Uncovering the lost genius of 'Uncle' Carlo Chiti

Hot tempered yet kindly, determined yet soft-hearted, opinionated but a natural team builder. Enzo Ferrari thought him vainglorious, but Carlo Chiti had much to be truly proud of. Paul Fearnley portrays a design and engineering genius whose reputation took years to recover from one misstep

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Modena, May 1960: designer Carlo Chiti in conversation with test driver Martino Severi; Enzo is listening

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Bespectacled, portly and soberly overdressed –raincoat (often even come shine) and a penchant for Borsalino hats, business suit, cardigan/pullover/tanktop, collar and tie – he was instantly recognisable at Scuderia Ferrari. Yet Carlo Chiti has largely become a forgotten figure despite his many achievements during a short but fecund spell at Maranello and later, and for very much longer, at Alfa Romeo via Autodelta. We’ll gloss over his disastrous ATS interlude for now.

He joined Ferrari from Alfa as replacement chief engineer for friend and fellow Tuscan Andrea Fraschetti – killed testing an F2 Dino at Modena in 1957 – and thus was at the helm when Mike Hawthorn became Britain’s first Formula 1 world champion. Before Phil Hill could become America’s first three years later, Chiti, having overseen the final championship grand prix win for a front-engined car, achieved the seemingly impossible: he coaxed Enzo into ‘putting the horse behind the cart’. His subsequent rear-engined ‘Sharknose’ designs put Ferrari firmly, albeit briefly, back on top in F1 and assured its sports-racing hegemony – bolstered already by Chiti’s front-engined Testa Rossa iterations – until long after his summary exit.

For he was among eight key staff whom in November 1961 united to complain about pay and conditions – and Enzo’s wife. Stirred by son Alfredino’s death in 1956 and her husband’s infidelities, Laura had been taking a keener interest in the company, as was a principal stockholder’s wont. Acting as her chauffeur/guardian at races did not sit well with Chiti, while Laura’s lack of diplomacy made for an easy target in a macho world. Her slapping commercial manager Girolamo Gardini was the trigger for the walkout. Some of Enzo’s renegade ‘generals’ trailed back after a month or so, quietly re-pledging allegiance. Opinionated and voluble, cultured and erudite, Chiti was not among them. Enzo blamed external causes for that – but not before letting slip this about Chiti in his 1962 book My Terrible Joys: “A man of vast theoretical knowledge equalled only by his eagerness to win a reputation for himself.” Two bulls in a field.