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This Alfa Romeo GTA is my brother’s keeper

By 02/10/2019 No Comments

Shooting Mario Brincat for the short docufilm embedded below, I couldn’t help but thinking that more than his brother’s Alfa Romeo GTA, or indeed Mario’s own GT Veloce, this film was turning out to be about brotherly love and a love of all things speedy and on four wheels.

Whatever it turned out to be, I hope you enjoy it as much as I’m happy with the end result. I hope to have paid a fitting tribute to a gentleman and a racer.

Chapter One – Childhood

As far back as I can remember, it’s always been about “Lino” and “cars”. That’s been my whole life, since I was three or four. I was with him all the time.

I’ve always liked cars, even as a child I used to play by grabbing the steering wheel while standing on the seat.

I remember my dad used to hide the car keys under his pillow. One evening, I was really young then, the police came knocking our door to tell my dad to go pick up his car from Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq.

All my dad had was a Ford Prefect, but amazingly it kept getting faster and faster without him even noticing. Lino was always tinkering with it.

Chapter Two – The first races

I believe the earliest car races in Malta were held on Tal-Barrani road, but I don’t remember seeing them myself. It’s the only part of motorsport history in Malta that I haven’t witnessed.

In the mid-60s we used to race on the road leading to Armier.

Lino’s first car was a Morris Oxford fitted with an engine from a Triumph TR6 or something. I seem to remember it had six cylinders straight.

At sixteen he started racing better cars that other drivers used to loan him. Or at least that’s what I remember them saying, because I only remember him driving from the age of 18.

Because this guy was racing my brother and ended up driving on one wheel only! Suddenly he turns sideways and overtakes just inches away from Lino, who back then was driving a car made out of wood and cardboard.

But it wasn’t long before he was driving faster cars. He quickly built a reputation as a good driver and people where loaning him their cars to race them. He was even driving Maseratis and other cars that one wouldn’t usually own at such a young age.

Eventually he began driving an Alfa, and he kept driving Alfas until he passed away.

Chapter Three – The mechanic

Dad wasn’t too keen on Lino showing so much interest in cars. Since he was a smart lad, he hoped his son would do something better with his life.

So he hatched this plan where he found Lino a part-time job with a mechanic, but he secretly agreed with the guy to give Lino the worst jobs he had. Anything that would make him give up his hopes of becoming a mechanic.

But his plan failed because Lino persisted and from fixing vans and trucks as a part-timer, he ended up racing cars; building, repairing and tuning them.

Lino was well known for keeping his garage spotless. It looked more like a clinic than a mechanic’s garage. With light grey tiles all over the floor and walls.

I used to help him during the summer holidays. I swept the garage three times a day and I washed the floor too. I’m not joking, I used to spend half the time there just cleaning the place.

But I never touched his tools. I’d leave them on his bench, then he’d clean them one by one and hang them. He didn’t want anyone messing around with his tools.

He’d get really angry when someone brought a dirty car or one that was leaking. “Get it out of here!” he used to tell me.

Basically, he worked on Alfas. Occasionally someone would bring in a different car, but it had to be of a certain standard. I remember seeing Jaguar E-types and Porches. Even a De Tomaso Pantera once. Cars you wouldn’t see every day on the roads.

He never looked back. He had the same passion for cars before he died as he did when he was a young boy. It’s all he would ever talk about.

Chapter four – The GTA

The GTA had been in Malta since the mid-60s. It was brought over by one Laney, who was a well-known driver in Malta and had raced it against the Corvette owned by It-Tubu. Eventually it ended up in Lino’s hands, who began doing hill climbs with it and occasionally the 1/4 mile drag race. He sold it in England in 1988.

The GTA was manufactured by Autodelta, who took a car like this one here and replaced its outer shell with aluminium. In fact, it’s held together with rivets since you can’t weld steel and aluminium together. The seam here is filled with rivets, and so are other places.

They also used magnesium to make it lighter and fitted it with a twin spark engine.

The car ended up weighing 800-odd kilos. 830 or 840kg. While this one here weighs some 120kg more.

The GTA was well-known for its speed and today it’s a collector’s item. Lino’s is currently for sale in California. The asking price is €335,000.  You can see it on the internet, it’s the exact same car.

I have nice memories of that car.

Chapter Five – Building cars (and racing some more)

Lino was never satisfied with what he had. He was always trying to improve on things, especially the suspension and brake systems.

