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The Best (and worst!) of France and Italy

Mon, 05 Nov 2012

Call this the gathering of cars you're amazed even started. Yet, there were over 300 of them by 11:00 a.m., spread all over the lawn and under the trees in Woodley Park in Van Nuys, Calif. for the annual Best of France and Italy car show.

From fabulous Ferraris and fun-loving Fiats to les voitures Citroen et Peugeot, every year you will be simultaneously delighted by the broad spectrum of cars on display and amazed that someone got them all to run and drive this far. It's by far our favorite event for etceterini, little cars you may have once rebuilt back before you got a far more dependable but much less character-driven mode of transportation. While big-time events like Concorso Italiano, The Quail and museums like The Mullin may have more stunning and important French and Italian cars, The Best of F&I has real cars that almost anyone can afford and that can be, eventually, maybe, fixed in your own garage. And last Sunday, November 4, everyone one of them within a tankful of Woodley Park seemed to crawl off their deathbeds and make the show.

“This is great, this is the best year we've had in a long time,” said Tina Van Curen, who organizes the show every year with husband Chuck Forward and an army of volunteers. “When the sun comes out the cars come out and the people come out. It makes for a great show.”

We got there before the show officially opened and there were already over 150 of them in place, the Fiats lined up and baking like calzones under the hot sun, the Alfas in a little bit of shade and the Citroens sheltered under Woodley's tall pines. Every couple of minutes a new entry would roll in from the snake maze of Valley traffic, chug up to the line and get a warm welcome from event volunteers.

“We're over 300 now and we're not through,” Van Curen said in her mixture of earnest cheerfulness combined with just enough nun-with-a-ruler to keep things moving along. “We could hit 400, I don't know. We've done that before. We haven't had time to count 'em. But I know we've run out of gift bags.”

There was one Lancia Appia, a half dozen Citroen DSs, some R5s, a Ghia, a Simca, and what seemed like acres and acres of Fiats.

“Today we have more Fiats than anything,” Van Curen said. “We have tons of Alfas. And we've got a whole bunch interesting French cars. We've got a lot of Renaults and Simcas and stuff. And we've got a bunch of Ferraris. Everybody's here.”

But 2012 was the year of the Fiat.

“There are just an amazing number of Fiats, new and old. I think the little new ones multiply in the dark. They're just too cute. There's a lot of them. And the Fiat people have really turned out this year. It's a beautiful day. They're not afraid of getting rained on or leaking. Everybody's having fun. Good group.”

Van Curen and Forward also run Autobooks Aerobooks in Burbank, a place you definitely have to stop if you're ever in LA. The next car show is all-British, held at a date TBD in the spring, called The Queen's English. Van Curen, presumably, is The Queen. A title well-deserved.

By Mark Vaughn