‘In Italy, There Was the Pope and Then There Was Enzo Ferrari’
Posted April 26, 2018 8:17 p.m. EDT
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Luca Dal Monte is eyeing the 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB sitting on the shop floor here at Dominick’s European Car Repair. He has traveled from his home in Milan to promote his latest book, a biography of the car’s namesake, Enzo Ferrari.
The 954-page scholarly tome (over 1,000 pages in Italian) has received rave reviews in Italy since it came out in 2016, and has been optioned for an Italian miniseries. (According to Il Giornale, an Italian-language newspaper based in Milan, the book reads like a novel.) David Bull Publishing recently released an English-language version of the book — “Enzo Ferrari: Power, Politics and the Making of an Automotive Empire” — in the United States.
Dal Monte, an American-ophile who was the head of Ferrari’s North American press office from 2001 to 2005, wrote the book in Italian and translated it himself into English for a U.S. audience. He met me here at this mecca for Italian cars and their admirers, outside New York City. We’re going for a spirited drive through Westchester County in the limited production 12-cylinder automobile that he’s presently admiring.
The steel gray coupe is a fitting emblem with which to remember Ferrari the man, along with the business he founded almost 70 years ago. Like most Ferraris, the car is stunning and not cheap: It cost $14,000 when it was built more than 50 years ago and might bring as much as $3.5 million from a collector today were it for sale, underscoring one reason Ferrari has been called the world’s most powerful luxury brand.
The company’s success owes everything to its founder, who was born in 1898, and had little formal education. He was inspired to become a race-car driver after seeing Felice Nazzaro win the 1908 Circuito di Bologna. But it wasn’t until after World War II, at the age of 49, that he created his car company.
Ferrari is often remembered solely as cold and calculating, with his trademark trench coat and dark sunglasses. But Dal Monte wants readers to see the genius that Ferrari possessed. Yes, he was stubborn, but he was driven and determined to be successful.
He used his charm and intelligence to get others to invest in him, said Dal Monte, who saw these qualities in Ferrari’s personal correspondence and his relationship with his sons, Alfredo “Dino,” who died in 1956 at the age of 24 from muscular dystrophy, and Piero, who was born out of wedlock to Ferrari’s longtime mistress, Lina Lardi. (Ferrari’s wife, Laura, suffered severe depression her entire life, and though he had affairs with other women, they remained married until she died in 1978. Ferrari never remarried and died in 1988.)
“In Italy, there was the pope and then there was Enzo,” Dal Monte said as we drove north on New York Route 22, which hugs the state’s border with Connecticut. The GTB’s V-12 engine screams with sophisticated mellifluous authority as revs climb, but Dal Monte is used to speaking over mechanical commotion. “When I was in middle school, I became fascinated with Enzo.” He remembers as a teenager in the late 1970s taking an hourlong train ride from his hometown, Cremona, to Modena early one morning with his brother, just to catch a glimpse of Ferrari having his morning shave at a barbershop. Ferrari stared out at them staring in at him, and smiled.
“Even then he was the Grand Old Man, not just of motor racing, but also of the country. You could hear him call in on some of the early TV automotive racing shows and discuss to the point of shouting with the talk show host in order to defend his cars and his drivers — more the cars than the drivers, actually.”
Dal Monte has always loved sports cars, but his fascination with Ferrari goes beyond that. “It was his lifelong struggle to succeed, to become someone, to beat the odds, to go down in history that intrigued me,” he said.
What the book does not capture is the circuitous route Dal Monte took going from Cremona to wrangling reporters in the United States, the world’s largest market for Ferrari, or how he came to write this comprehensive book.
Dal Monte said it all goes back to his second great love (after cars and Ferrari): all things American. When he was a senior in high school, he spent a year as an exchange student in Kentucky and later attended the University of Kentucky, majoring in U.S. history while writing for the student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel.
Though his first impulse was to become a journalist after graduating, when he returned to Italy, he was offered a plum job as a top executive in Peugeot’s Italian press office. Dal Monte said that his fluency in English and his knowledge of U.S. culture helped him professionally at an early age and eventually got him the job at Ferrari.
Dal Monte had met Antonio Ghini, Ferrari’s spokesman in Italy, while visiting the company’s archives to research his first book about Formula One racing, which came out in Italy in 1999. In spring 2001, Dal Monte remembers, Ghini asked him: “'How would you like to go back home? How would you like to go back for Ferrari?’ And what do you think my reply was? ‘When can I start?’ ”
His duties grew to include overseeing the U.S. relaunch of the Maserati brand, owned by this time, like Ferrari, by Fiat. But more the historian and journalist at heart than a marketing man, Dal Monte liked writing. His position with Maserati, which brought him back to Italy, gave him access to a wide range of primary materials. “One of the greatest assets in my research was the Alfa Romeo archives in Arese, near Milan.” There he found Enzo Ferrari’s personnel file from when Ferrari managed the company’s race team. These files documented Ferrari’s importance to Alfa Romeo, the great Italian racing power.
Dal Monte’s sense of history, however, was not solely grounded in dusty file folders and old racing scorecards. In addition to archival research, he moved to Modena, where Ferrari is based, a working city that also serves as a shrine to the man and his automobiles. There he met and befriended many figures from Ferrari’s life over the course of the eight years it took him to write this book.
Still, “American politics is my real passion, and American history,” Dal Monte confessed. In Italy, his book is titled “Ferrari Rex,” a reference to Edmund Morris’ three-part well-regarded biography of Teddy Roosevelt, “Theodore Rex.” “My aim was high, to do for Ferrari what Morris did for Roosevelt.”
It’s a tall order, but for now, the book stands as the definitive biography of one of the Automobile Age’s most remarkable men. One thing Ferrari understood, Dal Monte concluded, was the value for a luxury brand of keeping its products scarce, or as Ferrari put it in December 1966: “At the end of the year, we will have sold fewer cars than last year, but made more money.” The ever-growing value of the car we’re streaking back down the parkway in underscores the point — one Ferrari’s current caretakers would, Dal Monte said, “do well to remember.” Given the rain and unfamiliar roads, Dal Monte declined to drive the 275 GTB, the original Italian stallion, leaving the honors to me. But as he launched his book promotion tour here in the United States, Dal Monte was clearly comfortable, back in his home away from home, and ready to roll.