In late 1939 Enzo Ferrari formed a new company, wholly owned by himself, called Auto-Avio Construzioni (AAC). Based in Modena, it was set up using funds from the liquidation of his former company and the wages he had earned during his spell with Alfa Romeo. The company's core business was to manufacture parts for the growing aircraft industry, and with Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini stockpiling weapons this could be seen to be a good financial move for Ferrari. Italy may have declared its neutrality, but no one expected it to last.
The organisers of the Mille Miglia, however, decided that they were going to go ahead with the race in 1940, albeit on a new course of a little more than 100 miles between Brescia, Cremona and Mantua, with the race run over nine laps. With this in mind, the marquiz Machiavelli (whose infamous forebear was often used as a point of comparison for Ferrari) and the young Alberto Ascari (son of the late Antonio) approached Ferrari to design and construct vehicles for the coming race.
Ferrari, working with engineers who had followed Ferrari back to Modena from Alfa, came up with a plan to use the chassis of a Fiat 508C, with the bodywork provided by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, lining two engines end to end to create an eight cylinder engine capable of 1500cc. This plan would put the cars in a different class from the more powerful Alfas, and they would also be eligible for a special prize for cars based on an existing Fiat design. The new car was to be known as the 815, reflecting the engine powering the vehicle.
The race was held on April 28th 1940, just days after Mussolini had met German dictator Adolf Hitler and subsequently called all Italian men over fourteen to arms. In this charged atmosphere, with a grid made exclusively of German and Italian vehicles, Ascari led his class for two laps before retiring with mechanical problems, which allowed the marquiz to take over for another 600 miles before he too retired. Italy declared war on Britain and France on June 10th 1940, and AAC began constructing light aircraft engines and hydraulic grinding machines for the manufacturing of ball bearings, all for the war effort.
In 1942, with the possibility of aerial bombings in Modena increasing, Ferrari purchased a plot of land in the small village of Maranello, about 18km south of Modena. In total the four farms purchased, and adjoining land Ferrari had previously purchased for a summer house, was over 300,000 square metres, which covers almost all of the area used by Ferrari S.p.A. today, including the factory and the Fiorano test track. This was a large purchase, far more than was needed for AAC's needs, and it seems that Ferrari was thinking ahead to a time after the war.
Allied forces landed in Sicily in July 1943, and il Duce was briefly deposed before German troops marched into Rome and reinstated him. Allied forces fought up the peninsula, with the new Ferrari factory being hit twice in bombing raids. In April 1945 Mussolini was shot by partisans and hung by his ankles in a petrol station, and the German forces in Italy subsequently surrendered.
The partisan forces turned their attention to industrial leaders with known fascist links, with many being murdered (including Ugo Gobbato, chairman of Alfa Romeo) or disappearing (such as Edoardo Weber, the carburetor manufacturer). Ferrari, who seemingly had never placed much stock in the party, was spared.
As soon as the war was over Ferrari moved to dump the business side of AAC, which had been very profitable during the war, in favour of recommencing his racing operation. He brought in engineers to this end - men like Luigi Bazzi from Alfa, who had worked for many years with Ferrari before the war, and Gioacchino Colombo, the former assistant of designer Vittorio Jano - who worked with Ferrari at Alfa and the old scuderia.
Colombo, who was under investigation at Alfa for alleged fascist party credentials, spent his time back in Milan designing for Ferrari what was to be the 125S, but upon completing the designs was informed that he was expected back at work at Alfa. He would play no further part in the manufacturing of the car, but he had started the process and done enough.
The car made its racing debut, in the hands of Nino Farina and Franco Cortese, at the Circuito di Piacenza on May 11th 1946. Ferrari, as had become his habit, was not in attendance. Farina was forced to pull out of the race after an accident in practice, but Cortese impressively managed to put the car in pole position. Cortese made a poor start but managed to claw back positions and was comfortably in the lead before retiring, with engine problems, three laps from the finish. Ferrari was pleased, declaring the car's performance was "a promising failure." Two weeks later Cortese won at the Primavera Romana dei Motori near Rome, confirming the promise and recording the first ever victory for a car manufactured by Ferrari.
Tazio Nuvolari, who was at this time contracted to the Cisitalia team, was persuaded to return to the scuderia for two races, both of which he won, including the race at the Circuito di Parma, where he stalled the engine on the grid before fighting back from last to first, to lead home Ferrari's first one-two finish, ahead of Cortese. The team worked on increasing the 125's engine to 1.9 litres for the forthcoming Grand Prix races, and Raymond Sommer piloted the newly rechristianed 159 to a win at the Turin Grand Prix after the Maseratis fell off with transmission problems. Ferrari had now won with two different cars, and in two different classes.
