I popped over to Turin for the launch of the new Fiat 500 Star and Rockstar. Turin is a mere two hours away in the very north of Italy, just shy of the border with France. Typical of the area, Turin boasts a mixture of post modern industrial buildings and classical Latin Renaissance, Baroque and Empire architecture. It feels like you’re travelling through time as you jump centuries from one building to the next.
Turin is of course home to Fiat, which has a huge presence in the town, the largest employer and a massive influence over the last 130 years since it was founded. Fiat owns Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Ram Trucks, and SRT as part of FCA.
My first stop was at the famous Fiat Lingotto Factory with the legendary race track on the roof, over five floors high. Now the NH Torino Lingotto Congress luxury hotel, complete with a shopping mall, where I was staying the night before the launch the next morning. The concierge was kind enough to pass me the keys and with two friends we took the rather confusing route up to the roof to admire the famous track used for Fiat testing for decades, but alas no longer. It also starred in the film “The Italian Job” where the escaping minis ride up the ramp and manage to hide behind a side building as the Italian police arrive and then bypass them to race back down, losing them in the kerfuffle. The track is magnificent with steep 45° banks at each end, forming a giant oval. The test drivers must have had a lot of fun up here, but woe betide anyone who crashed, the drop was a long way down. The track is overlooked by a massive glass ball structure straight out of a Bond film, that served as the control tower.
I was hoping to take the new Fiat 500 Rockstar out on the track, but no such luck. However I was to be amongst the very first journalists ever to go behind the scenes at the new FCA Design Studios and visit the Centro Stile (Style Centre) in Turin. Until now one of the most secret, best protected areas in the automotive world.
Klaus Busse, the head designer at Centro Stile greeted us on arrival and welcomed us to the centre. A very keen and passionate driver, he’s just completed the Mille Miglia and was off that afternoon to join the start of the Gumball Rally. Working in the Automotive industry in Italy has its perks.
Luca Napolitano, head of EMEA Fiat and Abarth brands, introduced the "Colours & Materials" department, where all of the aesthetic features that characterise Fiat models are defined. Rossella Guasco, manager of the department, explained the process by which the social, colour and material trends are evaluated to design each new model, looking years ahead, which was fascinating. The opportunity to mine such a rich history and pick the future looks for each new car must be exhilarating.
The design studios are part sophisticated research centre and part refined fashion atelier. Every day designers, architects and technicians work on trends and experiment with innovative production processes to create new colour schemes and original combinations of materials. It was in this very place that the iconic 500 was reborn in 2007.
Since its rebirth, there have been more than 30 special series created by the Centro Stile, in partnership with iconic brands. From fashion to luxury yachting, and from technology to heritage, the most popular models have included the 500 by Gucci, 500 Riva, 500-60th and 500 Anniversario, as well as the more recent 500 Mirror, 500 Collezione and 500 Spiaggina '58.
Thanks to the work of the Centro Stile, the Fiat brand has succeeded in creating the new Star and Rockstar. The Fiat 500 Star features a brand new metallic Powder Pink paint, perfectly matched with chrome details, 16-inch alloy wheels and fixed glass roof as standard. The new 500 Rockstar version stands out from the pack with a look that combines the bumpers and the side sills from the Sport, with details such as the fixed glass roof, 16-inch alloy wheels and satin finish chrome bodywork details.
The new models are available in both hatchback and cabriolet guise, while all 500 models from Lounge trim upwards now come with the Uconnect 7-inch HD LIVE touchscreen radio - which has Apple CarPlay support and is compatible with Android AutoTM - as standard. Craftsmanship and refined elegance characterise the interiors of the new 500 Star and Rockstar. In particular, in the new interior of the elegantly sporty 500 Rockstar the central band of the seat covers is inspired by the tailored pin-stripe suits of the dandy men's fashion look, given a modern reworking through combination of more contemporary materials, such as the grey-blue details on the side panels and the black eco-leather upper part of the seat. Like the Rockstar trim, the new 500 Star also adopts original, exclusive interiors, the ultimate expression of style for the 500 range, which are available in two colour combinations, white sand and black, and in the elegant, new Matelassé finish with details in eco-leather and a bordeaux embroidered 500 logo. And there’s a lot more room in the back than at first appears.
As background to the new models we visited the Heritage Hub beside the Centro Stile, part of the famous Mirafiori plant, where they keep over 250 rare and vintage Fiat, Lancia, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Abarth classics. Roberto Giolito is Chef Designer at Fiat and explained some of the history and provenance of the many unusual cars in the collection. The Heritage Hub itself was a vast glass walled, cement floored hangar with these historically rich treasures laid out in long parallel lines. Picture petrolhead heaven, the automotive hanging gardens of Babylon, Aladdins car cave and you’re halfway there, then add more gleam. It was hard not to run up and down repeating “look at that one, no wait that one.”
Impossible to choose favourites from over 250 cars in the Hub, but here’s a few that will give you some idea of what an incredible collection this was. A Lancia D25, a Lancia Lamda Torpedo Ballon, the Fiat 500 Topolino in gloss black, the Lancia Flaminia Loraymo (designed by Raymond Loewy of Coca Cola bottle fame), the Abarth 2400 Coupe, The Lancia Fulvia Coupe Concept, The rocket like Fiat Abarth 750 Record, the tubular Lancia D50, the extraordinary ski slope Fiat Oltre, the Fiat Coupe Zagato, the Lancia 12HP “Alfa” Sport, the rear sloping Fiat S61, the sleek Fiat Abarth 1000 Record, the naked wheeled Abarth 1000 Monoposto Record Class G, the evocative brand covered Martini Lancia Monte Carlo Turbo, the desert crossing Fiat A.R.51 “Campagnola” Algeri-Citta Del Campo and the heart stopping Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider (a million Euros). Not to mention a recent car (2007) that I adore, the Alfa Romeo 8C Spider in many different hues. Oh, pretty please can I just have that one? We had about two hours and it was nowhere near enough!
It made me appreciate the Fiat 500 Star and Rockstar all the more, what a wonderful heritage to go with such sales. The Fiat 500 had just reached over 3 millions sales in Europe alone, not bad for a little Mickey Mouse car. Bravo the Topolino (so called as the Italians thought it looked like Mickey Mouse). The perfect size to fit in your superyacht for dashing around the little cobbled streets of St Tropez or down the mountain roads of Menton and Monaco with Italian style and flair.
The Fiat 500 Star and Rockstar are available to order from retailers now, priced from £15,395 OTR for a 1.2 69hp Star. For more information about the Fiat range visit www.fiat.co.uk or to locate your nearest Fiat retailer visit www.fiat.co.uk/retailers.
PS-Have dinner at Eataly, a divine restaurant and local produce deli just next to the hotel, where I had a five course meal and bought some excellent wine for the rather bare cellar back home.