If last month's article was daunting, I really feel like I'm at Everest base camp with this one. How on earth does one write about a car manufacturer so steeped in the history of the automobile with a brand recognised the world over?
It's as decent a place as any to start at the beginning so pour yourself a glass of Chianti, settle back and we hope you'll enjoy the read our two part series on the history of Ferrari.
It would be impossible to write about Ferrari without reference to its founder. Born in 1898, Enzo was enigmatic and implacable. Visitors to his office recounted feeling like they'd had an audience with royalty and often as not left with a small memento or something signed in the famous purple ink.
He sold road cars to fund his beloved motor racing and showed little obvious emotion towards the many legendary racing drivers who raced the famous scarlet cars. Ferrari ran as well-oiled machine (pun absolutely intended) and customers had to meet the exacting criteria of “The Old Man” – a term used almost without exception with reverence.
You might be surprised that we aren't going to make much more mention of Mr Ferrari. In the automotive world, few others have had as many books and column inches devoted to their lives and exploits; we wanted to focus on the cars as the man himself could fill an entire article – perhaps another time we'll look more closely at the man whose name remains firmly attached to the machines.
Likewise, we're not going to look too closely at Ferrari's association with motorsport, notably Formula One. Whilst they have been an entrant since the first race in 1950 and their motor racing successes, failures and drama are an integral part of the sport, this again could easily fill an entire article. Suffice to say that the less than front running performance the team is currently experiencing is without doubt temporary and we have little doubt that the red cars will be competing for podiums and championships again very soon.
So for now, let's begin in 1939. Enzo had already enjoyed some success as a racing driver with Alfa Romeo under the Scuderia Ferrari name and using the Prancing Horse logo, generally accepted to have been a throwback to his days as an air force pilot – the bright yellow background was added as the colours of Modena, the region where the Ferrari factory was based – and of course remains today.
Whilst the company was formed at this point, it didn't begin producing cars under the Ferrari name until 1947 (they were pressed into the manufacture of munitions during the war by the government) and the first car produced was the 125S – a 2 seater sports car powered by a 1500cc V12 engine; the first road test was of a bare chassis and the image of Enzo himself hurtling through the streets of Maranello, as he was naturally the first to test drive his new car, is almost painfully evocative.
The name “125” was derived from the cubic capacity of a single cylinder – a pattern which remained the norm for Ferrari for decades.
Ferrari's next model was the 166 and this formed the basis for both road cars and a successful racing car. The road car was a pretty coupe, its racing sibling being an open Barchetta.
The 1950's heralded the launch of the 250 series – once again the name denoting the 3 litre V12 engine used for the next two decades in a lineage of cars which, for many, cemented Ferrari's place in the automotive history books. The link between road and race cars continued with cars named for the events they routinely won – Mille Miglia, Tour De France being examples.
The cars were designed by external styling houses including Pininfarina, Bertone and Zagato – a trend that continued until well into current times, when design was brought in-house.
We've written here about the most famous 250 model and cars like the California Spyder and GT SWB are as well known. Instead, we'll pick the 250 PF Cabriolet. Designed by Pininfarina, it has sharper lines than the car young Ferris Bueller “borrowed” from his friend's Dad – although of course the cars featured in the movie were all replicas, including thankfully the car which plummeted from the garage to its demise.
Whilst the more famous car can count Steve McQueen and James Coburn as Hollywood residents who added one to their stable, the PF for many has sweeter styling and the sharper lines are in contrast to the California's muscular side panels in particular.
The 250 Lusso is also worthy of inclusion; not only as the Ferrari of choice for many of Hollywood's elite but also because it combined the proven performance of the chassis and drivetrain with a truly beautiful coupe body – the writer admits to bias here as this car tops all of his top car lists!
It would be amiss also not to mention the “other” famous 250 – the glorious Testa Rossa (not to be confused to the car with which it almost shared its name 30 or so years later). Whilst designed for competition use, it was a road legal car and was used in various guises and specifications for both circuit racing and also road based events including the Targo Florio, achieving success in both disciplines.
As the 60's unfolded, the 250 was gradually replaced with the 275 range; do we need to mention that the engine had by now grown to 3300cc? The GTB model was a beautifully designed 2 seater coupe with styling by Pininfarina and it gained an extra camshaft per cylinder head in 1966, creating the 275 GTB/4, or “4 cam”. The name stood for Gran Turismo Berlinetta and suited the nature of the car perfectly – designed for fast and luxurious cross-continent motoring in an era bereft of speed cameras and punitive penalties for driving quickly – truly another era.
The coupe was joined by a GTS convertible, a car which continues to ooze sixties style and glamour more than 50 years later. It was cleverly styled by the same studio alongside the coupe with minimal similarities, it having a simpler and more traditional appearance than the flowing curves of the fixed head car.
