For years people have been wondering why they get lost in Bologna and Modena, Italy, even while attempting nothing more dramatic than a passage through. The reason is simple: the tight little triangle of Bologna-Modena-Maranello is the breeding ground of all those low-slung, high-powered Grand Touring cars that are the most glamorous automobiles in the world today. The sturdy and amiable little Fiats one tries to coax through their territory simply get stage fright and forget the entrances and exits.
In factories so close together that a test driver can hardly get through all of his gears without crossing the opposition's turf, they build the awesome Ferraris, the proud Maseratis, the sleek and graceful de Tomaso cars and those low, low Lamborghinis that go by so fast one can never tell whether the driver is lying flat on his back, or was simply left behind at the start. These automobiles are built to go from a standstill to 60 mph in six or seven seconds, reach top speeds of 145 to 180 mph and retail roughly in the $10,000 to $25,000 range. Unless, of course, a customer brings in his own leopard skins and pays a little extra for special upholstery.
All have such amenities as electrically controlled windows and adjustable bucket seats but only Maserati will stoop to bourgeois automatic transmissions, and then only if the customer insists. For the rest it's six on the floor, baby, and don't get your white scarf caught in the wheels.
For all that it deals with such basic materials as steel and rubber and paint, the mystique of this world is like that of a very select private club, or even a high-fashion couturier's salon. There is the same babble of languages, the same air of snooty elegance, the same exchange of arcane terminology. There are even the same queues of the wealthy and/or wistful wanting to know when they can get delivery—or could they please just try one on.
The atmosphere is dominated by three sharply different men: Enzo Ferrari, the austere old king; Alejandro de Tomaso, the polished Renaissance prince; and Ferruccio Lamborghini, the peasant plutocrat who was born under the sign of Taurus and would be no slouch in a china shop himself. Maserati currently has no single ruling figure and its image has become an efficient, button-down approach to the business of selling expensive cars. Like Ferrari, Maserati made its name in racing cars but it has gone out of the racing business. "It got too sad," says Guerino Bertocchi, who himself won seven of the classic Italian Mille Miglia races and is now Maserati's chief test driver. "Too many drivers were killed."
Enzo Ferrari, de Tomaso and Lamborghini all were racing drivers in their youth, with varying degrees of success. All love motors with a consuming passion, are fiercely independent and are aggrieved if anybody wants them to make more than one or two cars a day, and they have as little to do with each other as possible.
Although the name Ferrari conjures up either grease-stained racers or rich young men with dazzling blondes by their sides, the truth is that 80% of all Ferrari owners are past 50, and the man who made the legend is 73 and virtually a recluse. Enzo Ferrari lives in Modena, where he was born, and spends most of his time half an hour away at the factory in Maranello. Outside massive steel gates painted green are two panels of the prancing black horse that is the Ferrari symbol, and inside are khaki-clad guards who scrutinize every visitor.
There are NO SMOKING signs everywhere: Ferrari doesn't smoke. He sits behind a shiny desk in a big, light-blue room, wearing blue tinted glasses that conceal his eyes. He is tall, white-thatched, distant. On three office walls are oil paintings of the swift red racers that have won six world championships. On the wall he faces is a framed photograph of his only son, Dino, who died of a virus in 1956. Three eerie rose-colored lights burn constantly under the photograph.
Looking at Ferrari, one forgets all those over-50 Ferrari owners. If anyone is the doyen of racing and father of the modern Italian breed of fast and handsome cars, this is the man. One suddenly sees the car he sees, blood-red and driving for the finish line. He is a man obsessed by speed and performance, and though he admits to no inner torment, his reminiscences arc laced with the details of violent death. Many of his friends died in cars and some esteemed drivers ( Wolfgang von Trips, Alfonso de Portago, Peter Collins, most recently Ignazio Giunti in the Thousand Kilometers in Buenos Aires in January) died in Ferraris.
Ferrari has always been an innovator, a catalyst. "I have never considered myself an automobile manufacturer or an inventor," he says. "I am an agitator, an agitator of men and of technical problems."