Everyone knows: the cars in Sant’Agata Bolognese would never have been born without the now-famous dispute between Ferruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari. And history reminds us that, from that day onwards, the pair never spoke to each other again. Luigi Marmiroli has tried to imagine a new meeting, at dinner: a exhilarating and at times emotional story, where rivalry is toned down and the humanity of these two legendary manufacturers comes to the fore.
Pictures courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive
I can immediately see that the cover story is false. And yet, I have personally known and admired both Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini, so I can assure my readers that, in this “virtual” meeting, both express their true personality and talk about facts that really occurred.
The professional lives of Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988) and Ferruccio Lamborghini (1916-1993) overlapped for a period of around fifty years. However, despite working close to each other (Maranello is around twenty miles from Sant’Agata Bolognese), apparently - though we cannot say for sure - they only met once.
First of all, please forgive my short digression into local history. For some time in Italy, both small towns and cities would compete with neighbouring municipalities, and the rivalry was fierce. Those with the highest towers, the largest cathedrals, the relics of the most important saints, the greatest artists, as well as the most interesting culinary traditions, stood out from the crowd. And while this all contributed to the creation of an infinite number of artistic and cultural works across the “Bel Paese”, it also certainly fuelled feuds and juxtapositions that still exist today, at least in part.
Ferrari, the son of a steelworker, was born in Modena; Ferruccio, the son of a farmer, in the province of Bologna. It is worth mentioning that, in the Middle Ages, a battle between Modena and Bologna caused over a thousand deaths.
This innate competition between Ferrari and Lamborghini, already based on these historical facts, was to grow further, due to the fact that they both built similar products. A competition that, starting from its founders, would soon spread to the workers, designers, suppliers and clients of these two distinctive brands. When out on test drives, the testers of the two companies deliberately sought out impromptu races on the local roads. This rivalry between the two companies had - and I think still has today - positive effects. I experienced this first-hand: when designing Lamborghinis, our (not entirely concealed) aim was to compete with the style, technology and general performance of the other international car makers, but with a very specific focus on Ferrari.
I imagined a meeting over dinner, on one of the typical damp, foggy days the area is renowned for, towards the late 1970s when Ferruccio Lamborghini had already sold his company and was about to retire to an estate on the banks of Lake Trasimeno to grow grapes. Ferrari, in turn, had sold the industrial part to Fiat Auto, keeping the Racing Department for himself.
The restaurant, lying half way between the two companies, is famous for its owner’s strange behaviour, and for being frequented by supercar enthusiasts and personalities from all over the world. To avoid indiscreet eyes and ears, they met there on the day the restaurant was normally closed. Ferrari arrived in his classic 400 GT/4 2+2 driven by his loyal driver Dino. Lamborghini drove up in his own white Countach. Both cars were hidden in an inner courtyard.
Lamborghini: Good evening Commendatore, or would you prefer Ingegnere?
Ferrari: Good evening to you, Cavaliere. My staff call me "Grande Capo", the press Commendatore, Ingegnere, Drake… Let’s leave the titles to one side, and simply be Ferrari and Lamborghini.
L: I agree. Fifteen years have passed since our last and only meeting. I must admit I was surprised to receive the invitation; I seem to remember we didn’t leave on the best of terms before.
F: Of course, you came to talk to me about one of my cars that you had bought that had irreparable problems with the clutch…
L: Your spare parts didn’t do the job.
F: You told me you had solved the problem using a clutch from one of your tractors. And, I remember well, I told you that you weren’t able to drive my powerful cars, and invited you to go back to driving tractors.
L: That’s right, in fact I remember your arrogance perfectly well, and that I promised that I would make cars better than yours.
Things were heating up, but luckily the owner came over to take the orders. Ferrari, as any good Modenese, usually dined at the Cavallino (a famous restaurant opposite the entrance to his company) and didn’t stray too far from his traditional cuisine. Lamborghini, who on the other hand always had lunch with his staff in an old restaurant in Cento, obviously preferred Bolognese cooking.
Ferrari ordered the "tortellini" with cream, rather than the classic version in capon broth, mixed boiled meats and "zuppa inglese" (ndr. an Italian-style trifle). Lamborghini ordered "tagliatelle alla bolognese", "cotoletta" and classic "torta di riso".
Once again the local rivalry came to the fore. They agreed only on the Parmigiano Reggiano and a bottle of good Lambrusco. And then they got back to the discussion:
F: I advised you to stay with your tractors, indeed I have to say that in less than ten years you abandoned the car business.
L: It’s true that for financial reasons I had to retire to a farm, but I have showed the world how capable I am of building exceptional cars. I promoted my brand, with the unmistakeable style and technology of my cars: today the "Toro Furioso" is worth no less than the "Cavallino Rampante". I am sure that my competition caused you suffering. You are surely aware that our respective testers have often raced on the roads, with my Miura frequently beating your Daytona. Some of your staff told me something you said, Ferrari: ”It’s lucky that the Miura is built by Lamborghini, otherwise it would be trouble for us”. I know that, for you, saying this was an appreciation of the style and mechanics of the Miura, but at the same time you were highly critical of my industrial skills.
F: And yet, to design your cars you took on many engineers who had left Ferrari: Giotto Bizzarrini for the engine, Giampaolo Dallara for the chassis and even Giancarlo Guerra for the bodywork.
L: Of course, I admit this, but you too, seeing the success of our Urraco, commissioned your Dino 308 GT/4 from our historical stylist, Marcello Gandini.
F: That was not my choice, but came from the industrial side, and in any case the Dino 308 was never very successful. The style of all my cars, thanks to Pininfarina, on the other hand, has become a classic benchmark all over the world, and popular with famous people, even kings and queens.
L: This is why I do not consider myself a competitor: my clients are far less noble, but younger, rich and proud to drive aggressive cars that get them noticed.
As the stomachs gradually filled, the rivalry stepped aside and they began to talk about their children: Ferrari about Dino, who died young, and Lamborghini about Tonino, who was studying at university.
Leaving them to their conversation, I thought that there has always been a certain rivalry among their clients too, like that between the fans of two football teams. I can confirm this with a photo taken many years ago of a beautiful red Countach at the Festival of Speed in Goodwood, England.
On one side, the owner had ironically marked a black cross over all the Ferrari badges he said that he had out-classed on the English roads. An endearing way of comparing himself to the Red Baron, the First World War ace pilot, who when returning from the dogfights would mark crosses on the fuselage to show how many planes he had shot down.