Some days ago we discovered the fascinating Lamborghini Museum, now we continue our journey to discover other amazing places for petrol heads. We are again in Emilia Romagna, where between Bologna, Modena and Mantova every petrol head can find his perfect place and where It’s easy to find some treasures in the most unexpected of the properties. Departing from Florence, we run the last few kilometers of roads in the countryside heading to Hombre, a big farm where the Panini’s cars collection is located. Arrived at the gate, you can see a beautiful tree-lined avenue that leads to several buildings used for the production and sale of the Parmigiano Reggiano. Arrived at one of the last buildings, surrounded on one side by a huge row of old tractors, we can finally admire a wonderful collection, dominated by Maserati’s cars.
There, we meet Giovanni Panini, who is so kind and friendly to give us part of his precious time telling the history of this beautiful collection of rare cars. Let’s start with defining this place in a better way.
Many people call it mistakenly “museum” even if, as rightly points out Giovanni Panini, this is not a museum at all. Yes, most of the pieces, especially those of greatest interest, are Maseratis and this can lead to define it the “Maserati Museum”, but this is totally wrong because, as we will see later in the article, inside are preserved cars of various kinds and even motorcycles. There is therefore a clear thematic concept.
It should also be considered that the entrance to public is free, anyone who comes in the Hombre estate to buy the cheese products, can go to see the cars. The correct definition is therefore “private collection open to the public”.
All this comes from the passion of Umberto Panini, Giovanni’s father, (known mostly for its famous stickers), that was a real car lover. Every car is purchased in relation to feelings and totally in an irrational way.
In the collection an airplane is missing. The story of this missing object is linked to the friendship between Umberto and Mario Righini. In this the area you can find many private car collections but the most famous and the most attractive, because is so difficult to visit, is the collection of Mario Righini. Located in the Panzano’s Castle it collects treasures of inestimable value.
Righini and Panini were great friends at those times. Mario Righini had an airplane in his collection, an old twin-engine of the 50’s, and he would like to give it to Umberto, who must transport it from Borgo Panigale to his home. The idea would be to remove the wings and transport it through Via Emilia. Due to the transportation difficulties this airplane is the only piece that is missing.
Inside the “museum” you can find also a particular architecture. As I said that reminds me a “railway station” Giovanni Panini stops me immediately, telling me that the similarity with a station is purely coincidental. The place that inspired the interior design is the Cité de l’automobile in Mulhouse, by which Umberto was fascinated since the first time he visited it. In the mid-80s to make the building, according to this French style, some columns were needed. In a small village near Forlì called Gambettola, all the furnishings of the fascist era has been collected immediately after the war.
By chance Umberto passing with the train noticed some columns that he liked for its purpose. Initially it was thought that before they were located in the train station in Forlì.
He decided to buy them and they probably cause the misunderstanding of considering the building inspired by a train station. In fact it was later determined that the columns came from Viale Della Libertà in Forlì and not from the station. This particular origin was discovered by a journalist of the Resto del Carlino that recognised them. It was even written an article in the newspaper to declare the discovery of the columns that had been given for lost after the war.
The fame of the current collection occurs with the arrival of the Maseratis in the mid 90. In 1996 De Tomaso, at the time owner of the historic part of Maserati, in particular 19 cars, decided to transfer them in England in order to auction them. The auction was organized by the auction house Brooks the 2nd of December in 1996. Adolfo Orsi, owner of Maserati from 1937 to 1968, worried by the imminent possibility of seeing evaporate those history pieces; he sounded the alarm at his friends.
They started looking for someone who could make an offer to purchase the auctioned cars. Francesco Stanguellini owner and builder of single-seater based on the development of the Fiat 1100 engine, talked with the friend Umberto Panini, who proposed to buy the Maseratis to save them from a possible expatriation. Once certificated the validity of the cars, Umberto took some time to decide on the purchasing.
The myth says that the night before the decision he dreamed his brother, who died a few years earlier, who said him to buy these cars. Then he made a first offer, which was not accepted, and then an higher second that has been accepted, according to a request made by the De Tomaso’s entourage. After the auction the cars stopped their Journey to England in a store in Campo Galliano, waiting to be brought at the Panini’s farm.
Following the cars, came across the historical part, composed by car bodies and pieces of various types. Thanks to all these parts the Panini’s family also managed to do some good restoration of some cars received. Today the collection is basically known being the most important Maserati collection in the world for the number of exhibited cars.
In the collection you can also find some unique pieces from the Maserati’s racing department. In fact there is a Maserati 250F with a 12-cylinder engine (the original one had 6 cylinders) which seems to have been used in the tests of the Grand Prix of Monaco by Fangio. Another special car is the “Eldorado” Monza, designed specifically to run at Monza and driven by Moss, the only Maserati in white color instead of red for the Eldorado icecream sponsor.
In the collection you can also find other cars; two Alfa Romeo Spider and Sprint, a Mercedes 300SL, several American cars, a Lancia Lambda and a collection of motorcycle.
In fact the great passion of Umberto Panini were not cars, but motorcycles. From being skilled worker had arrived to be a tester of motorcycles. Known for his passion and love in collecting motorcycles was often contacted by widows, who after the loss of the husband, did not know what to do with the collection motorcycles of the deceased.
Umberto, who had gone several times to see a lot of these collections, often acquired them. In that space full of history there would be other stories to tell, models that carry special anecdotes and rarities to be analysed one by one.
Unfortunately we stop here, hoping to have left in you the desire to discover for yourself this unique collection. We had the opportunity to visit a place where two Italian excellences live together, the production of Parmigiano Reggiano and cars. Those looking for a one, are impressed by the other.
Giovanni says that “Those who comes here for the cows are amazed by the cars and those who come for the cars are amazed by the presence of the cows.”
By: Leonardo Stefani
Photos: Edoardo Mascalchi, Marco Dellisanti