Ferrari, Dino & Phil Hill

Enzo Ferrari lost his only heir, Dino, in 1956. And a trail of tragedies soon followed. On May 12, 1957, the stage was set for Mille Miglia, a 1000 miles race stretching between Brescia and Rome. With car racing increasingly becoming a staple in the annual highs of auto enthusiasts in Europe, the racecourse was greeted by some ten million spectators. The Mille Miglia was one of Ferrari’s most indelible days.

“It is the race of the people. One may say that the whole of Italy leans forward with her eyes on the tarred strip of road somewhere along the course on Mille Miglia day. “It is a day when I feel my life is useful,” he once said to a reporter.

The 1957 Mille Miglia was expectedly won by a Ferrari, but the buzz of victory was dampened by a tragedy, one that spread pretty fast from Tokyo to New York. It was Spain’s Alfonso de Portago, who, tucked in a Ferrari 335, blew a tire as he blitzed past rural Guidizzolo at near full speed. Colliding with a telephone pole, Alfonso’s Ferrari went flying into a crowd, killing twelve and leaving dozens more injured. The accident scene couldn’t be more indescribably hideous – a body of de Portago severed in two. The incident attracted an onslaught from the media, with clamors for the Mille Miglia to be abolished. And so what was once Italy’s most decorated sporting event was called off, permanently.

More papers came Ferrari’s way, though. He was blamed for the tragic incident and charged with manslaughter: “Enzo Ferrari, born in Modena on the 20th February 1898, and resident therein, [is] charged with manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm by negligence …”

Ferrari’s role, the charge claimed, was that his race cars came with Englebert tyres unequipped to accommodate the speed for which they were designed. Although he was ultimately declared innocent, Ferarri would contest the battle for the next seven years. At court, Ferrari felt betrayed; he had spent the greater part of his life fighting for national glory. Fighting for Italy’s honor as the world’s leading racing nation. But here he was, needing to defend that he didn’t kill anyone. “Why should I continue in an activity whose only reward is being branded a murderer?” he questioned. He considered quitting, but his love for racing cars wouldn’t let him.

More troubles soon followed, this time, in a different race car – the Dino One. Designed in honor of his late son, the Dino would go on to claim both life and glory. Rome’s Luigi Musso was the first casualty, dying in a Dino Ferrari during the French Grand Prix on July 6, 1958. British Peter Collins was next at the German Grand Prix. And while contract driver Mike Hawthorn won Grand Prix of Morocco in the Dino, he would also later succumbed to the deadly clutches of a wrecked Jaguar weeks later.

What ensued in Europe was a fierce debate on the safety of car racing. A report estimated that 1 in every 4 driver didn’t see out a racing season. Enough statistic to send chills down the spine of moralists, journalists and conscious sportsmen alike. The onslaught on Enzo Ferrari didn’t stop at the press though. The Vatican also chimed in its displeasure, regarding Ferrari “a modernized Saturn turned big industrialist [who] continues to devour his sons. As it is in myth, so too is it in reality.”

With most of his trusted experts dead, there was a dearth of talent in Ferrari’s camp in 1960. But there was still one man. He’d relished the opportunity to show up on the big stage. His name was Phil Hill, a twenty-eight year old from California. “How would you like to drive for me at Le Mans?” Enzo Ferrari asked. Hill had always hoped for this day. And here was his opportunity. Yes – he answered. How would Hill fare at Le Mans? We’ll find out in the next article.

Henry Ford II’s Marriage to Europe

Cortina

In 1963, one year after Henry Ford II pulled out of Detroit’s Safety Resolution, race drivers took to the tracks brandishing trails of speedy Ford cars. With the economy turning the green light, thirst for cars went up north, almost crushing the 1955 sales record. It was busy days at the showroom, driven by Ford’s glory and Shelby’s “Powered-by-Ford” Cobras.

The New York Times officially put Ford’s soaring sales on the front page “Does winning automobile races sell cars?” and “You bet it does,” the article began. It was obvious success on the race track was an assuredly powerful marketing instrument with “immediate and remarkable” upsides, the article noted.

Noticeably away from the Glass House, the Deuce began his next big quest. He was off to London, aiming to drive his company to even greater heights away from home turf. Asked about his trip to Dagenham – the Ford factory location and Europe’s biggest industrial metropolis, the Deuce responded: “I came to Europe to see what was becoming of our investments, which between 1960 and 1964 will have totaled $800 million.”

Henry knew what happened in the United States was finding its way to Europe – a rise of the middle class and everything it brought to the economy. While the company churned out 1200 Ford Cortinas daily, the Deuce was sure that was far from the number needed to match the surging demand in a continent whose economy was beginning to thrive following the plummeting effects of World War II.

His sights on Europe, Henry II embarked on his ambitious project, the scale of which was unprecedented in the history of the Ford empire. Getting started, the company got a new plant operational in Halewood in the UK, employing eleven thousand workers. And near Dagenham, a foundry was in the offing, with a huge power station enough to accommodate the electricity demands of a city numbering 160,000 population. The Deuce’s inkling for Europe wasn’t unexpected though, given his father’s adoration for the continent until his death.

