La bella macchina: Why are old Ferrari cars fascinating?

We witness the marque's 70th anniversary in Maranello
by JV Colayco | May 15, 2018

'Convoys originating from places such as London, Prague, Frankfurt, Geneva and Monte Carlo— a total of close to 500 Ferraris—converged on Maranello, gathering in the parking lot just outside the fabled Fiorano circuit.' 

You don’t need to be a ‘car guy,’ much less even care about Formula 1, to know Ferrari. Along with the likes of Coca-Cola, Rolex, and Apple, it has transcended the category in which it operates, becoming part of our popular vocabulary. And if you are a petrolhead, then Ferrari is about as aspirational as it gets.

So when Marc Soong of Autostrada Motore asked me if I wanted to attend the brand’s 70th birthday party in Maranello, I said yes almost before he even finished asking the question. Taking place over a very special weekend last September, and aptly titled ‘Legend and Passion,’ it served as the culminating activity for a series of events conducted across the globe over the course of several months. It was a celebration of all things Ferrari, and featured some of the marque’s most prominent road and race cars from its illustrious history.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Convoys originating from places such as London, Prague, Frankfurt, Geneva and Monte Carlo—a total of close to 500 Ferraris—converged on Maranello, gathering in the parking lot just outside the fabled Fiorano circuit. The track itself would not be used for driving, but served as the grounds for a Concours d’Elegance showcasing over a hundred classic and historically significant Ferraris competing for various class awards.

An auction of many rare Ferraris—including some one-offs— managed RM Sotheby’s was a much-anticipated highlight of the weekend. It resulted in a new world record for a 21st-century car at auction: over $10 million for the final build slot, schedule for later in 2018, for the LaFerrari Aperta hypercar. A massive outdoor stage was built, upon which the vehicles could be driven for all present to see, and for those participating in the auction to bid.

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PHOTO: JV Colayco

In the evening, the same stage hosted what can only be described as a unique mash-up of a multimedia presentation, performance art, live concert, and car show. With images projected on a screen so large it would make an IMAX theater feel inadequate, the show paid tribute to every major era in Ferrari’s history, as well as all its F1 drivers past and present: Ascari and Fangio, Lauda and Mansell, Raikkonen and Vettel, and of course, the one and only Michael Schumacher. Luminaries of the Ferrari universe, including Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, as well as Vettel and Raikkonen, were present. Grammy Award-winning artist—and noted Ferrari collector—Jay Kay of Jamiroquai provided a suitably festive ending.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Maranello, with a population of fewer than 20,000, could be any one of those sleepy Italian towns that nobody would ever have heard of, were it not the birthplace and headquarters of the most famous automobile marque on the planet. Its history and identity are inexorably linked with Ferrari, which has been based here since the firm’s first road car was produced in 1947.

The roads surrounding the factory gates, the Ristorante Cavallino (where old man Enzo and every famous Ferrari F1 driver have dined), and the Ferrari Museum are lined with cafes and gift shops emblazoned with Ferrari logos and selling all manner of brand merchandise. And if you fancy experiencing firsthand what it is like to get behind the wheel of a Prancing Horse, there are numerous establishments offering rentals for the day.

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But as much as the town is steeped in Ferrari lore, it’s the cars that we’re here for. It was a long bus ride from the hotel to the factory, but any fatigue and jet lag faded away as soon as we arrived at Fiorano.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Not far from the press gate were some of Ferrari’s latest and greatest offerings. On prominent display was the just-unveiled Portofino, which replaces the California T, and parked nearby is a LaFerrari hypercar. A larger display featured the 812 Superfast. But something else caught my eye: an entire line of Ferrari F40s.

I’m a child of the ’80s, so it’s not surprising that the F40 is one of my absolute hero cars. It commemorated the firm’s 40th anniversary (hence the name), and was the last Ferrari road car to be introduced under Enzo Ferrari himself. It was the first road-going Ferrari to feature extensive carbon-fiber construction, as well as the first to be designed explicitly with aerodynamics in mind. And it is arguably the first Ferrari ‘hypercar,’ even though the term had not yet been invented.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Once I’d picked my jaw off the ground, I began to notice the other cars. Almost every major family of regular production Ferraris, through to the F40 and including the F50 and Enzo hypercars, were represented.

