Since childhood Enzo Ferrari had been passionate about cars: in 1908 at the age of 10 he went to the races on the Bologna circuit with his father and brother, an event which inspired him to want to be a race car driver. From that moment forward, he’d live an intense life driven by a singular goal: building winning race cars.
With little formal education, during World War I he served in the 3rd Mountain Artillery Regiment of the Italian Army. The death of his father in 1916 and then his brother, Dino, later that same year from an illness contracted while fighting as part of the ground crew in the Italian Air Force was a twin tragedy that profoundly affected him. Enzo himself was almost killed during the horrific 1918 flu pandemic across Europe. He was later discharged from the army and sent home to recuperate.
Following the family's carpentry business collapse and several years of struggle, Enzo would end up joining Alfa Romeo as a driver. Though talented (1924 was his best season, with three wins, including Ravenna, Polesine and the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara), he preferred running the team to driving for it. In 1929, he led the first iteration of Alfa Romeo's racing division, Scuderia Ferrari, which included a team of superstar drivers, including Giuseppe Campari and Tazio Nuvolari.
It was in this period that the the Cavallino Rampante (Prancing Horse) began to show up on his team's cars. The emblem had been created and sported by Italian fighter plane pilot Francesco Baracca, who was shot down and killed by an Austrian airplane in 1918. Not everyone agrees, but it's generally thought to have been gifted to Enzo by the parents of the late pilot, as he belonged to the squadron Enzo's brother had been a part of.
In memory of his death, Ferrari used the prancing horse to create the emblem that would become the world-famous Ferrari shield, adding the bright-yellow background after the city of Modena.
In 1937, Scuderia Ferrari was dissolved and Ferrari soon set up shop as Auto-Avio Costruzioni, a company supplying parts to other racing teams. With the outbreak of World War II in 1940, Ferrari's factory was forced to undertake war production for Mussolini's fascist government. At the end of the war, Ferrari decided to start making cars bearing his name, and founded Ferrari S.p.A. in 1947.
Enzo decided to race with his own team against the dominant Alfa Romeo squad. Ferrari’s open-wheel debut took place in Turin in 1948 and the first win came later in the year in Lago di Garda. The first championship came in 1952, with Alberto Ascari, a task that was repeated one year later. The story goes that Enzo cried like a baby when his team finally defeated the mighty Alfetta 159.
Along with his skills as a driver and manager, Ferrari was a showman of exceptional charisma, something he recognized when referring to himself as "an agitator of men". He would soon earn the title of “salesman” as well, when, in order to finance his racing endeavors, he began manufacturing and selling sports cars.
Producing some of the most extravagant cars in automotive history, Enzo earned the fandom of Europe’s old royalty and young playboy elite, as well as Hollywood’s dashing young stars and Wall Street’s most flamboyant wolves. Ferrari came to embody the allure of the 60s, the arrival and dominance of Riviera chic.
Racing, however, was what really mattered to Enzo, who described the sport as “a great mania to which one must sacrifice everything, without reticence, without hesitation." His passion never dwindled for racing, the source of what he himself referred to as his "terrible joys."
Ferrari would contribute as much to the joys of racing as he did to its controversies. His management style was autocratic and he was known to pit drivers against each other in the hope of improving their performance. Some critics believe that Ferrari deliberately increased psychological pressure on his drivers, encouraging intra-team rivalries and fostering an atmosphere of intense competition for the position of number one driver.
Controversy ensued as many of his drivers were killed during the height of Ferrari, including Peter Collins, Eugenio Castellotti, Count Wolfgang von Trips, Luigi Musso, and Lorenzo Bandini, among them. Although such a high death toll was not unusual in motor racing in those days, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano described Ferrari as being like the god Saturn, who consumed his own sons.
Most notable of these tragic events was during the 1957 Mille Miglia road race, when the Marquis Alfonso de Portago lost control of his 4.0-liter Ferrari 335 S when a tire blew. Portago was killed, as was his co-driver and nine spectators, five of whom were children. In response, Enzo Ferrari and Englebert, the tire manufacturer, were charged with manslaughter in a lengthy criminal prosecution that was finally dismissed in 1961.
Despite these controversies, Enzo never stopped pursuing the pure elation of racing, earning some six Le Mans victories in a row in 1960–1965, among many other titles.
According to Niki Lauda, a double Formula One world champion for Ferrari, "Ferrari's only interest was winning…he was a very egocentric man, absolutely focused on his cars, on his ideas, being successful in a brutal way. But in the end, he was Italian and he had a heart. I had the opportunity to experience this on the odd occasion.”
The great Enzo Ferrari died on August 14, 1988, in Modena, Italy. He was 90 years old at the time of his death. Former Ferrari F1 team principal (1977-1988) Marco Piccinini was one of just a handful of people who attended Enzo's funeral ceremony. "In private, he was humble,” said Piccinini.
“He didn't take himself overly seriously and could see the humor in the situation. What he did take very seriously was the factory, the work and the people who worked for him. Enzo Ferrari didn't need to play up to a perception. You don't need to pose like Ferrari when you are Ferrari."
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