By Doug Nye
In 1987 I found myself seated on one side of an imposing desk in a spacious, but modestly furnished, office at Maranello. Seated at one end of the desk was the genial and ever-helpful Dr Franco Gozzi. And on the other side of it, looking at me rather dismissively like a great Test batsman regarding a novice schoolboy bowler sat the living legend himself, Enzo Ferrari.
I was interviewing him on camera for a BBC TV programme which never reached transmission. It had been approved by Michael Grade, then head of BBC2, but while we were haring around Europe filming motor racing’s great and good, he announced his resignation from the Beeb to become head of Channel 4. Alan Yentob was appointed in his place and suddenly everything approved by Grade was tossed into the ‘file and forget’ bin, and arty-farlyness suppressed anything as non-U as a celebration of technological prowess, sporting endeavour and sheer, true, grit…
The interview went quite well, considering. I have always been too thick to speak Italian (I think too slowly to converse against habitual machine-gun delivery) but I have usually been able to understand and read it adequately. Franco Gozzi was translating my questions and The Old Man’s responses. You couldn’t call them answers because he always said precisely what he wanted to say, and liffle more, virtually regardless of the question.
At one stage Mr Ferrari leaned forward, eyes bright behind his tinted glasses, and he roared with laughter at some memory, two gold teeth in his lower set flashing. I was just entranced. This seemed to be going well. Here we were in the presence of the living legend. Here was the man who had kept kings and emperors awaiting his convenience. Here was the man who had known and worked with both Ascaris, and also with Andreffi; with Campari and also with Collins and CasteMoth; with Varzi and with Gilles Villeneuve. He had known and entertained Earl Howe, and employed Mike Hawthorn, and Phil Hill. I was in awe, but all was going really well. And then I screwed it up.
Perhaps suddenly over-confident, I asked “Mr Ferrari, one thing that has always puzzled many of us: could you tell us how you managed to be so prominent within the Fascist regime pre-war, and then maintain such prominence in the postwar period, when this part of Italy in particular had become so strongly communist and socialist?”.
Dr Gozzi’s eyes glazed over and then he turned to Mr Ferrari, who was waiting attentively for the next cue to hold forth with another much-repeated standard response. Gozzi’s mouth opened, but no words came. Mr Ferrari prompted him. And Gozzi said “Mr Nye seems to think that your company was once nationalised, how did that happen?”. Which of course, wasn’t what I’d asked at all but the effect was much the same.
“Basta! Enough. This interview is over. Give ’em a book. One only, mind…”. And the frail Old Man was helped to his feet, and walked out. Clutching my book, when I had really wanted him to autograph the much-thumbed old autobiography I had brought with me, we sheepishly followed…
In fact, of course, Mr Ferrari had walked an exceptionally perilous tightrope in navigating his way through World War II and emerging after 1945 not only alive but with his business ambitions intact. Now one of the most extraordinary books I have ever seen on The Old Man has emerged from New Zealand author David Manton. Entitled Enzo Ferrari’s Secret War (Bridgehampton Publishing, ISBN 978-0-98341330-1) its a sprawling soft-backed work which pivots around an investigation of Kiwi racing driver Pat Hoare’s mysteriously close relationship with Mr Ferrari.
During a period when the factory habitually sawed up and scrapped its redundant Formula 1 cars, the enigmatic, taciturn Pat Hoare was able to charm first a four-cylinder special Ferrari monoposto out of the factory and then Phil Hill’s 1960 Italian GP-winning front-engined Dino 246, into which a 3-litre V12 engine was shoehorned for him. This is the ex-Hoare, ex-Neil and Nigel Corner car which Tony Smith still campaigns today in historic events.
Neither Mr Ferrari himself nor Pat Hoare ever explained publicly their undeniably close links. The best I ever established was that Hoare had been with the New Zealand Army advancing up the leg of Italy in 1943, and was amongst the first units to liberate Modena from the retreating German Army. David Manton has plainly failed in pinning down chapter and verse to unlock the true story, but he does reveal startling possibilities.
When Mr Ferrari wanted a trusted engineer to realise his ambitions of building a new V12-engined marque postwar, he sought out Ina Gioachino Colombo, his former employee at Alfa Romeo. In 1944-45, however, Colombo was tainted by having been such an enthusiastic Fascist under Mussolini’s now toppled regime. With communist partisans taking control, Colombo was fired from Alfa and placed under investigation. His very life hung by a thread. He could have been imprisoned, or summarily shot. Manton believes that Hoare who had met Ferrari as a confirmed motor racing enthusiast from the pre-war years may have been instrumental in freeing Colombo by influencing the relevant authorities. Certainly Colombo was enabled to resume work for Ferrari when some of his former Party colleagues remained proscribed, or had already like Alfa-Romeo boss Ugo Gobbato and carburettor maker Eduardo Weber been assassinated.
But David Manton presents the possibility that such mediation might have been only part of a more intimate link. Pat Hoare’s personal photo album from the period includes several shots of an extremely attractive Italian girl identified only as Rita. He was an unmarried 27-year old Army officer. She was a ravishing 18, believed to have been born near Modena around 1926 and raised not by her birth parents, but by relatives. Some of Pat Hoare’s old friends in Christchurch, New Zealand while fiercely protective of his memory share a belief that the lovely Rita was not just an early love of his life, but that she was also the illegitimate daughter of Enzo Ferrari.. which would explain so much.
Nothing is proven. David Manton’s book frustratingly teases but so over so many decades has the intrinsic discretion and privacy of the powerful Italian alpha male. As American-in-Modena Pete Coltrin told me many years ago, Mr Ferrari was simply “a complex man in a complex country”. He had a hard-won reputation as a womaniser, which itself earned the respect and the grudging admiration of many of his Italian t peers, and employees. But if Mr Manton’s theories hold any water they certainly go an awfully long way towards explaining the Pat Hoare/Enzo Ferrari relationship, which both considered far too private ever to divulge to the enthusiast public…