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Ferrari during WWII

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#1 Alvega

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Posted 10 February 2001 - 20:51

The life and work of Enzo Ferrari, before and after WWI, is probably one of the most extensively studied topics in the world of motorsport.

However, his activities during the conflict do not deserve any kind of particular attention in most of the literature that I have consulted on this subject.

So, what was he doing in this period. What were his thoughts on the ongoing war, his plans for the future, what did he do for a living ?

From what I've been reading it appears that he was somehow involved in manufacturing machine tools. Is this true ? What kind of machine tools ?

Thanks in advance for some tips on this subject and also on possible sources for more in-depht information.


#2 David M. Kane

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Posted 10 February 2001 - 22:10

I just moved so all my books are still packed. But if I recalled in Graham Gauld's "Modena Racing Memories" it was
used, as you said, as a tool making factory. Regardless,
check that book out, its great.

#3 Zawed

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Posted 10 February 2001 - 22:54

Brock Yates book "Ferrari" would tell you, I think he was involved in manufacturing. I can't remember 100% though it was ages ago I read that book.

#4 Michael Müller

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Posted 10 February 2001 - 23:17

On 1 September 1939 Enzo Ferrari founded “Auto-Avio Costruzioni di Ferrari, Enzo” at Modena. Believe the background and details of the 2 Auto-Avio 815 cars is well known. When Italy entered the war, also Ferrari’s factory was ordered to produce war-important items, so building sports cars was out of question. Ferrari first manufactured engines for small training aircraft, and later ball-bearing machine tools licenced from Germany. Business went extremely well, and soon he employed about 100 workers. In 1943 the Modena industrial area was one of the prime targets of allied bombers, so Ferrari was forced to move his factory by order of government. His wife owned some land 16 kms south of Modena at a village called Maranello, so this place was chosen as new home. Also this factory was bombed 2 times, first in October 1944, and also in February 1945.
Demand for ball-bearings and consequently machines to manufacture them dwindled after the war, but Ferrari had earned sufficient money to continue his dream, the building of prime sports and racing cars.

#5 Alvega

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Posted 11 February 2001 - 00:44

Thank you very much for the info and tips.

I wonder, could it be that some of those machine tools still exist today somewhere in an old factory or industrial museum ?

#6 Gil Bouffard

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Posted 12 February 2001 - 03:47

This is a long post but it answers two questions.

1. Why did Ferrari dispose of his racing cars.

2. What did he do during the war.

Ferrari left Alfa Romeo in 1939.

From: FERRARI – A MEMORY by Gino Rancati (1989 Motorbooks International)

"Thus Ferrari returned to Modena feeling 'almost ferociously attached to my home town.' He immediately founded Auto Avio Costruzzoni [Auto-aviation construction]. He was alone and he remembered what his father often used to tell him: 'A company is perfect when the number of partners is uneven and less than three.' Many years later he would make less use of this rule, but by then he had changed and was desperately trying to arrange the continuation of his company.

Ferrari's first project in his new situation was to produce a racing-car for the 1940 Mille Miglia held on the fast Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Brescia route. Since Ferrari could not give his name to the car, he called it '815', as it had an 8-cylinder engine with a capacity Of 1500cc.

Some years later, the Maserati brothers too would find they were not able to give their name to the cars they made in Bologna. In 1947, the brothers, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto completely abandoned the company to the Orsi family from Modena on condition that the brothers could no longer use the name Maserati. In this way, the OSCA, or Officina Specializzata Costruzioni Automobili [Specialized Automobile- Construction Workshop], came into being at San Lazzaro di Savena.

(Two 815’s were built and entered in the Mille Miglia. They didn’t get far and retired quickly.)

Unfortunately both of these cars have disappeared without trace. I often asked Ferrari why he didn't keep these important cars, the ones that had given him the most satisfaction. He always told me that he could not allow himself such a luxury, because if you want to run a museum, you need money. But perhaps the real reason was different: once a car had stopped racing, he considered it a dead creature that could no longer do anything for him. Once the car had performed its function, it was to be destroyed, erased. Memories serve no purpose. The experience gained from a car remained on paper, on the drawing board. The physical image was perhaps only a homage to what it had once been and Ferrari had no use for romantic relics. What his cars had given him remained inside, in his heart and mind. At least, this is what I assume.

The race, at which I was an enthusiastic spectator on the Cremona bend between the roads to Brescia and Mantua, was won by a BMW driven by the German pair, Huscke von Hanstein and Baumer. The Baron von Hanstein, who was to be well known in the motor-racing world after the war as Porsche's racing manager, wore overalls with the SS insignia on them.

When Ferrari was starting his memoirs he asked me whether it would be a good idea to publish the photograph showing von Hanstein after he won the Mille Miglia. I replied that I did not think so. He 'obeyed' me. Then, in the following editions, the photograph suddenly appeared. A typical example of Ferrari's attention to detail - nothing more.

It was not that he had anything against the Baron from Stuttgart, but the idea of showing him wearing the unpopular insignia appealed. In fact he had cordial relations with von Hanstein, both when the latter was racing manager for Porsche and when he joined the small group of men who ran the international sport of motor-racing.

