Exploring Lingotto – the most famous car factory in the world

DSC_0844Start talking about an abandoned car factory and most people will glaze over pretty quickly. However, when talking about Fiat’s Lingotto plant in Turin, all you need to do is mention that ‘it’s the one with the test track on the roof’ and you’ll pretty quickly have almost anyone’s attention. Test track or not the Lingotto plant was a truly revolutionary piece of architecture, so much that Le Corbusier labeled it “one of the most impressive sights in industry” and “a guideline for town planning”. Oh, and the fact that it was used in the original Italian Job movie (along with most of Turin, mind you), means it was a must see attraction on a recent visit to Italy’s motor city.

800px-Fiat_Lingotto_veduta-1928Lingotto still dominates the skyline of Turin – 5 levels high and half a kilometer long (a full kilometer if you count additional buildings either side), the plant was constructed over five years beginning in 1916 as somewhat of a response by Fiat tsar Giovanni Agnelli to Henry Ford’s revolutionary production line in Michigan. This photograph was taken at some point in 1928.

DSC_0726The design was by the young and unknown architect Matte Trucco around a rather ingenious solution to a lack of space – raw materials entered from the foundries and press shops at the bottom, and the production line wound its way up the five floors using clever ramps at each end. The finished product was test driven on the roof, before being brought back down via another ramp and loaded onto waiting trucks to be whisked away to the lucky new owner.

DSC_0760Lingotto was a roaring success for Fiat with over 80 different models produced there, but by the 1970’s it was becoming outdated and was finally closed in 1982. That of course posed the question of what to do with Turin’s biggest landmark, a building wound so tightly into the fabric of the city and modernism itself that demolition was out of the question. A competition, won by Italian architect Renzo Piano, decided that Lingotto be turned into a public space with a large shopping mall, convention centre, offices and a hotel. But the rumors always lingered that the bones of the old factory remain, and it was simply impossible to visit Turin without doing a little bit of Urban Exploring in the Lingotto building. The internet is a good source of info regarding what you can access, but this is Italy and things are constantly changing, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself and hope for the best.

DSC_0729The shopping mall sits on the entire second and third levels, and access to one end of the ramps is easy. As you ascend you’ll pass, amongst other things, Fiat’s technical training centre for mechanics and the offices of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, now used by the local University. You’ll also notice that this is possibly the most architecturally beautiful, avant-garde car factory to have ever been built. Only the Italians.

DSC_0744Unfortunately your progress is stopped on the fourth floor making roof access impossible this way. Look for the graffiti in this area, most of it extremely humorous but not publishable on this family friendly website!

DSC_0807Access is impossible to the ramps at the other end of the building (I spent an hour trying), however a peek through a keyhole provides a more accurate picture of what the factory might have looked like when it was still knocking out little Fiat’s by the thousand. If it was deserted you might have a chance of breaking in but there is a high security presence – I guess I’m not the first person to come here exploring.

DSC_0764The only surefire way of walking on the test track is to have an evening aperitif at La Pista Del Lingotto Ristorante – the rooftop restaurant. Follow the signs to the lift from the shopping mall – I’m told it’s rather expensive, but that might just be the price you need to pay. Although I couldn’t even do that, as on my visit it was simply closed for the night without reason. Only in Italy.

DSC_0771A small consolation is that one wall of the lift is glass, so you can at least get a ten second glimpse of the famous banking as the lift pauses at the top before returning down again.

DSC_0826But this is Italy, the land where, for better or worse, absolutely everything is negotiable. At the locked door to the rooftop restaurant I chanced upon a security guard. In extremely broken Italian, using my hands as the adjectives, I explained to the guard that I’d come from Australia, I owned an old Fiat and it would mean the world to me to set foot on the track. He smiled, pointed at his watch, said ‘5 minutes only’ in very broken English and then opened the door. I thanked him profusely before sprinting off down the track.

DSC_0852First impression is that the banking is incredibly tight…

DSC_0830… and incredibly steep. The transition from flat to bank is a little awkward in places, and I think that hitting it too fast in the wrong place would see a heartstopping moment flying into that low catch fence, or worse. I guess this isn’t so much a track to hone performance, rather to check correct function of freshly built automobiles so speed probably isn’t an issue.

It’s impossible to come here and not imagine you’re racing around it in a Mini Cooper S filled to the brim with gold!

DSC_0846Yes ma’am, that is a test track on the roof of your office!

DSC_0843Turin is Italy’s Detroit (but without all the homelessness and crime, etc), so there’s plenty to do and see here to amuse any car fan. The Lingotto building is super easy to get to from anywhere, and makes a fascinating way to spend a few hours in this beautiful city.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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  1. Tom Gilbert December 4, 2013 Reply

    Wow, am sorry to say I had no idea about the Lingotto building. Just fascinating. Great job.

  2. SiFi December 6, 2013 Reply

    Haha! Well done! Especially to be able to talk your way onto the track. A real shame it isn't being used for some sort of classic car event or display.

    • Andrew Coles December 11, 2013 Reply

      It's amazing what being both an Aussie and owning a Fiat can do when your in Italy! And yea, it would be great if it were used more often. They did take a huge bunch of X1/9's up there about 10 years ago, and I've seen photos of a huge Vespa run there but that's all I'm aware of.

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