Edsel saw in Europe a world full of opportunity, fantasy and beauty all through his life.

Ford cars were arguably the best in the world, but away from that, Henry II had more to his marriage to Europe – a woman. He’d met thirty-six-year old- Cristina Vettore Austin in Paris. But this was an illegal affair, as he already had three kids in a twenty-one-year-old marriage. His interests began to waver between Dearborn and Europe. The team at Glass House knew there was something wrong.

Success in Europe was critical for Henry II. He would have left a legacy behind if things panned out well. However, as media outfits soon uncovered his adventure, Ford’s fortunes in Europe looked anything but bright. It was unbefitting of a man steering the affairs of the world’s second-largest company to be embroiled in infidelity. Left unattended, the collision between business and personal life was simply a matter of time. This was clear to Henry II. “He was like a time bomb,” “You could almost hear the ticking,” a ford executive later recalled.

Total Performance

Tiny Lund

“You go to a big football game. Say there are 100,000 people there. But not one of them wants to buy a goddamn football. You go to an automobile race and there they are—all your potential customers.” — Ford racing executive JACQUE PASSINO.

It was February 24, 1963. Thousands of racing fans had filed in to their seats. Henry II’s brother Benson gets his spot trackside, and the Florida clouds graciously sit atop this magnificent ambiance. The stage was set for the 1963 Daytona 500 – America’s first speed competition following Henry II’s decision to pull the plug from the Detroit’s Safety Resolution.

The Press couldn’t have been louder, “A bitter controversy—beyond the point of intense sales competition—appears to be brewing in America’s automobile industry,” commented the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe today’s race will touch off total war within the domestic car building ranks.”

There were fourteen Ford cars available, and fourteen private teams bidding for glory in General Motors cars. At the wheels in Fords were top class drivers – Ned Jarrett, Fred Lorenzen, and Dan Gurney, up against the ranks of A.J Foyt, Junior Johnson, and Fireball Roberts in the Chevrolet and Pontiac team.

Off the mark and the speed machines greeted the speedway in style, blitzing around as spectators were treated to a hair-raising spectacle. Fifteen laps left, three racers in Ford cars were clearly in front, commanding a sensational lead at a frightening speed trumping 160mph. And on the last lap, South Carolina’s DeWayne “Tiny” Lund cruised to victory, followed by four other Ford drivers to ensure a perfect win for the Glass House.

As with European racing, glory on the racetrack translated to success at the showrooms. It was time to convert victory to dollars in the sales department. Iacocca was the perfect man for the job.

Media outfits countrywide echoed Ford’s superior performance at the Daytona 500, with over 2,800 newspapers featuring ads such as “In the open test that tears them apart—the Daytona 500—Ford’s durability conquered the field: first, second, third, fourth and fifth.”

Iacocca toured the country, raving about his assembly of unassailable Ford branded cars. Asked for his comment on GM’s attack on Ford’s racing investment, lacocca replied “If racing sells cars, what’s wrong with that?,” and wittily added that “It gives a guy who’s going to shell out $3,000 a chance to measure the car’s total performance,” ensuring he didn’t miss out on slipping in Ford’s new advertising motto – “total performance.”

In the spring of 1963, the team at Dearborn were rather shocked to find was Ford making the buzz in circles of sports car lovers. I mean, it wasn’t as if the company had rolled out a sports car, yet. That spring, though, a sports car called “the Cobra” was taking the racetrack by storm. Built by Carroll Shelby, the Cobra had a Ford engine inside, and while there was no substantial investment from Ford, Shelby’s build was making Ford garner even more massive publicity, thanks to its crushing performance in the Sports Car Club of America competition.

The Ferrari Factory

Farrari 125S

Ferrari opened his machine factory in Maranello during World War II. But proceedings took a dip months later when American bombers brought the factory to ruins in November 1944. That winter, Luigi Chinetti, a two-time Le Mans champion, linked up with Ferrari. The former, a strong antifascist, had moved to the U.S. on the eve of the war. Seeing his new world lacked the sports cars synonymous with Italian cities, he felt Ferrari could hit the ground running if he sold his cars on American soil. “The future is here Enzo,” Luigi said, adding that “You must believe that, here, sports cars will be a gold mine. There is hunger for motor sport. The market is virgin. There is plenty of money. The potential is immense.” This was a genius idea. Ferrari opted in.

Plagued by electricity challenges and shortage of fuel and manpower, it took almost two years to produce Ferrari’s first car – the 125 S. The car debuted at Piacenza, on May 11, 1947, and coasted to glory at the Rome Grand Prix a fortnight later. Ferrari’s popularity soared following wins at the 12 hours of Paris, the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia, all in 1948.

