Seventy Years of Red

Ferrari throws a birthday party like no other

The heavens thundered. The skies cried. The engines roared. All this was drowned out by the crowd.

That’s probably the best way to begin describing the final days of celebration that Ferrari held at their home in Maranello to celebrate their seventieth birthday.

There are many places to start the story, actually. You could start it by the funny feeling of being in a traffic jam caused entirely by Ferraris as owners from all over the globe drove their steeds back home for the week. For regular visitors to the hallowed grounds, Ferraris on the street are a normal sight. But this was different, the place was swamped. And that was already towards the tail end of the week, and that was in the public streets. The great thing about Ferrari is that it is often as much fun watching the faces in the crowd as it is watching the cars. Truly uplifting.

You could start this story as you walk onto the Fiorano test track grounds. A very well-behaved group of enthusiasts and lucky journalists and friends were all keeping together right up until they walked through the gate. Then they dispersed as though something exploded. A tier one team military deployment couldn’t have done any better. We couldn’t even remember what we were supposed to be doing. I looked back at the very well-organized people who were supposed to be watching over the herd. They just smiled and shrugged. They understood. We had walked right into the middle of the Maranello Concorso d’Eleganza, a collection of over a hundred cars, very important cars. There were more than that outside on the streets of Maranello of course, by far. Those allowed inside the gates here though were historic, important, special on a global basis. For one thing, each one had a very special red book. They were all Ferrari Classiche certified. There were concours winners from around the world, there were race winners as well. The first cars I saw as we entered the gates were the most pristine Dinos I had even seen in my life, and I have seen a lot of them. Eight of them were spread out in front of me, including one raced by Sam Posey in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1969. I spent a good amount of time looking over the details of each car, the leather seats that I knew from building and painting them as Tamiya models when I was a kid. I was in heaven just standing there and looking down. Then I looked up. Daytonas. GTBs. GTCs. So many that I couldn’t figure out which way to go. More modern cars like Testarossas were out towards the other side of the field, actually rather tucked away. The best cars were laid out on the field/run-off area, which you would hopefully try to avoid as you come off the bridge and turn left as you are testing cars. A beautiful 1953 375 MM that was used in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana with wonderful period livery. The last 166 MM Touring Barchetta ever produced. I was stuck staring at one car until I would look up, then see something else that grabbed me. A beautiful yellow 1967 412 P racecar that competed at Daytona and Spa. This particular one gained particular notoriety when it was purchased by Dean Martin Jr. and driven around on the streets of Hollywood.
This car by car walk ended at the incline of the famous Fiorano Bridge, with very specialist open-wheel racecars. A 1952 375 Monoposto Corso Indianapolis meant for Alberto Ascari to run in the 1953 Indy 500 (it didn’t run though). A 1968 Dino 246 Tasmania, one of the two 166 F2 single-seaters converted into a 246 so it could run in the 1969 Tasman Cup. It was driven by people like Jackie Ickx, Derek Bell, and Tino Brambilla. The 1990 F1-90 used by Nigel Mansell during the second half of the 1990 F1 season. Finally, I look up at that last car in this direction, and you see the amazing view of all these truly beautiful cars arrayed across a vista that is historic and full of energy, history, and and promise. And exclusive — I was once chased away when trying to take pictures of the gate.

What I also saw from the top of the bridge? The latest Ferrari, launched just that day. Walked right past it. That’s what these classic cars do to you.

This story could start at the auction. As we were all walking through a field of amazing car dreams, we could hear bidding going on. Auction House RM Sotheby’s was offering some pretty amazing pieces, modern and historic, parts and paraphernalia, and full cars. The biggest deal car was unique LaFerrari Aperta. The coolest? The coolest was also the dirtiest. Sitting by the stage, completely covered in dust, a road-going, alloy-bodied 365 GTB4 found in a barn in Japan. It was pushed carefully around wherever it went, and rather hurriedly when the skies turned dark. It went for 1.65 Million Euros.

Where else? The story could start watching the bidders in the crowd or the staff manning the phones. It could start by talking about the well-dressed concours judges talking about all the competition cars, checking the lights, the horns, the bolts, and the dressings used. It could start listening to the owners talking at length about where they finally found the right leather tool kit to match a half-century old car. It could start with the wonderfully-dressed couple who drove their surprisingly quiet Ferrari on stage together, or the father who brought his kids (or his grandkids). It could start with not realizing the 412 P was going to start up beside you to drive up on stage as you were fixed on the 1966 275 GTB Competizione that went right before it. And deciding that it was worth the loss of hearing in one ear.

We chose to start it with weather. At the end of an amazing, wonderful but long and tiring day, we were in the grandstands waiting for the opening of the final program. It was already beginning to rain, the crowd was excited but very weary. How could Ferrari possibly think that a program of speeches and videos was the proper way to cap the day? Ferrari Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne came on stage and spoke eloquently and passionately. The rain got stronger. Cadets from Modena’s Military Academy raised the Italian Flag. Then a video started, across the whole tall and wide stage back, bringing us through the seven decades of Ferrari history. Performers soared, children ran, the screen told us stories. Then you suddenly realize that the stage and screen are right in the middle of the Fiorano test track, and in the pouring rain, there are headlights cutting through the night. Perfectly timed with the rest of the presentation come in cars like the first Ferrari, the 125S, and a 250 GT California Spider. Every car was used to exemplify an era, a feel, a passion. As the newer years and the newer cars rolled in, music changed from the classics to doo-wop to “Miami Vice”-type music (guess which car) and on. All the way to the LaFerrari Aperta. All this as the rain continues to come down, the cars and the drivers and the performers all drenched, even the screen on which the films are playing (you can’t call them videos anymore, they were films) is showing water.

How do you top all that? The racecars. On screen, they start showing their drivers, and as each one comes on, you hear the noise from the crowd swell in volume and passion. People begin screaming, shouting, calling. Then, in choreography that clearly shows that God is Italian, lightning lights up the entire Fiorano track. Thunder cannons in. Michael Schumacher appears on screen. The entire place went insane. The people matched the skies in their tears, the thunder in their voices.

As we calm our hearts and souls down from a truly joyful evening, we walk through the standing water and muddy fields, still stopping to look at the cars that are still on the field. We walk into a large hanger-like area with coffee and tables as we wait for our rides back to the hotel.

How could we start this story? At what we thought was the end of the day, we are all in one closed-off half of a big open space, then someone looks around the wall and disappears. We hear cameras going off. All the cars that were driven through the rain for the performance were sitting right beside us, and we didn’t even know it. The first Ferrari, the Aperta, Formula One cars, everything. Some of these cars were built half a century ago, they were driven top down and windows open (if there were any) in the rain and pulled in here. They all ran flawlessly and roared passionately. They were historic and legendary and important and driven as needed. We wondered how much trouble we would get into for this. Especially since the keys were still in the cars.

How do we start the story? I still don’t really know. But this is how Ferrari starts theirs.