Enzo dog

Enzo Ferrari – before the horse began prancing

People Culture

The early days of Enzo Ferrari's career show a man obsessed

Enzo Anselmo Ferrari was one of the most enigmatic characters in the motoring world; he had an air of mystery, the unknown, a great genius challenged by sadness throughout his life. He found release through motorsport success and building some of the finest road cars in the world.

Some of that mystery starts with Ferrari’s birth in Modena on the 18th February 1898. His son Piero Ferrari recalls his father’s birthday was celebrated on the 18th – however Enzo’s official documents claimed his birth date as the 20th February 1898. Legend has it that a heavy snowstorm prevented Enzo’s father, Alfredo, from reporting the birth at the local registry office until two days later.

Ferrari’s early years really shaped his character. At his first communion Enzo’s Godfather, Anselmo Chiarli, gave him a silver watch, a traditional ‘grownups’ present which he was to treasure all his life. This later provoked Enzo to often give gifts of Swiss watches, by makers such as Breitling, Longines and Heuer, to people who showed loyalty and dedication to the House of Maranello.

Motorsport was alluring to the young Enzo (his father would take him to races) and after seeing driver Felice Nazzaro win at the 1908 Circuit di Bologna, it fuelled his passion. However WW1 arrived and he was assigned to the Italian army in the 3rd Alpine Artillery division. The war years were a dark time for Ferrari, losing his pilot friend, Baracca, – which resulted in the prancing horse motif as a tribute – and Enzo’s father Alfredo, as well as his brother, Alfredo Jr., died in a flu outbreak. Enzo himself became ill and was discharged from the army.

Without a job and the support of his father and brother, Enzo targeted work in the motoring industry. In a paradox he was turned down by FIAT, but found a role as test-driver for Milan-based car producer C.M.N. Ferrari was then given the opportunity to be a driver in their racing cars; despite being dogged by mechanical issues his talent grew.

In 1920, Enzo joined Alfa Romeo and drove his 20-40 to second place overall in the famous Targa Florio that same year. In his personal life, Ferrari married Laura Dominica Garello in 1923. He was on a high in a competitive car and won the 1924 Coppa Acerbo – a race Alfa Romeo would make their own – along with two other Grands Prix that year (at the Savio and Polesine circuits).

Enzo alfa

Alongside the driving, Enzo shone in the management of the factory Alfa Romeo team. He had the skills to manage and attract some of the top drivers of the time such as Giuseppe Campari, Tazio Nuvolari and even signed up one of Bugatti’s best drivers, Louis Chiron.

1929 was a successful season for Alfa against Bugatti and Enzo used this to his advantage. On the 16th November 1929 Scuderia Ferrari was formed within Alfa Romeo. The first two years were tough, but Alfa Romeo went on to win the championship every season from 1931 to 1934. During that time Enzo’s son Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari was born (he later died at the young age of 24 through illness). In 1935 the championship was won by Mercedes, but the Alfa team spoilt the celebration for the German manufacturer by winning at the Nurburgring.

After times changed at Alfa-Romeo, Enzo left and set up Auto-Avio Costruzioni, a company supplying parts to other racing teams. Auto-Avio built two cars (the first proper Enzo Ferrari builds) called the 815, for the 1940 Mille Miglia, one being driven by the marquis Rangoni Machiavelli.

Enzo Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari’s plans were disrupted by the outbreak of WW2 and the company was forced to produce for the war effort; hence the factory was bombed and Ferrari moved from Modena to Maranello. In 1947, Enzo launched his company as we know it today – Ferrari S.p.A.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Ferrari, with special events taking place all over the world to celebrate.

In China it may be the year of the Rooster, but in Italy it will be the year of the Prancing Horse.