Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BALOCCO - "The Old Farm"

Being a paid-up member of the ‘Alfisti’ (Alfa Romeo Tipo 159) is a great privilege, because in the global auto world, we are few in number compared to the fan following that other famous marques can boast.

Special Alfa Romeo moments are cherished, and one in particular is indeed greatly treasured. On May 24, 1976 I was among a group of Australian Alfa Romeo dealers, and a small contingent of Australian automotive writers, who were allowed to visit Alfa Romeo’s high security test track at Balocco.

It isn’t until you read travel diaries of many Alfa Romeo enthusiasts that you realize a visit to “The Old Farm” by outsiders is very, very rare.

Here is a photograph of our group at the track, and during the morning we were treated to demonstration laps of the road circuit by Alfa Romeo’s chief test pilot, driving a Tipo 33 (prototipo due). It was a brilliant experience.

The test track was opened in 1963, and at the time the area chosen was little more than desert, about 70km west of Milano, just off the Autostrada del Sol.

The village, and the castle can be seen from the autostrada, but the test track is about five kilometres outside the village.

The facility has been much enlarged since my visit in 1976. Once FIAT absorbed Alfa Romeo, it has spent millions upgrading the facilities, and it's used by all divisions of FIAT.

Compare this with a photo from 1964 – showing the manager of the facility with his two young sons.

Occasionally, Alfa Romeo enthusiasts are allowed to visit Balocco and drive on the track, as this shot from the Italian Alfasud Club photo album reveals.

During our visit, a few of the journalists were selected to drive around the circuit in an Alfetta 1.8, a test drive that was fun at the time, but now I realize what a rare privilege that was.

Afterwards we all lunched together at the Ristorante La Badia, just near the hilltop fortress town of Orvieto – together a brace of wonderful memories from Italy in 1976.

Lunch was as usual a l-o-n-g affair (see; the original slow food  idea). At about 2:30pm the Italian PR chief rushes up to the group and says in an excited and agitated tone of voice:
"Come on quickly, finish your lunch, let's get on the coach!"

All aboard the coach and speeding along the autostrada towards Firenze, and one of our group asks what the great hurry is all about?

The reply is classic Italian: "Because, if we don't hurry, we will be late for dinner in Firenze!"

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