Part 37 – Ferrari and the Drama of Maranello

By David Cavaliere
Enzo Ferrari was a complex man. He was both emotional and detached. He could unleash fury in an instant and show extraordinary compassion a moment later. His workers feared him and adored him. He would work his Scuderia to the point of breaking and reel them in before they broke apart – usually. A man like that does not achieve such legendary status without creating enemies, or perhaps in this case, they would be better stated as competitors. The drama that was borne from the “Agitator of Men” is this week’s story.

Ferruccio Lamborghini first production car – the 350 GTV. Ferrari could only blame himself for the insult that launched a competitor.

Ferruccio Lamborghini first production car – the 350 GTV. Ferrari could only blame himself for the insult that launched a competitor.

By the early 1960s, the legend of Ferrari was firmly in place. The sports-racing cars of the marque were dominant in the Constructors World Sports Championship. In the nine-year span between 1953 and 1961, Ferrari won the title seven times. It also had outstanding success in the torturous 1,000 mile endurance race through Italy, the Mille Miglia – eight wins in 10 years through 1957. Add to that five wins at Le Mans and it is clear to see why the best racing drivers and sought out Ferrari. The powerful engines from Maranello overcame some of the shortcomings of suspension, brakes and aerodynamics. On more than one occasion Enzo had responded to engineers and drivers who griped about aerodynamic drag by saying that aerodynamics are for people who don’t know how to build good engines.

It really wasn’t until the late 1950s that Ferrari began to employ independent suspension and disc brakes. While Enzo remained supremely stubborn, he had an eye for talent. Examples of this are his hiring of engineers Giotto Bizzarrini and Carlo Chiti; as had been covered in Part 11 of this series (March 31, 2016). Bizzarrini came to Ferrari in 1957. Soon Chiti also came over from Alfa Romeo. It was an outstanding blend of talent – Chiti’s drafting skills coupled with Bizzarrini’s mastery of testing, modifying and refining of cars brought further successes to Ferrari.

In their tenure at Maranello, the two men filled central roles in Ferrari’s four endurance crowns, two Formula 1 titles and in the greatly improving drivability of the road cars. What is perhaps even more astounding is how they were cast aside in 1961 during the “Night of the Long Knives.” This well-known event illustrates further the drama that surrounded the feudalistic nature of the Ferrari factory. The episode is alternatively known as “The Palace Revolt,” “The Ferrari Walkout” or simply as “The Purge.”

(left) Here Enzo Ferrari holds court with Eugenio Castellotti at left, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins. All three drivers died while racing for the Scuderia. (right) Enzo Ferrari favored drivers like Eugenio Castellotti and Alfonzo de Portago, who drove like madmen.

Il Commendatore was an exacting task master who inspired his workers, drivers and engineers. He was also intractable and dismissive. He could bring you to impassioned tears of loyalty and moments later wave his hand to send you on your way. In many instances, “The Old Man’s” stubbornness led to potential allies becoming opponents and competitors. Near the center of the matter in 1961, was Ferrari’s wife, Laura. Enzo’s manipulative approach had long created an environment of intrigue, but the situation was further antagonized by Laura’s intrusive ways. Unlike her husband, Laura Ferrari had no diplomatic skills and often added her own brand of drama to the factory floor and engineering office.

Laura Ferrari in 1961

Laura Ferrari in 1961

According to most accounts, tensions had been building around the factory for years. The biggest disputes developed based on Laura’s increased involvement in company affairs. Her opinions on how Ferrari was run didn’t sit well with one of the carmaker’s sales managers, Girolamo Gardini, who frequently argued with Enzo over this predicament. It ultimately reached the point where Gardini told Enzo that if Laura wasn’t taken out of the equation, he would leave. It was a poor decision on Gadini’s part. He was one of the keys to the success of the company, but to give Enzo Ferrari an ultimatum? He was out the door in an instant. Gardini wasn’t the only one who was against Laura’s involvement. His thoughts were mirrored in a signed group letter complaining about her meddling and supporting Gardini’s position. The most important figures involved were sports car development chief Giotto Bizzarrini, chief engineer Carlo Chiti and Scuderia Ferrari manager Romolo Tavoni. All were shown the door in October 1961.

