Turns out I’m boring. I know. That’s what I thought. Boring.
Boring is, apparently, a banked test track on the roof of a building in Turin. Boring is one of the most iconic scenes in The Italian Job. Boring is, according to my colleagues, chinos not shorts; long sleeves not t-shirts.
Clark and Barsk, what do they know?
But they might have had a point. Since we departed Rome at the start of the week, I’ve been banging on about Friday in Turin. We’ve covered a few miles and seen a lot of stuff in the last eight days, but this would be something special. Even more special than walking the same Siena streets Fulvio Bacchelli did in his Fiat overalls half a century ago. Or driving some of Tuscany’s best bits of gravel.
Friday was about Lingotto. Actually, it was about one specific address in the district of Lingotto.
Via Nizza, 250, Torino. The Fiat building.
You have no idea how cool this place is. Unless you’ve been there.
Certainly Colin and Heikki had no idea how cool the place was until we landed into Italy more than a week ago and I started talking about it. Did they know it opened in 1923 and was considered the most important and biggest car making facility in the world? Did they know parts went in on the ground floor, proceeded through five floors of production line before the finished product popped out at the top and went directly around the banked the track to be tested?
No. They didn’t. Did they care? No.
Did they care that I’d been there a few years ago with Markku and Anton Alén to test an original Fiat 500 and the contemporary version? No. Did they care that Markku was irked at the lack of prosciutto on the menu in the restaurant on the roof? No.
Did that stop me giving them chapter and verse about how Alén Sr had tested all manner of 124s and 131s there since signing for Fiat in 1974? No. The Alén stories flowed from Rome to Sanremo. Until a Finnish voice piped up from the back seat: “Will you please stop being so boring about this old place?”
Turning to Clark, expecting a bit of support, all I got was: “He’s got a point, you have gone on a bit.”
Well, at least I wasn’t wearing shorts.
I decided to sulk and keep my stories to myself. I told them both I’d be making my return trip to Lingotto on my own on Friday afternoon.
“Good,” said Heikki, “then maybe you will be quiet about old places.”
Clark clearly felt guilty and asked if he could tag along.
Heading out of Alba and back to the city, Colin did his own research on Lingotto and asked me if I knew it was built in 1923 and considered the most important and biggest car making facility in the world? A place where parts went in on the ground floor, proceeded through five floors of production line before the finished product popped out at the top and went directly around the banked the track to be tested?
Yes Colin, I knew that.
Naturally, we got lost on the way there. Apparently it’s normal to cross the River Po five times on the way in. But once we found it, Colin totally got it.
The building is beautiful in its architecture, poise and purpose. Walking around the outside, you can sense the importance this place had on northern Italian industry. It was a huge employer, the birth place of more than 80 Fiat models. Stepping inside to look at the spiraling ramp which took the cars up to the roof, you could shut your eyes and still hear the coming together of a thousand or so individual parts to make the legendary Topolino.
A literal translation of “topolino” is ‘little mouse’. The car was more commonly known as cinquecento. The 500.
Lingotto started churning them out in 1936, 13 years after the factory opened. At the time, the 569cc motor offered 13bhp. Back then, it was enough. Just. More than half a million of these were made between Fiat’s Lingotto and Mirafiori factories.
And a handful of years ago, two 500s were back on the roof driven by a father and son from Finland.
Did I mention the time I was there with the Aléns? Markku? Prosciutto? I get it. Enough now.
But the biggest tragedy? Having gone on about the place for a week, the restaurant on the roof was shut.