Profile: ‘In Italy, There Was the Pope and Then There Was Enzo Ferrari’


Ferrari is often remembered solely as cold and calculating, with his trademark trench coat and dark sunglasses. But Mr. Dal Monte wants readers to see the genius that Ferrari possessed. Yes, he was stubborn, but he was driven and determined to be successful. He used his charm and intelligence to get others to invest in him, said Mr. Dal Monte, who saw these qualities in Ferrari’s personal correspondence and his relationship with his sons, Alfredo “Dino,” who died in 1956 at the age of 24 from muscular dystrophy, and Piero, who was born out of wedlock to Ferrari’s longtime mistress, Lina Lardi. (Ferrari’s wife, Laura, suffered severe depression her entire life, and though he had affairs with other women they remained married until she died in 1978. Ferrari never remarried and died in 1988.)

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Enzo Ferrari started out as a racecar driver.

Credit
David Bull Publishing

“In Italy, there was the Pope and then there was Enzo,” Mr. Dal Monte said as we drove north on New York Route 22, which hugs the state’s border with Connecticut and offers amazing views of the Kensico Reservoir. The GTB’s V12 engine screams with sophisticated mellifluous authority as revs climb, but Mr. Dal Monte is used to speaking over mechanical commotion.

“When I was in middle school I became fascinated with Enzo.” He remembers as a teenager in the late 1970s, taking an hourlong train ride from his hometown in Cremona to Modena early one morning with his brother, just to catch a glimpse of Ferrari having his morning shave at a barbershop. Ferrari stared out at them staring in at him, and smiled.

“Even then he was the Grand Old Man, not just of motor racing, but also of the country. You could hear him call in on some of the early TV automotive racing shows and discuss to the point of shouting with the talk show host in order to defend his cars and his drivers — more the cars than the drivers, actually.”

Mr. Dal Monte has always loved sports cars, but his fascination with Ferrari goes beyond that. “It was his lifelong struggle to succeed, to become someone, to beat the odds, to go down in history that intrigued me” he said.

What the book doesn’t capture is the circuitous route Mr. Dal Monte took going from Cremona to wrangling reporters in America, the world’s largest market for Ferrari, or how he came to write this comprehensive book.

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Enzo Ferrari in his signature trench coat and sunglasses talking to journalists during a press conference in 1966.

Credit
David Bull Publishing

Mr. Dal Monte said it all goes back to his second great love (after cars and Ferrari) all things American. When he was a senior in high school, he spent a year as an exchange student in Kentucky and later attended the University of Kentucky, majoring in United States history while writing for the student newspaper, “The Kentucky Kernel.”

Though his first impulse was to become a journalist after graduating from college, when he returned to Italy, he was offered a plum job as a top executive in Peugeot’s Italian press office. Mr. Dal Monte said that his fluency in English and his knowledge of American culture helped him professionally at an early age and eventually got him the job at Ferrari.

Mr. Dal Monte had met Antonio Ghini, Ferrari’s spokesman in Italy, while visiting the company’s archives to research his first book about Formula One racing, which came out in Italy in 1999. In spring 2001, Mr. Dal Monte remembers Mr. Ghini asked him, “‘How would you like to go back home? How would you like to go back for Ferrari?’ And what do you think my reply was? ‘When can I start?’”

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Enzo Ferrari, left, in 1966, talking to Giovanni Canestrini, who was known as the dean of automotive journalists in Italy.

Credit
David Bull Publishing

His duties grew to include overseeing the American relaunch of the Maserati brand, owned by this time, like Ferrari, by Fiat. But more the historian and journalist at heart than a marketing man, Mr. Dal Monte liked writing. His position with Maserati, which brought him back to Italy, gave him access to a wide range of primary materials. “One of the greatest assets in my research was the Alfa Romeo archives in Arese, near Milan.” There he found Enzo Ferrari’s personnel file from when Ferrari managed the company’s race team. These files documented Ferrari’s importance to Alfa Romeo, the great Italian racing power.

Mr. Dal Monte’s sense of history, however, was not solely grounded in dusty file folders and old racing scorecards. In addition to archival research, he moved to Modena, where Ferrari remains based, a working city that to this day also serves as a living shrine to the man and his automobiles. There he met and befriended many figures from Ferrari’s life over the course of the eight years it took him to write this book.

Still, “American politics is my real passion, and American history,” Mr. Dal Monte confessed. In Italy, his book is titled “Ferrari Rex,” a reference to Edmund Morris’s three-part well-regarded biography of Teddy Roosevelt, “Theodore Rex.” “My aim was high, to do for Ferrari what Morris did for Roosevelt.”

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