CHIAVARI, 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 in Maranello, Italy, holds up a white gloved hand, blows her whistle and energetically waves Robertino and me into the Ferrari compound.
|Welcome to Ferrari|
This is Ferrari world headquarters, the home 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.
The Public Relations Director comes out to meet us and escorts us into the factory. It’s obvious from the minute we walk in that this is not an ordinary automotive factory, which seems right, as Ferraris are not ordinary cars.
Robertino, my photographer, starts setting up his photo equipment and I can see the Public Relations Director is starting to get nervous. There are many sections of the factory that are off limits to visitors. He calls for an assistant to keep an eye on Robertino, and then concentrates on figuring out 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.
|Countdown Clock is Ticking - No Time to Fool Around|
Out of the corner of my eye I can see the outline of prototype car bodies that have been hidden under large tarps to keep them away from spying eyes like mine. And some sections, like the space age Research and Development Center, and the Wind Tunnel, where the aerodynamics of Ferrari cars is tested, are completely off limits to visitors
In spite of Ferrari’s never ending quest for speed, no one here seemed to be in a hurry: not the mechanics or assemblers or the seamstresses who calmly sit and hand sew pieces of leather that will be fitted into the interiors of the cars. It’s tutto calma, but not too calma. At some of the work stations there large countdown clocks that tick down the minutes until whatever part is being worked on, needs to move on to the next station.
|Ferrari Workers Get Around the Compound by Bicycle|
Dressed in tee shirts with identifying Ferrari logos and white gloves, the workers go about their business, careful to never touch any part of the car with an ungloved hand. It’s a family affair, fathers work next to their sons, mother’s work next to their daughters. Aunts, uncles and cousins all work here too.
The cars in production have already been sold. They carry identification papers from the day the first bolt is put into place to the day the car is delivered to the customer. A wait of six to nine months is normal, it often takes much longer.
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, 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 who have passed this way. 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 Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, Placido Domingo, and Robbie Williams owned, well they are all here too.
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 of you who can’t resist 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. Robertino was in heaven. It was only because I had an appointment to tour Enzo Ferrari’s house at the F1 test track in Fiorano that I managed to pull him away.
The Ferrari F1 test track is just a few miles from Maranello. As we turned down the road that leads to the track entrance we knew the cars were running. Even from that distance we could hear the tantalizing whine of the F1 motors. About one hundred fans were lined up along the fence, drawn there like safety pins to a magnet, 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. This is not Enzo Ferrari’s main house, this is just the Ferrari track house. After a day of whizzing around at break neck speeds, drivers, engineers and managers sit and watch the tapes on the large screen TV in the living room, 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 sunglasses 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.
|Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988)|
Even if you are not a racing fan, or a car person, you have to admit it is a pretty impressive empire. 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.
In his lifetime the cars the Ferrari engineers 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.
Note: There are now group tours of the Ferrari factory. I would have included the name of the tour company except the reviews are not good, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was recommending it.