If there is an automotive make with more allure than Ferrari automobiles, we have yet to find it. Strikingly beautiful, fast, and enticingly expensive, driving a Ferrari sports car is the ultimate dream of many an automotive enthusiast. Ironically, as coveted as Ferrari road cars are, the company’s founder never placed much emphasis on them. His passion was racing; for him, the road cars existed only to support Scuderia Ferrari’s racing efforts. In fact, the company was in existence for a full 17 years before it even offered a street car.
Born February 1, 1898 in Modena, Italy, it is believed Enzo Anselomo Ferrari caught the racing bug at the age of 10, upon seeing a race at Circuit di Bologna. During World War I, he served in an artillery unit in the Italian Army. After the war, he got a job with Costruzioni Meccaniche, Nazionali (CMN) in 1919, converting truck bodies into passenger cars. CMN also had a racing team—with which Ferrari participated—however it was largely unsuccessful.
In those days, the Italian car company ruling auto racing was Alfa Romeo. Ferrari joined Alfa in 1920. Three years later, he met the mother of Francesco Baracca; Italy’s leading fighter pilot in World War I. Baracca decorated the fuselage of his plane with an image of a prancing horse, the Cavallino Rampante. His mother agreed to let Ferrari use the logo on his cars, although Ferrari didn’t apply it until 1932.
In 1929, Alfa offered him the opportunity to manage its racing efforts and Scuderia Ferrari was born. Responsible for managing the development of racing cars and recruiting drivers (including the legendary Tazio Nuvolari) Scuderia Ferrari was the Alfa Romeo racing team. Ferrari drove as well, although he stopped forever in 1932. In those days racing drivers routinely lost their lives. Fulfilling a vow he’d made to stop driving racing cars if he ever fathered a son, when Alfredo (Dino) Ferrari was born, Ferrari hung up his helmet.
Financial constrictions caused Alfa Romeo to withdraw support in 1933, so the tire manufacturing concern Pirelli stepped in to keep Ferrari going. These were the glory days of the mighty government-backed Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz racing teams of Germany, so victories were few. However, one notable Ferrari/Alfa Romeo win during that era was that of Tazio Nuvolari at the German Grand Prix in 1935.
Alfa decided to run the racing effort internally in 1937, reducing Ferrari to director of sports, reporting to the engineering director at the company. Having tasted leadership, Ferrari left Alfa—although a clause in his contract prevented him from racing, or designing racing cars for four years. For income, he started a racing parts supply business he called Auto-Avio Costruzioni. Ferrari also entered two cars in the 1940 Mille Miglia endurance race for Alberto Ascari and Lotario Rangoni, but they were not badged Ferrari.
With the onset of World War II, Ferrari’s manufacturing facilities were taken over by the Italian government to support the war effort. As a result, it was destroyed in a bombing raid. When he decided to rebuild, Ferrari moved away from Modena to Maranello, which became the home of Ferrari automobiles to this day. After the war, Ferrari started Ferrari S.p.A. in 1947, and began building racing cars with his name on them. The company’s first win occurred at Lago di Garda in 1948.
Enzo Ferrari started running Formula 1 Grand Prix cars of his own in 1950, and his company has been racing in Formula 1 ever since. The first Ferrari Grand Prix win came at Silverstone in 1951, in the British Grand Prix. One year later, the team won its first championship with Alberto Ascari at the wheel. Today, Ferrari is the most successful F1 team in existence, holding nearly every Formula 1 record.
Road car production started in 1949, with the Ferrari 166 Inter—the first Ferrari automobile to be sold specifically for road use. A 2.0-liter V12 engine producing between 110 and 140 horsepower powered the 166 Inter, depending upon the carburetor configuration. As was the custom in high-end cars of the day, Ferrari offered the car as a rolling chassis—which was then delivered to a coachbuilder to produce a body to the customer’s specification. This began Ferrari’s long-running associations with Pininfarina, Bertone, and Zagato.
Other names key to the history of Ferrari are Gioacchino Colombo, whose V12 engines powered Ferrari models for over 15 years, starting in 1947, including the 166 Inter. Colombo’s work was focused on smaller displacement 1.5-liter up to 3.3-liter engines. Aurelio Lampredi, who started working with Ferrari in 1946, produced larger displacement 3.3-liter, 4.1-liter, and 4.5-liter V12 engines for Ferrari.
Vittorio Jano, who trained Colombo at Alfa Romeo, joined Ferrari in 1955. Jano’s focus was V6 and V8 engines. In fact, Jano’s V6 engine powered the first mid-engined Ferrari road car, the 1966 206 Dino. Evolutions of Jano’s designs still power Ferrari’s V8 models to this day.
By the way, that first mid-engine “Ferrari” was badged Dino in honor of Alfredo (nicknamed Alfredino), who died in 1956 of Muscular Dystrophy. However, Enzo had also declared only cars with 12-cylinder engines would wear the Ferrari logo. The first mid-engine Ferrari vehicle ran a V6 engine because Enzo Ferarri was concerned a V12 engine would make the car too powerful for customers and thus unsafe. An insatnt success, the Dino became the best-selling Ferrari auto of its time.
Today’s lineup includes a mix of V8 and V12 powered rear-drive cars, as well as front- and mid-engine powertrain configurations. The model range includes the expected two-seat sports models; however there is also an all-wheel drive V12-powered Grand Touring “station wagon” called FF. After the Dino evolved into the 308 GT, V8 engines have typically powered the majority of the mid-engine Ferrari cars, although the notable 512 Berlinetta Boxer and 512 Testa Rossa models of the 1970's and 80's were V12s. There is currently one front-engine V8 Ferrari automobile in production, the California Spyder; V12 engines power all the rest.
Until recently, Ferrari’s naming conventions paid homage to the engine powering the vehicle. Mid-engined models would list the displacement and cylinder count. For example, the 206 Dino used a 2.0-liter V6. The 512 Boxer Berlinetta used a horizontally opposed (Boxer) 5.0-liter V12. Front-engined models were designated by the displacement of a single cylinder. Multiply 365 by 12 and you get the (roughly) 4.4-liter displacement of the 365 Daytona’s engine.
Enzo Ferrari died in 1988, still in control of the company bearing his name.
Fiat owns the company today.