In the hot seat: Italian cars

4 min read

In the hot seat: Italian cars
Since the end of the 19th century, Italy has been in the hot seat for automobile design and manufacture. Citalia takes you on a tour of the birthplace of Italy’s most esteemed car brands.


Usually identified for its fabulous food culture, the region of Emilia-Romagna is the beating heart of Italian automotive design and manufacture, as several major brands were born here. You’ll find plenty of museums showcasing its automobile and motorcycle heritage.
The luxury sports car Ferrari, known as a thoroughbred pedigree in Formula One racing, was born out of Modena, the same town that gave the world genuine balsamic vinegar.
Founded in 1947, this Prancing Horse brand has become synonymous with speed and wealth. The brand’s first 125 S iconic two-seater road car - painted red, naturally - won the Rome Grand Prix that same year, before it was further developed into a refined GT roadster.
There’s no better place to celebrate Ferrari than at Museo Enzo Ferrari, a museum that’s set in the original Ferrari factory in Modena. You’ll discover the story of Ferrari’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, who was not only the brainchild of Italian car manufacturing but also a dynamic and legendary Italian racing driver in his own right.
Ogle the prized Ferrari collection in its futuristic museum next door, before tucking into delicious local cuisine, because nothing good is ever done in Italy without food. A short drive or shuttle bus away in the small town of Maranello lies Museo Ferrari, a shrine to the world of Formula One, where you can enjoy racing simulations and other interactive experiences.
Image of a street with houses in the region of Emilia-Romagna is the beating heart of Italian automotive design
Modena is also home to Maserati, the brand that has a trusty trident for its emblem. Founded in 1914, Maserati has long been associated with Ferrari as, until this year, Maserati was using Ferrari’s engines. Unfairly, Maserati is often called the poor man's Ferrari.
Why not judge whether this is true for yourself? Take a guided tour of the renowned Maserati car factory, where you can browse both historic and new models of this iconic car. As if two distinguished brands born in Modena isn’t enough, the contemporary sports car brand Pagani was also established here.
Notice a quick flash of vivid yellow and you’ll know you’ve been Lamborghini-ed. For Italy, Lamborghini is a relatively modern brand, as its luxury sports and SUV vehicles were only born in Emilia-Romagna’s Bologna in 1963.
The brand grew rapidly in its first decade, aided by the Miura model with its iconic ‘eyelashes’ - its uniquely designed grills around the headlights. Lamborghini’s renowned Raging Bull logo was inspired by its founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini, who was born under the Taurus zodiac sign and, randomly, was also a big fan of Spanish bullfighting.
Today, Lamborghini is owned by the Volkswagen Group, but you can still visit where it all began at the Lamborghini Museum in Bologna and witness prototypes, and classic, exclusive models, from the Espada to the Sesto Elemento.
While you’re in Bologna, also visit the Industrial Heritage Museum, which applauds Bologna’s industrial heritage and contribution to the world with various vintage automobiles on display. You can also enjoy the Italian Factory Motor Tour, where you’ll get the chance to test drive Ferrari and Lamborghini models.
A view from the sky overlooking the rooftops of buildings in  the town of Bologna in Italy


There’s one punky car that absolutely dominates Italy’s automotive industry today - and that’s Fiat. Fiat first came onto the scene in 1899 in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, when an Italian entrepreneur founded Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT) - the Italian Automobile Factory of Turin.
Fiat proceeded to become the bestselling car across Europe for the next 100 years. The brand became the forefather of economy cars in 1936 when the first Fiat 500 was born - the A Topolino, which translates as little mouse and is the Italian name for Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
From the 1920s until the late 1970s, the original Fiat Lingotto Factory in Turin employed thousands of workers and still stands in Turin today as an entertainment complex. It also boasts a three-quarter mile test track on its rooftop, which was made famous by the 1969 film, The Italian Job, featuring Michael Caine. Plans are underway to convert the track into a hanging garden.
To uncover more of Fiat’s history, head to the Centro Storico Fiat Museum, which is located in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building and boasts a selection of not only Fiat’s legendary automobiles, but also other items the company produced, from war technology and ship engines to aeroplanes, tractors and even washing machines! Turin is also home to two other esteemed and historic Italian car brands, Lancia and Abarth.
Image overlooking the town of Turin in Italy


While most young Italian car aficionados had their hearts set on the Ferrari, the more affordable motor was naturally, the trustworthy Alfa Romeo.
Founded in Milan in 1910, the brand successfully took part in endurance races, Grand Prix’s and Formula One. The brand’s logo is the Visconti serpent, a heraldic symbol of Milan’s medieval noble family.
What made Alfa Romeo stand out and continues to do so to this day is its iconic trilobe front and clear aerodynamically designed lines. Unlike many brands, Alfa Romeo’s models over the last century have never added in design details just for the sake of it.
You can witness a historic collection of models and learn about the brand’s history on a private tour of the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo, located in the town of Arese, near Milan, which also houses a café.
Image of a lit up cathedral in the city of Milan in Italy

Elsewhere in Italy...

All across Italy, you’ll find automobile museums honouring Italy’s rich contribution. In Verona, the Museo Nicolis has an epic collection of Formula One race cars and motorbikes, including Fiat’s regal 1929 model, the Isotta Fraschini.
Image of a small Italian car sitting on a street in Italy

Discover the real Italy with Citalia          

Are you ready for an automobile adventure? Citalia are the UK’s leading Italy specialist with over 90 years' experience in tailoring holidays to Italy. Experts are on hand every step of the way to ensure you make memories to last a lifetime. It’s never too late to start planning your Italian escape!
Visit citalia.com to discover the real Italy on your next adventure. Andiamo!
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