My Fiat 124 Spider Took Its First Steps Five Floors Above Turin
One of the best/worst cars I ever let go of was a ’74 Fiat 124 Spider. I found it for free one day on Craigslist, the owner was sending it to the crusher in the morning and wanted to let someone have an opportunity to save it. I didn’t really want it, but I sat in front of my monitor staring at its happy, oblivious little smile and became overwhelmed by a creeping sadness—it might as well has been a fuzzy puppydog, so strong is my illness for crappy old cars. A single Ben Franklin ($75 for a trailer rental, $25 in gas guzzled by my father-in-law’s fantastic big block ’72 Chevy C20) and fifty miles later I was the proud new owner of an Italian sports car—it even ran, and well! I won’t go into the details of my ownership history here, but suffice it to say it supplied me with insane, laugh-out-loud fun and gut-wrenching anger and headaches in equal measure, frequently during the course of one trip.
One of the coolest things about that car (besides a laundry list of more meta qualities like how it drove and what it had under the hood), was where it was built—mine came from Lingotto, Turin. Constructed over the course of seven years, the first-ever car built at Fabbrica Lingotto turned its wheels on the factory roof in 1923—yep, the roof.
Designed as a one long, uninterrupted production line, Lingotto was comprised of five winding floors in an oval shape. Raw materials would enter on the first floor, and slowly make their way up from station-to-station until finally emerging on the facility’s rooftop, where a banked, looping test track was built to shakedown these factory-fresh Fiats. It was an elegant and incredibly novel way of doing things, and earned both Fiat and its designer, a young Matté Trucco, the admiration of the world, with Modernist great Le Corbusier calling it “one of the most impressive sights in industry”.
Over 80 different models were built at Lingotto over its near-sixty-year operating history, among them tiny, iconic Topolino. Fiat eventually retired the factory in 1982, the ever-growing complexity of cars necessitating more modern facilities. Long a treasured historical and cultural icon by that point, the 16,000,000-square-foot site was turned into a commerce and entertainment complex in 1989, and now features a shopping mall, a concert hall, a theatre, a convention center, hotels, and quite appropriately, the Automotive Engineering program of Turin Polytechnic’s headquarters. The best part? Its track was retained, and on the rare occasion still hosts parade events where cars are run.
Sometimes I walk into my garage and spot the oil stain left by my dear, departed old Spider (she went on to a thoroughly nice guy who restored her with his teenage son) and reminisce about the good/bad old times we had together. I frequently then start to picture how she began her life as a collection of not-yet-rusted metal at the bottom of a great, spiraling concrete monster half a world away, and how the first time she was ever ran through the gears was some 70 feet above the skyline of Turin, her azzurro paint sparkling in the sun and off the windows of neighboring high rises, visible to office workers and city dwellers alike.
Damn I miss that car.