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Legendary Facts About Enzo Ferrari, The Original Speed Demon

Mathew Burke

Ferrari. Just the name alone conjures up the color of speed, a burst of red flashing by the eyes. This, of course, was no accident, as there was a man of genius behind the creation of the machine that is now symbolic of speed, luxury, success, and craft. His name was Enzo Ferrari, and he changed the way the world looks at four wheels. Enjoy and try not to go too fast—save that for the ride, not for the read.


1. The Myth Of Birth

Enzo Ferrari was born on February 18, 1898. At least, that’s what we’re to believe—there are no records of his birth until two days later. According to his parents, he was born during a serious snowstorm, which prevented his father from traveling to the local registry in order to report the birth. Thus, Enzo Ferrari’s birth certificate stated that his date of birth was February 20, 1898.

2. Enzo Of Modena

Ferrari’s place of birth was Modena, Italy, also the birthplace of the best balsamic vinegar in the world. But, shhh…just don’t tell neighboring Reggio Emilia about that.

3. A Father’s Passion

Enzo Ferrari didn’t come from a racing background. His father, Alfredo Ferrari Sr., came from a family of grocers Capri, but selling food wasn’t quite enough for Alfredo. He possessed an intense passion for metalwork, and he created a metal workshop in their home while Enzo was growing up. Enzo learned valuable skills in that workshop—skills he would eventually bring to the road.

4. Thanks, Dad

Though he grew up with limited formal education, Enzo was mesmerized by his father’s work with metal and would often watch his father toil away in his workshop. It sparked a passion that he carried with him his entire life.

5. Inspiring A Love For Racing

Enzo Ferrari’s love for metalwork coupled together with a love for racing at the tender age of only 10. This was spurred by watching his first race, the 1908 Circuito di Bologna. Felice Nazzaro took home the trophy, and watching him hoist the prize had a profound effect on young Enzo. From that day on, Enzo Ferrari was destined to become a racecar driver.

6. WWI Veteran

Ferrari served in WWI as a member of the 3rd Mountain Artillery Regiment in the Italian Army. The 3rd Mountain are well known for their mountain combat skills and distinguished for their efforts fighting in the field alongside the famed Alpini corps.

7. The Alfredos Of Enzo’s Life

Notice that Enzo’s father was Alfredo Ferrari Sr. This is because Enzo had an older brother, Alfredo Jr, but he usually went by the nickname “Dino.” Enzo looked up to his older brother for his entire life, eventually naming his own son after him. Sadly, neither father nor brother would ever get to meet their namesake.

8. The Flu Strikes

In 1916, a deadly flu epidemic broke out in Italy, and it tragically took the lives of both Enzo’s father and brother. The flu would rear its ugly head into the Ferrari family once again during the 1918 flu pandemic, when Enzo himself fell ill himself. He became so sick that the Army discharged him from service, though he would eventually survive and make a full recovery.

He should have considered himself lucky: The 1918 flu pandemic would end up taking the lives of over 500 million people around the world.

9. Going After The Dream

After the loss of his father and brother, the Ferrari family’s carpentry business collapsed, leaving Enzo with no job after life returned to normal. Due to his love for racing, he ventured into the car industry looking for some luck. At first, he tried to volunteer for the emerging Fiat company in Turin, but they refused to hire him. He ended up taking a job as a test driver for the automobile manufacturing company Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali, also known as C.M.N.

A luxury supercar company, C.M.N. was not. They mostly built small passenger cars by recycling older truck bodies—but for Enzo Ferrari, it was a start.

10. Ferrari Finally Premiers

Working for C.M.N would be the break that Ferrari was looking for, as they eventually promoted him to racecar driver in 1919. He soon made his race debut in the 1919 Parma-Poggio di Berceto Hillclimb. Ferrari took fourth place in his first race—but clearly, he wasn’t satisfied with the result.

