Today marks the start of a series of articles telling of the many famous names of the car world that I have had the honour and pleasure of meeting throughout my professional life. And who to start with, if not the Man himself: Enzo Ferrari.
Photos by Luigi Marmiroli Archive
Rivers of ink have been used to write about Ferrari, and in future who knows how many millions of words will be devoted to him on the web. Here I don’t want to add anything to his official biography, but I would like to share some memories of the time I spent working in the “Gestione Sportiva”, the Racing Department of Ferrari Automobili, soon after graduating.
Due to some unfathomable twist of fate, I was born on a farm very close to where, in 1972, the Fiorano Race Track was built and where, having completed my studies, I found myself working soon after it was inaugurated.
In the centre of the track there was a small building, right next to the famous house with red shutters, where Ferrari often went for a siesta after lunch. The emergency vehicles were housed here, on the ground floor, and there were two rooms on the first floor. Ferrari had called this place the “Studies Office”; a forerunner of the “think-tank”, where the future road and racing cars were designed.
I had just graduated from the University of Padua, and I began to work in a factory that produced spare parts for tracked vehicles, but when I was called for an interview at Ferrari I literally fled that company.
Entering the room where the “Great Old Man” was, I was a bag of nerves. Ferrari was half a century older than me. As he invited me to sit down in a chair in front of his very modest desk, I instantly thought of all the famous drivers, politicians, actors and even royals who had sat in that chair before me.
Everyone knew that, like the Pope in Rome, Ferrari never left Maranello, and anyone who wanted to meet him had to go to his court there.
He welcomed me, showing me a painting on the wall lit by two red glass rose-shaped lamps below, with a slightly cemetery-like appearance. The painting was of his son Dino, who had died many years earlier when he was the same age as me. I found out later that when he hired young engineers, this always brought back terribly painful memories for him.
Afterwards, aroused from his thoughts, these are the exact words he said to me: “Mr Marmiroli, would you like to see the Ferrari races on the tracks around the world?”. Blushing up to my hair, I timidly stuttered, “Yes, I would like that very much”. Leaving the interview, I was both bewildered and exhilarated, and that feeling stayed with me for the whole period I spent in the Studies Office. It stayed with me for seven years.
When I went back into that office to hand in my notice, I sat in the same chair and saw the picture of Dino still hanging on the wall, lit by the same glass roses. Ferrari was very disappointed about my decision. I honestly knew that he felt that way about anyone who left the company.
His parting words were: “Mr Marmiroli, you can leave, we are equal: you have given something to us, and we have given something to you”.
He was completely right. My experience at Ferrari Automobili was to all extents and purposes like a second, hands-on degree in ”Car Building”. I never met Ferrari again, but he always wrote and thanked me personally for the birthday wishes I sent him every year. I still jealously treasure his replies.
Walking into the historical centre of Modena from my house, I always passed beneath the large windows of his home: they were always covered by heavy curtains or even shutters. Except one time. On 14th August 1988, I saw that the windows were wide open and the curtains pulled back. I knew that the “Commendatore” was not well, and in fact a couple of months earlier he wasn’t even able to welcome Pope John Paul II, who had come to Marenello and the track in Fiorano to meet him. I suddenly had a very bad feeling.
The news of Enzo Ferrari’s death came a couple of days later, after the funeral, just as he had wished.
Writing these memories, I took out his notes once more, and I observed that, over the years, his signature, written as always in his hallmark purple ink, had become less and less certain.