Enzo Ferrari hadn’t really planned on making road cars, but he was forced to do so to fund his racing efforts. Thus came the birth of the 166, the 195 and the 212s of the late ’40s and early ’50s. Before long, Ferrari was a purveyor of custom toys to the rich and famous, and, working with illustrious Italian coachbuilders, produced the iconic 250 GT line, a racing variant of which, to this day, holds the world record for the most expensive car ever sold. Produced in very small numbers, and immensely fascinating for the markedly different design direction adopted by Ferrari for the US market, the huge, front-engined V12 America and Superamerica models were another high point of the show for me.

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PHOTO: JV Colayco

There was a large collection of Dino models as well—the six-cylinder, mid-engined Ferraris designed to compete with cheaper rivals like the Porsche 911. And from the ’70s are the 365 ‘Daytona’ (once known as the world’s fastest car) as well as the exceptionally rare 365 and 512 ‘Berlinetta Boxers.’ The ‘BB,’ as it came to be known, was the first mid-engined V12 Ferrari, and was created in response to the Lamborghini Miura.

What makes these old cars so fascinating? First off, these classics are rolling works of art, wherein form didn’t simply follow function; the two existed on equal footing, at the very least. Whether penned by Pinin Farina, Scaglietti, or Vignale, these classics were designed without computers and were intended to please the senses first—meaning they had to look good.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Second, these cars were truly hand-built, with metal panels lovingly shaped and polished by craftsmen and artisans. My visit to the factory emphasized that modern Ferraris still have a bit of the human touch, specifically in the beautiful hand-stitched interior leatherwork. But with size and scale comes mass production, and though the quality and reliability of today’s Ferrari are infinitely better than those of their forebears, there’s no denying that the modern cars don’t have the cache of these genuinely custom-made masterpieces.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Also, many of these cars have unique stories to tell. For instance, when the event’s class-winning 288 GTO was acquired new in 1985, the current owner was a young boy, accompanying his father to pick up the unit. At the awarding ceremony that weekend at Fiorano, his own kids—to whom he would no doubt pass on the car someday—accompanied him. And the one-off Daytona that went on to sell for a record €1.8 million was recently discovered in a barn in Japan, and sold literally as is, covered in four decades of mud and dust. Amazing stories to go with amazing cars.

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Of course, these cars are also all extremely rare. It goes without saying that they are all also incredible to drive. This statement must obviously be taken in context, as any modern Ferrari goes faster, handles better, stops in a shorter distance, and packs more computing power than was used to send man to the moon. This makes them faster and safer, but as has been pointed out by many, it partly removes the driver from the equation. You need only watch some YouTube videos of a classic Ferrari 250GTO being piloted on a racetrack, and you’ll see how much effort and skill was needed to drive one of these old cars properly.

PHOTO: JV Colayco

Finally, we shall simply never see their like ever again. These are precious artifacts of times long gone, when an automobile company could be built around one man’s obsessive love for racing, and the cars he produced were intended solely to titillate the senses and set your heart aflutter behind the wheel, without regard for such mundane matters as practicality, fuel economy or safety regulations.

Of course, this isn’t to say that modern Ferraris are any less desirable. By any objective measure, today’s Prancing Horses are far more superior cars than these classics. They’re safer, more practical, more comfortable, and more efficient—and yet offer a level of performance that Enzo Ferrari himself would scarcely believe. As with all things, the Ferraris of those bygone years are products of their time, and all the more romantic for that.

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PHOTO: JV Colayco

The current 488 GTB, 812 Superfast, and LaFerrari Aperta are all dream cars, and perfect for the conditions that prevail in 2018. They may not enjoy the handcrafted cache, rarity, and historical provenance of their great forebears on display that special weekend in Fiorano, but they share the same passion and bloodline that make up the birthright of every car to proudly wear that Prancing Horse badge. They may not “build ’em like they used to,” but with regulators around the world increasingly pushing for the end of the internal-combustion engine, it’s a pretty sure bet that in the decades to come, many of today’s Ferraris will enjoy the same reverence and adulation as these classics.

I just need to figure out how to own one!

PHOTO: JV Colayco

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