DON’T FORGET YOUR ANNIVERSARY!!
by bill orth
Ten years ago Ferrari SpA realized that 1997 was the company’s 50th anniversary, so they planned a big blowout to celebrate. And it was quite the experience. Owners were invited from all over the world, particularly those who had significant vintage Ferraris, and elaborate events were planned from Rome to Modena. A great job of planning was done, and as long as anyone who wanted to attend got his reservations in early enough, it was very smooth. Hotels all over Modena and Maranello were completely booked, with many late comers finding themselves staying fifty miles away. We wound up in a 3-star horror called the Hotel Roma in old downtown Modena. It had three saving graces: it was convenient; it had a garage and it had frisky cherubs painted on the ceilings of the rooms. It was also a dump. The event registration package included tickets to each of the venues, and non-ticket holders lined the fencing at each, trying to sneak in.
The long weekend started in Rome on a beautiful summer evening with a gathering of Ferrari cars in the huge outdoor Olympic stadium. There was a raised dias in the center, upon which was a chronological array of Grand Prix cars from the 125S all the way up to Michael’s then-current ride. Arranged all around on the stadium grass were examples of virtually everything Ferrari had ever produced, from the very first 815, one of the two 250GTEs that were once used by the Italian police—with a blue light on the roof—to about ten original 250 GTOs and, of course, the just-introduced 550 Maranello. And everything in between, in multiple examples. I lost count of how may F40s were there that weekend. This stadium’s ground area is larger than the original Coliseum, but the spectator’s galleries aren’t quite as high. The upper balustrades are ringed with larger-than-life (nude) statures of various Olympians in imperial poses. On this night, only ticket-holders were admitted into the stadium and hundreds of onlookers teemed in the galleries. It was pretty special.
The following day, a circuit around the Palatine Hills and other prominent Roman ruins of the Caesars was roped off and many of these same cars did laps before throngs of enthusiasts sitting (in the rain) on bleachers reserved for…ticket holders. As soon as the last car went by, the multitudes stormed over the barriers are carried off all the course markers and anything else that could be considered a souvenir. We didn’t get to participate in that most-recent sacking of Rome, because the same fencing that kept the hoards out of our bleachers, effectively kept us from getting onto the course. The events were going to resume the following day in Maranello, so we departed Rome in our rented Fiat and headed for Modena via the route of the Mille Miglia, over the Futa Pass and other beautiful scenery, to arrive at the splendor of the Hotel Roma, our home for the next two days.
Events were set up all over Modena and Maranello, celebrating Enzo’s many achievements; you could take a walking tour around Modena to see the locations of his first garage, which became the Scuderia Ferrari’s Alfa Romeo race shop (which is now a supermarket) just off the via Emilia. Nearby is the four-story apartment building Enzo lived in most of his adult life. An elegant downtown theater played non-stop films and newsreels (In Italian) of everything they could find about the man and his company. The central piazza next to Modena’s 14th century cathedral was turned into a display of vintage Ferrari race cars—entry to which was reserved for…ticket holders—and every downtown shop filled their windows with all sorts of Ferrari memorabilia. There were driving tours that anyone with wheels could take to see the locales where Enzo raced during the 1920s and other historical race courses in the nearby region.
The parking lot at the Ferrari Galleria museum in Maranello became the gathering place for attendees who had brought their Ferrari to the event. Quite a number of vintage 12-cylinder cars were there, but the vast majority were 328-and-later road cars. License plates from all over Europe were seen, plus some from Scandinavian countries, Japan, the Middle East and the USA. Many of the European cars had modified (open) exhausts and aftermarket wheels; they were also obviously not garage queens—they were dirty, chipped up and with plenty of kilometers on them. These guys buzzed up and down the via Abetone Inferiore in front of the factory, frequented the Cavallino and Montana restaurants and kept everybody on their toes anytime you wanted to walk across a street. Naturally, there was no sign of traffic enforcement, despite numerous light blue Alfa Polizia sedans that usually were just parked in the shade with snoozing officers inside. All they really care about are collaring drunks, lunch, and officiating at the occasional fender-bender. Truly enlightened civil policies.
Each evening the Ferrari factory was opened for tours—if you had a ticket—and the entire upper half of the Fiorano test track was opened for additional parking and there were elaborate displays and kiosks from Ferrari’s many suppliers and racing sponsors, all for the enjoyment of…ticket holders. A big tent right in the middle of Fiorano was an Italian interpretation of a Bavarian beer garden, and that’s where most of the German visitors camped out, albeit tanking up on Pironi and Moretti instead of Beck’s. There were numerous eight-foot diameter balloons that floated nearly a hundred feet above the crowd, tethered around the site adding to the carnival-like ambiance. Since Fiorano isn’t normally used at night—being close to several apartment blocks—there is no lighting equipment, but this weekend, after dark these balloons were illuminated from within and encouraged visitors to stay well into the evening. The Germans didn’t need much encouragement, and would go roaring (literally) back to their hotels only after the lights were finally turned out.
One of my most vivid memories from the trip was driving along the A4 Autostrada north out of Modena at the same time some of the out-of-country guests were arriving southbound in their Ferraris. Italian highways rarely have medians as we do; instead there will just be cable barriers or low concrete walls to separate the opposing lanes. Traveling in the inside lane, as fast as the Fiat would go, I could look far into the distance and occasionally see a glint of headlights coming toward me and a flash of brightly-colored paint. Almost immediately, a train of three or four Ferraris would blow by, just across the guard rail at well over 200 kph, all with their headlights on and only about ten feet apart. Couple that velocity with the 160kph the Fiat was struggling to maintain, and it was like the closing-fighter scenes in Top Gun!
At the end of the weekend, there was another gigantic car display for all the Ferraris on a soccer field just outside Modena before the guests scattered in all directions…..for ten years. At the end of June this year, Ferrari SpA is hosting their 60th anniversary celebration, and next month I’ll let you know how it compared. We are told that once again many different activities and events are being planned—for those who have pre-registered and will have tickets—along with a first-time-ever international dealer meeting for all Ferrari dealers world-wide. There will be factory tours, F-1 displays, rallies, car shows and….beer tents in the infield at Fiorano!
-- Bill Orth –