It very nearly never happened. Seven decades ago, Enzo Ferrari went into road-car manufacturing. But not initially because this was his true passion; rather, it was to fund his addictive love of motorsports. In 1947, when the first Ferrari-badged production car, the 125 S, saw the light of day, the race team, Scuderia Ferrari, was already almost 20 years old. Enzo himself was pushing 50.
Several generations of car fans will be grateful that history turned out like it did, however, because there is arguably no other motoring brand in the world that has been bought into with quite such enthusiasm, from multimillion-dirham car collectors to baseball-cap-donning children. To many, Ferrari isn't merely a car company – it's a lifestyle.
"Ferrari can't follow any trend. Every Ferrari is different," says Flavio Manzoni, the company's head of design, at the Ferrari Design centre. The factory, which also serves as Ferrari's headquarters, was established in Maranello, Italy, in the same year as the 125 S emerged.
It is hard to argue with Manzoni's point of view: across the room is Ferrari's superlative new 800hp supercar, the 812 Superfast, and a J50, the rather stunning, uber-limited-edition special project derived from the 488 Spider. They are possibly the most visually arresting Ferraris of the 21st century to date.
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In the nerve centre of Ferrari’s operations, special sights are plentiful, as you navigate internal roads named after Formula One champions from Ferrari’s decorated competitive history – Via Niki Lauda; a square dedicated to Michael Schumacher. Perhaps the most interesting glimpse during my visit is what appears to be a 488 Speciale in camouflage livery.
I'm taken on a guided tour around the Maranello site, which boasts a predominantly Italian workforce of 3,000 employees, with factory staff running assembly 24 hours a day, five days a week, with three shifts per day.
Despite the scale, though, this is far from mass-production drudgery. It is labour-intensive stuff: only a handful of working areas are robot-only, and, for example, it takes one mechanic one working day to assemble one V12 engine in its entirety.
All the cars on the assembly line are already sold – it's more or less a build-to-order business model. All engines are tested in the assembly-line building, while every completed car is given a thorough going-over on roads in and around Maranello.
Rows of chassis line the exteriors of several buildings; inside, I see the production line in action, assembling everything from the 812 Superfast and the last few examples of its predecessor, the F12berlinetta, to Californias, 488s and GTC4Lussos. The factory also produces engines for Maserati. There's a scale model of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi on the first floor of the engine-assembly plant. And among a handful of complete classics on show on the ground floor, to motivate the workers, is an unrestored 1962 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso. It is a car so cool that Steve McQueen used to own a 1963 model – a nod to Ferrari's illustrious past that continues to inform its future.
“The 70th anniversary has been a great opportunity to not only look at the future, but also to stop a little bit and look at our history,” says Enrico Galliera, Ferrari’s chief marketing and commercial officer. “In the words of our founder: the best Ferrari is the next one.”
He calls Ferrari's history "70 years of pleasure and emotion", and slouches in his chair with legs and arms outstretched to demonstrate the sports-car driving position that a Ferrari demands.
The company continues to maintain that it has no interest in joining its compatriots Lamborghini, Maserati and Alfa Romeo in the SUV arms race, amid swirls of rumours and sound bites suggesting otherwise.
The future isn't likely to include fully-automated or fully-electric Ferraris, either, according to Galliera.
"Self-driving is a need in the market," he says. "Cars that are going to go from point A to point B, driven by itself. But Ferrari is not [about] moving from point A to point B – Ferrari is having emotion. I keep thinking that in the world there is going to be every year 8,000 crazy people who want to have fun driving. So maybe in the future we will have to put [in] some of the new technological features that help the safety of the car – like the [automatic] braking systems. But whatever takes out the pleasure to drive is not Ferrari.
"Again, the electric [issue] – there is no secret that we are working on the hybrid technology. It's already in LaFerrari. Hybrid is going to be something that we have to look at, because it's the future. But the main mission is not developing the hybrid to reduce emissions – the main task is to increase the performance. The priority is to keep the pleasure.
Among such future-gazing, though, it's perhaps fitting that the last word should be on the late Enzo Ferrari himself, whose spirit lives on at the company, despite next year being the 30th anniversary of his death.
"There are so many stories." Manzoni says. "Always Piero, his son, is telling stories about him. I think he was an incredible man with several personalities. He was a different man in the company, in the family, outside with the journalists. Very tough, very clever. It was very clear for him who he wanted to become and what he wanted to create in his life.
"It is a company producing dreams. Ferrari is a myth. Ferrari is a legend."
Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari’s head of design, picks his top cars from a 70-year history
“I normally say [1960s Le Mans car] the 330 P3/P4, for me, is one of the most beautiful. I love this car. It’s really intriguing the fact that this car has been designed only for the races. Nevertheless, the shape is contoured, very sensual, powerful, iconic. And then there are so many elements: the air intake with this dropping line or the iconic shape of the ‘mouth’, the grille. The muscles. The car looks almost horizontal. Then I would say the 250 Berlinetta short-wheelbase from 1957 and probably [mid-1980s car] the 288 GTO.”