Alberto Ascari wearing his lucky blue helmet. A very superstitious man, he never raced without it. Unbelievably, he wasn’t wearing it on the day of his impromptu test in a Ferrari 750 Monza. On the third lap the car inexplicably skidded, somersaulted twice. Ascari was thrown from the car and died within minutes.

Alberto Ascari wearing his lucky blue helmet. A very superstitious man, he never raced without it. Unbelievably, he wasn’t wearing it on the day of his impromptu test in a Ferrari 750 Monza. On the third lap the car inexplicably skidded, somersaulted twice. Ascari was thrown from the car and died within minutes.

The Great Walkout came at an already difficult time for Ferrari, whose motorsport division was struggling to cope with an increasing number of track-related tragedies. Motorsports during the 1950s and 60s was very dangerous. Ferrari drivers who were killed racing or testing the cars included Alberto Ascari in ’55, Eugenio Castellotti and Fon de Portago in ’57, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins in ’58. And even though the Scuderia won both the World Championship of Drivers and the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers titles in 1961 – thanks to the genius of Phil Hill and the speed of the distinctively designed Ferrari 156 F1 “Sharknose” – the two triumphs were overshadowed by Wolfgang von Trips’ death at Monza. The crash also took the lives of fifteen spectators. A very complex man, Enzo would console the widows, his genuine tears of pain at the loss of a driver would have him question whether racing was worth such heartache. In the end, his decision was always the same – to pursue the Scuderia’s greatest win, which would always be the next win.

The attraction of Ferrari cars and the personality of Il Commendatore created competition, not only through the creation of ATS (covered in Part 5 of this series), but also in the form of Lamborghini and the mighty Ford Motor Company. Ferruccio Lamborghini was always interested in mechanics. Following WWII, he began a business of modifying military machinery into tractors. His business became very successful and in 1958 he purchased his first Ferrari, a 250 GT. He went on to own several more over the years, including a Scaglietti-designed 250 SWB Berlinetta and a 250GT 2+2 four-seater. Lamborghini became frustrated with problems he had with the clutch in his 250 GT. He arranged a meeting with Enzo Ferrari who answered Ferruccio’s complaints with “the problem is not with the car but with driver!” and went on to advise that he look after his tractors instead. For a mechanical genius and a proud and successful Italian, this kind of answer was not only insulting, but an open challenge.

Driven by Enzo’s insult, Ferruccio commissioned the engineering firm Società Autostar to design a V12 engine. Lamborghini wanted the engine to have a similar displacement to Ferrari’s 3-litre V12. Autostar was led by Giotto Bizzarrini. Lamborghini got to work designing his car. He unveiled the Lamborghini 350 GTV at the Turin Motor Show in October 1963. The humble tractor manufacturer proved to be a formidable rival over the years. Lamborghini will be covered in depth in future issues.

However, Ferrari didn’t miss a beat following “The Purge.” His cars won Le Mans in 1962, ’63, ’64 and ’65. It also won various constructors world sports-car titles during the same period and Enzo’s road cars were fortifying their standing as the world’s best high-performance sports and GT automobiles. Production more than doubled over four years in the early ‘60s.

Enzo, ever with his eyes open, selected 27-year old Mauro Forghieri to head his technical team. He had been with the company only two years and although he was inexperienced, Forghieri was ambitious and as history has shown, supremely talented. He became part of the racing team in 1962 and was later promoted to technical director of the racing department. In 1970, Forghieri designed the Ferrari 312 series consisting of the 312 and 312B Formula One cars and 312P and 312PB sports cars. Under his guidance, Ferrari won the driver’s F1 world championship title four times, with John Surtees (1964), Niki Lauda (1975 and 1977) and Jody Scheckter (1979). Ferrari also won the constructors F1 world championship title eight times.

This is by no means the only drama than unfolded in Maranello. Next we’ll look at some of the formidable completion that emerged during the 1960’s, completion that was rooted in Ferrari’s iron handed approach to business.

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