The range was rounded out by the introduction of the 330 series and later 500. The former was available as a 2+2 coupe and also in GTS form, this car being visually broadly similar to the 275 GTS.
The 500 was the last in a line of larger V12 engined Ferraris, starting back in the 50's with the 340 and progressing through to the 400 and 500 models which included quite possibly some of the best car names ever – the Superfast and SuperAmerica.
At this point in our story, we'd like to ask you to step backwards as this is necessary to introduce the next Ferrari in our story.
We said earlier that we'd not spend too much time looking at the man behind the cars but a tragic event which any parent dreads struck Enzo in 1956 when his son Alfredo “Dino” died at the young age of 24 from muscular dystrophy. Dino was a talented engineer and from an early age had worked closely with his father to progress within, and at some point assume control of, the family business.
His untimely death had a profound impact on Enzo and the smaller V6 engine he had been working on was named in his honour thereafter, seeing competition success throughout the next decade – and still today, with many Dino-badged racing models continuing to be campaigned within historic motor racing – we think both father and son would be intensely proud that the legacy has not been forgotten.
Returning to our timeline, Ferrari had previously produced a mid-engined car in the early 60's – the 250LM achieved limited success due to the FIA's refusal to homologate. This inadvertently increased the success of the GTO but road cars continued to be made with the engine at the front – we'll look at how this evolved later in our article but for now, we're staying in the 1960's.
Ferrari showed a concept car at the 1965 Paris Salon. It featured a mid-mounted V6 engine and styling by Pininfarina (it was also the last Ferrari to be signed off by Battista “Pinin” Farina prior to his death in 1966); this car is widely regarded as being a turning point in Ferrari design, setting a trend which continues through to today's range.
Two years later, a production-ready model was launched at the Turin motor show. Badged the 206 GT, it featured a 2 litre V6 engine and achingly pretty styling, closely following the concept of 2 years earlier. Whilst it was developed to boost sales, by offering a cheaper model to buyers and thus generating more sales revenue and profit, it remained badged as a Dino and not a Ferrari. By this point, Ferrari was in the process of selling a stake in its business to Fiat and remained conscious of not diluting the Ferrari brand by association.
Ferrari's ownership prior to 1969 had remained firmly within the family. The aborted acquisition by Ford several years earlier led to the development of the GT40, designed solely to “smash Ferrari” at Le Mans, at the behest of Henry Ford II, angry at the abrupt cutting off by Ferrari of negotiations – a story told with great panache told in the 2019 Ford V Ferrari movie.
The family still own a 10% stake in the company founded by Enzo; this having passed to his surviving son Piero, who remains vice chairman of the company today.
Returning to the cars, the 206 was replaced in 1969 with the 246. Visually similar to its predecessor, it featured a larger engine and minor revised styling features. Around 4,000 246's were made and exported worldwide against less than 500 206 models but the combined totals at the time marked a significant increase in production.
If you're either a mathematical whizz or handy with a calculator, then you may have worked out that the “baby” Ferraris above broke with the tradition of naming based on singe cylinder capacity. You might also be forgiven for wondering whether Ferrari had departed with its tradition of V12 powered grand tourers. Fear not. Oh, and the 206/246 were named for engine size and 6 cylinder capacity.
1968 saw the replacement for the 275 launched at the 1968 Paris Salon, by now the traditional launch venue for all new Ferraris. Named 365, it featured a reworked 4.4 litre V12 and with styling evolved from the outgoing 275 coupe.
Ferrari had debated heading its range with a front engine V12 car after the launch by rival Lamborghini of the Miura with its V12 engine mounted transversely behind the driver. Their view had long been that customers would eschew the loss of luggage space for a car designed for cross-continent use but the interest in the Lamborghini prompted the design of a mid-engined 12 cylinder car. As this was still some way from production, it was decided to press ahead and put the 365 into production.
Initially available in GTB variation, it gained the nickname “Daytona” following a 1-2-3 victory by Ferrari at the 1967 race at the venue of the same name. The name stuck and the “Ferrari Daytona” became a popular model – not least as it was the last V12 car produced while Ferrari remained under the complete ownership of the family.
It was joined in 1969 by a Spyder version – references to Miami Vice will result in being asked to stand in the corner – one of the two motoring stars of the 80's TV show was a replica Daytona Spyder, although the white Testarossa was a genuine vehicle.
Interestingly, Ferrari sued the makers of this car and also the replica used in the Ferris Bueller movie as, despite being replicas, they both featured the Ferrari badge and this understandably led to Ferrari taking action to protect its brand. It also led to the producers of Miami Vice being loaned a pair of current model Testarossas for the third series of the popular show.