In hill climbs, each driver would have two practice runs and two timed runs. Lino always tried to beat his previous time. He wouldn’t start off flat out, then try keeping the same time. He’d attempt to improve time with each run instead.

One of his traits as a driver was his focus on braking. He used to brake rather late and sometimes I used to go stand near the spot on the track where we wanted to brake. After a run he’d tell me to move another metre or so and he’d try again… then he’d say it was too much. Those were the tricks of the trade we used at the time. Lino used to be a big believer in those kinds of things.

Many drivers who race their cars think only about the engine. Of course, the engine is important, but Lino considered handling and braking as determining factors when timing hill climbs.

Lino won many hill climb championships. The Ta’ Qali one and the one organised by ASM, and he did the 1/4 quarter mile drag race too. There used to be a time at the ASM when nobody could beat Lino. He was winning so often that he had gotten bored of his own success, so around that time he began searching for a younger driver whom he could mentor.

He did a little bit of everything, so he had a very colourful career. Even after he died, I kept learning about things he had done. Like when he raced in Silverstone among others.

He wasn’t a very talkative person. Besides racing, he was also very skilled in repairing cars. But he also had a sense of humour, and you couldn’t shut him up when he began laughing and joking about something. However, he’d be all business again as soon as a car was involved.

If something wasn’t the way he wanted while working on a car, he’d keep tinkering until it was. Sometimes we’d stay up till 6am working in his garage on something. He was a real professional and he’d persist till he got everything right. It wasn’t easy because he’d have very high expectations for anything he did. He’d overlook nothing. Anything that could be done to fix a car, he’d do it.

Although Lino participated in many races, he didn’t do it all the time.  He’d stop for a while then start racing again after some time. One moment he’d be taking a break, the next you’d find him tuning an Alfa Sud. Then he bought the Dallara, I think it was in 1995, and that’s when he began racing consistently again.

Chapter Six – The Dallara

Back then, in the 90s, it wasn’t an easy task to bring a racing car to Malta. The only way he could do it was from Sicily, where he dismantled the car, and had it shipped it to Malta in parts. Then he re-built it here. There wasn’t a proper channel then to import a race car without mudguards, lights and indicators.

Getting the Dallara was like an injection of new energy for him and he began racing very consistently. He started taking things more seriously. He was still racing up until 5 or 6 years ago. He was over 60 when he retired, around 63 or 64.

Chapter Seven – The GT Veloce

This car is an Alfa Romeo GT Veloce that was manufactured in March 1967 with a 1600cc engine, and which I had worked on with Lino until it was finished in 2014.

My first car was a model like this in silver. But I had to sell it to finish building my home. That’s what we used to do.

Then I got married, and after our children grew up I decided to buy another one like it. So I spent around a year and a half looking for one. Then Lino calls one day and he tells me there’s one for sale. So we bought it.

This was back in 2010. After a while I asked him if we should start working on it. He told me to enjoy it for a bit then we could get started. And that’s what I did. I took it for spin and then we began dismantling it.

First, I cleaned it and sprayed it all red. Then I took it to Lino’s garage, where we dismantled it. We spent 5 months working every day to re-build this car. And this is the end product.

It was a nice experience, but also tense… He was such a perfectionist that it got tiring sometimes. But anyways, we finished it at last and now that he’s not with us I cherish it even more because it’s a living reminder of something he practically worked on from beginning to end.

Chapter Eight – The end and what’s left

This flag was signed by Sergio Marchione, former CEO of Alfa Romeo. He passed away too, around a year and two months after Lino. We had used the flag to drape it over his coffin. I’ll keep cherishing it and it’ll remain part of my collection until it’s time for me to go as well.

I have a few items that used to belong Lino. His children had given me a few of his trophies as a token for how much I had helped them and how close we were. But the memories are what that really count. He won many trophies, so these here are like a drop in the ocean.

But the memories from having lived almost my entire life by his side… Those can never be replaced, not with trophies nor anything else. All the memories of the things we did together. Our travels, races and this sort of things. Nothing can compare to that.

That’s what truly counts.

Mark

Mark

Mark runs a digital marketing agency, which is as far as you can get from nerding out on cars. That hasn’t stopped him from spending afternoons underneath cars pretending to know what he’s doing, before calling a knowledgeable friend. He doesn’t understand SUVs, and will try convince you, unsuccessfully, that you’re better off with a fast wagon.