Place names that have graced the flanks of some of the world’s most memorable cars also happen to be pretty interesting places to visit – even if you admit that you don’t know your Italian ski resorts from Ford’s back catalogue.
But let’s not rush ahead. Our journey, pandemic permitting, of course, begins like any classic European escape, once the ferry ramp drops, at the scintillating gem of Calais. Okay, maybe Calais isn’t readily associated with riviera intoxication, but it has a half-decent sandy beach and, for adrenaline seekers, a lace museum. It’s also the inspiration for the be-finned Cadillac Calais, the maker’s 1965 budget-but-buff version of the De Ville.
Moving on for headier inspiration, spear south for Versailles, which has a few interesting bits of architecture and in 1919 hosted an ingenious treaty to ensure WW2 was a dead cert. More importantly, and best unfasten your anorak in readiness for this one, Lincoln named its 1977 four-door saloon after this town, a car that made history as the first model to offer clearcoat paint.
Calming yourself from such insight, set the navigation system to the south west for Chambord, a regal treat nestling in the Pays de la Loire. If Versailles impressed, Chambord’s 1547 structure threatens to break the chateau-o-meter for majesty and pomp. And while the family coo, there’s time to muse upon the Simca Chambord, from 1959, a Brazil-built version of its Vedette, and a symbol of the French auto industry’s expansionist ambitions.
What’s that, you want something racier? Fear not. It’s just a hop and a péage stop west from here before we reach Le Mans. Protestations from the back seat can be calmed by explaining that, by law, all roads in France go via Le Mans. Mulsanne is a blink-and-you-missed-it place, but it’s no surprise that its 3.7-mile straight run to Le Mans inspired Bentley as the moniker for two dynasties of 6.75-litre japery.
To refuel on Americana just up the road, Le Mans itself is the tag slapped onto the back of a succession of Pontiac models between 1961 and 1981. It all ended in tears when the illustrious reference was handed over to Daewoo in 1988. Perceived poor quality buried the name for good.
Throttling on, temptation for tenuous car-connected destinations abounds both south and east. For early 1970s nostalgics, the latter is irresistible. Eschewing the Med, we climb for the Dolomites in the north of Italy, hit the switchbacks and pretend to be a baby-boomer (grand) dad, powering that front-wheel drive Triumph Dolomite into its DNA landscape. Great granddads could join in here, too: the original Dolomite was first sold in 1934.
The jewel in this autopilgrimage, however, is what now awaits. The Cortina d’Amprezzo resort was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics and the venue Ford chose when it launched the eponymous family car in 1962. As a landmark for the start of modern motoring (at least to me), Cortina should be a magnet for motorheads, but it also boasts a museum of palaeontology, so anyone calling you a fossil can go educate themselves.
Next, make like a Buick Riviera and hit that coast. Monte Carlo may ascend to ever glitzier heights, but the same can’t be said for GM’s four-wheeled version of the same. It began in 1970 looking square-jawed and clean-cut, but middle-aged spread by the sixth generation in 2000 rendered it a jelly mould of anonymity. There’s definitely a joke that connects the Dodge brand (its Monaco saw successive generations since 1965) to this tax haven, but Italy beckons, wherein you will find such highlights as the Ford Torino, named in 1968 after Turin, Ford seeing this city as Italy’s Detroit. From here, an asteroid belt of Ferrari-imprinted locations looms, not least Portofino, Modena, Monza, Fiorano, Maranello, Roma… if you make it as far south as Sorrento (possibly misspelt by Kia in 2002), you can see the view for the lovely little island of Capri.
Quite why Ford in 1968 named what was dubbed “the Cortina in drag” after this island baffles me. Blessed with one road barely wider than a plump goat, it’s no place for a car and motor vehicles are banned for most of the year. So if you’ve dragged your family all this way on a quest for automotive twitching, you might take their advice and leave your wheels in Sorrento. There is, after all, more to life than cars. As if!