Italy's motor museums: Full throttle in 'Motor Valley'
"Go, go, go!"
There's no need for the driving instructor to repeat his brief command when the go pedal in question is attached to a ravishing red Ferrari F430 with a majestic exhaust note.
Swinging onto a four-lane highway just outside Ferrari's Maranello headquarters in Italy, there's the heady sensation of accelerating through the gears as the big V8 engine barks and crackles in response. But up ahead of us, a police car in the slow lane brings our rapid progress back down to a more leisurely speed.
No matter -- there's a chance to repeat the experience a couple more times during the drive.
It's all part of the experience in Italy's "Motor Valley," an area that runs broadly between the towns of Modena, Maranello and Bologna, and encompasses the museums, showrooms and factories of such supercar names as Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, plus Ducati for motorbike enthusiasts.
This is the place for anyone whose engine is fired by new high-performance sports cars with bodies by Zagato, Bertone and Pininfarina.
In Maranello, it's a case of pay your money and take a drive in your pick of red Ferraris: F430, California T, F458, F599 and F12 Berlinetta.
That's 100 euros ($125) for 20 minutes in the F430, 350 euros for 60 minutes in the California or 1,500 euros for two hours in the F12. And there are Lamborghini and Maserati options for those looking beyond a Ferrari.
Most people come to Maranello to visit the Museo Ferrari (Via Dino Ferrari, 43, Maranello; +39 0536 949713) a red-on-red extravaganza of F1 grand prix cars, sports racers from the 1950s through to the 1970s, unique concept cars and up-to-the-minute Ferrari models such as the FF and LaFerrari.
The current exhibition on the theme "California Dreaming" has rooms devoted to Ferrari's involvement in Hollywood, Los Angeles, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and Silicon Valley technology.
Apart from viewing the fabulous car collection, there's the opportunity to try an F1 simulator or become part of a tire-change pit crew racing against the clock.
Buying a combined ticket at Maranello also gives entry to Modena's Museo Enzo Ferrari (Modena, Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, Modena;+ 39 059 4397979 ), a yellow turtle-shaped building that tells the life story of the Ferrari founder through a marvelous collection of the cars he drove and created.
This museum is, until January 2015, given over to an exhibition of 100 years of Maserati (the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group now owns both Ferrari and Maserati), featuring 21 classic vehicles that include the 1932 V4 Sport Zagato, a 1955 300 S sports racer and a 2006 MC12 GT1.
Next door to the museum is the house where Enzo Ferrari was born.
While the Maserati exhibition is on, the ground floor of the house is hosting such notable vehicles as the first car to bear the Ferrari name -- the 1947 125 S -- plus a 1952 500 F2 single-seat racer and a 1954 750 Monza.
For Maserati devotees, there are an equally impressive range of cars at the privately-owned Umberto Panini Collection (Hombre dairy farm, Via Corletto Sud 320, 41100 Modena; +39 059 510660), housed on the Hombre organic dairy farm on the outskirts of Modena.
This was part of the original Maserati Museum collection that was to be sold at auction in London at the end of 1996, before the Panini family stepped in to ensure the cars stayed in Italy.
It includes such rarities as a 1936 6 CM, a 1934 6 C, a 1953 A6 GCS Berlinetta, Type 61 and Type 63 Birdcage sports racers and the 1990 Chubasco prototype, along with the 1958 402M El Dorado that Stirling Moss raced at Monza.
Cars and cheese
There's an extra incentive to visit this free museum: the chance to buy some of its distinctive Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Two museums cater to Lamborghini lovers: Museo Lamborghini (Via Modena, 12, Sant'Agata Bolognese; +39 051 6817.611) at the company's Sant'Agata Bolognese factory midway between Modena and Bologna, and the family-owned Ferruccio Lamborghini Museo at Funo, a little to the north of Bologna.
With Lamborghini now part of the Volkswagen group, its factory museum has an outstanding range of vehicles on display.
These include the first production 350 GT, and such recent creations as the 2010 Sesto Elemento (Sixth Element) lightweight track car and the 2013 Egoista single seater that's based on a Gallardo but takes its design cues -- canopy style door and a body made of anti-radar material -- from either a jet fighter or an Apache attack helicopter, depending on your perspective.
Right behind the Sesto Elemento sits a police highway patrol Gallardo.
Classic early Lamborghini models on display include the 1996 Miura (and its 2006 reinterpretation), the Countach, Jalpa and Diablo.
The Ferruccio Lamborghini museum (Ferrucio Lamborghini Museo: Via Galliera n. 319/F, Funo di Argelato, Bologna;+39 051 86 26 28) displays more of the industrialist family's beginnings in tractors, but includes a replica of the 1963 Lamborghini GTV prototype, examples of the Miura, Countach, Espada, Diablo and military SUVs, plus Lamborghini-powered offshore racing boats and the TownLife microcar created by Ferruccio's son Tonino.
At San Cesario sul Panaro, near the town of Castelfranco Emilia on the Modena-Bologna rail line, supercar newcomer Pagani has a showroom (Via dell'Artigianato, 5, Vill. La Graziosa, San Cesario sul Panaro; +39 059 4739201) with examples of its Huayra and Zonda models on display.
Power, passion, performance
By arrangement, it's possible to join a tour of the Pagani factory. For those with the time, there are two more destinations in Italy for car lovers.
There's Brescia, home of the Museo Mille Miglia (Museo Mille Miglia, Brescia: Viale della Bornata, 123 Eufemia, Brescia; + 39 030 336 5631) that celebrates the history of the 1,000-mile road race that ran from Brescia to Rome and back between 1927 and 1957, and Turin, where the National Automobile Museum (Corso Unità d'Italia 40,Turin;+39 11 677666/7/8) )has reopened after a lengthy renovation.
As befits Italy's premier car museum, Turin is a tour de force of automotive history and creativity: 160 models from 80 different makers, thematically arranged to cover design, production, sporting achievements and technological change.
From the first car to appear on Italian roads (the 1892 Peugeot Type 3) to the 1907 Itala 35/45 HP that won the 1907 Peking-Paris race, through to the 1948 Cisitalia 202 "rolling sculpture," the 1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante (Flying Saucer) and the latest Vittoria concept car, this is a masterful collection.
There's a bonus on Sundays, the one day of the week when Fiat opens its free Centro Storico (Historical Center) on Via Gabriele Chiabrera (Via Gabriele Chiabrera, 20, Turin; +39 011 006 6240).
The center is home to a fascinating collection of cars, trains, planes, tractors, model ships and advertising memorabilia.
Cars on display include the first 3.5 HP Fiat, the monstrous 1924 land speed record holder Mefistofele, classics such as the 1929 Fiat 525 SS -- rated one of the most beautiful vehicles of its era -- and the post-war Fiat 8V and Fiat 1100 S Mille Miglia.
For enthusiasts enamored of the power, passion, performance and panache of Italian motoring, these eight museums well and truly deliver on their promise.
Getting behind the wheel
Several companies in Maranello offer Ferrari driving packages:
Freelance journalist and classic car enthusiast Geoff Hiscock is a former Asia business editor for CNN.com. He writes about food, water and energy issues. His latest book is "Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources."