I felt great excitement as I went to the meeting: I was going to visit a mythical place in in automotive history. I was nervous, but curiosity got the best of me. I was a little incredulous about the hype that surrounds this place. This part of Italy is humid, and it was raining when I got there. There was heavy traffic on the highways and on the side streets. The fertile fields were dotted with two story cottages, the kind one imagines when someone mentions Tuscany. So far everything was normal. My expectation was suddenly awaken when my bus crossed a sign that indicated I had arrived to my destination: Maranello.
The bus entered the town through a narrow road, whose edges ended virtually where the houses began. I searched eagerly, hoping to see flags and cavallinos everywhere. I found some, but not as many as I had anticipated. The first thing that really caught my attention was a man in the street all dressed in red; there was no doubt that everything he wore had something to do with Ferrari. A short distance ahead, sitting in front of a bar and drinking a coffee, I met another person dressed in a similar way. “These people are really crazy about this brand”, I thought. Soon after I was told they were not Ferrari fans, those men actually worked for Ferrari. At the manufacturing plant there is a dressing room where they can keep their uniforms and change when they arrive to work. But they are so proud to work for this company that they wear them all the time, so other people will know how fortunate they are. I began to realize that this place was very special.
The Ferrari factory is like a small city. It consists of large rectangular buildings of metal and glass exteriors, with a modern but discreet design. If you walk around the 165,000 square meters of greenery, you’ll find expansive gardens with hundreds of plant species, such as candelabrum aloe, blue pansies and wild pinks.
Here the streets and squares are named after special personalities in the company’s history of the company: Niki Lauda, Enzo Ferrari, Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio… the workers use red bicycles to move between sections. Everything reminds you of where you are, even garbage cans are adorned with an engraved silver cavallino rampante. There are moments when you stop being aware that you’re in a large factory because the silence envelops it all; It is only broken by the distant sound of the V12 engine of a car that is being tested, and that in this place is like hearing birdsong. “If I worked here, I would sleep in my uniform,” I thought.
Production areas separate the buildings. V6, V8 and V12 engines are manufactured in some, and others are devoted to the assembly of sports cars: from the chassis to the last interior detail. It doesn’t matter which zone you visit; everything is so clean that you could almost eat on the floor. All the process of elaboration is done by hand; here, modern, sophisticated machines take a back seat to simple tools. The working pace is surprising, no one stands still but there is no stress. You do not have the feeling of being in an industrial plant; it feel more like a craft workshop, where every employee takes the necessary time to do perform their work thoroughly until it is perfect. Haste makes no sense. Could Michelangelo been able to sculpt David or La Pieta under stress? In this place works of art are also being created.
The interior is one of the parts of the car, which requires more detailed attention. Each and every one of the pieces that form the cockpit is individually lined by hand with the precise type of leather. Everything depends on the workers hands, because they almost never use machines or tools. Seeing this kind of work, you start to think that these superb sports cars are not expensive at all. It takes four days to build a Ferrari. Around 30 cars are produced every day, a very small number if you compare it to the 1,500 cars that are manufactured daily at an average size factory of a brand like Fiat o Peugeot.
Last year Ferrari sold only 7,318 sports cars and earned 244 million euros, a tiny amount compared to the 22 billion euros earned by Volkswagen during the same period. This Italian company has the best brand image in the automotive world. Why don’t they use this advantage to achieve better results? They would only need to make more cars. But they are very aware that this would break the spirit of the brand. “We will produce fewer cars the next few years to maintain the quality and value of our products”, admitted the President of Ferrari, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. We all understood his reasons.
A brand that was born in 1929 has to maintain its history with love. For this reason, Ferrari devotes a building in its factory to the restoration of classical models. If handwork is important in the current vehicles’ assembly line, here it is much more relevant. The models that arrive are cared for as they would in an old neighborhood workshop, i.e. on an individual basis. If one needs a new part, Ferrari will manufacture it exclusively for it. Here time runs slower; a restoration usually takes between six and 12 months, depending on the condition of the vehicle. When I peeked through this area, I was lucky to see a Ferrari 250 GTO made in the 1960s. Its owner paid $30 million for it at a recent auction. The factory considers that after restoration, its price would jump to around $50 million. They did not reveal the name of the lucky owner or the cost of the work.
The nearly three-hour journey through Maranello seemed too short. I wanted to know more details, hear more anecdotes… As my bus was leaving town, again I saw a man dressed with the red uniform. He looked at me and I smiled at him. My initial disbelief had turned into passion. Had I become a ferrarista in just one day? No, it is just that now I understand everything. I understand the unconditional love of a country for these cars… and everybody´s longing to have one. ■