Journal: My Fiat 124 Spider Took Its First Steps Five Floors Above Turin

My Fiat 124 Spider Took Its First Steps Five Floors Above Turin

By Alan Franklin
May 21, 2013

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.

Photo Sources:,,,,,,,

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Russ Wollman
Russ Wollman(@twincamfiat)
2 years ago

My ‘73 with its in-between 1592cc motore gave me 14 of the happiest years of my life. I still love that car.

Lucho Stancato
Lucho Stancato
3 years ago

Mazda have a track in Hiroshima ‘s roof? I think so…

Jono Crellin
Jono Crellin(@jonoc)
6 years ago

I don’t want to take the wind out of your sails, but the 124 Spider wasn’t entirely made at Lingotto. The bodies were all assembled and trimmed at nearby Pininfarina. They were then trucked to Lingotto for engines, transmissions and drivetrains. A convoluted process that makes the cars just that but more special. And yes, all of the Fiat badged cars did go through Lingotto. After Lingotto was closed in 1982, all production processes were transferred to Pininfarina who also took over the marketing rights for the car.

Samir Shirazi
Samir Shirazi(@samirshirazi)
6 years ago

Redesigned by famous architect Renzo Piano, It is now a commercial center, you can have a sandwich while sitting in between the topolino production line! anddddd do not forget it is just 5 minutes to Italian national car museum, one of the most important museums to visit for any car addicted

Ray Houghton
Ray Houghton(@fb_1245381563)
6 years ago

Thanks for the story. I have recently married an Italian woman who has family in Northern Italy. We are hoping to go for a visit next year, and this is on my list of places to see while there. I remember Fiats being many peoples fist car back in the 70s. They where inexpensive cheaper operate and not too fast to keep young rivers out of most trouble. I picked up my first spider about 13 years ago. That one has been sold to a young guy buying his fist car, but I still have and drive a 1973 spider. I’ve owned quite a few Fiats over the years and often whn they breakdown I get this notion in my head that I’m going to sell it after I fix it this time, then I fix it take it for a test drive up California’s highway 1 into the redwoods, and decide there is no way I jusatfy selling such a fun car. This cycle repeats over and over and my wife asked why I don’t just buy a newer car. As I write this I’m planning to remove the head from my Spider and have it rebuilt due to low compression in cylinder #2. I can’t wait to get out for that next post-repair test drive.

Marco Allasio
Marco Allasio(@fb_1036004429778276)
6 years ago

It’s an awesome building, and I’m very happy to study Automotive Engineering in this historic factory!

Fernando Bunster
Fernando Bunster(@fernandobunster)
8 years ago

There’s another one built by Chrysler in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas(@eddie124)
8 years ago

Nice writeup. I do wish I can someday drive my 124 Spider up there, it’s on my to-do list with the car… By the way, mine is an early ’67 pre-series car (bought from Italy), and I’ve now owned it 7 years. Apart from some issues caused by someone not very knowledgeable who worked on it (the #1 curse for Fiats of this era) before and lack of use, it’s been absolutely reliable, and I just can’t help but drive it… it’s my daily driver of choice, racking up between 8 and 9,000 km a year. It’s a beautifully engineered car, it’s gorgeous to look at and I even like working on it (I do all my own maintenance).

Leo Edward
Leo Edward(@scottishlion)
8 years ago

One of the BEST days of my entire life was visiting Turin and seeing Lingotto in person. I grew up watching The Italian Job several times a year so when the chance came to hunt out the rooftop test track, I had to try. There was very little information available, and I was saddened by the fact the building’s been turned into just your average shopping mall, but hidden away behind this, you can still find the spiral ramp, and if you head for the modernist box art gallery on the roof, a discreet glass door leads out onto the track.

The day I was there it was baking hot, and the Tarmac was almost tacky, and I climbed up the banked corners and couldn’t believe how steep they were, it gave me the shits just looking down, with only a tiny barrier between me and a six storey drive it must be incredible.

This must be added to any petrolhead’s Italian Itinerary!

8 years ago

Briliant article!

Funny how we can get attached to these rusty bastards. Your words “laugh-out-loud fun and gut-wrenching anger and headaches in equal measure, frequently during the course of one trip” sums it all up perfectly!

Damn, I do miss my VW 181 “Thing”…

8 years ago

There is another one in Belgium : the old Imperia Factory ( – see picture 19 with track on the roof)

Josh Clason
Josh Clason(@joshclason)
8 years ago
Reply to  moln

Awesome, I learned something new today also.

8 years ago

This is awesome! Learned something new today.