La Dolce Vita, which translates as ‘The Sweet Life’, encapsulates a golden era of Italian motoring.
Evoking images of sun-drenched Italian countryside, lazy days and red wine, here we look at a selection of cars to suit a range of budgets if you fancy a slice of La Dolce Vita.
Alfa Romeo Spider
A great car to kick off our list, just by looking at the Alfa Romeo Spider you could imagine yourself zipping around the Italian countryside in high summer. It’s also famous, and perhaps most recognisable, from the film The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman famously runs out of petrol in a Spider.
The model was actually built between 1966 and 1993 in various forms, some prettier than others, but the one that surely evokes La Dolce Vita is the original, which was made for three years between 1966 and 1969. Later models largely managed to keep up the looks, aside from perhaps the final version of the early 1990s.
Those models are, predictably enough, the cheapest to lay your hands on, with less than £10,000 enough to drive one home. However, for the true experience, you’ll be parting with more than £50,000 for a 1960s original.
While Fiat’s reborn 500 has become a modern day style icon very successfully, this is where it all started. And if you can see yourself nipping around cobbled Italian city and village streets before stopping off for a lazy cappuccino, this is the car for you.
It was originally made between 1957 and 1975 and is as memorable as the Mini for its game-changing achievements. In a post-war world people were looking for cheap transport and Fiat came up with a gem of a car; the 500 was cheap, practical and oozed Italian style. Its name came from its original engine, a little 497cc, two-cylinder, air-cooled unit that emitted a lovely little thrum to add to the experience.
The car measured less than three metres. In total, over its 18-year lifespan, nearly 4,000,000 examples of the 500 were sold.
If you want one now, they can be found for reasonable money – around £4,000 in some cases – but mint 1950s originals can cost five times that and more.
Possibly not the most obvious choice, but the Lancia Beta is a curiously quirky Italian classic. Some versions looked decidedly of their era, notably the four-door fastback saloon, but others, in particular the drop-top Spider, are worthy of inclusion when considering motors for La Dolce Vita. The model was produced from 1972 to 1984 and, alongside the above mentioned versions, there was also a coupe and an estate.
The Beta was the first model produced by Lancia after it was taken over by Fiat in 1969 and, even if it doesn’t look quite as pretty as some of the cars here, it still has a certain something about it – you can see yourself stepping out of one and heading into a harbourside restaurant on a summer’s evening, for example.
The Beta is fairly easy to find on the classic market and reasonably priced – you should be able to find a complete, usable version for around £5,000 for starters.
At the other end of the dream scale sits one of the most valuable and beautiful cars ever made – the Ferrari 250. Just look at it – it’s art on wheels. It typifies the stunning design of the era in which it was made, 1953 to 1964, and today is one of the most sought-after cars in the world. There were many variants of the car and it had much success in racing as well.
Road cars had either a short wheelbase or a long wheelbase, with most convertibles using the short version. Most also had a 3.0-litre V12 engine, with 296hp in some variants. The 250 was successful because the V12 was so light, weighing hundreds of pounds less than its competitors – and that was also a key reason for its success on the track. A lovely little anecdote is that the 250 is reputed to be the car that inspired Lamborghini.
If that sounds initially confusing, it is believed that a tractor manufacturer by the name of Ferruccio Lamborghini, who owned several 250s, became frustrated with clutch problems and, in particular, Enzo Ferrari’s response to his complaints. So he made a decision to build his own cars – but more on that shortly. If you want one now and you need to ask how much it’ll cost, you need not apply. Around £350,000 should just about get you in the ball park.
Examples with pedigree and history have sold for mega-millions at auction.
Here is the previously mentioned Lamborghini, which began, as we have seen, making tractors. So we can thank Mr Ferrari and his 250 that, in 1966, the beautiful Lamborghini Miura was bestowed upon the world. It was made between 1966 and 1973 and began a line of cars that would become ever more outlandish to this very day – the Miura’s successor was the Countach, after all.
When it was released, the Miura was the fastest road car available, with a top speed of 171mph.
In another quirky Lambo tale, it is thought that the Miura was actually conceived by engineers without the knowledge of Ferruccio Lamborghini, who wasn’t overly interested in making sports cars. Alongside its looks, the Miura’s 4.0-litre V12 was perfect for those winding hillside roads. Only 764 were built, so nowadays they’re not cheap or easy to come by, as you might well imagine.
More than £500,000 is likely, with rare models fetching well into the millions, much like the Ferrari 250.