On Sunday, Sept. 18, Stony Brook University’s Center for Italian Studies hosted the Robert D. Cess Concorso d’Eleganza XVI, an Italian car show, on the Physics Building’s lawn area.
The exhibit was free and open to the public, and featured examples of Italian vehicles as a representation of Italian culture. The show drew a crowd of approximately 575 people, including 150 participants with display vehicles.
From 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., participants arrived and parked their vehicles on the lawn. Until noon, guests viewed the collection of 96 automobiles while enjoying refreshments throughout the day.
“It’s a great community involvement,” Matteo Brera, the newly appointed executive director of the Center for Italian Studies, said. “We are the bridge between the Italian community and the Italian Center. It’s certainly pleasurable to see such interest in Italian heritage, which manifests itself through the automotive sector, which is one of Italy’s best exported and most exported goods.”
Following the viewing — from 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. — guests cast their ballot for their favorite car; the votes were tallied to decide the results of the Concorso’s “People’s Choice Awards,” a competition that decided the best three cars by popular vote.
At noon, all guests and participants gathered at the terrace for closing remarks and the presentation of the awards.
Natale Lanza won first place with a 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO.
The third place winner of the People’s Choice Award was Gregory Seferian, who displayed his 1982 Alfa Romeo GTV6. Second place was awarded to Fred Frey and his 1968 Fiat Dino Spider.
A special tribute to Robert D. Cess, a former Stony Brook professor of atmospheric sciences and founder of the Concorso d’Eleganza, was also delivered at the gathering.
Cess passed away earlier this year, which prompted organizers to make this year’s show a memorial for him.
The idea for the first Concorso event began when Cess approached Mario B. Mignone, who was director of the Center for Italian Studies at the time. An Alfa Romeo collector himself, Cess wished to talk to Mignone’s Modern Italy class about his knowledge of the Italian automotive industry.
The lecture garnered enough interest from the students that Cess presented the idea of an on-campus event that would showcase Italian cars.
The event was planned to encourage the Italian community to connect over their appreciation for the culture — and for Stony Brook University students to better understand Italian art and history — through the presentation of Italian cars.
Together, Cess and Mignone founded the Concorso d’Eleganza, which was later renamed to Robert D. Cess Concorso d’Eleganza.
The first Concorso event, initiated in 2006, received enough praise that it has been hosted every year since, with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In keeping with the philosophy of the Center for Italian Studies, the show serves to connect the campus with the larger Italian community.
Since the founding of the event, the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of USA (AROC), which Cess was a respected member of, played a vital role in encouraging their members to participate and showcase their cars each year.
The yearly car show sparks fond memories of Cess.
“It’s important because it makes me think of Bob Cess [Robert D. Cess], who was a great friend and a wonderful force in our club, both at the local level and the Connecticut chapter, and he had a national impact as well,” Mike Bange, the vice president of AROC, said.
Bange also emphasized the community aspect of the car show.
“It’s not just for our Alfa Romeos, it’s all Italians,” he said. We don’t exclude anybody. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, anything Italian is welcome at this event, and it’s a wonderful celebration of Italian excellence in automotive design and engineering.”
The Donna Drake Show, a CBS show that now airs in 25 different countries, provided coverage of the show. Executive producer and host Donna Drake, co-hosts Rhonda Klch and Bella Barbaro, producer James Albano and cameraman Lou Vaccarelli volunteered to provide coverage free of charge.
Drake expressed the intention to expand coverage for next year and bring additional sponsorships to the university.
“We wanted to celebrate this, to be able to feature one of the amazing things that Stony Brook University does in order to involve the community,” Drake said. “This organization, this group, the language department, is a bridge between the University and the community that it serves. So it kind of unites everybody together.”
The efforts to organize this event began back in July and were led by Josephine Fusco, the volunteer event coordinator and assistant director for the Center.
The Long Island branch of the Carabinieri, the Italian Military Police, was also instrumental in spreading news of the event and bringing together the Italian-American community throughout Long Island for this cultural display. President Andrea Amoruso, Consigliere Vito Pampalone and Consigliere Josephine Vernillo, all from the Long Island branch, attended the event.
Overall, according to Drake, the Concorso d’Eleganza event centered around the theme of unity.
“This event is a response to the interest of the community in what an organization like the Center of Italian Studies can do for a community both on campus and nearby,” Fusco said. “The purpose of this center was always to build a bridge between the university and the community and this certainly does that.”