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.

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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.