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The day I met Enzo Ferrari: Part one

3 years ago

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Mel Nichols | Journalist


24 April 2021

Enzo Ferrari reached across his desk and pressed a button on a little control panel. Instantly his office door opened and his attendant scurried in. Ferrari spoke gruffly, turned back to me and continued talking.

The attendant shot out and returned carrying something. It wasn’t right. Ferrari snapped at him. When he came back, Ferrari snatched the thing and passed it to me. He saw my surprise – I wasn’t expecting a gift – and a faint smile creased his rugged face. The object was a polystyrene box containing a big yellow ashtray with that rampant black horse in its centre.

It was May 1973 and I was in Enzo’s office at the end of my first visit to Maranello. At 6.30pm, while I was in the racing department watching earnest mechanics poring over the (miserable) 312 B3 F1 racers and (brilliant) 312 PB sports cars, Dottore Franco Gozzi, Ferrari’s right-hand man, beckoned and said: ‘We must hurry now – Mr Ferrari is waiting to see you.’

In the drab admin block near the main gate we stepped through the attendant’s antechamber into a long, sparse room. Enzo’s big black desk was on the left. Nothing adorned the dull blue walls except a portrait of Alfredo – Dino – Ferrari’s son who’d died at 24 of muscular dystrophy in 1956. It faced his father’s desk, permanently lit by three lamps: green, red and white.

As I neared, Enzo rose, still a big man at 75, with an elegant bearing despite, now, a slight stoop. He grasped my hand with a steely grip. His high forehead and pushed-back white hair made him seem as if he were sitting high in an open car, going fast. The craggy features, with the jutting nose, were drawn and frail after recent illness. But his unnerving eyes were untouched and peered through the celebrated dark glasses. He indicated the chair on the left, with Franco to the right, ready to translate.

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