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An Italian car is like a symphony; this one
remains unfinished.

A Mechanic With Custody
Grants a Weekend Visit

WHILE many New Yorkers spend their weekends in the Hamptons, I prefer Domenick’s European Garage in White Plains. About once a month, I take the train to this nondescript two-story brick building to visit one of my cars.

A specialist in vintage Italian autos, Domenick’s “maintains” my 1967 Fiat Dino Spider and my 1967 Ferrari 330. In truth, the shop never quite finishes the work (my Dino has already spent two years there for repairs). But that’s O.K. because Domenick’s is equally casual about the bills.

Also, I know that the car is safer In White Plains than at home in Manhattan. Despite having selected my meatpacking district loft, in part, because it offered direct views of my sixth floor parking space, I picked up the Ferrari one weekend only to find its hood smashed.

The real draws, however, are the shop’s owners, Domenick Spadaro, in beret and zip-up blue suit, and his sons, Santo and Frank and the dolce vita era Italian exotica (Lancia Zagatos, Alfa Giullettas, Ferrari Spider Californias).

More artisans than mechanics, the Spadaros demand that things work well and look beautiful. But even with Domenick’s expertise, these 60’s cars are generally more elegant than reliable. Which is lucky for me, as I get plenty of opportunities for up-close ogling of Italian coachwork.

The ritual is predictable: one of the men will pick me up from the Metro-North station — it’s not as if I have a car that I can drive up from the city — and we head back to the garage to check out what else is up on the lifts.

The last lime, the Spadaros pulled back a dusty tarpaulin to reveal the most beautiful car I had ever seen: a butter-cream 1951 Ferrari 195 Inter, redolent of wood, leather and gasoline. After suitable oohing and aahing, we then eat biscotti and discuss mysterious rumbles and electrical quirks.

And with the Dino, there ore always a lot of mysteries to discuss. The Fiat Dino was the product of a collaboration between Ferrari and Flat. To qualify for racing, the quad-cam Ferrari V6 engine with triple double-barrel carburetors had to be used in a production automobile. Ferrari supplied the engine, named after Enzo Ferrari’s son Dino, and Fiat assembled the rest. Cynics say that the Dino combines the reliability of a Flat with the repair costs of a Ferrari.

A month ago, I decided that enough was enough. I live in the city. I’m getting married. I’m buying a house. I need only one crazy car. So over the Memorial Day weekend, I consigned the Dino to the Hamptons Contours d'Elegance and Auction.

With the deadline looming, Frank Spadaro reluctantly allowed me to pick the Dino up with 72 hours to spare. Oh, it wasn’t perfect, he told me. But he let it go — for now.

With the top down, the wind in my hair and the blue sky overhead, the 100-mile trip from White Plains to Bridgehampton was cinematic to the point of cliché. The only thing off was the soundtrack. Occasionally, the Dino's mellifluous roar was interrupted by a sputter, like Plácido Domingo with hiccups. The carburetors, it seemed, still needed a little adjusting.

I spent the next day and a half polishing the engine. When it was finally my turn to drive into the auctioneer’s tent, I was proud and a little scared. The auctioneers started high (“Do I hear $35,000? $30,000?”), but soon changed tack and went low (“How about $15,000?”) and managed to edge the bidding up to $19,500. Alas, the bidding never reached my $26,000 minimum.

No sale.

“Good,” Frank Spadaro sold when I told him the news. “Now bring her back so we can finish her up.” I can’t wait.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company