The fierce-looking Ferrari sports car above has only one purpose—to win races. It cannot be driven to market or out on a Sunday spin on the Skyline Drive. It has a 12-cylinder engine that is grumpy at low speeds but, with the power of 320 horses, comes vibrantly alive when the throttle is down, and it can propel the car at a speed of 173 mph. It has an exhaust noise more terrible than an air raid siren. With its companion four-cylinder model, with the same displacement of 3.5 liters (about the same as the smallest Studebaker), it is a world champion—a lovingly assembled and cunningly driven machine that has the power to lift the heart of a nation.
It is difficult in this country, where big-time auto racing—except for the Indianapolis "500" and the Sebring Twelve Hours—is only a memory, to appreciate the fervor with which Europeans embrace their cars and champions. The great national Grandes Epreuves (literally big tests) for single-seat road-racing cars are battlegrounds that excite and inflame the emotions, and the series of sports car races to determine the leading manufacturer provoke feelings of only slightly lesser incandescence.
The hottest sports of all are the Italians, for whom auto racing ranks right up with the pleasures of cheating on the income tax and second-guessing the big giveaway TV show Lascia o Raddoppia.
It was perfectly understandable to Italians when a Sicilian took a club to the American Phil Hill after he won the race at Messina this year, even though he was driving an Italian car. (Phil was saved by a pistol-toting chum.)
December 24, 1956
Right now, on the eve of another season, the Italians are loaded. And the most potent weapon in the Latin artillery that is aimed at the competition is a solid, forceful, brooding, silver-haired man named Enzo Ferrari, who stands at the pinnacle of the sport.
His V-8-engined, 2.5-liter, 280-hp Grand Prix racers, which are easily identifiable by their side fuel tanks, won six of the eight Grandes Epreuves of 1956 and provided the inimitable Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio, transportation to an unprecedented fourth world championship; his sports cars won for Ferrari himself the top honors among the competing manufacturers.
With the Germans out of the racing picture, the French lacking funds and the English unable to diagnose the fragility of their fast but temperamental cars, the big scrap in 1956 was between the Ferraris and the wasp-tailed Maseratis—an all-Italian show, a kind of civil war by extension between the adherents of the one and the other.
Desolated by the poor British showing, the journalist-driver Denis Jenkinson wrote in the November Motor Sport: "I think many times that a well-organized and efficient British team could wipe the floor with them [the Italians], they are in such chaos, yet every time they win."
Chaotic Italian racing may be, but it is also devastatingly effective—and with reason. Enzo Ferrari has been learning how to win the hard way ever since he washed out of technical school and set his cap for automobile racing success. He earned distinction in the '20s at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, that famous Italian make which achieved fabulous results before the Nazi-inspired German onslaught prevailed prior to World War II. When his driving days were over Ferrari became the shrewd manager (up until the war) of Alfa Romeo's racing activities, a position at which he was so successful and tough that he occasionally, but behind his back, was called the Italian equivalent for tough guy. His drivers were of the best: the immortal Nuvolari, the great Achille Varzi, Chiron, Moll, Trossi, Lehoux, René Dreyfus. Dreyfus, the former French champion, now a New York restaurant man, remembers Signor Ferrari as a strict but fair operator in the 1930s.
The Horse of Ravenna
Just before the war Ferrari opened an office at Modena and started building his own racing car in the neighboring village of Maranello. He had already adopted as his symbol the Ravenna Horse from the coat of arms of Italy's World War I Air Ace Major Baracca. He converted to machine-tool production during the war but saw his factory bombed by the Allies and stripped by the Germans, so he started afresh when the war was over.
Ferrari's first racer—a 1,500-cc, 8-cylinder model that won a closed-circuit event near Modena with the late World Champion Alberto Ascari at the wheel—was produced in 1940, and since then the prancing black horse has adorned the side panels of four world champion cars and hundreds of other victorious red machines.
The Mille Miglia, Italy's murderous 1,000-mile, open-road test of men and machines, has been a special Ferrari happy hunting ground. Every Mille Miglia after 1947, except for 1954 (the year of Ascari's Lancia) and 1955 (Stirling Moss's Mercedes) was won by a Ferrari, and this year the screaming red projectiles swept the first five places. First and foremost was the brilliant 12-cylinder, 3.5-liter model which is shown here in cutaway form.
There is an Italian saying which runs: "Donne e motori, gioie e dolori" (women and engines, joys and anguish), and probably no man in the world savors keener joy or suffers greater anguish over automobiles than 58-year-old Ferrari. For six days of the week he labors to improve the light, low, powerful machines that have made him famous, and on the seventh, as likely as not, he endures the slow-drip torture of awaiting the results of races in which Ferraris have been entered. So extreme is Ferrari's absorption with what he claims to be his guiding passion-technical progress—that he never goes to the races himself any more; he is afraid that his nervousness might be communicated to drivers and pit crews.
When the racers come back to the factory, Ferrari and his aides dig deep for evidence of mechanical flaws. They spend hours examining, with infra-red rays, all metals which have been subjected to strain. Ferrari knows no rest until the rays have told him the latest ploy of what he considers his greatest enemy: metal fatigue.
Winning a race means that he is on the right road to technical development. Losing, equally interesting to Ferrari, means that there is a new problem to be solved. He is agitated, and his eyes have a glassy stare as he scrutinizes every component until he is on the road to a solution. But he readily admits that he could not live without this kind of exhausting probing.