This success brought customers to Maranello, looking to buy cars from the fledgling auto manufacturer. Aristocrats, the rich and famous in all fields, started making the now familiar pilgrimage to the Maranello factory, to eat and drink with Ferrari. Although he could be scathing about these customers behind their backs (Ferrari was known to divide his customers into three groups - the sportsmen, the fifty year olds, and the exhibitionists), he knew that their money allowed him the luxury of running his racing team his own way, without the influence that a partner would demand. After his time with Alfa, there was no question that this freedom was vital to him.
One of these early customers, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy of Russia, actually won the Targa Florio with Clemente Biondetti in 1948, which delighted the old man (not least because it saved him the cost of entering a car himself). He then loaned the car to Nuvolari, now aged 55 and mourning the death of another son, to compete in the Mille Miglia. Nuvolari, sick and old but seemingly unable to stop racing, ran the car into the ground, as if mentally pushing the car into the lead despite it falling apart around him (at one stage the driver's seat gave way, only for him to throw it out of the car and sit on a bag of oranges).
With less than 200 miles remaining, Nuvolari's car, unable to take the punishment he was handing to it, gave up. Biondetti won the race in a Berlinetta, and Nuvolari ran his last race for Ferrari a month later, at the Coppa Alberto e Giorgio Nuvolari - which was named for his dead sons - and lead until his coughing of blood forced him to give way.
But Grand Prix racing was where Ferrari's real ambitions lay, and in September the scuderia officially joined their first race at the Torino Grand Prix. Farina, Sommer and Prince Bira of Siam were the drivers on the day, with Sommer bringing his car home in third place, giving the team a podium finish in their first Grand Prix. It was to be a false dawn - the cars were mechanically unreliable, and generally slow when they lasted the distance. The scuderia had a lot of work to do for the following season, although the announcement that the old enemy Alfa were pulling out of Grand Prix racing at the end of the year must have brought a wry smile to Ferrari's face.
For the winter of 1948-49 the new Argentinean president Juan Peron had offered support to the Italian teams to bring their cars to his country for the Temporada series, and Ferrari smelt an opportunity to win some races and sell some cars. The series was designed for Juan Manuel Fangio to show his abilities in a good car (Maserati had provided him with their latest vehicle, and had brought Ascari and Gigi Villoresi to run with him) in front of his home crowd. The new breed were replacing the old, who were dead or dying - Achille Varzi had died in practice earlier in the year; Nuvolari was at home, sidelined by illness; and Jean-Pierre Wimille lost control of his Simca and died in the first race in Buenos Aires.
Farina was the sole driver representing the scuderia, and won two races, generating enough interest in the team for them to sell the cars they had brought with them, and two more besides to English enthusiasts. One of these men, Tony Vandervell, would later provide substantial competition to the scuderia during his time at BRM and Vanwall, but at this early stage he was happy to paint the Ferrari green and race it as a 'Thinwall Special', the name of his bearings company, which had previously been a supplier to the scuderia.
Ferrari knew that he needed a better stable of drivers for the coming year, and to this end he drew both Ascari (for whom he had a lot of affection owing to the long relationship he had had with his late father) and Villoresi away from Maserati. The pair came in two-three in the first race of the Grand Prix season, at Spa, missing the victory because of extra pitstops compared to the slower Talbot of Louis Rosier.
Ascari resolved this problem by taking wins in the Swiss Grand Prix, the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone, and at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where he lead from start to finish. Ascari's car was later purchased by the Automobile Club of Argentina, painted blue and yellow, and given to Fangio to race at the next Temporada series, the first time the maestro sat in one of Ferrari's cars. The scuderia entered the series using Formula Two cars with the name Fernet Branca (an aperitif manufacturer) painted in letters 12 inches high on the bonnet. They won all three races.
1948 also brought the debut, at the Torino auto show, of 2 variants of the 166 available to the public, in either an open barchetta (literally, small boat) style known as the MM (Mille Miglia) Spider or as a coupe known as the Inter. The cars were a huge success, both in sales (where the degree of luxury onboard was almost unknown in Italy) and on the track (Biondetti added yet another Mille Miglia win to the team records at the wheel of an MM Spider).
