A Short History of Ferrari

In the pantheon of automotive history, few names ignite the passion, emotion and devotion like Ferrari. The very mention of this iconic brand conjures images of sumptuous supercars, a racing pedigree unlike any other and of course, the famous prancing horse. Read on to discover the astonishing history of Ferrari.

Automotive History
13 September 2023

The legend of Ferrari is more than just speed or luxury—it’s also inherently bound by the indomitable spirit of its founder, Enzo Ferrari, who turned his dreams into reality. From the winding back streets of Modena to the global spotlight, the history of Ferrari is one of tenacity, innovation, and sheer audacity.

Whether it’s recalling the first glimpse of a 250 GT or a Testarossa, the exhilaration of witnessing F1 legends like Fangio, Lauda or Schumacher celebrated by the passionate tifosi, or the very mention of the names Maranello and Enzo, Ferrari transcends being merely a car manufacturer. For countless enthusiasts, it’s a way of life.

In this article, we’ll look at the Ferrari model history as well as evoking the passion and excitement of the history of Scuderia Ferrari.

So how did Ferrari transform from a small racing team into a global phenomenon? It all started with the dreams of a ten year-old boy.

The Story of Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari at his desk, circa 1955 (Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

The history of Ferrari is the history of its founder. Enzo Ferrari was born in the northern Italian town of Modena in 1898, very close to the birthplace of future nemesis Ferruccio Lamborghini. He had little in the way of formal education but in 1908 at the age of ten, he watched racing driver Felice Nazzaro win the Circuit de Bologna and decided there and then to become a racing driver.

After an early discharge from the Italian Army due to a severe bout of flu during the end of World War I — a pandemic that claimed the lives of his father Alfredo and older brother, Alfredo Jr — he sought employment in the burgeoning car industry.

After being turned down for a job by Fiat — ironically a company that would come to part-own Ferrari in years to come — he got a job as a test driver for a long forgotten Milan-based car company called CMN, or Construzioni Meccaniche Nazionali. He was soon promoted to works driver and his competitive debut came in the 1919 Parma-Poggio di Berceto hillclimb.

A year later, he was driving for Alfa Romeo and enjoyed some success. However in 1929, he founded Modena-based Scuderia Ferrari. History was about to be made.

Italian for ‘stable’, scuderia was the name of the company set up, in close collaboration with Alfa Romeo, to allow owner-drivers to race in competitions. Enzo drove for a couple of years but retired from racing in 1931 to focus on both the business and his new-born son Alfredo, known to the world as Dino.

During the 1930s, Enzo Ferrari took charge of Alfa’s racing division. However, for a number of bureaucratic reasons, the two parted company in 1939. Enzo wanted to set up an eponymous company but a clause in his contract prohibited him from using the name Ferrari for four years.

He set up Auto Avio Construzioni and, in 1947, moved his centre of operations to Maranello. This is where the history of Ferrari and its most famous cars really starts.

The First Ferrari Cars

A Ferrari 125 S (Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The first car to bear the Ferrari name was the 125 S, a beautiful 1.5-litre V12 roadster. Only two were produced, and in the company’s early years the difference between their road cars and the racing cars was so small as to be rendered almost insignificant. In fact Enzo Ferrari was barely interested in producing cars for the road, his focus was winning races. However Ferrari’s on-track success was fuelling the public’s desire for road cars and he relented.

Grand tourers in the shape of the 166 Inter, 195 Inter and 212 Inter were released in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1953, during a transition from a small number of hand-built cars to series production, the 250 series designed by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina was launched. It was the first incarnation of what many consider to be the most beautiful car ever made, the Ferrari 250 GT.

In 1956, the history of Ferrari was beset by tragedy. Enzo’s son Dino, who helped develop the company’s iconic V6 engine, died of muscular dystrophy at the tender age of 24.

