Simanaitis Says

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A FORD publicity stunt planned 50 years ago and its imminent recreation remind me of Fiat’s Lingotto facility in Turin, Italy, and the action flick, The Italian Job (the original one). The reason is that all four involve automobiles and rooftops.

The scene of the first two was/will be the 86th-story observation deck of the Empire State Building, more than 1000 ft. above the streets of New York City.


A Ford Mustang resided on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building in 1966. Image from Ford Motor Company.

In 1966, Ford celebrated the success of its first Mustang, introduced as a 1964 1/2 model, by posing a Mustang Convertible on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. It was quite the challenge: No hoist was tall enough. The building’s spire precluded using a helicopter for the car’s placement.

The Mustang had to be chopped into pieces to fit in the building’s elevator for the trip up and back.


Above, waiting for the elevator. Below, some assembly required. Images from Ford Motor Company.


Ford plans to recreate this event with its 2015 Mustang being introduced at the New York Auto Show on April 18, 2014. The new car will be in 86th-floor residence of the Empire State Building from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on April 16 and 17. It’ll be even more challenging than 1966 because the Mustang has grown over the years.

But then haven’t we all.

There’s nothing new to cars and rooftops.


The Fiat Lingotto factory, as it appeared in 1928.

In fact, Fiat built an entire auto factory based on rooftop motoring. Its Lingotto facility in Turin, Italy, had five stories configured in an assembly line spiraling upward and culminating in a rooftop test track.

Raw materials and parts entered on the ground floor. Assembly of the automobiles took place floor by floor, completed on the fifth story and leading to a certification drive on the rooftop. Given their okays, cars then traveled down to ground level on spiral roadways at either end of the facility.

Lingotto was the second largest automotive production facility in the world. Only Ford’s River Rouge Factory Complex was larger. The building’s extensive use of reinforced concrete was one of the world’s first. There’s an interesting Jalopnik writeup of Lingotto, including a video, at

It’s likely that wife Dottie’s two Fiats, her 124 sedan and Coupe, were built at Lingotto. Fiat operated the facility until 1982; a Lancia Delta was its last car off the line.


Lingotto as it appears today. Image by Traveler100.

Lingotto has had several refurbishments since 1982. It now features a shopping mall, theater, convention center and hotel.

I’ve stayed in the hotel. It wasn’t a Fiat trip and, more’s the pity, the other automaker chose to ignore the building’s heritage. I recall the hotel was very Memphis Group in its post-modern accommodations.


The Italian Job, 1969, starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. Image from IMDb

One of moviedom’s great car chases, culminating The Italian Job, takes place around the Lingotto track—and through shopping arcades, sewer pipes, on the roof of Turin’s Palazzo a Vela and down the steps of the Gran Madre di Dio.


Austin Minis are chased around Lingotto banking by Carabinieri in The Italian Job.

Being familiar with the Mini Moke variant (, I’m particularly impressed with performance of the movie’s Minis, what with their loads of gold ingots.

Road-holding weight, I guess. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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This entry was posted on April 5, 2014 by in Classic Bits, Just Trippin' and tagged , , , .
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