Luigi Chinetti, an old associate of Ferrari's and the first car dealer in America to take orders for his cars, also won the first post war Le Mans 24 Hours race at this time, having personally driven for an astonishing 23 hours in two stints. The reliability and strength of Ferrari's cars were proven in this race, and Chinetti was on hand in America to capitalise on the resultant interest in his New York dealership. Ferrari had broken into the most valuable market of them all.
Ferrari, his drivers and their wives were received by Pope Pius XII at the Vatican prior to the start of the 1950 season, the first of the new Formula One World Championship. It was obvious to most that he had as much interest in the Catholic Church as he had previously had in the Fascist Party, but he knew the value of such public gestures and went along. At least he met Pius - in 1988, shortly before Ferrari's death, Pope John Paul II journeyed to Maranello to give a blessing to the team and factory only to be told that the old man was too ill to come down from Modena to see the pope, and instead the two men spoke on the phone. It has been said that Ferrari made his confession to the pontiff, although it seems unlikely that he would have bothered with such things.
Unfortunately for Ferrari, Alfa Romeo had decided that the new Championship was a perfect time to relaunch themselves on the racing scene, which they did with a very well developed Tipo 158 (a car born in Ferrari's yard in Modena) driven by Farina, Fangio and Luigi Fagioli. It was a slaughter: six races, three wins to Farina (Silverstone, Bremgarten and Monza), three wins for Fangio (Monte Carlo, Spa and Rheims). Farina, Fangio and Fagioli were 1-2-3 in the Championship in that order, and they scored more points between them then every other driver combined. Ferrari celebrated their traditional Mille Miglia win, but the damage inflicted on the team by the destruction of their Grand Prix cars was clear to everyone.
For 1951 Alfa, under the guidance of Colombo (long since having moved to Milano after Ferrari replaced him as the team's racing engineer with Aurelio Lampredi), were to run the Tipo 159, still recognizably a variant of the old car. Lampredi designed the 375, a beast of a car with a monstrous 4.5 litre engine at its heart. The scuderia picked up wins in Syracuse, Pau and San Remo in the absence of Alfa, but by now the old man only really cared about the Grand Prix season. When it started, the old order reasserted itself - Fangio won in Switzerland, Farina in Spa, and Fangio again in Rheims, a race where Ascari was able to at least battle with the lead Alfa before his car broke, and also where Jose Froilan Gonzalez, the Pampas Bull, joined the scuderia and came home second on debut.
Gonzalez, a bear of a man whose frame seemed to flow over the sides of the cockpit as he drove and looked as though he steered the car by leaning into the corners, was about to write himself into the scuderia's history on a glacial weekend in Northamptonshire. An astonishing lap put his car, an older version of those of his teammates, on pole, and in the race he lost and then regained the lead from Fangio, stalled in the pits and looked to be getting out to hand his car to his team leader Ascari, who insisted he get back in, before taking the chequered flag to win the British Grand Prix, the first win for Ferrari in the new World Championship.
The chink in Alfa's armour was pierced, and Ascari and Gonzalez ran home consecutive one-twos at the Nurburgring and in Monza to put Ascari a mere two points behind Fangio in the deciding Spanish Grand Prix, held at the Pedralbes track near Barcelona. However, the scuderia made an error with their tyre choice and Fangio won an easy race and his first Championship. The scuderia, as usual, won the Mille Miglia, and Alfa made their now customary withdrawal from Grand Prix racing (although, unusually, this time they were not to come back for over 30 years). The absence of teams meant that, for 1952 and 1953 the World Championship was going to be run to Formula Two specifications, of which there were plenty of cars to compete.
It was 1951 when Ferrari spotted a driver who he was later to rate, alongside Nuvolari and Guy Moll, as the best he had ever seen, in the form of the nineteen year old Englishman Stirling Moss.
Moss was picking up drives where he could get them, mostly in old Coopers or HWMs, and Ferrari was impressed enough to offer the young driver the chance of a lifetime - join the scuderia in Argentina for the winter Temporada series and then become the junior driver in the works team for the 1952 championship. Moss had already received an offer to join Vandervell's fledgling BRM team, but he accepted the offer of a one-off drive for Ferrari in a non-championship race in Bari to test the waters. Upon arrival at the race, though, the mechanics knew nothing of this deal and refused to let Moss drive the car, having set it up for Piero Taruffi. Moss was infuriated and swore he would never drive for the scuderia at any price.
