By John Lamm
It was October 4, 1987. Thirty years later, the magic of Enzo Ferrari’s goodbye to his troops remains as powerful in my memory as ever.
Ferrari had won its first race as a postwar automaker on May 25, 1947. Franco Cortese drove a 125S to a win in the Rome Grand Prix for sports cars at the Terme di Caracalla Circuit. So it made sense that in 1987 the Ferrari Club Italia had a 40th anniversary of the win at the Circuito Dino Ferrari, which we know better as Imola.
It was a living museum of men and machines: Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, John Surtees, Olivier Gendebien, Luigi Chinetti and more: at least 28 famous Ferrari drivers. The tech side was represented by the likes of Aurelio Lampredi, designer of the big-block V-12, and others.
The Ferraris. Formula 1 cars from screaming mid-engine turbos back to the big front-engine V-12s. Oddly enough, no sports racing cars, but oodles of GTs such as 250 Tour de France, 250 LM and then-new F40.
To wander near the pits was magic. Surtees chatting with Cliff Allison. Piero Taruffi, the Silver Fox, winner of the last Mille Miglia was there. Every minute brought the sound of still another Grand Prix engine being fired up.
Lunch was at Cavallino, the restaurant across from the traditional entry gate for the Ferrari factory in Maranello. Toward the end of the meal, all the drivers — and only the drivers — were asked to file out of the room to where? No one was saying.
Pietro De Franchi from the Ferrari PR department, asked another journalist, Jeff Hutchinson, and me to follow him and the drivers. He wouldn’t tell us where we were going, but, “…two journalists should see this.”
So we followed, down halls, through the racing department to a simple meeting room. The drivers sat and soon Enzo Ferrari was helped into the room. He was fragile, 89 years old and would pass away 10 months later, but still Enzo Ferrari, with the dark sunglasses and brushed-back silver hair.
Ferrari spoke briefly with his son, Piero, helping him along. Then the drivers each came up to speak with him and shake hands. Jeff and I quickly realized this was Enzo Ferrari saying goodbye to his drivers. Forty years of those who had risked their lives, in many cases, to drive the Prancing Horse.
There was a group photograph and a list of attendees, including Mario Andretti, who watched Ferraris race at Monza when he was kid in Italy and would win for the Scuderia at the 1971 South African Grand Prix. Years later, I talked with Andretti about that day at Maranello in 1987.
“To me it was a glorious day in so many ways,” he began. “Just looking around at the individuals I drew inspiration from, drivers like José Froilán Gonzáles and Maurice Trintignant, people like that. I didn’t even know they were still alive…I knew this was a moment in my life that will never be repeated, an incredible event.”
Andretti went on: “First of all, Ferrari clearly gave absolute credit to the drivers for Ferrari being what it is today. He said, ‘It’s because of you, because of what you’ve risked, because of what you have created for us that we are what we are.’ “
“We were like a classroom with pupils from different eras,” the Formula 1 champion recalled, “and he was the big master up front, the professor. To be honest with you, I don’t know if you can use the proper adjectives from where I sat to describe that.”
Andretti added, “That weekend was the last time I saw him. He was such a stern individual, and always in control of a situation. I’d been at a number of press conferences where he was in total control, and this was the first time I saw emotion on his face. I thought it must be very special for him as well. It was a momentous day for all of us.”
And for me, it still is.