Ferrari's Italian DNA: the Prancing Horse and Italy

Published: 02 May 2007

To understand Ferrari, you must go to Italy, says Ben Oliver

To really 'get' Ferrari, you've got to go to Italy. Viewed from anywhere else, it's too easy to see Ferrari as elitist; a maker of unaffordable road cars, a competitor in the world's most expensive, unapproachable sport and one of the world's greatest but least attainable luxury brands. But I've just got back from an extraordinary trip to Maranello for our Ferrari special issue and been reminded again that the Prancing Horse is so much more than a just badge of honour for poseurs and playboys.

What was so special about this trip? The food, mainly; we ate in both of Ferrari's famous restaurants; lunch in Cavallino, just like Enzo used to, and dinner at Montana, as Michael did. CAR was given exclusive access to the Casa di Enzo, his farmhouse at the centre of the Fiorano test track in which his rooms have been preserved largely untouched since his death in 1988. Our guide was his son and Ferrari part-owner Piero; his arrival was like a royal visit, not least because he looks increasingly and eerily like his (and the company's) Old Man. And then we drove out of the gates of Maranello in a red 599GTB Fiorano to retrace the final stages of the Mille Miglia, arguably the toughest, most dangerous race ever devised, the event which gave Ferrari the experience to build its great GT cars, and the race which forged Ferrari's unbreakable bond with the Italian public.

It was about as good as a trip to Maranello can get, other than getting to keep the car. You can read all about it in two stories in the latest issue of CAR magazine. If you're a Ferrari cynic, you might not care. But go there and you'll realise that you should. Yes, you'll meet plenty of over-paid, too-clever F1 people, and fashionistas in improbable heels. But there are also techniques and traditions that haven't changed much in 60 years, and a distinctively Italian way of doing business, with lots of men in dark suits and shades who whisper conspiratorially in your ear. Imagine NASA, Milan fashion week, Fred Dibnah and the Sopranos all colliding and you'll get the picture. Even though Enzo was famously unsentimental, the place groans with a heritage of building road and race cars that no other maker will ever match.

And you should care about Ferrari because the Italians do. For them, Ferrari isn't just a business making cars most will never afford. It's the national team; as we say in the story, Ferrari is Italy, and Italy is Ferrari.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features