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Feb. 18, 1898: Enzo Ferrari Gets the Green Flag

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Feb. 18, 1898: Enzo Ferrari Gets the Green Flag
1898: Enzo Ferrari is born in Modena, Italy. He'll achieve fame as the builder of racing cars and sports cars.
"An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man," Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, and perhaps nowhere is that more true than at Ferrari, the legendary Italian auto company that perfectly reflects the passions of its founder, Enzo Ferrari.
Few loom larger in the history of motor sports than Enzo Ferrari and the company that bears his name. In more than 100 years of motor racing, no one can match the accomplishments — or the influence — that Il Commendatore has had on racing and sports cars. His records are legion, his legends many, his stories timeless. He is a singular presence, a man who during his 70 years in motor sports often made even his best rivals look like talented amateurs.
Ferrari's father, Alfredo, ran a local metal-fabricating business, and young Enzo dreamed of being an opera singer. When he realized he had no ear for music, he pursued his other great passion: auto racing. That passion was sparked as a boy of just 10 when he saw Vincenzo Lancia battle Felice Nazarro in the 1908 Circuit di Bologna. It burned with ever-greater intensity for the next 80 years.
His racing career started as a driver for CMC, a little-known and long-since-defunct Italian auto company, in 1919. He went to Alfa Romeo a year later, developing and driving its race cars until World War II. It wasn't until 1947 that the first car to bear the Ferrari name hit the track.
The company has been racing ever since. Two salient facts stand out regarding the impact Enzo Ferrari had on racing and sports cars, which in his mind were inextricably linked. First, Ferrari has always employed the best drivers. Both Ascaris: Antonio the father and Alberto the son. Giuseppe Campari. The mercurial Achille Varzi. The maestro, Juan Manuel Fangio. Phil Hill. John Surtees. Nino Vaccarella. Mario Andretti. Niki Lauda. Alain Prost. Gilles Villeneuve. Michael Schumacher, who won an unprecedented five consecutive Formula 1 championships for the Scuderia. And of course, the best that ever was: Tazio Nuvolari.
They all joined Ferrari because they knew winning was the only thing that mattered there. Ferrari sought more than victory. He sought utter domination of the sport. And he did so only with his own cars, designed to his exacting specifications and often, like the 250 GTO, beautiful to behold.
More often than not they had big V-12 engines with an exhaust note that sounded like tearing silk. Sure, Ferraris have raced — and won — with V-10s and V-8s. Even a V-6 appeared in the Dino, but the company is most famous for its beautiful 12-cylinder engines.
Ferrari considered engine building an art, and to race someone else's engine — as drivers like Colin Chapman and Bruce McLaren did with great success — was the ultimate heresy. Ferrari had names for such people — Garagiste! Assembliatore! — and he used them like epithets.
The second fact is Ferrari is unique among car manufacturers. Automakers go racing so they can sell more cars. Ferrari sells cars so it can go racing. It's been that way since the first road-going Ferrari, the 166 Inter, was built in 1949. More than 36 percent of the sale price of every Ferrari that leaves a showroom goes directly to the F1 team. It used to be 100 percent before Ferrari partnered with Fiat in 1969.
No other automaker — not Porsche, not Lamborghini, not Jaguar or Aston Martin, and certainly not such prosaic companies like Detroit's Big Three or the Japanese automakers — approach that level of commitment. For Enzo Ferrari and the company he built, racing is, and always will be, the fundamental reason for its existence.
That's not to say Ferrari doesn't build sweet road cars. One after another, they've set benchmarks for performance and become classics sought by collectors. The Inter. The America and Superamerica touring with their big V-12 engines. The 250 Lusso, one of the most beautiful cars Pininfarina ever designed. The California, Daytona and the exquisite Dino, named for Ferrari's son who died of muscular dystrophy at age 24. The F40, the first street-legal production car to exceed 200 mph. More recently, we've seen the Enzo, which is for all intents an F1 car for the street, and the technological marvel that is the F430.
These cars perform flawlessly on the road because they were bred on the track, just as Enzo insisted. Such performance and exclusivity is why Ferrari, even in these uncertain economic times, still sells every car it builds to customers who will happily wait months, if not years, to get one.
Ezno Ferrari died in 1988 at his home in Maranello, which sat in the infield of Fiorano, his company's private test track.
Source: Various

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