11. Learning Defeat

The Targa Florio, a legendary open road endurance race taking place in the mountains of Sicily, was the oldest sports car racing event in the world at the time. It would be the site of Ferrari’s next race, though he wouldn’t have as much success as he did in his first. He would have to retire from the Targa Florio due to a leak in his car’s fuel tank.

What, did you think Ferrari’s life was all checkered flags from the beginning? Nope—he had to work his way to the top of the podium.

12. Ferrari’s First Win

By 1920, Ferrari was on his way up, and he took a job as a driver in Alfa Romeo’s racing department. Years of hard work would finally pay off in 1924 when he drove an Alfa Romeo RL to victory at the first-ever Coppa Acerbo. The Coppa Acerbo was named after the brother of Giacomo Acerbo, a leading fascist figure in Italy, but organizers renamed the Circuito di Pescara following WWII and the fall of Mussolini.

13. Dominating The Circuit

After creating his racing team Scuderia Ferrari in 1950, Ferrari would go on to dominate the Circuito di Pescara in the last decade of the race’s existence.

14. Graduating To The Big Leagues

Ferrari’s win at the Coppa Acerbo put his name on the map, and Alfa Romeo promoted him to race in larger and more prestigious racing competitions. They would not regret the decision.

15. Waning Race Career

Ferrari was a racer to watch out for during his introduction into the premier races, but after the well-known racing champion Antonio Ascari lost his life in an accident in 1925, Ferrari’s love for racing began to wane. He would later admit that he started racing half-heartedly up from 1925 on. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

Once Enzo Ferrari stepped out of the driver’s seat and into a factory, that’s when the real magic began.

16. Superteam

In 1929, Ferrari, who knew his time as a race car driver was fading, founded a superstar race team, which featured champion Grand Prix driver Giuseppe Campari and Tazio Nuvolari. It was the start of something big, but for the time being, Scuderia Ferrari was still a part of Alfa Romeo. Still, the writing was on the wall: It was only a matter of time before Enzo Ferrari set out on his own.

17. Dino Reborn

Ferrari would finally retire from racing in 1932 after his son was born. He named his son Alfredo, after his father and brother, and called him Dino, just like his late brother.

18. Channeling Energy In A New Direction

After retiring from competitions, Ferrari decided to focus his time and energy on developing Alfa Romeo’s factory and race cars. Turns out, he was even better at this than he was at driving.

19. Finding An Icon

Scuderia Ferrari’s beginnings saw the creation of an icon. Every one of Ferrari’s drivers drove a car emblazoned with a prancing horse. The adoption of this symbol as Ferrari’s main logo was a dedication to Italy’s most famous fight pilot, Francesco Baracca. Barraca had created the design himself and flew with it painted on his planes during WWI.

20. Parental Persuasion

Enemy fighters eventually shot down Baracca’s plan, but his legacy lived on through his parents. It was they who convinced Enzo Ferrari to use their son’s prancing horse emblem on his race cars as a symbol of good luck.

21. Changing The Horse

Ferrari changed the scheme of the horse emblem by painting it black on a yellow background, yellow being a color on the flag of his hometown Modena. Initially, however, the emblem was actually used on Alfa Romeo cars, since Ferrari was manufacturing his race cars under the company at the time.

22. Winning On Their Home Turf

When Ferrari appeared on the scene, Italian racers were underdogs on the racetrack. German manufactured cars dominated the circuit during the years leading up to WWII, specifically Auto Union and Mercedes. Due to his elite drivers and Ferrari’s craftsmanship, Scuderia Ferrari was the only racing team on the continent that could compete with them.

In 1935 Tazio Nuvolari scored a victory over the two best German drivers of the era…in Germany. Not a bad start, but Ferrari was far from finished.

23. WWII Steps In

Motor racing was put on hold in Europe during WWII, and Enzo took this moment to leave Alfa Romeo in order to pursue his own dream of building his own racing cars.

24. A Caveat

When Ferrari left Alfa Romeo, there was one caveat: Ferrari could not race or use the prancing horse emblem for four years. This was no problem for Ferrari, as he spent these years focusing on building machinery and perfecting his craft. It wasn’t until 1947 that the emblem that would define him and his brand would make its first appearance on an official Ferrari car, the 12-cylinder Tipo 125S.

