Automotive Archaeology: Visiting An Abandoned Italian Race Track With A Porsche, A Ferrari, And An Alfa Romeo
Photography by Luca Danilo Orsi
Inside, the hum of a barroom conversation amongst friends with the same passion but different tastes. Outside, these tastes are manifested in the metal with a trio of sports cars. A Porsche sandwiched by two of its historic rivals, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. A GTV, a GTB, and an SC, waiting to take us on an adventure into the unknown.
Three legendary brands woven deeply into motorsport lore, three of the most iconic road cars of their era, all three registered in the mid-eighties when their current owners were in their early twenties. These cars were the protagonists of a decade defined by both malaise and excess, the years of the yuppies, VHS tapes, and neon-lit debauchery. But these automobiles are more than decorations of this oft-stereotyped era. They’ve matured and aged with dignity to help inform a rosier remembrance of the time of their creation.
That’s enough of waxing nostalgic, though, it’s time for us to enjoy these cars’ talents, and to rediscover a relic of a bygone time in the process. The Alfa Romeo GTV 2.5 V6 “Busso,” the famed Porsche three-liter flat-six, and the 32-valve Ferrari V8 vie for attention, not so much harmonizing as competing with one another. It’s still pure music, an orchestra of internal combustion played from metallic trumpets. We head to our destination in a single file column of sound, drawing the attention of everyone we pass. At the first opportunity, we veer off onto the highway to escape the population and search for the countryside where we’ll have the roads all to ourselves.
Following signs for the Po river—which cuts the Po valley in two—we come upon enchanting scenery on these all but deserted roads in the middle of nature. For a while we drive along them aimlessly, reveling in the joys of for-the-sake-of-it driving in a place as beautiful and empty as this one. The 911 SC I’m riding in has a sunroof, and while it’s not quite like a spider, the feeling of fresh air in your hair still makes a difference.
Eventually we arrive at a crossroads. We pull up alongside each other, someone suggests we “go this way,” and we hop back in, the combined roar of our engines filling the valley again. A little further down the road, the asphalt regresses into dirt. Our pace becomes more cautious, we would like to turn back, but the road is too narrow, and we’ve already come a long ways to start thinking about reversing out, so we continue with fingers crossed. An old, rusted, half-open gate awaits us up ahead. It certainly looks uninhabited here, and we find a space where we can turn around and do the sensible thing.
We get out of the cars to stretch our legs and consider our options. Someone lights a cigarette, the sound of engines has been replaced by scattering pebbles from our footsteps and far-off birdsong. We’re about ready to retrace our way back to pavement, but that gate, that half-open door of opportunity is making us increasingly curious. It speaks to a sense of adventure usually limited to our childhoods, exploring the woods with our friends, tree-branch swords in hand and imaginations running wild.
Who knows where this gate may lead. We peek through, glimpsing abandoned, dilapidated buildings and a stretch of guard rail running along a strip of old asphalt bordered by curbs and encroaching vegetation. There’s a pit lane and a tower overlooking the whole layout as well. It’s evident that we’ve found an abandoned circuit. We decide to investigate further, there will be plenty of time to head home to our routines later.
From the pit lane tower we can see the outline of the track in the middle of the unkempt grasses, and we make sure to cover it all. The circuit is a fun layout with very fast sections (though we were quite far off of the “race pace” on our visit), and eight corners in total. The conditions do not allow us to push the cars very hard of course, but weaving between the weeds and the cracks was an ethereal experience that I would never trade for a typical track day.
We are left speechless for having found a magical and time-forgotten place like this. It’s like being in an ancient ruin, only instead of all the tourists we’re in the company of three photogenic sports cars. We take advantage of the surprisingly strong signal out here and get on our phones for some brief research that tells us that we are on the Circuit Morano Po (otherwise referred to as Autodromo di Casale Monferrato), inaugurated in 1973 and closed definitively after just a few years in 1977.
The king of this short-lived circuit (or at least the lap record holder) is none other than Arturo Merzario. We can’t believe we’ve found this place by chance, all but lost in the middle of nowhere, just a few meters from the banks of the Po River. There is an innate sadness to seeing the skeletal remains of a place that used to be alive with motorsport, but there is also the thrill of discovery in the new-to-us experience of finding this place. It’s hard not to get swept up in reverence, and to contain our imagination from filling in the past.
The crumbling remains tell us stories of what was and what could have been. We decide to take a few more laps, shoot a few photos to remember the day by. The well cared for cars and their bright metallic freshness make for a strong contrast to the crumbling concrete structures and the reclaiming nature. As the evening ticks on, the scene starts to fall under the blanket of darkness, but before we make our way back to civilization, we turn on our lights to stave off the circuit’s loneliness, just a bit longer.