There is the famous turn, we have to take it for a while. We stop, lower the window, turn our heads and close our eyes. We’re halfway through the bend and take a deep breath in and out, and then imagine ourselves in our fifties for a while. It’s like a trip through time. We’re thinking back to the brightly colored scene that used to be crackling here. The hoarse singing of the two-cylinder engines, 600 cc, 16.5 hp, which were located in the back of the charming little wagons. They were blue, red, and bright green. It smells of oil, leaded gasoline, and burnt rubber. Yep, that’s what it should be here in auto heaven. And now? Now he is dead quiet. “Heh, wake up. Try to stay on track for the next round!”
The paparazzi are not always perfect when they want to bring you back down to earth. We are here to work. In addition, it is very rare for Fiat employees to allow us to go on the test track, here at an altitude of 28 meters. We can breathe new life into history.
We are located in Lingotto, a region of Turin and the home of the Italian car manufacturer. Lingotto is also the name of a former automobile factory, whose construction began in 1916. You don’t need to complete an architectural study to see we’re dealing with a massive building. The story goes that Giovanni Agnelli (1866-1945) visited Ford in Detroit and was impressed by what he saw there. He decided to have a modern production site built for his Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, Fiat for a short while. In the period from 1915 to 1918, the founder bought 378,000 square meters of land on the outskirts of Turin, and had to conclude 55 purchase contracts with landowners. Construction began in 1916 and the factory was finished ten years later. And now we’re walking around here, in an electric scion of the old 500.
The electric version has to make its way up first, floor by floor. It turned out to be quiet, agile and fast, like a kind of Mini Ferrari. We know that in this concrete world, it lands on the surface about twenty hours faster than Fiats of the past. After all, it had to be built first. Each time they advance one floor.
Built from the bottom up
At that time, Fiat commissioned engineer Giacomo Mattei Trucco (1869-1934) to take care of the Lingotto project. He created two main coils 507 meters long and 24 meters wide. The cars were built “from the bottom up” on five floors from 1923, and when production was completed, Fiat employees traveled around the rooftop test track, which is about a kilometer long. This is how they checked the quality. If something happens or shakes, the car goes back down.
The last one was Delta Lancia
In just under sixty years, about eighty models of cars were built in the Lingotto, the most famous of which is of course the Fiat 500. The last car to leave the factory in 1982 was the Lancia Delta, of course after driving around the famous roof. In the 1930s, Fiat gradually realized that the production process spread over several floors was not very efficient. Moreover, the plant has become very small. Four kilometers or ten minutes away, a new factory was opened in Mirafiori and since 1939 the first cars rolled off the production line.
Fast forward to 2022. There are no two cylinders in the rear, and now an electric motor at the front drives the Fiat 500. Instead of 21 liters of gasoline in the tank, we have a usable 37.3 kWh battery pack.
The fact that we’re absolutely allowed to drive here thanks to this car: the Fiat 500e, or EV instead of the combustion-engine car. Only zero-emissions models are allowed to “enter” this roof, because they no longer want to smell gasoline here. Lingotto turns green! It’s a big project called La Pista 500. The cultivation of 40,000 crops should turn the former test track into the largest rooftop garden in Europe, accessible to all. It is planned that 300 different plant species will grow here, with the selection being made mainly for the fast-growing ones. Only electric cars are allowed to drive on the test track. like us today.
If you drive in circles – 443m straight, turn left for a moment, straighten the wheel and go back after 443m – you feel like a hamster on a running wheel. However, if you do the occasional braking without depressing the brake pedal, i.e. recovering the power and letting it flow back into the battery and then using the power again in sprints, you suddenly picture yourself as Speedy Gonzalez or Jerry on the run from Tom.
The electric 500 feels nice, lightweight, smooth and bold while driving. This was not possible in the age of petroleum. It sits so tightly on the road in the bend that you doubt for a moment whether it wasn’t accidentally fitted with Ferrari’s springs and with a torque of 220 Nm, it sprints so enthusiastically that it feels as if the carabinieri are chasing after us to sit.
Our red test sample is the Fiat 500 Red, a red driver’s seat version. The Cabrio is equipped with an electrically operated convertible roof, can travel 320 kilometers with the large battery, charges in 35 minutes at 85 kWh from 10 to 80 percent and is listed for 35,500 euros. It is finally being built again in Turin, the birthplace of Fiat. No, not in Lingotto, but that shouldn’t surprise you given all of the above.
Today, under the test track are two hotels, a shopping center, a cinema and areas occupied by the University of Turin. Our smooth electric rickshaw saw the light of day at the factory near Mirafiori. Before we take it back, we have a coffee at a coffee shop next to the factory. We close our eyes again. As you inhale deeply and exhale slowly here in the middle of the city, it is as if a new world is passing you by. With a roof garden instead of a test track, quiet instead of noise, green instead of grey. Not everything was better in the past.
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