It’s curious to think how Enzo Ferrari, such a visionary and authoritative character, had a certain reluctance towards everything that was distant from wherever he was. He had never liked to travel and as the years passed, he did so less and less. For him, Modena was the centre of the world “in Modena I am Ferrari, anywhere else I’m just one of many” he used to say. But in many ways his talent helped him overcome his reluctance to become international.
It only takes two names to describe the turning point: Tazio Nuvolari and Luigi Chinetti, two old friends-enemies. Both were to leave a lasting mark of the creation of the Ferrari legend.
In 1948, after a string of rivalries, alliances and betrayals in the 1930s, Nuvolari returned behind the wheel of one of Enzo Ferrari’s cars, only this time it was actually built by Ferrari, which made headlines across the globe.
The great champion entered the Mille Miglia with the 166 Inter S. He was ill, and his doctors tried in vain to get him to renounce this crazy endeavour. He was already 55 years old but the fire of his extraordinary talent still burned as bright as ever. Alfa also wanted him for the event but Ferrari, cleverly, put him behind the wheel of one of his creations.
The race was an epic one: Nuvolari was firmly in the lead with the finish line almost in sight. He lost the engine hood, snapped off a fender, broke the seat fastenings of his companion. But the car drove sensationally. In Reggio Emilia, where Ferrari was waiting for him, they discovered that one of the leaf springs had broken. They forced him to retire. A Ferrari won all the same, driven by Biondetti, but Nuvolari was the real hero and the news spread fast. To thank him, Enzo offered him one final car for the race in Mantua, his hometown, in memory of his two sons, both of whom had died at the age of 18. The moment was a touching one, Nuvolari shot into the lead and drove undisturbed until he suffered a stroke on the fourth lap. His body no longer responded. He died in his bed after a life of risk, five years later. Ferrari went to his funeral.
But, if this introduction to our story appealed to the heart, the conclusion, the one that introduced him to Luigi Chinetti, went straight to the wallet. Ferrari was very ambitious and wanted to be able to finance himself. Victories at the races were never going to be enough to finance an already well-established company and any future models were going to require a considerable amount of money.
From Italy, and also Europe, wealthy drivers such as the Marzotto brothers had begun to appear, but it was Luigi Chinetti’s visit that turned Ferrari’s fortunes around. The two knew each other: Chinetti had started out as an Alfa Romeo mechanic working on Antonio Ascari’s P2 at the 1925 French GP. During the race, Alberto’s father lost his life. Luigi Chinetti decided to remain in France and became an excellent driver – two victories at Le Mans and others in important endurance races, including Spa – but also a valuable consultant to wealthy enthusiasts. He moved to the United States in 1940 to organize the participation of René Dreyfus in the Indianapolis 500 and did not return to Europe which by now was at war, and instead built his American future by exploiting his knowledge of European races and the cars that competed in them.
When Chinetti showed up in Maranello in 1948, he had already guessed the commercial potential of the cars from Maranello in the United States. First he tried to convince Ferrari to officially race at Le Mans but, faced with Enzo’s fear of not being ready for such a demanding endeavour, he bought two 166 MMs which went on to win at the 1949 Le Mans.
It was Enzo’s consecration: Chinetti had seen the potential and, despite being forty-eight years old, even drove one of the cars himself for 23 of the 24 hours! The American market was now wide open. From that moment, Chinetti became a sort of bank for Enzo: every year he guaranteed important sales in the United States guaranteeing numerous purchases, which allowed Enzo to sleep more peacefully at night. This was what Chinetti meant to Ferrari. A role that far too few have recognized.
Just three years after opening for business, Ferrari now had the solid foundation to aim for the next Formula 1 Championship or World Championship whose first edition was scheduled for 1950. His opponents? First of all they were Italian: Maserati and… Alfa. That is correct. The same Alfa with the 158, refreshed and rebadged 159, which had been built in Modena, in the Scuderia. Scuderia Ferrari.