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The fierce-looking Ferrari sports car above has only one purpose—to win races. It cannot be driven to market or out on a Sunday spin on the Skyline Drive. It has a 12-cylinder engine that is grumpy at low speeds but, with the power of 320 horses, comes vibrantly alive when the throttle is down, and it can propel the car at a speed of 173 mph. It has an exhaust noise more terrible than an air raid siren. With its companion four-cylinder model, with the same displacement of 3.5 liters (about the same as the smallest Studebaker), it is a world champion—a lovingly assembled and cunningly driven machine that has the power to lift the heart of a nation.
It is difficult in this country, where big-time auto racing—except for the Indianapolis "500" and the Sebring Twelve Hours—is only a memory, to appreciate the fervor with which Europeans embrace their cars and champions. The great national Grandes Epreuves (literally big tests) for single-seat road-racing cars are battlegrounds that excite and inflame the emotions, and the series of sports car races to determine the leading manufacturer provoke feelings of only slightly lesser incandescence.
The hottest sports of all are the Italians, for whom auto racing ranks right up with the pleasures of cheating on the income tax and second-guessing the big giveaway TV show Lascia o Raddoppia.
It was perfectly understandable to Italians when a Sicilian took a club to the American Phil Hill after he won the race at Messina this year, even though he was driving an Italian car. (Phil was saved by a pistol-toting chum.)
Right now, on the eve of another season, the Italians are loaded. And the most potent weapon in the Latin artillery that is aimed at the competition is a solid, forceful, brooding, silver-haired man named Enzo Ferrari, who stands at the pinnacle of the sport.
His V-8-engined, 2.5-liter, 280-hp Grand Prix racers, which are easily identifiable by their side fuel tanks, won six of the eight Grandes Epreuves of 1956 and provided the inimitable Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio, transportation to an unprecedented fourth world championship; his sports cars won for Ferrari himself the top honors among the competing manufacturers.
With the Germans out of the racing picture, the French lacking funds and the English unable to diagnose the fragility of their fast but temperamental cars, the big scrap in 1956 was between the Ferraris and the wasp-tailed Maseratis—an all-Italian show, a kind of civil war by extension between the adherents of the one and the other.
Desolated by the poor British showing, the journalist-driver Denis Jenkinson wrote in the November Motor Sport: "I think many times that a well-organized and efficient British team could wipe the floor with them [the Italians], they are in such chaos, yet every time they win."
Chaotic Italian racing may be, but it is also devastatingly effective—and with reason. Enzo Ferrari has been learning how to win the hard way ever since he washed out of technical school and set his cap for automobile racing success. He earned distinction in the '20s at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, that famous Italian make which achieved fabulous results before the Nazi-inspired German onslaught prevailed prior to World War II. When his driving days were over Ferrari became the shrewd manager (up until the war) of Alfa Romeo's racing activities, a position at which he was so successful and tough that he occasionally, but behind his back, was called the Italian equivalent for tough guy. His drivers were of the best: the immortal Nuvolari, the great Achille Varzi, Chiron, Moll, Trossi, Lehoux, Ren� Dreyfus. Dreyfus, the former French champion, now a New York restaurant man, remembers Signor Ferrari as a strict but fair operator in the 1930s.
The Horse of Ravenna