25. First Try

Ferrari wasn’t actually Enzo Ferrari’s first company. Almost a decade earlier, he created Auto-Avio Costruzioni, which supplied racing parts to other teams. But soon enough Auto-Avio Costruzioni had to switch the production to something much darker.

26. Not What I Signed Up For

Originally located in Modena, Auto-Avio Costruzioni was forced to work as a production factory for Mussolini and the Fascist party during WWII. A far cry from the racing machines of Ferrari’s dreams.

27. Relocating Away From Home

The problem is, when your auto parts factory starts making instruments of war, you might as well paint a giant target on the roof. Seeking to hamper the Italian war effort, Allied forces bombed Ferrari’s factory during WWII. Because of this, Ferrari had to abandon his hometown of Modena and relocate to the nearby Maranello.

28. And It Begins

Enzo Ferrari finally founded his own race car manufacturing company in 1947. He named it Ferrari S.p.A., and he had a mission. Ferrari wanted to compete with his old company, Alfa Romeo, who at the time dominated Italian racing.

29. Impressive Debut Year

And challenge Ferrari did. In 1948, the Ferrari race team debuted in Turin and won their first race in the very same year. It was the start of something special.

30. Putting Ferrari On The Map Of Motorsport

Sure, he got off to a good start, but Ferrari needed to step up and win one of Europe’s heavy hitter racers for people to really take notice. This would occur shortly after, in 1949, when Luigi Chinetti drove a Ferrari 166M to victory at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Known as the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency,” this 24-hour race is now one of the legs in the Triple Crown of Motorsport, alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.

31. Getting In On The Ground Floor

Formula 1 World Championship racing came into being in 1950 and Ferrari made sure to get in on it early. Not only was Ferrari one of the first teams to enroll in Formula 1, but it is the only team to remain in the highest class of competitive driving since its inception.

32. Crying Like A Winner

The following year, in 1951, Ferrari’s company finally won his first Grand Prix and, he reacted accordingly: By crying like a baby. Hey, if you’d been chasing a dream for half a century, wouldn’t you?

33. First Championship

In the first two years of Formula 1, Ferrari’s greatest rival, Alfa Romeo, took home the championship. This pushed Ferrari even further, and in 1952, he finally got his first championship. The following year, Ferrari would repeat the championship.

34. Formula 1 Dominators

Overall, Ferrari has won the most Formula One Championships of any team in history, with 15. Enzo Ferrari himself witnessed nine of these before his passing in 1988.

35. A Man Of Many Nicknames

During his life, Enzo Ferrari’s achievements earned him many different nicknames. He was well known as both “il Commendatore” and ”il Drake,” and later in life as “il Grande Vecchio” and “l’Ingegnere.” Oh, sorry, you don’t speak Italian? Well then, just take our word for it: They’re all high praise.

36. Trying The Indy 500

The only time Ferrari tried to race in the Indianapolis 500 came in 1953, but the experience apparently didn’t wow him. He preferred to stay in Europe in general, and after his one unsuccessful attempt at the Indy, he never went back.

37. Tragedy Strikes

The Mille Miglia was an infamously dangerous race, but Ferrari still took part in the company’s early years. That was, until 1957, when a Ferrari car blew a tire at 250 km/h and crashed into the roadside crowd, costing nine spectators their lives. The dead included the driver, Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver, and five children.

38. Going To Trial

After the horrific crash in 1957, both Enzo Ferrari and the tire manufacturer Englebert faced criminal charges. The case would go on for many years before a judge finally dismissed it in 1961.

39. Writing On Motorsports

Ferrari did not believe that the press in Europe gave motorsport enough recognition. Therefore, he supported the publisher Luciano Conti in his effort to create a new publication dedicated to the sport, called Autosprint. So dedicated to the project was Ferrari that he worked as a regular contributor for the beginning years of the publication.

