In the summer of 1969, Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina pulled into Capri's Marina Grande, where the Greek shipowner and his new bride, Jacqueline Onassis, disembarked and hailed one of the Tyrrhenian island's famous, brightly painted stretch taxis, a specially modified seven-seat Fiat convertible. Onassis asked the driver, Angelo Federico, to suggest a restaurant for lunch; he took them to Da Gemma, near the Piazzetta. Only after they'd wined and dined did Onassis realize that he'd left his wallet on the boat. When Federico, who'd waited to bring them back to the harbor, loaned him the money for the meal, no one was surprised. Those Fiat taxis and their drivers had already come to symbolize Capri's welcoming culture.
The first taxis on Capri—mostly Fiats and all convertibles—appeared before World War II. By the 1950's, they'd become an emblem of the island, and the drivers were as well known as their cars (visitors from Sophia Loren to Princess Margaret to Brigitte Bardot all had their favorites). In the seventies, however, the onerous task of finding replacement parts started to kill off the red, blue, and pink elephants. Last summer, with only one of the classic taxis still on the road, Tonino Cacace, owner of the Capri Palace Hotel & Spa in Anacapri, decided to restore a bright-red 1950 Fiat; it will be in service in time to welcome the first guests stepping off the ferry for the hotel's 2003 season. Just be forewarned: a free lunch may not be part of the bargain.