and the position of the engine. The minimum wheel diameter allowed by the regulation is 15 inches, or 10 if there's a sidecar; and the centre of the engine must be on an axis with the line of the wheels. I’ve tried to get the organisers to understand that I didn’t put the engine in that position, and that it’s been there since 1946, when Corradino d’Ascanio designed the Vespa, so it’s in its original manufactured position. But I got nowhere, so far they haven’t amended the regulations... but I’m not giving up. I shall insist until they create a Scooter category in the future, and then I'll go back to Bonneville for the third time. So far, they’ve offered me the possibility to take part in the event for a “Time Only” on the speedway and they will certify the speed, but they won't be able to put it in the record book… Never mind: we have two opportunities to make at least one record, with our two Vespas, the 98 and the 125cc, classed in two different categories. So it's a chance to break the record in the sidecar vintage gasoline 100cc category, which is 36.744 miles; and perhaps to set a record in the 125cc category, which no one has achieved so far. But the real thrill will be to be the first person to take a Vespa on to the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway, where until now no one has ventured with this typical ITALIAN means of transport!”
The date is 13 – 19 August 2016 on the Bonneville Speedway, created in an area of the Utah salt flats and famous in motor-racing sports for the land speed records set there since 1912.