Enzo Ferrari was the youngest child of Alfredo Ferrari who was a metal fabricator. He was born in Modena near Bologna, Italy in February 1898 and although growing up with little in the way of formal education, by the age of ten he knew he wanted to be a race car driver after he witnessed Felice Nazzaro win the 1908 Circuito di Bologna.
In 1916 an outbreak of the flu claimed the lives of Enzo’s father and his older brother, who was also called Alfredo and, when the flu returned during the European flu pandemic of 1918, Enzo himself became very ill resulting in him being discharged from the Italian army in which he had been serving since the beginning of the first world war.
Being no longer paid a salary by the army, Enzo looked around for a job and after being unsuccessful at trying to get a job a FIAT, he managed to find probably the perfect job when he became a test driver for a car manufacturer in Milan called C.M.N.
It turned out that he was quite good at his job and became the company’s racing driver in 1919, debuting in a hill climb where he finished in fourth position. The following year, Enzo joined Alfa Romeo and in 1924 he won the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara. However, he would soon retire as a driver after the death of Antonio Ascari in 1925 which affected him deeply.
In 1929 Enzo started his own company called the Scuderia Ferrari which had its headquarters in his birth town of Modena. The idea was to take cars such as Alfa Romeos and rebuild, prepare and supply them to owner/drivers.
Around the same time, he started to use the prancing horse emblem on the cars, which was his way of paying respect to a fighter pilot from the war called Francesco Baracca who, after gifting Enzo a necklace with the emblem on it, was shot down and killed.
This new company, under the guidance of Enzo Ferrari essentially became the technical arm of Alfa Romeo, eventually taking over as the Alfa Romeo racing team, until 1933 when Alfa stopped racing. In 1935 Scuderia Ferrari had its first car, the Alfa Romeo Bimotore and in 1937, the first few Alfetta 158s were assembled in Modena by Ferrari.
Four years after it had stopped racing, Alfa Romeo brought its racing operations in house and started racing again under the Alfa Corse name, based in Milan. Enzo Ferrari was brought in to manage the team and so Scuderia Ferrari closed.
Ferrari missed running his own car company though and in 1939 he left Alfa Romeo. Part of the deal was that he wouldn’t use the Ferrari name on race cars for four years and so Enzo created Auto Avio Costruzioni which was based in the old Ferrari buildings in Modena. The company made machine tools and aircraft parts, but in 1940, it also built two examples of a race car, called the 815 which was based on a FIAT 508C. It debuted at the Mille Miglia but due to the outbreak of the second world war, there was no more competition within which it could compete.
In 1943, Enzo moved the factory to Maranello, where it has been located ever since. Rebuilt following bombing by the Allies in 1944 and 1945 the factory turned its sights towards car manufacturing with Enzo commissioning a design for a V12 engine from Gioacchino Colombo. In 1946, the first completely new car to carry the Ferrari badge rolled out of the Maranello factory. Called the 125 Sport, it was powered by Colombo’s 1.5 litre V12 and on March 12 of that year, Enzo Ferrari himself took it out for a test drive. Two months later, two examples of the 125 Sport raced at Piacenza.
Ferrari entered its first Grand Prix in 1950 when it was held for the first time in Monaco. A year later, Ferrari won its first Grand Prix race and in 1952, Alberto Ascari presented Ferrari with its first World title, followed by a second a year later. In 1957, the company officially changed its name to Auto Costruzioni Ferrari.
In 1961 tensions that had been brewing at the Ferrari company came to a head when several critical members of the team demanded that Enzo Ferrari’s wife, Laura be prevented from meddling in the company’s affairs. Enzo refused and so the company was pitched into turmoil when all those who were involved in the revolt were ousted.
This was a critical time for Ferrari as it was developing the 250 GTO which had been designed to take on the Jaguar E-Type. Into the void stepped a young engineer called Mauro Forghieri and coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti.
Phil Hill subsequently raced the 250 GTO at Sebring where it was placed first in its class, easily beating the cars fielded by Jaguar. This success found its way into cars that Ferrari was developing for the road including the 275 and legendary 365 GTB/4 Daytona.
Ferrari’s mid-engined race cars were also doing well. These carried the Dino badge after Ferrari’s son who had died of muscular dystrophy in 1956 at the age of only 24 and led to strong selling road-going versions such as the 246 GT Dino.
In the mid-1960s the American motor giant Ford challenged the success of Ferrari on the race track with the help of Carroll Shelby who took a small open seat sports car called the Cobra from a small British company called AC and married it to a 4.7 litre V8 Ford engine. The recipe, although good, wasn’t quite good enough. So, Ford tried to buy Ferrari, but a deal could not be reached. Consequently, Ford decided to develop its own car. In 1966, the American giant entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Ford GT40. They not only won the race but also took second and third spots as well, ending Ferrari’s dominance.
Following the success of Ford with its big V8 power, the FIA decided to limit prototype racers to an engine size of 3000cc. This not only effectively banned the Ford GT40, but it also impacted on Ferrari’s response which was the 330P4. Ferrari refused to enter any sports car races in 1968 by way of protest. The following year, Ferrari entered a few races with its new 312P and later with the 512s but only finished fourth in a season that was dominated by newcomer Porsche. It fared no better in 1970 and decided to concentrate on the development of the new 312PB which would be ready for the 1972 season.
In 1969, the Italian car giant FIAT acquired a 50% stake in Ferrari which immediately resulted in an injection of capital. Investment in new Dino and Ferrari models was made although the racing team hardly benefitted at all.
As planned, the 312PB had a very successful season in 1972, although Porsche did not compete due to further rule changes imposed by the FIA. Reliability marred the cars in the 24-hour races though, and so Ferrari did not compete at Le Mans. It did enter Le Mans in 1973, finishing an unexpected 2nd but at the end of the season Ferrari decided to withdraw from Sports Car Racing in order to concentrate on Formula 1.
Up to this point, Ferrari had fared well in Formula 1 having clinched six world championships in 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1964 with such legendary drivers as Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, and John Surtees. Formula 1 championship wins eventually returned to the team in the 1970s thanks to Niki Lauda in 1975 and 1977, even though he had been severely burned, and almost lost his life in a crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix. In 1979, Ferrari won its third world championship of the decade courtesy of Jody Scheckter.
During the 1980s though, the Ferrari Formula 1 team had to endure a period of crisis during which Gilles Villeneuve lost his life at the 1982 Belgium Grand Prix. In the same year, Didier Pironi was very nearly killed at the German Grand Prix and Ferrari wouldn’t win another world championship for twenty-one years.
In 1988, Enzo Ferrari died at the age of 90. The last Ferrari model that he oversaw the construction of was the legendary Ferrari F40. At the same time, FIAT increased its stake in the company to 90% and appointed sporting director Luca di Montezemolo as its president in 1991. Two years later, Ferrari hired Frenchman Jean Todt as sporting director. He along with new driver Michael Schumacher, who already had two world championships under his belt whilst driving for Benetton, steadily built the Ferrari Formula 1 team back up to winning ways.
Coming close to winning in 1997, 98 and 99, Schumacher went on to win Ferrari’s first world championship for 21 years in 2000. He also won it for the team the following four seasons.
Following a series of deals made from 2002 to 2010, Ferrari ownership passed from FIAT to a banking consortium and back again. When FIAT subsequently became FIAT Chrysler Automobiles, it announced that it was separating the Ferrari business of which it owned 90%.
This 90% is now owned by public shareholders following the company’s IPO in 2016. The other 10%, is owned by Enzo Ferrari’s second and only surviving son Piero.