Briggs Cunningham brought Ferraris to the United States with his purchase in June 1949. There was no stopping Enzo Ferrari’s race to dominance in Europe in ensuing years; he enjoyed Grand Prix championship wins in 1952 and 1953, and another Le Mans glory in 1954. Asked years later his most favorite of his car, Ferrari replied: “The car which I have not yet created.” And his most cherished victory? “The one which I have not yet achieved.”

Six months following his son’s death, Ferrari summoned his new Grand Prix team to their first meeting at the Modena Autodrome on December 2, 1956.

An assembly of national champions from across Europe, Ferarri had before him a league of young, handsome, aggressively confident men – perfect fit for his track legal machines. Gino Rancati, Ferrari’s friend who was present at the meeting notes these seven men were Eugenio Castellotti (Italy), Marquis de Portago (Spain), Luigi Musso (Italy), Count Wolfgang Von Trips (West Germany), Mike Hawthorn (Great Britain), Cesare Perdisa (Italy), and Peter Collins (Great Britain).

With a new season around the corner, Italian press iconized Ferrari’s team “Il Squadra Primavera—the Spring Team.” Unfortunately, the high hopes were dashed when one of the seven men retired days later, with the remaining six subsequently dying in high-speed crashes.

Meanwhile, back at the Factory, Vittorio Jano was getting up to speed putting finishing touches to a new racing engine they had designed at Dino Ferrari’s final moments. The six-cylinder engine was, in Ferrari’s own words, all set to “burst into song.”

The Rise of Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari, the Italian auto maestro, set his sight on the next Le Mans. It was the gathering turf of the world’s finest drivers, and the fastest cars. His legal machine was raring to go. But there was problem back home – his only child, Alfred, Dino for short, was bedridden, sick with a potentially terminal condition. Still, Ferrari was hopeful that things were going to pan out well and that his 24-year old son would be back up on his feet. Dino was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in his teens and his skeletal muscles were slowly wasting away by the day. But he still had enough vigor to ask about his father’s latest car, which he always dubbed “the puppy.” The 625 LM was Ferrari’s latest build, designed to race at Le Mans, it had “Inline four-cylinder, 2.5 liter, two Weber carburetors…,” Ferrari told his son.

Visitor after visitor, Dino enjoyed the warmth of loved ones during this trying period. Among those was Jano, Italy’s foremost engineer who worked with Ferrari. The trio of Ferrari, Jano and Dino would eventually design a 1.5-litre racing engine that struck a perfect balance between power and economy of motion. The engine symbolized life, Enzo Ferrari felt, as he considered cars virtually animate creatures, breathing though carburetors and skinned with metal.

* * *

Having fought for so long, Dino died on June 30, 1956. Historians dissented regarding Dino’s disease, arguing conditions from leukemia to congenital syphilis, but the majority agree his death resulted from muscular dystrophy. What the condition was didn’t matter, though, to devastated Ferrari who noted from his last conversation with his dying son “what life means to a young man who is leaving it.”

The French Grand Prix was held the following day, and, wearing white armbands, the red Ferrari team blitzed to victory, setting the fastest ever speed recorded in European circuit history – 121.16 mph over 314.5 miles. Ferrari‘s loss was enough to quash any race triumph. He had little left in him for racing. At fifty-eight, Ferrari had to come to terms with the fact there was no legitimate heir to take over the legacy he had spent the greater part of his life building.

Ferrari’s curiosity for cars all began when he was 11. He’d hike two miles to watch Record del Miglio, a fledgling race competition organized by the Modena Automobile Association that assembled racers bidding to set a new mile speed record.

Ferrari’s racing dream was left in limbo following the ravages of World War I, which swept away his finances and left his father and brother dead. He was also not substantially educated, with three years of trade school his highest reach, but Ferrari had in him a priceless talent – fixing things. He would go on to join Alfa Romeo as a mechanic, test driver and competitor, winning his first race in 1923 at Ravenna. Ferrari founded private team Scuderia Ferrari in 1929 and won his last race in 1931. Jano was born the following January. Ferrari had Italy’s foremost mechanical genius Vittoria Jano, but he knew he needed a formidable match at the wheel to solidify Ferrari’s supremacy on the track.

Ferrari’s find? Tazio Nuvolari. Dubbed the “Flying Mantuan,” a practice drive once paired Ferrari and Nuvolari in the same car. Nuvolari’s near-superhuman abilities were brought before Ferrari’s very own eyes, who recalled that “At the first bend, I had the clear sensation that we would end up in a ditch; I felt myself stiffen as I waited for the crunch. Instead, we found ourselves on the next straight with the car in a perfect position. I looked at Nuvolari. His rugged face was calm, just as it always was, and certainly not the face of someone who had just escaped a hair-raising turn. I had the same sensation in the second bend. By the fourth or fifth bend, I began to understand. I had noticed that through the entire bend Tazio did not lift his foot from the accelerator, and that, in fact, it was flat on the floor.” Tazio Nuvolari and Vittoria Jano were the perfect tag team Ferrari needed to power his Scuderia Ferrari team to the pinnacle of glory in the history books of Italian racing.