The Ups & Downs of Ferrari

Fiorano test track (Credit: GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The race team enjoyed remarkable success in Formula 1 in the 1950s and 1960s, however the road car business at the same time – despite the style benchmark set by the 250 GT, the 250 Testa Rossa and the stunning 275 GTB4 – was floundering.

Ferrari history as we know it was threatened. The company was losing market share to the larger-than-life Americans in the guise of Carroll Shelby’s brutally fast Cobra and the sensational Ford GT4. After talks with Ford to buy Ferrari dramatically broke down, Enzo sold 50% of his beloved business to Fiat in 1969, and the cash injection allowed Ferrari to dominate the supercar market once again.

Ferrari built the famous Fiorano test track close to the Maranello factory and launched the 365 GT/4, as stereotypical a 1970s sports car as there ever was. The Carrozzeria Scaglietti design house was incorporated into Ferrari in the 1970s and they started to churn out cars in very high numbers. One of the last of the 1970s Ferraris was the automatic 400i. As the 1980s arrived, Ferrari were back on top with some truly mind-blowing cars.

Red is the Colour

Close-up view of a Ferrari red car logo. (Credit: Edward Berthelot via Getty Images)

The sensational 4.9-litre flat-12, 180 mph Ferrari Testarossa (literally ‘red head’ so named for the red-painted cam covers) was followed up by the even more dramatic F40, at the time the most powerful production car ever built. The 2.9-litre twin-turbo V8 was astonishing and it paved the way for the modern history of Ferrari to take shape.

Enzo Ferrari died in 1988 — the F40 was the last car he personally signed off — and Luca di Montezemolo took charge, overseeing the golden age of Scuderia Ferrari history in the shape of Michael Schumacher’s all-conquering domination. As well as masterminding F1 success — Schumacher’s 2000 championship win was the team’s first since Jody Scheckter in 1979 — di Montezemolo reinvigorated the road car business.

From Analogue to Electric - The Evolution of Ferrari

The Ferrari SF90 Stradale (Credit: Martyn Lucy / Contributor via Getty Images)

The Ferrari car history has evolved dramatically from the early days of the 125 S to today’s hybrid hypercars. The 1990s welcomed the F40’s big brother, the 4.7-litre V12 F50. That was followed up by the 6.0-litre V12 Enzo carrying tech straight out of Ferrari’s F1 cars, including ceramic brakes and a carbon fibre body.

Ferrari carried on the trend of making beautiful, immensely fast mid-engined supercars all through the 2000s, with the 360, 430, 458 and the California. The range also included swooping front-engined grand tourers like the 599 and the 612 Scaglietti.

Today, Ferrari’s range of sublime cars includes mid-engined speed machines like the F8, Roma and the 812 Superfast and limited production ultra high performance sports cars like the Monza SP1 and SP2 and the Daytona SP3.

They also launched the company’s first four-door production car, the 6.5-litre, 715 hp V12 Purosangue. It’s Ferrari’s first foray into the SUV market and was created to compete with the Lamborghini Urus and the Aston Martin DBX.

The Ferrari model history is also now expanding with hybrid cars. Among them are the V8 SF90 Stradale and the three-litre, twin-turbocharged 296. Additionally, the LaFerrari, equipped with a 6.3-litre V12 paired with an electric motor using F1 KERS technology, boasts an impressive 950 hp. This model can reach a reported top speed of 218 mph and accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds.

The Legacy of Ferrari

A detail view of a Ferrari logo in the Paddock. (Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Staff via Getty Images)

Tracing the history of Ferrari is akin to embarking on a journey through the annals of automotive excellence.

From its humble inception in the alleys of Modena to its global prominence on racetracks and roads, Ferrari has been a testament to the power of dreams, innovation, and unyielding passion.

The prancing horse logo — Cavallino Rampante — is an instantly recognisable emblem of luxury, speed, design and engineering prowess. For all its achievements and challenges, Ferrari, as a brand, business and concept, is not just about cars. It’s about heritage, ambition, and the relentless pursuit of perfection.


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