"When I decide to take part in a race," says Ferrari, "I don't think of my competitors. I don't say to myself: 'I must beat Maserati' or 'I must beat Mercedes.' The importance of any race is the technical result; given the same weather and road conditions, if records are broken there has been technical progress and progress in driving skill. If records remain the same, there is cause for disappointment. If records are not reached, there is cause for anger and greater work, greater planning, greater striving.
"The results of a race are only due 50% to the car. When you have created a car that can win, you are only halfway. The moment has come to find the driver. It costs more to develop a racing driver than any number of cars. The young driver with conspicuous talent leaps rapidly onto the racing horizon but, whatever his talent, he must race for several years before he becomes a good racing driver. During those formative years, he must have the luck to remain alive when he meets with his first inevitable accidents. To know the maximum speed he can attain he must run considerable risks. If he never risks leaping off the road, it means that he has not sought his maximum speed.
"When I was a boy, I often looked into the mirror and asked myself: 'What have I been put into the world for?' The doubt and the travail never leave me. When I hand over the car to a driver and shake his hand in the courtyard of the factory here at Maranello, I cannot escape the thought that I may be going to his funeral in a few days. When Ascari died, I couldn't sleep for a great many nights. He was like a son to me. I often ask myself: 'If I hadn't built racing cars, would so many of my friends have died?'
"Human progress requires its martyrs but I am alone, faced with the great dilemma of whether I am really doing something useful when I hand over a car to a young driver to get his experience on. I know that if a man once started calculating the risks he would never race and he would never build racing cars."
A Relentless Passion
"It is an enthusiasm which is not a desire for gain and isn't even an ambition that drives one. It is a passion like a fever...."
There have been a score of reports over the years that Ferrari would retire, but even after the death of his beloved son Alfredo this year (of leukemia), Ferrari's passion would not let him quit.
He continues to build the modified Lancia Grand Prix cars which Fangio drove to the world title (probably to be improved this season by a beefing-up of the clutch assembly, which caused considerable difficulty in 1956), the competition sports cars (see drawing on page 58) which won the manufacturer's title and the slightly tuned-down touring cars on which the famed Italian coachbuilders lavish some of their best work (see pages 53-56).
By American standards Ferrari's factory is tiny. He employs only 350 men (General Motors in 1955 employed 624,011) and he makes engineering changes with such rapidity that rarely are two models-even of the same make-exactly alike.
Ferrari depends heavily upon prize money for winning races to continue in business. When Mercedes-Benz swept the boards in 1955, Ferrari called on the big Italian Fiat auto combine for financial assistance. The rest of his income comes from the sale of high-speed touring cars-some to Europeans (customers include ex-King Leopold and his wife, Princess de Réthy), but half of his 100-car yearly output goes to the United States.
The leader of the touring line is the 410 Superamerica, whose 4.9-liter, three-carburetor V-12 engine develops 340 hp at 6,000 rpm. Depending on rear-axle ratio, body weight and the customer's nerve, this car can reach a top speed of 163 mph. The less expensive V-12 250 Granturismo is a three-liter, 240-hp (at 7,000 rpm), three-carburetor model which is said to be capable of 157 mph. Youmust pay at least $9,111 (f.o.b. Italy) for the 250 and at least $14,000 for the cheapest 410. These princely equipages, of course, take second place with Ferrari to the stripped-down, souped-up, scoop-nosed racers whose acceleration is phenomenal, road-holding exceptional and top speed frightening, and whose unmistakable unmuffled exhaust shriek fires the hearts of the volatile Italians.
Although Maserati is weakened by the loss of Stirling Moss (whose decision to drive British Vanwalls in 1957 may have been prompted more by patriotism than good business sense), Ferrari still has the best team of drivers going. With the prospect of at least some use of Fangio, who has elected to be a free agent for the coming season, and the services of the ascendant British star Peter Collins, the leadfoot Italian Eugenio Castellotti (SI, May 7), the artistic veteran Italian Luigi Musso, the fleet Spanish Marquis de Portago and the improving German Graf von Trips, the man from Maranello should have a laurel-strewn year.
If the Ferrari team doesn't make it to Argentina next month for the first 1957 world-championship races ("We pray to God and hope the Russians won't interfere," says Ferrari Racing Manager Eraldo Sculati. "At the present moment our prayers are stronger than our hopes") or to Florida's 12-hour race in March, watch out for the prancing horse when the European season begins. Enzo Ferrari's passion is not to be denied.
2 Oil cooler tubes
3 Mechanical fuel pump
4 Fuel line to carburetors
6 Oil filter
7 Stabilizing bar
8 Steering linkage
9 Water pump
10 Timing gear and chain
11 Gasoline filter
12 Overhead camshaft
13 Three four-barrel Weber carburetors
14 Valve rocker arm (since replaced by a roller-type action)
15 Exhaust valve (inlet valve opposite)
16 Hairpin valve spring
17 Piston (compression ratio: 8.8:1)
18 Cylinder liner (cylinder bore: 73 mm.; stroke: 69.5 mm.)
19 Connecting rod
21 Suspension wishbone
22 Coil spring with interior hydraulic damper
23 Brake drum
24 Camshaft cover
25 Spark plugs (two per cylinder)
26 Exhaust manifold
27 Morelli racing distributors (a fourth is obscured)
28 Spark plug wiring
29 Rear motor mount
30 Air scoop to cool cockpit
31 Five-gallon oil tank
32 Exhaust pipe
35 Tubular frame
36 Axle half shaft
37 Radius rods
38 Transverse leaf springs
39 De Dion tube
40 Houdaille shock absorber
41 Borrani aluminum wheel
42 Knock-off hub cap
43 Fuel tank (120 liters)
44 Fuel-tank filler cap