16 May 2010

ON THE ROAD: Ferrari Land

MARANELLO, Italy - Ignoring the long line of cars and trucks backing up along the busy road, the police officer standing under the traffic light in front of the gates of the Ferrari factory holds up a white gloved hand, blows her whistle and energetically waves Robertino, friend and photographer, and I into the Ferrari compound.
Entrance to Ferrari
The Ferrari factory is in Maranello, a small town in the center of Italy. The town is completely Ferrari mad. Ferrari flags fly from apartment balconies and from behind motorbikes. The Ferrari prancing horse decal is pasted on every store, bar and restaurant window, and sometimes even on awnings.

This is Ferrari world headquarters, the hometown of Ferrari S.p.A and the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racing team. This is where the cars are built and the racing and automotive business is managed. With the Ferrari 550 Maranello and the Ferrari 575 Maranello, Enzo Ferrari put Maranello on the map.

That Ferrari’s are not ordinary cars is obvious the minute we walk into the factory. Robertino is estatic and starts setting up his photo equipment. I can see the Public Relations Director is getting nervous and he calls for an assistant to keep an eye on Robertino as he feels the need to concentrate on what automotive secret I might be looking to uncover as he tours me around the facility.

It’s a singular experience. The factory isn’t open to the public and unless you bought a Ferrari recently or have one on order you can’t get in. I doubt NASA’s security system is this tight. Prototype car bodies are covered with large tarps to keep them hidden from spying eyes, and some sections, like the space age research and development center and the large wind tunnel, are completely off limits to visitors.
Feerrari Production Line  
 In spite of Ferrari’s never ending quest for speed, no one here seems to be in a hurry: not the mechanics or assemblers or the seamstresses who sit and calmly hand sew the leather interiors. I guess with the 2012 Ferrari F458 selling at $230,000  and the starting price of $330.580 for the 2012 Ferrari 599, they can afford to take things con calma.

Dressed in Ferrari red smocks and white gloves, the workers quietly go about their business, careful to never touch any part of the car with an ungloved hand. It’s a family affair, sons work next to fathers and uncles, daughters next to mothers. The cars in production on have already been sold and carry identification papers from the day the first bolt is put into place to the day it is delivered to the customer – a six to nine month wait is normal, it can take much longer.

One of the Dream Makers  
After the factory tour the PR Director walks Robertino and I back to our car and gives us directions to the Ferrari Museum, the Galleria Ferrari. As the compound gate slowly starts to swing open we can see that the traffic light has turned green for us. A nanosecond later the policewomen’s whistle blows, her white gloved hand shoots up in the air, and cars screech to a halt as she waves us out and on to the road. For one small moment in time, Robertino and I, journalist and photographer, are treated like the King and Queen of Jordon, the Sultan and Sultana of Dubai, and all the other rich Ferrari customers. It’s nice.

Galleria Ferrari is just five minutes away. It’s a big building full of Ferrari memorabilia. One entire floor is dedicated to the racing cars driven by Gilles Villeneuve, Froilan Gonzales, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher and other Ferrari greats. And if you ever wondered what Ferrari model Ferrari Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, Placido Domingo, and Robbie Williams owned, well they are all here too.

Ferrari 'boys'
Experimental models are displayed on the upper floor, including the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina and the F50, along with previous F1 racing cars, engines, F1-type gearshift paddles and other technological innovations developed by Ferrari engineers.

And for those who get the urge to jump behind the wheel of a F1 there are driving simulators just waiting for you to slide into the seat and listen for those magic words: Gentlemen, start your engines. I could hardly get Robertino out of there. It was only because we had an appointment to tour Enzo Ferrari’s house at the F1 test track that I managed to pull him away.

Ferrari House in Fiorano
The test track is just a few miles out of Maranello in the town of Fiorano. We knew that the cars were running that day because as soon as we turned down the road to the track entrance we could hear that tantalizing whine of the F1 motors. That whine draws fans like safety pins to a magnet and about one hundred of them were lined up with their noses pressed against the fence hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite F1 driver.

When the drivers are working they stay at the Ferrari house which is on the same property as the track. After a day of whizzing around at break neck speeds, drivers, engineers and managers sit and watch the tapes of on the large screen TV in the living area and analyze their performances.

Right next to the living room there is a big conference room where Enzo Ferrari held court. He would sit at the head of the long wooden table like a Renaissance prince, looking out at his drivers through the dark sun glasses he always wore. The walls of the conference room are lined with photos of F1 cars, while the display cases below hold a large collection of miniature F1 cars. All Ferrari red of course. The bedrooms are upstairs. And what was hanging on the closet door in one of the bedrooms? Michael Schumacher’s racing suit ready for the champion to jump into and win another F1 race.

 Enzo Ferrari's Office - the Ferrari Situation Room
In 1898, when Enzo Ferrari was born, people were riding around in horse drawn carriages. Henry Ford had just resigned from the Detroit Edison company to concentrate on developing the automobile. When Ferrari died in 1988, at the age of 90, the world had been turned upside down; man had traveled to the moon and back, and everyone and his brother had a car.

Enzo Ferrari 
In his lifetime the cars Ferrari built won more than 5,000 races throughout the world and 25 world titles. The story of Enzo Ferrari and the history of auto racing are intertwined for he, more than anyone else, including Bugatti, Bently, Rolls and Royce made auto racing what it is today and in Ferrari Land they never forget it.

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