Fifty years ago next month (18 May 1965), we ate in the sunshine at the Ristorante Cavallino across the road from the factory in Maranello. He didn’t give interviews but I sent him a telegram, drove up to the big iron gate and rang the bell. Franco Gozzi came out and within the hour a keen young motoring hack had a scoop.
It was years before the real reason came out. Covering Formula 1, I knew Franco Lini well. We were members of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA) and he was briefly a Ferrari team manager. In 1965 I had turned up with a freshly-minted bride, 19 years old, blonde, mini-skirted and wide-eyed. Gozzi knew his Enzo. Over lunch the 67-year old beamed, gave her a Ferrari silk scarf, made out he could not understand me and never took his eyes off her.
I had imagined Dr Gozzi, Ferrari’s long-suffering PA, must have heard of Town, Michael Heseltine’s new London glossy, with pages of different-coloured paper, very trendy in 1965. It paid me, as motoring correspondent, to drive from London in my Singer Chamois, - about as new as my wife.
I didn’t tell Mr Ferrari that I had also arranged to meet Ferruccio Lamborghini. The upstart tractor manufacturer had just set up as a Ferrari rival in nearby Sant’ Agate Bolognese and I drove out in one of his new V12s. That was a scoop as well.
I met Ferrari several times. We corresponded when the Italian press picked up things I had written. I framed one letter with the great man’s scratchy signature in coloured ink. Test days at Fiorano came later, when you avoided demonstration laps with Ferrari’s test drivers devoted to scaring visiting journalists.
Scoop? Ferrari was inscrutable. He basked in it. In 1965 I had little idea of his history; I knew he could be difficult, irascible, he had a controversial lifetime in motor racing but I had only the haziest idea of the Scuderia Ferrari and the Alfa Romeo connections. The Fascist Party ticket he took out in 1934 never seemed to do him much good (or harm) and he was dismissive of the Commendatore title granted under Mussolini. Said he preferred Ingegnere, Engineer. Motor racing was his passion, even though he hardly attended races after 1945. The strain of watching his cars being driven, perhaps damaged, he told me, would be too much for him. He was lyrical about the virtues of the people of Modena, their gifts for engineering, for fast driving, without being modest enough to exclude himself from the eulogy. He was, after all, born there. And he was pleased to be regarded as a sort of father-figure in Maranello, where he had his “boutique” (“... please don’t call it a factory”) of low buildings round a gravelly courtyard, heavily shuttered with a massive steel fence and electric gate.
Best Ferrari apocrypha? A machine tool works in the war, Maranello was twice bombed and strafed by Allied aircraft. He once summoned Mike Parkes (1931-1977), English Ferrari driver son of Alvis chairman and distinguished engineer, when workmen discovered spent bullets in a roof space. Ferrari threw them on the desk. “I think these were from your side. You’d better have them back.”