In January 1950 a young employee was called in to see the manager of the Credito Italiano bank in Modena. The bank had a new client and, keen to help out in any way, had offered the man’s services to the firm for the first two months of the relationship. The client’s name was Enzo Ferrari and the manager had just given him a loan to build a new factory in a small town in northern Italy: Maranello. During the drive to Ferrari’s existing factory at Via Trento Trieste in Modena, the bank’s employee thought nervously about the job ahead. “I did not want to work for him,” he admits nearly 50 years on. “I’d heard that he had a new secretary every two or three months and worked from eight in the morning until ten at night. We went into his office and he asked where I worked before joining the bank.
“I told him I had worked as a bookkeeper for Maserati, hoping that he would say, ‘Go away!’, because in Modena if you worked for Maserati you never worked for Ferrari. But he said, ‘Fine, I think you are the secretary for me, but why only two months — why not 10 years?’ That was my introduction to Mr Ferrari.”
We are sitting in Romolo Tavoni’s office at the Monza Autodromo, where he has worked since 1972. A big man, well over six feet tall, he has a deep, basso profundo voice and a laugh that is seldom more than a sentence away.
Enzo always took the side of the workers and so they worked for him with a grande passione
“A week after our meeting I joined him as his secretary, first at Auto Avio Costruzione, because he was then building machine tools, and then at Scuderia Ferrari. The first day I was at the Modena office he gave me some letters to type and asked, ‘When do you take your lunch?’
‘Twelve o’clock, Mr Ferrari.’
‘No, no, half-past one! I work until one o’clock and then I go to Maranello and sometimes you will come with me and sometimes you will work here.’
“At five o’clock most people left for the day, but Mr Ferrari told me he would phone me before I could leave: At seven he phoned to say he would be in Modena at eight and I was to wait. When he arrived he asked me to type and post some letters. When I got home, my father, mother and sister were waiting up for me and said, ‘Why are you home at 11 o’clock?’ I told them I was working for Mr Ferrari, but they didn’t believe me!
Monza, 1961: Tavoni, holding his clipboard, with the Sharknoses that brought such success for Ferrari
“At Maranello Ferrari talked with everyone – not just the department heads, with whom he was very tough. But I soon learned that he was not dangerous when he was talking tough, it was just his way of expressing himself. When he sat round the table with them he talked very softly, and it was in these moments that I realised he made his decisions.
“When he posed a question he wanted a reply very quickly and he started with the little man, not the big chief of department, and that was a problem. Although Ferrari regarded them highly he always told them, ‘If the people in your department don’t work properly it is your fault.’ He always took the side of the workers and so they worked for him with a grande passione. When he stopped making machine tools to concentrate on cars the factory was deeply in debt to the banks, but his workers were paid every month without fail. Perhaps not the suppliers, but the workers always…”
“If you’d like to stay you can, otherwise I will see to it that there is no place for you at the bank.”
Generous to a fault with his blue-collar staff, Ferrari, it seems was less charitable when it came to the young Tavoni’s own job prospects. “My two months went very fast and at the end he asked, ‘Have you received your money?’ I said, `Yes…’ and was about to thank him when he said, ‘Stop! I am speaking, you listen. I have spoken with the bank manager and told him you are right for me and I have asked him not to take you back.” Bravely, Tavoni told Ferrari that he was keen to return to his old job. “He was astounded. ‘Why? Ferrari is not as good as the bank?’ I told him that I was tired of staying until ten at night. At the bank I started at nine, at eleven took a cappuccino, at twelve had lunch and at six it was time to go home. ‘Are you stupid?’, said Mr Ferrari.”
Tavoni roars with laughter at the memory of his boss’s incredulity. ‘Maybe you get a job in a bar or a restaurant? At Ferrari this is work. If you’d like to stay you can, otherwise I will see to it that there is no place for you at the bank.’ He paid me the same money as I was getting at the bank, but I stayed and I am glad, because it was fantastic.”
Luigi Musso and Mike Hawthorn with Tavoni in 1958
Grand Prix Photo
Tavoni recalls how, as the racing side of the empire grew, Mike Hawthorn soon came to Ferrari’s attention. “In 1952 he wrote to Tony Vandervell, asking him to sell some of his sportscars in England. Mr Vandervell told him, ‘I race the Thinwall Special Ferrari, I don’t sell cars. But I have a driver for you who is very fast, young and intelligent.”
Hawthorn was to become Tavoni’s favourite driver of all. “He was a great driver, very intelligent and a gentleman. Also very direct. Mr Ferrari once said to him, ‘Why you have difficulty in this race?’ Mike said, ‘The gearbox is bad, it was impossible for me to change gear properly.’
“Ferrari was furious. ‘You say my gearbox is no good? My gearbox is the best and if you say it is no good a second time you can leave!’
Sculati’s failure to inform Ferrari of the Argentinian GP result was to cost him his job.
“‘Goodbye!’ said Mike, and he left Ferrari quickly called him back. He liked a driver who spoke for himself. If a driver just complained about his car he got nowhere with Ferrari, but after a race Mike would say, Romolo, the brakes were no good,’ and when we were back at Maranello he would tell Ferrari, ‘The car was fantastic, but we had some difficulties with the brakes. Maybe we should do some testing.’ Ferrari liked this and he would stay night and day in the Competitions Department to try and put things right. He always built the best car possible and the drivers admired him because first he was a driver himself, then a manager and then the owner. He was a fantastic man.”
By the mid-1950s financial troubles forced Gianni Lancia to sell his company and abandon racing. In a remarkable deal all the Grand Prix cars, the spares and designer Vittorio Jano were handed over to Scuderia Ferrari, which had been having a terrible season with Aurelio Lampredi’s Super Squalos.
Lampredi’s days at the Scuderia were already numbered, for his promised two-cylinder GP engine was showing no promise at all. Now, with the Lancias and their designer under his roof, Ferrari had no further need of Lampredi, so he fired him. He did need Juan Manuel Fangio, however. At the end of 1955 Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing, leaving their double World Champion without a drive. He joined Ferrari for 1956 and although he was to retain his championship with the Lancia-Ferraris it was not a happy association.