I can imagine a group of high-spirited middle-aged Italian businessmen in a board meeting buried in cigarette smoke. Most haven’t had their prescribed medicine on this particular day, and they’ve just been presented with a thoroughly insane idea by a young and avant-garde architect…
Whether this is precisely how it all played out, I don’t know. But one thing is certain: At some point, the young architect Matté Trucco presented his idea in front of the visionary Fiat board. The company was to build a new factory in Torino, and in 1916 they commenced the construction work for Trucco’s grand idea. A five-story monumental complex with a race track on the roof! Yes, you did read that correctly. The plan was for the factory to receive raw materials on the ground floor, for them to climb up through the stories as they went through the process of being assembled into complete cars. In the end, new cars would roll out onto the test track on the roof. This all happened in those early formative years of automotive mass-production, and inspiration was found in the Ford factories in the USA. The Lingotto factory initiated production in 1923 and remained in use right up until 1982 where the final car left the production line. The last model to be produced in the impressive factory was not a Fiat as one would have thought, but instead the Lancia Delta.
All of 80 Fiat models were assembled in the factory, and should you own a Fiat 124 Sport Spider, a Topolino or any other Fiat produced between 1923 and the 1970’s, there’s a fair chance that the first kilometers your Fiat drove, might well have been on Lingotto’s elevated test track.
The legendary French architect and urbanist Le Corbusier spoke very warmly about the factory: “It is one of the most impressive sights in industry”, and “it is a guideline for town planning”. At the time, it was the world’s largest car factory.
The test track on the roof was used on several occasions for both races and movies. The Lingotto building and track took part in amongst others the Mafioso movie from 1962 and The Italian Job from 1969.
Often one would perhaps expect to see a slow decay of the abandoned factory. Now, more than 30 years after the factory shut shop, one could fear that this building which was once at the forefront of technology, was now forgotten. Luckily, this is one of those rare but pleasant occasions where this is not the case. Only a few years after the factory shut, the whole building was renovated and made into a massive public space. The factory is now a shopping arcade which also houses concert halls and a theater, a convention center and a high-class hotel.
Even the roof’s test track is still intact, and is primarily used as an extraordinary meeting place for corporate events and not least car clubs. While it’s a shame that the days of racing and test drives on the roof are a thing of the past, it’s at least great to experience the whole of the historic Lingotto building being preserved and taken care off.