In the Red: What's your car really worth? Italy provides a crash course

 

Today, I discuss not the monetary value of your car, but rather the emotional worth you place on it; how much you treasure it and pamper it with soft cloths. Because not everyone in Europe is as reverential with their jalopy as we Brits.

This was given stark illustration recently during our honeymoon, the first night of which was spent in Naples or, in Italian, Napoli, which can be translated literally as meaning "the sound of two Fiats crashing into one another". Our plan was to have one night in the city and then drive our hire car to the Amalfi Coast in the morning. At the airport, we hailed a taxi, which was soon a dark blue smear weaving through the rush hour traffic.

I have never appeared in a cartoon before, but the next half hour was as close as you could get to a guest spot on Wacky Races (without purchasing a wheezy dog and naming him Mutley). The main motorway into the city resembled the pit lane at Monza, but with more screaming and less consideration; everywhere drivers gunned their engines and tried to overtake the car in front by driving straight over it.

What was immediately apparent was that every vehicle looked like it had gone 10 rounds with Basil Fawlty: everywhere there were dents and scratches and all manner of war wounds.

Unlike in the UK, where we spend hours buffing our motors to a high sheen and weeping into our hands when a crow violates the paintwork, Neapolitans view their cars in a very different light. During our 20 hours in the city, I think we saw four cars without any damage. Maybe five, tops. People just don't seem to view their cars as sacrosanct works of art. Rather, cars are proud testaments to their driver having survived the insanity of the road. And by "insanity", I mean "insanity" – we see people lighting fags while driving "no hands", a woman balancing a book on the steering wheel, while reading a story to her toddlers standing on the back seat; someone driving with their feet while shaving in the rear-view mirror and another driver frying some sausages on a camping stove on the passenger seat. I'm not entirely exaggerating.

We screech to a traumatised stop outside our hotel and pay the driver, who gives my wife a saucy wink and zooms away, while executing a wheelie. As any motorist knows, doing a wheelie in a car is not easy. But then again, neither is getting out of Naples alive. And this feat we managed… just about. For more on that particular triumph, tune in next week.

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