When I was little I had a Ferrari-red, pedal racing car (that’s me in the driver’s seat!) and before I crashed it, cracking the nose, I used to race it incessantly up and down the path in our front garden.
Dad was similarly enamoured of cars and had what we euphemistically called a “do-er-up-er” Jaguar E-type tucked up under a tarpaulin in the garage. As you do. Not that he ever did do it up but that didn’t diminish the dream of driving it one day.
And although I never did get to see the E-type in action and have only ever driven a pedal-powered Ferrari, the romance of classic racing cars was imbued in me from an early age. So when I visited Modena in Emilia-Romagna last year there was one place I had to go – to the Enzo Ferrari Museum based at the old family house in the city centre.
Legend has it that young Enzo sold his father’s house back in the 1920s to buy his first racing car but it is now firmly back in the family fold, bearing the Ferrari founder’s marque, and opened as a museum in early 2012.
Beyond the immaculate lawn and old house where Enzo grew up, stands the glorious canary yellow showroom, gleaming proudly in the sunlight like a brand new Ferrari or a mini yellow Sydney Opera House. And what treasures it houses!
The mirrored-glass façade leads into an ultra-white hangar displaying classic and modern F1 cars as if they were Michelangelo’s finest sculptures. And to the many thousand petrol-heads who come to worship them, they are!
The museum hosts different exhibitions each year. On my visit we were presented with a range of vintage racing cars of every marque and make going back to the glamourous, hair-raising, heyday of the 1950s and 60s together with half a dozen F1 cars from the 1970s and 80s. Not all were Ferrari as the exhibition took us through the history of racing cars and generously included competitors such as Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Maserati to complete the story.
In fact the first car in the exhibition, and possibly one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, was a 1954, 8-cylinder, 290 brake horse power Mercedes-Benz W196.
With a cockpit more akin to a plane and very little driver comfort this beauty was Mercedes’ F1 entry in both the 1954 and 1955 seasons, winning 9 out of the 12 races in which it competed driven by legends Juan Manual Fangio and Stirling Moss. The car also owed its innovatory fuel injection system to experience gained by Mercedes engineers whilst working on the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter engines during World War II. These really were rockets on wheels!
Ten years later a collaboration between Cooper and Maserati offered the Italian marque the chance to enter the F1 Championship supplying the engines. I like to imagine that this was be the sort of car that my little pedal model might have been up against in the late 1960s races!
But these classics were soon to be superceeded by their jet-powered descendants looking much more like the F1 race cars we know and love today. Several Ferrari examples are on show, alongside their Williams and Renault peers, including those driven by Mario Andretti in 1972 and Gilles Villeneuve in 1989.
Overall, the Enzo Ferrari Museum gives a great insight into the history of F1 racing. But for me, whilst the newer cars are impressive and show how the sport has evolved – bigger wheels, more cockpit comfort, better safety & streamlining – the old cars will always win with their voluptuous curves, leather steering wheels and spoked wheels. The only thing missing is a race track to give the cars a spin!! May I???
“Se lo puoi sognare, lo puoi fare” – If you can dream it, you can do it. Enzo Ferrari.