‘Steep?’ said Lewis, with ingenuous bemusement. ‘It’s fucking vertical. No wonder you can’t get any purchase, Barnaby – those shoes are suited to a dance floor, not mountain climbing.’ I ignored the snub, and we continued dandering impishly along the old Fiat test track in Turin.
Now this is a genuine scoop. Google “tourism Torino” and you’ll be fobbed off with a castle or two, the gourmand tram or “the streets of chocolate”. In fact, even were you to stumble upon the erstwhile Fiat plant in Lingotto, you’d find yourself browsing clothes shops and drinking cappuccini in what was once the factory assembly line area. It’s now a shopping mall, convention centre and up-scale hotel.
Biggest car factory in Europe
Test track on the roof? Hurtled round by minis loaded with gold bullion in the film The Italian Job? Banked turns, six storeys in the air, designed to check the five levels of manufacturing beneath were up to scratch? You’d never know; not a single indication. Well, that’s where I come in. Go round the back of the cinema, follow the sign for the Pinoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli Museum, and Bob’s your proverbial uncle.
Exit the lift, wave at the lady on the museum desk, and tell her you’re popping outside for a circuit or two. ‘Circuito,’ one probably says in Italian; ostentatiously add a vowel to an English word and, hey presto, the result is a flawless foreign tongue. Yes, I should be a translator, I know. ‘Idiota,’ she thought and nodded, glad to get back to her book again.
Now, what’s strange is that Lewis and I had the entire track to ourselves, whooping with oblivious felicity, soaring like condors. Well, without the wings, obviously. Or the beaks, come to think of it. In fact, nothing like condors, but we were happy. It really is bewitchingly good up there and yet, despite dripping with automotive history, nobody seems to know about it.
Designed by engineer Giacomo Mattè-Trucco
There’s also a restaurant in the centre of the roof – La Pista del Lingotto – owned by the foxy, English-speaking Tiziana. It isn’t cheap but, wow, what a spot for lunch. The snow-mantled Alps to the northwest; sixteen million square feet of Lingotto plant beneath you; and a one-of-a-kind test track surrounding you. No condors, I’m afraid, but that’s only because Italy isn’t in the Americas.
Still, close your eyes and picture the Fiats, between 1923 and 1982, exiting the factory, thrashing it round the roof and disappearing down one of the spiral access ramps. Or think of the scene in The Italian Job when the red, white and blue Minis were flat out round the track, three abreast on the curve, with the police in hot pursuit. “We are the Self-Preservation Society…”
Of course, if you’ve no intention to visit Turin, or have no interest in cars, reading this has been an utter waste of your time. Sorry about that..