In 1943, AAC moved to Maranello (leaving the Scuderia at Modena), a small town 17km from the city on trunk road number 12 between Abetone and Brennero, at the foot of the Appenines. Just over 100 workers were employed, a large number of them women. Small 4-cylinder engines for training aircraft and petrol driven grinding machines were made. There was no shortage of work, but it was a humiliation for Ferrari to have to produce 'objects' that were so different from cars.

He remembers: 'I moved to Maranello at the end of 1943 because of the industrial decentralization law that was imposed on factories. I had about forty workers at Modena and this number increased considerably in the course of the war, so that I could eventually count on 140-160 at Maranello. There were no shares in the new firm, it was private. Why Maranello? I chose this place at the foot of the so-called Gothic Line because I owned a piece of land in the immediate vicinity of the site of the present factory.'

This piece of land was then used for growing fruit, especially cherries, and now it is the site of the Fiorano track, which is famous throughout the world, being the highly sophisticated test site for Ferrari racing and GT cars.

Ferrari's account continues: 'The years that followed were very useful in terms of experience, although they were painful because there was obviously no room for motorcars. I started to work for the Compagnia Nazzonale Aeronautica [National Aeronautic Company] in Rome, making small 4-cylinder engines for flying school aircraft used to train future pilots. Then one of my colleagues, Enrico Nardi, who would later also become a manufacturer, introduced me to an agreeable friend of his from Turin, Corrado Gatti. Gatti was a dealer in machine tools and asked me to make petrol-driven grinding machines of various types copied from German models. These machines were needed in particular for the manufacture of ball bearings.

'I asked the Germans for a manufacturing license, but they politely refused, explaining that they could not grant that sort of license, since these machines were too complex and they - the Germans - were unable to offer adequate technical assistance for their production. However, my lawyer informed me that under then current Italian law I was able to reproduce these machines, since they had not been made in Italy, without committing any offence. So I set to work, humbly copying. The reproduction was so faithful that an important figure in one of the big national industries wrote to me saying: "The grinding-machines you have provided are just as effective as the originals."

'On the 8th September 1944, when the Germans arrived at the Ferrari workshop at Maranello to draw up an inventory, the commanding officer, an engineer who was well-known for his previous technical and business activities in Italy, paid me this compliment. "Signor Ferrari, I know that you make excellent German grinding machines and so all the ones you make will be requisitioned by us". Evidently the lack of manufacturing license, of consultation and of technical drawings, had not prevented me from producing machines whose reputation had spread beyond the borders. The end of the war did not find me unprepared, despite the fact that my workshop had been bombed on the 4th November 1944 and again in the following February. I had continued to develop projects for racing cars and when the storm had passed I hurriedly got rid of the machine tools.'

The factory then consisted of some long and low hangars arranged in a triangle and this remains the basic structure of Ferrari today."

#7 Alvega

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Posted 12 February 2001 - 20:29


Excelent stuff ! This very much answers my question.

Intriguing the feelings Enzo had on his old racing cars. As far as I know there is actually one surviving example of the 1940 Tipo 815 at the Galeria Ferrari.

#8 karlcars

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Posted 12 February 2001 - 23:54

These are some paragraphs that may be relevant from my new book, Classic Grand Prix Cars:


