Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 12, 2017

Driving My Mercedes From LA To Italy – Day 30 Cagliari

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The Duesseldorf Express cargo ship in the port of Cagliari on June 12 (VesselFinder)

CAGLIARI, Sardinia

The Duesseldorf Express cargo ship docked at the port here this morning, a couple of hours behind schedule. It should have little or no trouble making up the time, and leaving on time this evening around the dinner hour on the next leg of its journey.

That will take it up the gloriously beautiful eastern coast of Sardinia, across the Ligurian Sea along the Tuscan coast, to Livorno, by tomorrow.

The ship is carrying a container, that it picked up in Los Angeles, with my 1973 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL in it. And the plan is to bring it to me at the Voltri docks in Genoa by the day after tomorrow (Wednesday). The trip, as the headline of this article notes, has taken 30 days so far, out of an expected 32. The journey for my Mercedes will have covered over 5,600 miles, with stops in Manzanillo, Mexico; Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; Caucedo, Dominica; Lisbon, Portugal; Tangier, Morocco; Valencia, Spain; and now Cagliari.

I haven’t been to Cagliari before, but I have been to Sardinia a couple of times. In 1984, I was invited to the Costa Smeralda Rally. The rally was supposed to last almost a week, and I was assigned to videotape highlights for the old “MotorWeek Illustrated” racing show on WTBS. (Search YouTube; the video is still up!)Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 3.14.33 PM

To reconnoiter the island, I rented a car; I was given a Fiat that was so old and crappy the driver’s seat supports had rotted out of the floor boards. When I’d pop the clutch the seat would tumble over into the back seat. There were no seatbelts. The rear hatch would come unlatched over bumps. It could have been a last-generation Fiat 127 (or first-generation Panda 30); either way, it had an appalling 652-cc engine that produced 23 horsepower.

The night before the rally’s start, I nearly got stranded with it on the isle of La Maddelena, after an ill-advised ferry ride there to look around. I was the last car back on the ferry that Friday evening, beating out a number of irate drivers; I didn’t realize until later their extreme anger was because it was the last ferry until Monday.

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A still from our video, before the crash

The driver whose exploits I meant to follow in the race, Audi’s John Buffum (#9), crashed out the first night of the four-day event.

We were staying at a fabulous alabaster white Moroccan style villa, so I went back and retired early. When I went down to the hotel breakfast room the next morning, nobody was there; I was told the American contingent had checked out and gone home.

I figured I’d better go too, since the people I was covering had left, and I didn’t want my host to get stuck for what I figured would be a big hotel bill.

But getting off Sardinia at a moment’s notice is not easy. There are more flights in than out – or at least back to the airport I had come from – Milan (this is not a math problem; the flights in, often go on to other places). I paid top dollar and got on a last minute flight to Rome, rented a car there, and drove to Milan. Gas was expensive and the tolls took the last of my lira. The drop fee for the one-way rental was a steep $200 (for 1984).

After I arrived at Linate airport, and returned my rental car, I was told I could not get an earlier flight out of Milan; my ticket was not changeable. I couldn’t re-rent my rental car either. So I had to sit around for three days in Milan doing nothing. I got a seedy hotel near the train station, and figured my host would appreciate that it was much cheaper than the luxurious villa in Porto Cervo.

My host did not appreciate my efforts, as it turned out.

“Why didn’t you just stay?” she said. “The room was pre-paid for the entire week.”

Oh.

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Yeah, I shoulda stayed. (Visit costasmeralda.it)

Ironically, I returned to Costa Smeralda in 2011 on an Audi test drive program. We stayed at the same white alabaster villa.

(We even ate in the same expensive restaurant where, as I mentioned in my Day 29 report, we had spent a million lira on a dinner for five.)

Although it took 27 years, I feel like the universe finally gave me my lost three nights back.

Jerry Garrett

June 12, 2017

 

 

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