Enzo Ferrari once commented that “my motors have soul”.
In an industry whose design, manufacture and marketing rely heavily on collaboration, compromise and corporate shenanigans it is unusual to find the driven, charismatic personality of just one man making such a lasting impression. The character of Ferrari cars is to a very large extent still the character of Enzo Ferrari.
Obsessed with cars and fascinated by racing from a very early age Enzo Ferrari went on to not only make his mark on his marques during his lifetime, but he continued to steer the ethos and sprit of his company from beyond the grave.
Today it is still the influence, passion and determination of Enzo Ferrari that imparts that unmistakeable aura to Ferrari cars. It is his single minded obsession with sleek, speedy sports cars that drives the brand today.
This is the story of Ferrari cars both on the road and on the track, but it starts with a horse.
An Italian horse: an Italian stallion, no less.
Ferrari has always been as much about the sport of high performance sports cars as it has their manufacture and marketing, so it’s appropriate to start its story by the race track.
Enzo Ferrari was working and racing for Alfa Romeo. He had wanted a job at Fiat, if truth were known, but restrictions after World War I meant they were not hiring, regardless of the enthusiasm or talent on offer.
After a race at the Savio track in Revenna the victorious young driver was charmed to be introduced to Countess Paolina, whose son was an ace fighter pilot and national hero known as much for the horse he painted on the side of his planes as for his daring deeds in the air. Quite taken by Enzo the Countess suggested he could use the motif of the prancing horse (‘cavallino rampante’) on his cars to bring him good luck.
Six years before the formation of Scuderia Ferrari in Modena a critical part of its identity was already waiting to be slotted into place.
Scuderia Ferrari (literally the Ferrari stable) was formed to prepare and field Alfa Romeo racing cars for amateur drivers. Its success was such that within four years Alfa Romeo had quietly dispensed with its in-house team and installed Ferrari as its works team.
When Alfa Romeo opted to take its racing operation in-house once more they took Enzo Ferrari in with it, but the independent minded soon yearned for his own stable and, as war broke out all over the world, he bolted before the door was closed, losing the right to use the name Ferrari for a few years in the process.
In 1940 the first ‘Ferrari’ race car was produced, and although still not officially allowed to use his own surname Enzo ensured that a ‘rose by any other name still smells as sweet’. The Tipo 815, based on a Fiat platform, debuted at the 1940 Mille Miglia, but war conditions meant it received few outings on the track.
The Ferrari factory moved to Maranello, where it has been ever since, despite being bombed by the Allies a year later.
What in hindsight seems a triumphal entry into the road car market by Ferrari was actually a rather reluctant last-ditch solution to funding the activities of Scuderia Ferrari.
It had never been part of the game plan to produce high performance sports cars for use on the roads: Enzo Ferrari entered this market to finance his passion for race cars.
Nevertheless the 1947 125 S was launched, powered by a 1.5 L V12 engine, and made some fine performances on the track to boot.
The Ferrari 166 Inter, launched in 1949, marks the first entry into the grand touring market, which has come to contribute the largest share of the company’s sales from then till now. Luigi Chinetti drove a 166 M to Ferrari's first win in motorsports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Scuderia Ferrari has not always been solely focussed on Formula One. Throughout its history, until 1973, it participated in several classes of motorsport. In 1950 the first Formula One World Championship was held and Ferrari were there. They are the only team to have continuously since its inception in 1950.
The World Sportscar Championship which was created in 1953 and Ferrari went on to dominate its early years, winning seven out of the first nine titles.
Though things were going well on the track tensions were simmering behind the scenes in the stables. Things came to a head in 1961 when key staff members left, or were asked to leave, the company. For a moment it looked like the end; but it proved to be just a fresh start.
A young engineer, Mauro Forghieri, and racing bodyman, Sergio Scaglietti, honed to perfection the 250 GTO that was in development, fought off the challenge of Jaguar on the track and went on to become one of the most famous sports cars in history. It can also be considered the first in the line of Ferrari supercars, which extends in a glorious line all the way up to the to the recent LaFerrari model.
Forghieri's engineering genius made the 1960s Ferrari’s decade. The mid-engined Dino racers paved the way for the domineering 250 P, which sold very strongly as road cars and led to later legendary models such as the 275.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. US rivals began to challenge Ferrari on the track, and Ford even attempted to buy Ferrari. The bitter taste of its lack of success was sweetened only by the Ford GT40’s success at Le Mans in 1966.
Challenges on the track also emerged from Porsche, that culminated in the World Sportscar Championship of 1970, whose epic battles were almost entirely won by Porsche.
Ferrari gracefully bowed out, focussing exclusively on Formula 1 from 1973 onwards.
Early in 1969, Fiat took a 50% stake in Ferrari. Suddenly Ferrari found it had the capital necessary to start work on a factory extension that would allow the production of the Ferrari engined Fiat Dino to be transferred from Fiat's Turin plant. It also had the necessary funds to seriously invest in developing new models.
Indeed the Fiat influence was quickly felt in the development, production and marketing of road cars but left the racing department unscathed (and supremely disinterested).
The V6 engine made it to a Ferrari production model in the Dino 246 and shortly after Ferrari introduced the Berlinetta Boxer flat-12 engine to the 365 GT/4.
Fiat’s involvement and investment saw car production hitting all-time highs, although for Ferrari this meant in their thousands, which is about as ‘mass’ as production can get and still meet the company’s exacting standards
On the race track Niki Lauder was driving equal levels of success home.
Disaster on the track in the 80s culminated in the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve, yet Ferrari’s road cars hit new highs. The iconic Testarossa and the convertible Mondial were launched, and Enzo Ferrari’s dream car the F40 was produced to commemorate the company's 40th anniversary. The F40 featured a carbon-fibre body, a giant wing and Kevlar panels and is, arguably, one of the most famous supercars yet.
But in 1988 the dream was over: Enzo Ferrari died, at the age of 90 and Fiat's share of Ferrari rose to 90%.
1990s and on
The supercars continued with the F50 but there were also cars with smaller engines, like the V8 used in the F355 series.
On the track Schumacher took seven F1 championships for Ferrari between 1994 and 2004.
As things moved forward, Ferrari also paused to look back. In 2003 Ferrari produced the Enzo, their fastest model ever produced at the time. Also known as the F60 (and continuing the legacy of the F40 and F50) there were just 400 produced, and one of these was donated to the Vatican.
Also in very limited editions were the Ferrari Special Projects, launched in the late 2000s as an in-house personalization service that allowed affluent, very affluent, customers to own bespoke bodied one-off cars based on modern Ferrari models.
In May 2012 the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the world's most expensive car, selling in a private transaction for $38,115,000 to American communications magnate Craig McCaw.
In 2014 Fiat announced its intentions to sell its share in Ferrari, so there may be another twist in this tale still to come.
Certainly the prancing horse hasn’t had its last dance yet.
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