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Diesels-now even cool enough Latin lovers.

Byline: By Steve Orme

Easter, that most holy of Christian religious festivals. For many, thoughts will turn to Rome.

Frankly, I love Rome. Not because it is an anagram of my own name. If Rome had been called Orme I doubt Emperor Vespasian would ever have started the Colosseum, and Titus would certainly not have bothered to finish it. I doubt there would even be a public lavatory, let alone exquisite bathhouses and impressive drainage engineering.

There would, however, still be McDonalds.

Romans are a class apart. The style, the passion, the beautiful women, their scowls.

In Rome, no matter what films you might have seen, it is perfectly safe to walk the streets at night, except in bad shoes. This will invite action from the shoe police, who will insist on a change of footwear to something native and classy.

Similarly, it is impossible to buy an off-the-peg suit without the trousers needing hemming. Roman tailors have worked out that people often have different length legs. This lack of sheer genius is what condemns the British male to wearing a jacket like a gas man's mac and trousers still mourning the passing of the old Queen.

You think you can drive? Try the morning traffic on the Via Carlo Alberto.

London! Ha! A gang of chirpy cockney washboard strummers who wouldn't know a proper carve-up if it was served with peas down the Southwark Harvester.

Italy's national approved drivers' manual has been a book in evolution. Currently it has reached the carboniferous period and hopes shortly to encounter reasoned human thought. Italian driving is inextricably linked with masculinity, aligned in the motoring cosmos with Mars. It is also a close bedfellow of the casualty department.

In Italy there are two types of car. Bent hatchbacks and bent coupes. Driving a Hyundai coupe through the city streets, I didn't know if I was getting admiring glances or incredulous stares at a car with 100 per cent straight body panels. Well I'm not going to break it am I? They send me a Christmas tree every year.

So now something is going to be done about it. The mad driving, not the free Christmas tree.

Traffic police will begin to measure the time and distance covered by drivers. Any arriving prematurely must have been going too quickly and will be fined.

The scheme is having a trial run this week on the 27km Via del Mare, which runs from Rome to the seaside town of Ostia. I know it well, a strange mixture of dual carriageway, at one point intertwined with a railway line, and modern motorway. It is nicknamed Via della Morte - road of death.

I think I know how this new clampdown works. Police clock the car as it hits the motorway section. The driver then executes a series of crazy overtaking manoeuvres and achieves the compulsory number of over-expressive hand gestures, while avoiding any trouser creasing whatsoever and maintaining the position of his shoulder-draped pullover.

Shortly after the airport the road changes to dual-carriageway and then runs into a built up area where our man turns off, triple parking outside a block of flats wherein lives his mistress.

He then engages in small talk, while enjoying an espresso and small, sweet pastry. Replete, he takes once more to the wheel and arrives in Ostia 22 minutes after he began at the motorway's start.

For completing the journey in under 23 minutes he gets a ticket, issued by a guy in unbelievably cool shades. Quite right, anyone can tell you making love without due care and attention is an offence in Rome.

The British equivalent would be getting arrested for eating your pie too quickly. But it begs the question, as we head for more and more tolls and big brother style policing, if this one is on the cards here.

You might think this sudden hardening of the attitudes towards liberal Italian driving habits may direct the country's sporting drivers away from pacey coupes and into the arms of something more sedate. Like a diesel.

Which may be true, but it won't be an Alfa 147 diesel if they want to stay out of trouble. You see low-sulphur, more environmentally acceptable diesel may be the hook that sells to Mr and Mrs Patio Decking, but to capture the hearts of enthusiasts they have to be convinced that there is performance under the bonnet and they won't be driving around inside a welder's toolbag.

The 147 is quick at 9 seconds to 60mph, with an impressive turbo kick and significant reduction in noise levels, from six to three decibels. And it has a six-speed gearbox. It is no wonder diesel sales have risen by 10 per cent in three years.

This is the second shock-horror-it's-a -fast-diesel that's cluttered my gravel in recent weeks. Seat's Leon Cupra TDi is another interesting specimen.

Which I suppose warrants a confession. There was a time when, if it wasn't petrol, I didn't want to know. But with seriously able LPG models, diesel turbos that VW are actually racing, and who knows what in the future, I really don't care if some one builds a car that runs on custard.

Have a happy Easter and try to remember its traditional values. Garden centres.
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Title Annotation:Motors News
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2004
Words:879
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