There are only two ways to go on a tour of the Ferrari factory: get an invite, or buy one of their cars. Shayne Bugden reports…
I’ve lust walked into the heart of the Ferrari factory in Maranello, a place I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was six years old, and the first thing that catches my eye isn’t a state-of-the-art engine, a piece of bodywork sprayed that famous shade of red, or a finished car rolling off the production line. It’s a tree.
Or more accurately, a few trees. And some bushes. They’re clustered together in an enclosure near the middle of the huge, naturally lit building where Ferrari’s workers piece together motors almost entirely by hand, and they look as out of place as an iceberg in a coal mine. But they’re not the only surprise that jumps out at the visitor. For a workshop where metal is machined, welded and bolted onto more metal, it’s very quiet -which is fitting, because this place is holy ground for just about every car enthusiast who ever lived.
The engine plant is our tour group’s first stop after strolling through the small, unassuming gate that Ferrari’s first car, the 125 S, passed through in 1947. The house that Enzo built has expanded greatly since then, especially since current chairman Luca di Montezemolo took over as president of Ferrari in 1991. He transformed Maranello with the aim of using the very best in architecture, technology, and a focus on natural materials to put employees’ needs first. so in a sense, the trees were his idea.
But while there’s enough environmentally conscious whizz-bangery to make NASA and Greenpeace jealous, some things will never change, like Ferrari’s steadfast focus on hand-crafting.
The company has a simple rule: fully automated machines are only used when not doing so would make the job impossible or dangerous for humans. Amazingly, there are only two robots in the entire engine plant; they’re small, they machine the blocks and valve trains, and the staff have nicknamed them Romeo and Juliet. Romeo handles the blocks, which are kept hot all the time; Juliet’s valve trains and guides are kept very cold, so the workers joke that she’s frigid.
Francesca, our tour guide, has just told us that the factory covers 25,000 square metres, has its own foundry, sources all its power from solar panels and an on-site, natural gas-powered generation plant, and that 6,250 cars rolled out of the gates in 2009 (“We always make one less than demand dictates,” she says). Then Francesca leads us around a corner and announces, “Of course, we keep finished models here to remind the staff what they are aiming to produce.” I look behind her and my jaw drops.
Gathered in a large space towards the back of the building is a group of immaculate Ferraris that I would gladly give my firstborn son to sit in, let alone drive. There’s an F40 here, one of Schumacher’s F1 cars there, a 250 GT to the right of that, an incredibly rare 288 GTO at the front, a two-seater sportscar that raced in the Le Mans 24-hour, and a silver F430 that catches my eye for reasons I’m not sure of. I ask Francesca about it and she says, “That was a wedding gift given to our chairman by the chairman of Fiat. It is the only one like it in the world.” And my law drops so far it dislocates.
During the short minibus trip to one of the assembly lines, Maranello reveals more of its secrets. The staff car park doesn’t have a single Ferrari in it, if you were wondering; it’s populated almost exclusively by Fiats and Alfas. There’s an abundance of that special red everywhere – even on the company-owned pushbikes the workers ride – and there’s also an abundance of stunning architecture. The building housing the top-secret wind tunnel was designed by Renzo Piano, and the paint shop, engine plant and staff restaurant sprang from the drawing board of Marco Visconti. I later find out that the eatery is the only place on the premises that doesn’t have so much as a photo of a car in it. That’s by order of Mr di Montezemolo, who wanted the people who make the vehicles to have a place to escape from them, too.
Ferrari has two assembly lines: one for the 12-cylinder 612 and 599 models, and one for the V8-powered cars, the California and the tastefully unrestrained 458 Italia. We visit the latter. Again, it’s almost eerily quiet, but in contrast to the engine plant, it’s so clean and white it’s almost sterile, with huge moving trolleys ferrying entire cats between 15 stations as technicians mate body to chassis, install upholstery and electrics, and try not to drool too much. Right at the end of the line we see the person with the best job in the world. He’s the final inspector, and he gets paid to fondle every surface of every can with his bare hands. We watch him finish one and it rolls away, a newborn Italia. I feel like giving it a smack on the bum.
Then, just when I think the factory can’t get any better, it does.
Tucked into a small, run-of-the mill building is the hidden gem of Maranello, Ferrari Classiche. Established in 2006, it has two functions: certifying the authenticity of Ferraris made at least 20 years ago, and restoring the same.
The workshop is strewn with mint-condition vintage cars that are worth the GDP of a small country — a 250 GT California Snyder (hello, Ferris Bueller), a 275 GTB, a Daytona Spyder— and some that are worth the GDP of a large country. Marketing manager Roberto Casolari carefully rolls the cover off unique Ferrari Indianapolis, a 1953 prototype race car that’s worth so much money I’m afraid to go within two metres of it. He then uncovers a stunning blue and white 1954 750 Monza racer and casually says, “Millions and millions of Euro.”
Classiche will manufacture parts from the original blueprints if they can’t find the originals, and those blueprints—all 220,000 of them — are kept on site in a surprisingly small office. It’s an Aladdin’s cave for Ferrari nuts; an automotive El Dorado containing step-by-step guides to perfectly replicating any prancing horse ever made. And it’s all behind a couple of locked doors, when Fort Knox-like security wouldn’t be out of place. Roberto almost has to manhandle me out the door, I’m so enthralled.
Our last stop is almost painful to endure, but in a good way. The Ferrari showroom is dominated by a revolving, tilted disc that’s carrying a brand-spanking California, and Just beyond it is a spacious, well-appointed lounge where soon-to-be owners choose their car options.
What length of stitch would sir like on the upholstery? What is sir’s preference for the prancing horse insignia—chrome or matt finish? Does sir know that we hire musicians to help us develop our cars’ engine notes, and that the sound of our car at full song is the starting point when we create a new engine, not a by-product of the way it works?
Were I a rich man, I would’ve walked out of that showroom knowing that my car would take up to a year to be delivered, and that the chances of it being identical to another Ferrari are virtually nil. Instead, I walk out knowing that my chances of ever returning here are nil. Still, I leave with an even greater lust for the prancing horse… something I didn’t think was possible.