Happy Birthday, Ferrari

If not for Ferrari Maranello wouldn’t be on anybody’s map. There’s no history to the city, no Renaissance-era church, no medieval town square, none of the ridiculously beautiful architecture that’s dotted all over Italy. The town exits because of Ferrari – its sprawling factory with its 3000 employees designing and building road and race cars; the museum with a massive parking lot for the busloads of Tifosi; the official merchandise store where you can spend the equivalent of an apartment in a decent part of Mumbai on a Hublot watch; the tons and tons of stores selling unofficial merchandise, model cars and even joy rides in Ferraris. Ten minutes from the historic entrance of the Ferrari factory is Pista di Fiorano, the track where Michael Schumacher tested so extensively, and making Ferrari so successful, that the square in front of Enzo Ferrari’s home is named after Schumi. With in-season or for that matter any kind of private F1 testing now banned Fiorano is now used for road car development… and parties. And parties don’t get any bigger than Ferrari’s 70th birthday party.

For the most storied brand in automotive history celebrating 70 years was always going to be a big deal and the usually sleepy town of Maranello took on a mega carnival atmosphere. One, of course, expects to see Ferrari’s in Maranello but the number, the quality and the variety of Ferrari’s we got to see over the weekend absolutely boggled the mind. Ferrari owners are a passionate lot, many driving down from Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Monte Carlo, Prague, Reims, Salzburg and Rome, eventually culminating in a single grand parade of 500 Ferraris on the Fiorano circuit. We later learnt that 1000 Ferraris had descended on Maranello – and I was witness to the incredible atmosphere as Ferrari’s of all ages, hues and rarity squeezed their way past throngs of adoring fans.

Fiorano was where the big party was at, kicking off with the largest single-make auction ever held with 35 Ferrari’s going under the hammer, not to mention tonnes of Ferrari merchandise and kit like tool kits. A Hublot watch went for 150,000 euros (Rs 1.15 crore!) and a half scale 812 Superfast wind tunnel model for 500,000 euro (Rs 3.8 crore). On the cars front a California 250 GT SWB went for 7.9 million euro (Rs 60.4 crore), a 1958 250 GT Cabriolet Series I for 4.7 million (Rs 40 crore) and an aluminium-bodied 365 GTB/4 Daytona discovered in a Japanese hayloft changed hands for 1.8 million euro (Rs 13.8 crore). The star of the auction was the one-off La Ferrari Aperta that saw particularly brisk bidding by 12 collectors prodded by Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne personally taking the phone to push up a bid, eventually going for a whopping 8.3 million euro (Rs 63.5 crore) and setting a record for a 21st century car. All proceeds from this car, the 210th example of Maranello’s 950bhp 6.3-litre V12 hypercar, go to Save the Children charity for educational projects in Asia and Africa. All in all the auction noted up a total sale of 63 million euros (481 crore rupees), a record for a single-make auction.

As the auction wrapped up the heavens opened up threatening to wash out the rest of the evening but despite the giant screens getting a thorough soaking the Rosso 70 show got underway using cars (Ferraris of course!) and music to illustrate 70 years of lifestyles and changing society. Along with singers and dancers, taking turns to drive up on stage were the 125S, the first Ferrari ever built, the utterly gorgeous 250 California of the 1950s, the 250 GTO of 1962 (among the most prized collector’s cars today), the 512 BB, Testarossa, F50, Enzo and culminating in the La Ferrari. All legends, all driving right up in front of us! It was followed by a homage to the Scuderia’s champions, the tribute to Michael Schumacher leaving many of us teary eyed, followed by the current F1 drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel stepping up on the stage. And it all ended with a concert by Jamiroquai, a hardcore petrol head whose video for Cosmic Girl, featuring the F355, (Lamborghini) Diablo and F40 – all driven hard! – is one of my all time favourites.

Day two was devoted to the Ferrari 70 Concours d’Elegance, 120 astonishing cars – some of inestimable value – making you go weak in the knees. How does eight F40s lined side by side sound? Or four 288 GTOs, all in red, working pop up headlamps being checked by Concours judges. Or four competition spec cars including an F40 LM with Le Mans provenance and a 412P, one of only four that after a storied racing career with a Belgian team, found its way to America, somehow got road registered, and was used as a daily driver up and down Rodeo Drive by Dino Martin, legendary crooner Dean Martin’s son. There were fourteen 250 GTs, without question among the most beautiful cars to ever be made along with 250, 250GT, 275 and 365 Californias. A 250 GTO, without question among the most sought after collector’s cars. Five Daytonas. Superamericas. Pininfarina, Touring and Zagato beauties. Colombo and Lampredi engined masterpieces. Eight Dinos. Single seaters. And scores more. The brain hurts just trying to recall the absurdly incredible collection on display, divided into 20 classes, and competing for best of show honours.

That honour, in the racing car category, went to the 1953 340 MM Spider Vignale that won the ’53 Mille Miglia. The best of show in the road car category went to the 1986 Testarossa Spider, the only open top version of that model ever built, and commissioned to celebrate Gianni Agnelli’s 20thanniversary as president of Fiat in 1966. Done in silver, Agnelli’s favourite colour, the car stayed with the family till 1991, Agnelli’s grandson John Elkann recalling sitting in the car, even starting it, but never driving it. Elkann is now chairman of the FCA empire, vice chairman of Ferrari, and along with Enzo Ferrari’s son Piero Ferrari handed over the Concours trophies bringing an end to the 70th birthday party and sending home a message. Birthday’s are best spent with family.

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