A unique day at Ferrari

A chance visit to the factory where the ultimate in enthusiastic automobile excitement is normal.

Tradition, a proud spirit of independent endeavour, and a taste of harsh setbacks overcome. These are qualities that ooze from the cobbled courtyard and ochre-shaded walls as we enter the factory at Maranello. Today there’s abundant evidence of Fiat’s enormous capital injection into the dusty and rural factory that is hailed by any true Modenese as the centre of all motoring knowledge. That flow of hard cash hasn’t altered one fact though. Enzo Ferrari, born February 18th 1898, is still alive, and kicking, though with a smile on his face for this visit. He remains the Commendatore: to be exact this Mussolini-bestowed honour was removed after the War, but the man has done more than enough to justify its continued common use; nicknamed “the Big Man” by his staff, he remains, above all, the boss. There may be a horde of advisers and some of the world’s most talented engineers, backed by the ultimate in engine craftsmen, but Ferrari is the man who decides what will happen after he has listened to, or ignored, their words. Our visit was timed to coincide with the annual press conference. The occasion is used to sum up the past year, and forecast the next for the benefit of a press who would otherwise find it virtually impossible to gain access to this legendary figure. It is the place where they make both racing and road cars, in itself a distinction that is only shared with Lotus. Where, unlike Lotus, they really make their racing cars from the chassis through to the nerve-awakening whoop of their own flat-12, to the ingenious and effective Transversale gearbox. Our special treat for the day is to come after the press conference and presentafion of the new 312/T2 Grand Prix car. Then we are conducted away for a look at the factory, silent on a Saturday save for the excellent Ferrari guide (actually the gentleman who buys in much of the racing equipment that’s needed from Britain, even for the fiercely independent Ferrari!) and the footsteps of myself and a photographer.

Just after 11 o’clock in the morning Ferrari waves away the battery of photographers who accompany something over 100 representatives of all branches of the communications business. Naturally he will speak only in Italian, spoken with a soft determination that makes you wonder how this smiling, spry gentleman ever acquired such a formidable reputation. Sillier questions, such as one asking if he would join Agnelli of Fiat on an Italian government of technocrats (a sort of benevolent cornmitteeship proposal) are treated with humour typical of his post-Championship mood, “I would only join if I could be the overseas Ambassador, so that I could leave Italy”.

There are a few snippets of unexpected news in Ferrari’s plans, and warm praise for both Lauda, Regazzoni and virtually everyone else who has had a hand in beating the British Cosworth-powered horde. After all, it was the company’s first Formula One title since John Suttees scored in 1964, making it Ferrari’s seventh World Drivers’ Championship since they began contesting GPs in 1948. There’s news that Ferrari will investigate the possibilities of manufacturing and selling both engines and gearboxes for next year’s freer Formula Two regulations, and a brisk denial that they will sell a Formula One 312 to a private team. “We don’t sell Grand Prix tars— we loan them to museums’. However it is confirmed that the continual hunt for young Italian drivers, which has been aided for some time by a limited test programme at the sophisticated Ferrari Fiorano test track, is probably to be augmented by the loan of a car to Scuderia Passatore. This outfit could enter the car for some European events with young hopefuls aboard if all goes to plan. After Ferrari has said his piece, answered questions on everything from how he feels about Tyrrell’s six-wheeler (interested, but not enthusiastic) to what he thought the previous night (he hoped there would be beautiful women present at the conference: there are, so that makes him less nervous!), it is time to eat. Finally, we move out to the track for the unveiling of the new GP model. Normally ten black and white TV monitor screens reflect the images from Marelli cameras placed at strategic places around the track, which has eight major corners based around a very wiggly figure-of-eight configuration. Mr. Heuer’s electronic timing and the best in computer analysis blink rapid calculations out for the benefit of a team which seems to have two central figures—Lauda’s test abilities coupled to Mauro Forghieri’s long Ferrari engineering/administration experience. The day before the conference we listened to Luca Montezemolo talking about his job co-ordinating the efforts of Fiat, Ferrari and Lancia in motorsport (he is to be replaced at Ferrari by former rally co-driver and Lancia Team Manager, Danielle Audetto) having spent the past three years as a kind of link between Ferrari and Agnelli, plus a measure of work “in the field” at GPs. Frankly it is difficult to assess what his role has been inside Ferrari, partially because he is there to ensure that the communications people see the team in the best possible light. Since the beginning of this year he has chaired the Turin-based sporting committee that decides the objectives of Fiat, Ferrari and Lancia in competition. Since Fiat won the European Rally Championship, Lancia are virtually assured of this year’s World rally title, and Ferrari took both the drivers’ and constructors’ sections of the Grand Prix series, it can be imagined that Montezernolo, nephew of Fiat Chairman Agnelli, really is the blue-eyed wonder boy at 28 years of age. Now he expects to be at some of the GPs with Ferrari; represent the Fiat group’s sporting interests as a type of Public Relations man; and have a foot firmly in some of the management needed for the considerable sums that are expended by these three sporting-minded arms of Italy’s Motor Industry. As the scrum fades away from the bombardment of questions and camera shutters in pursuit of the Ferrari team members, and the shimmering bodywork of the De Dion rear-suspended Formula One contender (described by D.S.J. elsewhere in this issue) it is time to step back into the reality that made that car, and many others, back at the main factory.

