2009 Maserati GranTurismo S

Mark Bramley
2009 Maserati GranTurismo S

We pick up our car at the factory in Modena and motor northwest on the A1 to the ring road around Milan. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the spiritual home of Italian motorsport, was built in 1922 in a city park north of Milan. When we arrive, the track is eerily quiet, and nobody can tell us anything about the location of the fabled banking. It's only after I resort to childlike hand gestures that somebody finally says, "Ah, la Sopraelevata!" We're led through a couple of gates to what appears to be a vacant section of the park. And then, suddenly, there it is in front of us - an abandoned stretch of racetrack seemingly turned on its side, with trees encroaching over the low, rusty guardrail at the top and a faded yellow line undulating along the broken pavement at the bottom. The banking is so steep - at 38 degrees, significantly higher than Daytona's - that Bramley can't open the passenger door when we're parked on it, and once we climb out, I have trouble even walking to the top. As a handful of cyclists slowly pedal past, the modern racetrack seems far, far away.

The Sopraelevata was erected in 1955 to be used in concert with the existing circuit, but this didn't go over well with road racers. So in 1957, the two banked sections were connected with straightaways to create a high-speed oval, and Indy-car drivers were invited to compete in the first Monza 500. Most Europeans boycotted the race because they thought the banking was a death trap. But the Italians showed up the next year with mongrelized specials built just for "Monzanapolis." The Eldorado ice cream company commissioned a supersize version of the Maserati 250F for Stirling Moss. Painted white instead of red and with a cartoon one-toothed cowboy on the hood, it was built with extra-stout tubing to support a hefty 4.2-liter V-8. Ferrari, meanwhile, stuck a 4.0-liter V-12 sports car engine in a single-seater, and Luigi Musso put in a death-defying performance to qualify it on the pole with a lap at better than 174 mph. But the Indy cars were the class of the field, and Jim Rathmann won easily in a Watson roadster.

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