Despite the rule changes Ferrari was well placed to capitalise in the Championship, moving away from 12 cylinders to a high revving 4 cylinder engine in a modified chassis designed by Lampredi, and bringing Farina back into the fold alongside Ascari and Villoresi. Ascari won a hat trick of non-championship races before heading to Indianapolis for the 500, thus failing to attend the opening Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, won by Taruffi in his car. He shouldn't have bothered taking the trip, as the car (the previous year's Grand Prix car) was uncompetitive and didn't run the distance.
Ascari made up for the diversion by winning the remaining six races in the Championship - Spa, Rouen, Silverstone, the Nurburgring, Zandvoort and Monza - in an exhibition of the power that was already becoming clear the previous year. Ciccio (fatso) Ascari brought home, in convincing fashion, the Championships to Maranello, albeit in the absence of Fangio, who was out for the season after an accident in a non-championship race.
Fangio was back for 1953 but could not stop Ascari running away with wins in Buenos Aires, Zandvoort and Spa, bringing a total of nine consecutive race wins, a record which stands to this day, before his new teammate Mike Hawthorn won a tight race against Fangio at Rheims. Normal service resumed thereafter, with Ascari sweeping Silverstone and Bremgarten; Fangio managed a token win for Maserati at Monza.
Typically, Ferrari mis-stepped when it came to negotiating with his star driver, assuming that the pleasure of driving for the scuderia would make up for the lack of money that other teams were willing to spend to gain the dual World Champion's signature. Ferrari apparently pushed a contract in front of Ascari, wanting him to sign it there and then, and when Ascari refused the relationship was over. Ascari called Villoresi, and the pair signed for Lancia, who were due to enter the World Championship with Vittorio Jano designing the car. The new team celebrated their first win over Ferrari at the Mille Miglia, where Ascari ended an astonishing run of success for his former employer.
The scuderia was in disarray - no star drivers, and an old-fashioned belief that chassis were unimportant in comparison to engine power, a belief that was soon to be shattered. The ugly 553 became known as il squalo (the shark), and the drivers (Farina, Gonzalez, Hawthorn and Maurice Trintignant) hated the lack of consistency inherent in the design. On top of that (and more importantly, in Ferrari's mind) the car was down on power compared to the rest of the grid, particularly in comparison to Mercedes Benz, who were now returning to motor racing after a lengthy absence.
Gonzalez managed a second Silverstone win, albeit in the older 625, and it wasn't until Spain that Hawthorn managed to bag a lucky win for the 553 after the opposition fell out with mechanical problems. Fangio walked to the title for the Germans, and with Moss due to join him the following year more pain was on the horizon.
And so it proved. Trintignant lucked into a win in Monte Carlo after the German cars broke down and, more dramatically, Ascari shot off the track and into the harbour, narrowly missing a moored yacht. The joy the scuderia felt by this fortuitous win was shattered the following week when, accepting an offer from his friend and fellow racer Eugenio Castellotti to test a new Ferrari 750S sports car, Alberto Ascari died after running off the track in a closed session at Monza. As sad as this was for Ferrari, for Lancia it was disastrous, coming on the heels of severe financial problems, and the Lancia company was soon sold as a result.
Ferrari, never slow to see a deal, made an approach to Prof. Vittorio Valletta and Gianni Agnelli, the chairman and designated successor at Fiat, to see if they could assist. Agnelli, who carried a cane due to a motoring accident caused through over-exuberance in his Ferrari in Monte Carlo, could see the advantage in helping the smaller manufacturer, and the deal was done. Fiat, on behalf of Ferrari, bought the entire racing team of Scuderia Lancia and put it at Ferrari's disposal, and Ferrari's problems with an outdated racing car were over.
Fangio easily wrapped up his third title, but after a horrific accident in Le Mans where the Mercedes of Pierre Bouillin left the track, killing 82 spectators, the German marque announced their total withdrawal from motor racing at the end of the year. Ferrari, who now had a stable of competitive cars and a long list of drivers, had the whip hand, and Fangio had to come cap in hand to Maranello. The deal was done - although neither man had any great like for the other. Fangio needed a good car, which the Lancia/Ferrari promised, and Ferrari needed the best driver of the period in his car, so the marriage of convenience was arranged.
Ferrari had long refused to nominate a number one driver, believing that the better of his stable should prove their worth on the track, and he carried this belief to the grave. Fangio felt that as a three time World Champion his desires should be placed above the 'lesser' drivers, and was annoyed. His teammates obviously knew their place, though, with Luigi Musso handing over his car to Fangio to take the race in Argentina and Peter Collins doing likewise in Monaco for second place behind Moss's Maserati.