“The end of the war did not find me altogether unprepared.” Thus spake Enzo Ferrari, who had taken his first tentative steps toward building cars in his own right in 1940 after a decade of running his Scuderia Ferrari, the official Alfa Romeo racing team. Ferrari, like his contemporaries, had not let the hostilities pass without thinking about motor racing. After Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 he produced small aero engines for training planes before starting to manufacture fine grinding machines, copied from German originals, that were unique in Italy and very much in demand.
In 1943, to meet the requirements of an industrial decentralisation edict, Ferrari moved his plant from Modena to a nearby town where he had some land and a small summer house in Maranello. There he established a superb small factory which he converted instantly to racing-car manufacture at the end of the war, remedying the damage that had been caused by air raids in November 1944 and February 1945.
These were not the only Italians who worked during the war to keep the nation’s great racing patrimony intact. Racing driver Piero Dusio for example was planting the seeds that would bloom as Cisitalia after V-E Day. As Briton John Lloyd wrote, “The Italians...had of course one less year of war than the other contestants and do not take war seriously enough to exhaust their total wealth and manpower in its following as it was necessary for us to do to secure victory.”
Early in 1938 the first Type 158 cars were being completed in Ferrari’s shops in Modena. Before they were raced, Alfa Romeo took over Ferrari’s complete organisation and hired him to run its own new racing department, Alfa Corse. Their new Voiturette was the first eight-cylinder model to be built specifically for that class, its in-line engine having a gear train up the front to twin overhead cams operating two valves per cylinder.
The 158’s engine and its rear-mounted four-speed transaxle were carried by an oval-tube frame, suspended by Porsche-type trailing arms at the front and swing axles at the back and sprung at both ends by transverse leaf springs. It was a spare, trim car, ambitious in its basic conception and very simply executed by people obviously aware that they would have to service it as well as build and race it.
These cars first raced on 7 August 1938 at Livorno, winning, and apart from the usual teething troubles showed their superiority in other races and victories up to a one-two-three finish at Tripoli in 1940. Cooling troubles that had plagued them at Tripoli a year earlier left the way clear for a victory by the new V-8 W165s built specifically by Mercedes-Benz for the 1939 Tripoli race. This defeat was considered an ill omen by Wifredo Ricart, the creative Spaniard who had become Alfa’s technical director, so he decided to start work on another new 1½-litre racing car.
Ricart’s Voiturette was extravagant in concept, a rear-engined flat-twelve. Its fuel tank was at the centre of the chassis and its driver was a rather lonely passenger at the front. This Type 512 was ingenious in many details but unsatisfactory as a complete car with a scrawny frame and treacherous handling. “I sent first a verbal and then a written communication to the Board [of Alfa],” wrote Enzo Ferrari, “in which I said that the car was outdated and good only for scrapping or exhibition in a museum. The 512 was never made fit to compete in any race. And a cruel fate decreed that the great mechanic and test driver [Attilio] Marinoni was to be killed in it on the Milan-Varese autostrada.”
As late as 1943 the two 512 Alfas were being tested both on the autostrada and at Monza with the results mentioned by Ferrari. The world knew that such a car existed but it wasn’t aware that it was so unsatisfactory. During the late Forties the press often speculated about the possible entry of the 512 by Alfa Romeo when and if the 158 was no longer able to hold off the opposition. Thus kept secret it had a certain value as a deterrent to would-be G. P. competitors – except to Ferrari, who knew all about it.
In 1947 with two-stage supercharging and 275 horsepower the Type 158 won the four major races it entered. It entered four and won four in 1948 also, usually finishing one-two in these years and often one-two-three. At the end of 1948 a 158/47 model was first raced with bigger blowers for 310 horsepower, to counter the challenge from a new supercharged Ferrari.

#9 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 13 February 2001 - 04:45

Originally posted by karlcars
...The 512 was never made fit to compete in any race. And a cruel fate decreed that the great mechanic and test driver [Attilio] Marinoni was to be killed in it on the Milan-Varese autostrada.”...

In his 1987 story about Wifredo Ricart in Automobile Quarterly Vol. 25 No.3, Griffith Borgeson had looked into this matter and reported about Marinoni's death on page 285-286 that

"On June 18, 1940, veteran Alfa test driver Attilio Marinoni was killed on the Milan-Varese autostrada when his car, a modified 158 with 512 suspension components, collided with a truck." ..........and

"This brings up another inexactitude in Ferrari's sometimes slanted recollections. He says in his autobiography that Marinoni met his end driving one of Ricart's 512s powered by a 158 engine. This combination fits the facts awkwardly, physically as well as chronologically. Others close to the tragic incident say that the car in question was an Alfetta that had been fitted experimentally with 512 rear, and perhaps front, suspension. Of what the car consisted may be irrelevant. According to Ricart's sons, the accident was caused by a head-on collision with a truck whose driver had apparently dozed off..."

The Ricart story formed also one chapter in Griff's book The Alfa Romeo Tradition, which was published in 1990.

#10 Patrick Italiano

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Posted 13 February 2001 - 15:25

Originally posted by Hans Etzrodt

"On June 18, 1940, veteran Alfa test driver Attilio Marinoni was killed on the Milan-Varese autostrada when his car, a modified 158 with 512 suspension components, collided with a truck." .

Thanks Hans for quoting Borgeson before I did it.

Both 512 and 158 had been effectively hidden during the war.

In 1945, when they thought about resuming racing, they had the choice between the very much more powerful 512 (335 HP in 1940) and the better known 158 (225 HP in 1939). Actually, testing showed that Sanesi lapped Monza faster with the less powerful car at its first tests. - Must add that Sanesi overlooked Ricart's work as much as Ferrari did, but probably Sanesi had other reasons - more objective?).

This explains also the test of a 158 with 512 suspensions in 1940. Sanesi felt that the driving position was way too much forward in the 512 (more than in a Auto Union C, they moved the driver back in the D), and, with the period cars, it prevented the driver to feel early enough when it broke loose. Nuvolari is said to have expressed such opinions about the Auto Union. Sanesi and Busso then tried in 1952 the opposite extreme, moving the driver overhang at the back of a 159, swaping seat and tank :confused:

But the 512 also featured a De Dion back axle, which was another winning move by Auto Union from C- to D-type. And that axle was being tested on the 158 in 1940. The wreck of Marinoni's car show it clearly, while, indeed, the front suspension can't be seen well enough.

Where Ricart went really wrong is obvious, today, from the layout of the car (and as well of the tipo 162, 3-litre 16C). The rolling axis of the rear axle raises dramatically forward (like 30 deg.), because the mounting of the axle is actually almost over it :rolleyes:

In 1945, that wasn't sorted out, and the 158 seemed much more reliable cars to race in the circumstances. Power was also increased by the use of twin stage supercharging, which was another feature of the 512.

Ricart is undoubtely an interesting character, and Borgeson account is worth reading to make one's mind about both him and Ferrari as men.