A Step Back In Time: Ferrari Unveils Its First Car

With Formula One’s 2013 pre-season and car unveiling in full pace, it’s easy to forget the humble beginnings car unveiling has come from. With super-fast internet sending images of the latest RB9 across the globe in a matter of seconds, the unveiling of a Formula One car is the perfect example of the lunacy of modern man’s demand for information. We need pictures, we need videos; we need it now and if we don’t receive it when we’re told we’ll be getting it, you can be sure toys are going to be thrown out of prams.

The following story takes place in 1947, a time before computers, iPads and smartphones. A time when car unveiling involved a single photographer, some close associates and the group of mechanics responsible for the vehicle’s creation. To see how modern Formula One car launches differ from Ferrari’s debut as a manufacturer, check out Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’s 2007 car unveiling here.


The engine had already been bench-tested in September 1946, and was found to produce 60 horsepower at a modest 5,600rpm. Bazzi, the wizard tuner, got to work. In November Ferrari told Cortese to stop trying to sell any more machine tools. The die, so to speak, was cast. In December he called a press conference, at which he announced his intention to manufacture three models – a 125 sport, a 125 competition and a 125 Grand Prix car.


 When the prototype 125 S was eventually ready for testing, Giuseppe Busso was there with his camera. It was 12 March 1947, twenty months after Colombo had arrived in Modena, and the week after which the worst European winter in living memory came to an end.


In a photograph that survives from that day Busso captured Enzo Ferrari, in a dark double-breasted suit, a white shirt and a tie, his silvered hair neatly brushed back, sitting at the wheel of the car. It had yet to be provided with bodywork and, reduced to its naked components, it looks distinctly agricultural. The engine sits low in the frame. The air intake for the carburettors snakes over the cylinder heads. The tyres are narrow, the steel-disc wheels crude. Wires protrude from the backs of the dashboard instruments. Ferrari, three weeks past his forty-ninth birthday, is sitting for the first time at the wheel of a car bearing his own name, and is about to start the engine. He looks apprehensive. Behind him stand several young engineers, some in suits, others in overcoats and scarves, mostly smiling, flanked by mechanics in grease-stained overalls, their hands on theirs hips an d their faces full of purpose.


Once he had fired up the little V12, Ferrari drove the car across the cobbles of the yard and out the gates – a Ferrari swinging out on to the Abetone road for the first time – and pointed it in the direction of Modena, up a long, straight two-lane road. He got as far as Formigine, the nearest village, before turning round and heading back to the factory, a journey of less than ten miles. Back at the factory gates, Bazzi listened hard for the song of the returning engine. After Ferrari switched off the motor, his old comrade made a quick adjustment. Then it was Bazzi’s turn to have a go, the second man in the world to drive a Ferrari. Swathed in his raincoat and scarf, he posed for Busso’s camera before turning the car out of the gate.




Text taken from “Enzo Ferrari: A Life (2001)” (Richard Williams)


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