A sharp reminder of the worth of the formally exclusive association between Ferrari and Pininfarina came in the first few minutes of our walk around the deserted factory. There are simply too many Bertone Dino 308s lined up in the centre of the assembly area, gathering dust in their American big-bumper form. Somehow Bertone misinterpreted the feeling of a proper Ferrari, for it is necessary to look at the badges to ensure that this really is a Ferrari, and that lack of inspiration seems to have cost a lot of customers, especially those brought up on the sensuous bumps of the previous Dino.

At the conference Ferrari commented that they could make 2,000 cars a year; “production is OK—the clients are not”, he added, referring to the fact that they expect to sell 13-1400 this year. Even that lower figure is substantial by previous Maranello standards though, for you have only to look back to find that in 1967 production was about three cars a day, 750 per year. In 1961 the annual output was quoted around 600 cars a year from 380 workers. Today there are approximately 120 personnel in the racing department and 680 more in the tremendously modernised manufacturing departments. All the time, one has to remember that they make complete racing cars here, and that so far as the road cars are concerned, they tend to take a bodyshell from Pininfarina, Scaglietti, or Bertone, and start assembling from that point on. Even then, they have all the foundry processes associated with making their own engines and gearboxes. For this reason the staffing cannot be judged on the standards of any but the other Italian makers of exotic cars, all of whom seem to be in a very sorry state at present.

Current production models are the Bertone-bodied 308 and 208 GT4s (3 and 2-litre V8s), the Pininfarina-styled 308 GTB (based on the foregoing 308 mechanicals, but given the benefit of Scaglietti’s new-found trust in glassfibre) and the Berlinetta Boxer GT, the flat-12-cylinder supercar described in our June issue. Harking directly back to the roots of the company is the 365 GT four-seater, which still carries the front-mounted VI2 power unit. Our guide positively beams, “now this, this is a real Ferrari.” A remark delivered with a grin appropriate to the legend that Enzo once claimed that only real Ferraris had 12-cylinder engines, an impression the Commendatore was swift to correct at the press gathering.

Gazing in awe at the beautifully clean castings that abound on all three types of current production engine (where else can you find a belt-driven overhead-camshaft V8, manufactured alongside belt drive for the overhead camshafts of a V12 and flat-12 ?) we heard that the engine, gearbox, clutch and final drive/limited slip differential were all of Ferrari design and manufacture. Despite the similarity of configuration there are no common parts between the 4.4-litre BB road engine and the 3-litre “racer”. However there are nine engine brake horsepower testing cells in the same corridor, able to assess the performance of every configuration Ferrari makes, or is likely to try, five of them being reserved for racing use only.

Interesting details we observed included the discs on the road cars, which are by the local firm of Corni. These are matched by ATE calipers, as British delivery was not good enough, and the price too high, according to Ferrari. However they do use Lockheed braking for the racing cars, Borg and Beck clutches (both from Automotive Products) and Lucas products are prominent in the racing engines, especially for fuel injection. Koni have good reason to be happy at Ferrari too, for their dampers are used for competition and road machinery, which must be worth shouting about on occasion. A striking detail item that caught our eye at the end of the three-row final assembly lines, were the 3¼-in. rim spoked alloy “spare” wheels, which are beautifully finished to carry a special Michelin 105R 19 cover. We are told that a blindfolded driver could not tell the difference that fitting the dimunitive spare had made for motorway use up to 100 m.p.h. in a Boxer. All we could do was surmise the havoc wreaked by any blindfolded driver at 100 m.p.h. . . . never mind the attachment of a Dinky Toy wheel !

In a similar vein I was inspecting a rather tired-looking Boxer in one of the inspection bays, surmising its role as a development car. Incorrect, for this was a car destined for a customer, and had come back from 600 km. of motorway and mountain driving! All models cover between 450 and 1,000 km. before delivery, often being partially repainted as part of the final preparation needed before delivery to the customer. Apparently very careful checks of performance are made, mainly to ensure equal top speed and acceleration. Nobody likes to pay a supercar price and discover it is 3 k.p.h. down on any others of a similar breed!

We were not allowed to take pictures, or linger in the racing car preparation/engine assembly/manufacture areas. The fleeting glimpse of a long hall, with one new T2 poking its nose shyly from the bays that could hold 30-40 cars comfortably, and the sight of four flat-twelves in assembly, with a background filled with a dozen others, was enough. That area of Ferrari’s activities, the reason for the company’s existence, is now a massively well-equipped operation that deserves its own appreciation, whenever Ferrari will relent.

We drove off into the proverbial sunset with our Fiat 130C-Ferrari 3.2-litre snarling restively toward 100 m.p.h. As we drove I thought the company is big, much bigger than I expected. I wonder if Fiat haven’t pressured production too much ? Wouldn’t it be better to return to the months of agonising delay, while the customer awaited delivery in suspense, just as they would have to queue for a Rolls ? There’s a real spirit of human effort to perfect the exciting sports machinery, I would hate to see that dash of excitement eliminated in a wave of computer decisions. It is a sombre thought that the supercar business could die with Mr. Ferrari, for who would provide the spice in motoring life when the shriek of the Prancing Horse has faded into dusty echoes around Maranello ?—J.W.