The Prancing Horse is celebrating an impressive seven decades of dominance in racing as well as building the world’s finest sports cars. We take a journey back in time with none other than Piero Ferrari, son of the Ferrari founder.
It was March 12, 1947 and the 125 S was still without a car body. Behind the wheel was the then almost 50-year-old Enzo Ferrari, donning a suit, tie and a cotton shirt – which was as white as the hair falling on his forehead. A ride from Maranello to Formigine was a distance of 15-kilometres – but long enough to touch 150km/h in the 125 S. And that’s precisely where Ferrari’s glorious journey began 70 years ago. It was the day when Ferrari officially became an independent entity. From then on, there’s been no looking back. Today Ferrari is a company that is Italy’s pride, a legendary brand that can excite the Sundays of millions of racing fans. Piero Ferrari, son of Il Commendatore, is the man who takes these 70 years sewn on his shoulders. Unfortunately, he couldn’t witness the first Ferrari that roared into action back in 1947. Piero was only two years old then – too young for the noisy baptism. However, no one can summarise the history of the marque as well as he can. Having been the right hand – first of his father and then of all the successive presidents, including Piero Fusaro, Luca Montezemolo and now Sergio Marchionne. No one else has the same emotion for the brand as he does.
The wooden rod
Piero is almost a carbon copy of his father, but he has a completely different attitude. “Mr Piero,” as everybody called him in the early 80s – the time when his presence in the factory was becoming more and more important. According to him, his journey with the firm represents the continuity of an adventure that has always treaded on two parallel tracks – racing and building sports cars. “If we were rational people,” he points out, “we would not compete in F1, because this discipline requires a set of factors that are too difficult to handle and equally difficult to control. But, then, it is part of our DNA – and here is where the heart takes over.” Ferrari has always built road cars and racing cars side-by-side. So will it continue the trend in the years to come? Piero is convinced that it will. “I hope I never see the day when Ferrari won’t be competing on a racetrack. Racing is our brand’s integral part. Our racing team and production car division are like inseparable Siamese twins. Racing defines us, and if ever there comes a day when Ferrari is not racing, it will be the end.”
Enzo Ferrari was a big man who could instil fear, even in journalists interviewing him. Piero, in contrast, has a soft voice and gentle mannerisms. “But if you pay attention,” as once said Enzo Ferrari’s late confidant, Franco Gozzi, “You’ll notice that the father and son duo has one thing in common – the same passion for technology. There’s a sacred fury in them about it.” This is also evident in the memories of the “young” Ferrari. “I’ve spent my life walking in the Gestione Sportiva workshop. I think I have an eye to appreciate cars as they are produced, and an even better eye as they are finished. As a boy, if there was something imperfect, I used to spot it right away and immediately bring it to the notice of the person in charge. In short, at a very young age, I had acquired the sensitivity to inspect these things from my father,” says Piero, adding, “At that time, there were no computers, making it all the more difficult to do accurate calculations. So, when they built engines at the factory, my father sometimes demanded that they produce one more so that I could see and inspect the dimensions. He used to caress it in order to evaluate its thickness. Yes, my father had an eye for mechanics and I think I’ve acquired this skill from him.”
A visionary in the truest sense
Let’s go back to discussing Ferrari’s 70 years of accomplishments. “It is impressive. Think about it. It was 1947, only two years after the Second World War ended. And there stood a man who was no longer young, going against all the odds and building a 12-cylinder racing car. It was an expensive car, even for the absolute elite. Those were the days when automobiles were only thought of as mass motorisation tools. You only had a mosquito bicycle with an auxiliary engine or the Lambretta and Vespa back then. In spite of this, he decided to swim against the tide. And he was right – it was a brave, brave move, one that only a true visionary could take. He was the one, as the late Steve Jobs would say, who thought differently. Look at where Ferrari is today. It’s because of his vision. It’s more than just a well-known supercar brand – it’s known worldwide and loved crazily by one and all. Only and only because there was one man who thought differently.”
Ferrari is now listed on Wall Street, and one might wonder if the spirit of the brand is still alive. According to Piero, so many things are still there – untouched. “Starting with the DNA that my father has given to this company, if we just think about the past few years, the period starting from 2008 is considered to be the worst financial crisis. Ferrari tried to downsize its business, but not to that extent. It is true that production is limited, but Ferrari has always invested in developing new products – as we launch a new car each year. Every year there has been some innovation because innovation is the fuel. This is the true legacy of my father, who hated the idea of mass production. He loved the idea of experimenting every day, and if it was up to him, we would have only produced one prototype after the other – even today. As he always said, ‘The best Ferrari is always the next one.’”
Enzo Ferrari takes the 125 S chassis out for a test on 12 March 1947. Below, from above, the 166 Inter, the first road car, the 275 GTB of 1964, and the new 812 Superfast.
14 days after the death of Enzo Ferrari, Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto, with a splendid 1-2 finish, gave the founder a perfect homage in the Italian GP of 1988.
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