Chit Chat: Michele Lupini

2011-01-15 09:30

How did LupiniPower come about?

It was always my dream to run a tuning shop so I went out and qualified myself to do just that.

Auto engineering never really taught anything about car development, so I studied Aero through the air force and Kentron, where I worked on aircraft.

While at Kentron, I started to race. My ­background served me well and I also found I was quite a handy driver. Next thing, guys were queuing up to modify their cars, and the rest is history.

Your grandfather, Gigi Lupini, is quite a legend and made history in SA. Tell us about that.

Gigi was quite a guy. My role ­model for sure. He was born in Bergamo, Italy, in 1898. He moved to South Africa via Mozambique and soon set himself up in Joburg in the mid-1930s.

During the war, he avoided being interned because he had to finish building the Joburg Supreme Court.

He owned the first Alfa Romeo and Ferrari in South Africa. His Ferrari raced the nine-hour and South African Grand Prix.

Later, he had a Cooper Bristol, a Cooper Porsche and a Cooper ­Maserati driven by SA legends John Love, Doug Serrurier, Trevor Blokdyk and the like.

He stopped racing when F1 cars started costing megabucks, but Gigi always had a Ferrari. My dad, Mario, raced for Gigi too. Gigi passed away in 1981.

Why did LupiniPower close shop?
In the mid-90s people were buying Bully Beef in bulk for their garages and the doomsday that never came.

Business dried up, I tried my hand at writing and found I ­actually wasn’t bad. The next thing, I started Cars in Action.

I had a tuning business that was battling and a thriving publishing business, and needed to ­concentrate on one, so we stopped tuning for a few years.

Why did it take so long to make a comeback?

No real reason. We wanted to ­restart in 2007, but canned it when the market collapsed again. We needed to concentrate on the ­magazines to survive.

What are your fondest memories growing up with such an ­exhilarating racing background?

I grew up in a rondavel behind my grandfather’s precast factory in Wynberg.

It was an incredible place where they did concrete work in this old-world factory with artists such as Eduardo Villa and ­Willem Boshoff working with my grandfather ­under the vines.

The race garage was also there. I lived with the mechanic, Bulcao, and the best drivers in the world in and out.

I was about five or six years old, but what memories!

Do you have children, and do they show signs of carrying on the Lupini racing legacy?

Yes, I have a girl and a boy. ­Marcella loves cars. She comes with me to the Geneva Motor Show every year.

Giordano will start racing his kart in a few months. He’s set to be SA’s first fourth-generation racer.

What’s it like making global ­headlines with LupiniPower?

It has been incredible.

The ­interest has been fantastic.

We hope we can turn all that into business soon.

What made you fall in love with the Escort XR3 and made you want to race it?

I bought the XR3 brand new in 1981 when it was the best car for me on the market, and drove the hell out of it for four years. Then I decided to race it.

We won the Stannic Group N Championship in 1986 and it basically was the start of LupiniPower. Was it a legend of a car, no?

Why were people so surprised at your success in your racing group at that time?

We were an underfunded private outfit with a too-big-for-his-boots rookie racing an out-of-date 100?000km car and we beat Willie Hepburn and Ben Morgenrood’s latest works’ machinery – a ­brand-new Mazda EGis.

We caused quite a stir.

What is some of your most vivid memories during your racing years?

Beating the works with a beat-up, out-of-production car theirs had replaced a year before.

What are the most valuable ­lessons you have learnt from your father, Mario, and your granddad, Gigi?

Honesty, integrity and all the right things fathers want their sons to learn. It took a bit of time to learn the finer points perhaps, but I think I have it right now.

You have three products so far with the LupiniPower badge. What else can we expect for
the future?

I can tell you, but I’d have to kill you. No, we still need to finish off the Ford Fiesta, but our next ­target is to get our shop up and running.

There will be one or two more cars in the interim, but after that we will also be able to handle ­off-the-street enquiries on basically any car as we grow the range.

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