40. Selling Themselves

Ferrari was dedicated to motorsport and racing, but in order to finance itself for competition, the company turned to the market. It was only in an effort to make enough money to compete in the biggest events in Europe that Ferrari began selling commercial sports cars.

41. The Ultimate Enzo

Though he didn’t believe much in aerodynamics, the last car Enzo Ferrari had a hand in building would be the most aerodynamic of the era: The Ferrari F40. The car, which was introduced not long before the legendary carmaker’s passing at 90, was the perfect embodiment for the man Enzo Ferrari, and is known as the ultimate Ferrari.

42. Cultivating An Image

Enzo Ferrari always wore large, dark glasses during interviews. He did this as a way to maintain an enigmatic and mysterious image of himself because he understood the power of branding.

43. Red By Demand

Ferarri Red is iconic today, but that wasn’t always in Enzo Ferrari’s plans—it wasn’t even his first choice! Instead, it was the color mandated by the International Automobile Federation for Italian Grand Prix race cars at the time.

44. Insecure Drivers

Always the competitor, Enzo Ferrari played mind games with his racers. He worked to always keep them on their heels by making them feel insecure about their position at Ferrari, a move that he believed brought out the best in each driver. Hey, say what you will, but the results speak for themselves.

45. Flirting With Ford

Late in the 1960s, Ferrari was still having trouble maintaining his company’s financial stability, so he began looking for a business partner. Naturally, the automotive giant Ford came calling. Ferrari came within an inch of selling his company to Ford for $18 million, but he pulled the plug at the last minute. Ferrari himself withdrew his offer when he realized Henry Ford II would not grant him control of Ferrari’s racing department.

However, many believe he never intended to sell his company to Ford at all—that it was all a ruse.

46. Finding Fiat

After the falling out with Ford, Ferrari found a partner with the Italian firm Fiat. He sold 50% of his company to Fiat in 1969. When the 50/50 deal was finally signed, Ferrari got what he wanted: 100% control over the racing department. Oh, and Fiat would have to pay a nice chunk of change for the use of his factories in Maranello and Modena.

The deal lasted for the rest of Enzo’s life, but that wasn’t the only thing he took to the grave—he also nurtured a grudge with Ford until his dying day.

47. Fine, I’ll Do It Myself

Enzo Ferrari tried to coax the council of Modena to upgrade the Modena Autodrome in order to be up to the standards of 1970s racing for proper race car testing. The city was politically uninterested in this, and after years of a stalemate, Ferrari simply bought the adjacent land and built his own private racetrack, the Fiorano Circuit.

48. Walking On Out

Enzo Ferrari was a strong personality who did not mind clashing with people. Not surprisingly, this led to many challenges for people working for him, and in 1961 things came to a head with the “Great Walkout.” This was exodus from Ferrari, in which many of the people who were vital to the company’s success left to found their own company, Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS).

In doing so, they also lured away talented drivers and engineers from Ferrari.

49. Rising to the Challenge

The Great Walkout couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Ferrari was already facing many difficulties as a company. But, as the great often do, Ferrari took this adversity to step up and create something even greater. This was the creation of a new 250 model, which at first many weren’t even sure could be built or raced. He also promoted many juniors waiting in the wings, who showed they were ready for the job.

In the end, it led to the new mid-engined Dino racers which would sweep the racing world following the 1964 Formula 1 championship victory by John Surtees in a 250 P. ATS, on the other hand, only lasted a few years before declaring bankuptcy.

50. Communication Problems

In 1998, almost 50 years after the beef, Ferrari’s former manager Romolo Tavoni, one of the men who left in the Great Walkout, claimed the rift all had to do with Ferrari’s wife. Many employees resented her role in the company, and they subsequently took it up with a lawyer, who then sent a signed letter to Enzo. In doing so, they sealed their own fates.

Tavoni believes that if they’d gone to the man himself, instead of using lawyers, they could have found common ground. But once the lawyers were involved, Enzo Ferrari was done with them.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11


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