In parallel to the Daytona, Ferrari continued to produce the 365 GT 2+2 to cater for the customer who required a 4 seater V12 powered car. This replaced the previous 330 model and was produced between 1969 and 1971 before being replaced by the 365 GTC4.
The new car broadly resembled the Daytona but featured boxier styling and smaller rear seats than its predecessors. It also added power assisted steering and side draught carburettors to the V12 engine is shared with its sister car. It was replaced in 1972 by the 365 GT4 2+2, a handsome 2-door saloon whose design saw service for a further 17 years in 400 and finally 412 guises and served as Ferrari's sole 4 seater V12 powered model.
1973 also saw the replacement for the Daytona. Enzo Ferrari had been surprised by the success of long-time rival Lamborghini's Miura. He was persuaded to develop a similar mid-engined 12 cylinder model and the arrival of the 365 GT/4 BB heralded Ferrari's entry to the sector, using a flat 12 layout derived from its increasingly successful Formula One cars.
The model saw service for a further 9 years, with the engine size increasing to 5 litres in 512 form and culminating in the 512BBi with fuel injection added in 1981 before its replacement in 1984.
Ferrari had developed a smaller 3 litre V8 engine for use in a planned range of mid-engined cars, similar in size to the 246. Its first outing was in the 1973 Dino 308GT4 – named again for engine size and number of cylinders and notable also for being a 2+2 by lengthening the chassis. The engine was mounted transversely to create a compact layout.
Ferrari launched its 2-seater model using the same engine in 1975. The 308, the direct replacement for the 246, was designed by Pininfarina and its curves were in stark contrast to the more angular design of the 308 GT4, penned by Bertone.
The original GTB model was joined by a GTS variant with a removable targa panel; this car of course finding fame some years later on another TV show!
As the 1980's dawned, the 308 gained fuel injection, adding the pre-requisite “i” to its name and badges, seemingly in common with almost every other car available. Ferrari also launched the replacement for the 308GT4, another 4-seater with its V8 mounted midships.
They also revived one of their famous model names for this new car and the Mondial 8 was launched with the same engine as its smaller sibling.
The Italian market also saw the 208 GTB/GTS with a single turbocharger fitted. This was produced in response to Italian tax rules; a similar smaller engine had been used in the 308GT4 some years earlier, albeit without a turbocharger.
1982 saw the V8-engined cars all receive a revised engine with 4 valves per cylinder, earning them the added badge of quattrovalvole (“4 valve” rather unsurprisingly) and a useful increase in power and torque.
A convertible version of the Mondial arrived in 1983.
1984 saw the revival of yet another famous Ferrari badge and perhaps one of the most famous of all – this time it was Gran Turismo Omologato, more commonly and widely known as simply “GTO” and this time the model was the 288.
Whilst this car had styling based on the 308 series, the 288 was wider, longer and of course considerably faster, courtesy of a 2.9 litre twin turbocharged V8 engine producing around 400bhp. It also used composite materials extensively to achieve a weight of almost 100kgs less than the 308 GTB.
This car was built to satisfy the homologation regulations and enabled the GTO to be used for motorsport although the demise of the Group B series meant that it achieved relatively little success.
Ferrari developed the car into an Evoluzione specification car; 6 or so were built and it was used as a testbed for the car that followed – more on this in a moment….
1984 also saw another famous name revived with the Testarossa. Ferraris' replacement for the 512 in many ways epitomised the decade. It was wide – very wide at almost 2 metres – and featured prominent air intakes in the door and rear quarter fitted with grilles referred to by many as cheese graters. It remained as the flagship model for 12 years in 512TR and finally F512M model designations.
1985 and the 308 was replaced by what was essentially an upgraded model, featuring restyled bumpers and a larger and more powerful 3200cc engine – hence the new model name, of 328.
The Mondial received the same engine with its bodywork upgrades being less obvious due to the model's already squarer styling.
1987 saw the successor to the 288 GTO launched; the F40 took the ingredients which made the GTO special and it's fair to say added extra spice. Power climbed to almost 480hp and the top speed a shade beyond 200mph.
Where the GTO combined performance with traditional luxury inside, the F40 was minimalist. It had no carpets, manual windows (perspex sliding in some cases), no air conditioning and a simple pair of bucket seats for lucky (and brave) owners and their passenger.
The F40 also marked another anniversary with the death of Enzo in 1988 at the age of 90. The F40 was the final car signed off by the company's founder. Somewhat fittingly, his beloved Formula One team scored an emotional 1-2 finish at the Italian Grand Prix in a year dominated by the McLarens. Fiat's stake increased to 90%.
The F40 was produced in GTE and LM variants for competition use and all models remain highly prized in the current market.
And that's all for this week, make sure you check back in next week for the second part in our Ferrari feature!