It could well be the largest annual display of Italian vehicles in the world – certainly in the Southern Hemisphere – and it’s coming to Queanbeyan this weekend.
Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, Fiats, Lancias, De Tomasos, Ducatis and other exotic cars, motorcycles and scooters from across south-east Australia will emerge from their garages and converge just over the ACT border for a few hours on Sunday, 11 April.
It will be a celebration of the beauty, drama and branded caps that can only come from Italy. Fingers crossed there are no electrical fires.
‘Auto Italia’ began in 1985 as a handful of owners meeting up in Weston Park, and it’s been marked on the calendars of local car enthusiasts ever since. The largest so far saw nearly 800 entries.
Owners come from our own backyard as well as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide will make the trip, and some have even been known to book ferry tickets to make their way from Tasmania for the 3.5-hour event.
Various local Italian motor clubs have taken charge over the years, but it didn’t take long before they were overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the event.
This prompted the birth of the Italian Cars Association of the ACT. Tony Hanrahan is the president and says that its sole purpose, from the design of its constitution to the roles for its members, is to facilitate Auto Italia.
Like every other event, COVID-19 whacked it on the head last year. But Tony says this wasn’t so much to do with social distancing as the back pocket.
“We’re a non-profit organisation so we rely on the income from any one year to run the next year’s event. We couldn’t guarantee to ourselves that there would be enough cars to generate enough income for us to pay the quite substantial outgoings,” he says.
For the longest time, Auto Italia was held on the lawns of Old Parliament House but was evicted by the National Capital Authority in 2016 for posing a danger to tree roots. The hunt for a venue that was both cheap enough and large enough began.
“We had to find a new home, and that’s not easy to do,” Tony says.
Pialligo turned out to be a traffic nightmare because of the single road in and out, so they decamped to EPIC.
This year they’re making Queanbeyan their home, thanks to Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC), whose mayor, Tim Overall, has welcomed Auto Italia to the Town Park.
For Tony, the motivation for the event is simple: “We have a love of Italian cars.”
Over the years, he’s owned several, but the car he wished he’d never sold was a 2002 Alfa Romeo V6 Spider. Today, he’s in a Fiat Abarth, which he says is fast becoming a cult car.
“It punches well above its weight. It’s very light – the power-to-weight ratio is extraordinary.”
The demographics of Canberra are such that the average disposable income is high and this, says Tony, gives more people the means to get into exotic Italian cars. Once in and driving around though, he describes the reaction from the rest of the public as “mixed”.
“Very few people will drive a Ferrari every day. People open doors on them, key them … In one way, they’re investments and in another way, you could say a rolling work of art. They’re weekend drivers.”
Despite the popularity of the event and the tourism it attracts to the region, Auto Italia has never received a cent of funding from the ACT Government. Tony says that part of the problem could be the nature of the cars involved. Too often, they’re dismissed as something for elitists suffering mid-life crises.
“It’s not so much a result of a mid-life crisis,” he explains, “as a result of a mid-life bank account. It’s taken a long time to earn some decent money and now they’re going to spend it on themselves.
“The people I know are hardened car enthusiasts.”
Auto Italia 2021 will be held at Queanbeyan Town Park, 1 Lowe Street, from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm on Sunday, 11 April. Street parking is available and entry is free. QR codes will be available on site for COVID-19 check-in.