Collins won in Spa and followed up in France on the day after Dino Ferrari, with whom he had become very close, had died at the age of 24. Fangio won in Silverstone and the Nurburgring, taking the Championship to a decider between himself, Moss and Collins at Monza, where he came second to Moss after Collins handed his car over, and he took his fourth title.
Ferrari, mourning the loss of his 'only' son, couldn't have cared less about losing the title. Dino had been a bright child and had an appreciation of mechanical matters from a young age. An engineering degree was the natural next step, and he was given a free reign to potter in his father's factory, where the mechanics loved him. The Formula Two cars entered in the year after his death were known as the Dino, and Ferrari claimed that the engine the car was based on was his son's design. Years later Ferrari was to release a road car known as the Dino, the only Ferrari road car not to carry the prancing horse logo (it had Dino's name written on the badge instead).
Death comes in threes, they say, and it happened that the scuderia was struck accordingly. Following Dino's death, Eugenio Castellotti, junior driver in the Grand Prix team, was killed while testing the new 801 car at the Modena aerodrome. Then at the 1957 Mille Miglia Alfonso de Portago and his navigator came off the road, killing nine spectators and themselves in the process. Piero Taruffi, by now fifty, won his only Mille Miglia from fourteen attempts for the scuderia on that black day. The deaths inevitably meant the end of the race for the future and a manslaughter charge against Ferrari, not to mention bringing a palpable feeling of loss to the scuderia and a hardening of his resolve to the old man.
Hawthorn came back to the team after a season effectively on the sidelines at BRM, and his best friend Collins was delighted. The pairing could do nothing about Fangio, now back at Maserati, who lead his team to the first four places in Argentina. Eraldo Sculati, the Ferrari's team boss, was too terrified to call the old man with the bad news, and was summarily sacked when he came home. Fangio steamed on, picking up wins in Monaco, Rouen and the Nurburgring, with his only real competition coming from the Vanwall of Moss, who won at Silverstone, a one off Pescara race, and the season finale at Monza. Fangio claimed his fifth title on the day that Maserati made their last ever Grand Prix appearance.
1958 was to prove the error of his ways to the old man when the little rear-engined Cooper was piloted to victory in the first two races of the season, as well as become the blackest period in the scuderia's history.
Ferrari put forward the Dino 246, a neat and versatile car which Hawthorn and Musso were able to wrestle into first and second positions in Rheims, before tragedy struck yet again and Musso ran off the track to his death. Shortly afterwards, at the Nurburgring, Collins also perished. Stuart Lewis-Evans, Moss's teammate at Vanwall, also died in the resultant fire after his accident in Casablanca. Death seemed everywhere in a season mostly noteworthy for the fact that Hawthorn won the first championship by an Englishman before promptly retiring from racing. This retirement, of course, was no protection from what was starting to seem like the Ferrari curse when he too perished, this time in a Jaguar road car while driving home after his return to England.
All this death, and still they came to drive for the old man. Phil Hill came, a young man from California looking for a new life, a life driving the already famous red cars. Dan Gurney too. Maserati were gone, the victim of bad finances. Vanwall too, closed after Lewis-Evans' death. One death - the old man probably thought them weak. He had his pick of drivers, though, because where else were they going to go if they wanted to drive a real Grand Prix car? Jean Behra and Tony Brooks came to Maranello and signed to drive for the scuderia.
Ferrari still knew what a Grand Prix car meant, even though others knew better. The ox still had to pull the cart, even though Cooper (and now Lotus's Colin Chapman) had proven him wrong. When the new car, a modified version of the previous year's Dino, sat on the grid next to the Lotuses and Coopers it didn't take a genius, or a stopwatch, to work out which was going to win. The Ferraris were all about brute strength in a straight line, which is why they managed to win in Rheims and the Nurburgring, but the agile garagiste (as the old man condescendingly referred to the British teams) cars were to hand a painful lesson to the old man.
Behra left quickly, yet another driver to feel the pain of the lack of team orders and who had decided to remedy the situation with his fists on the direttore sportivo before being summarily sacked. Jack Brabham and Moss won everything else between them in John Cooper's cars, with Brabham taking the title. The rear-engined cars had won, but it made no difference to the old man, who was starting to seem like a relic of another age with his adherence to the past, a man haunted by it.
Away from racing he finally dropped the Auto-Avio Construzioni name, changing it to Societa Esercizio Fabbriche Automobili e Corse (SEFAC), a limited liability company, a move which surely reflected the lawsuits from the final, disastrous, Mille Miglia.