Ferrari is one of the most recognizable names in the world, but the man behind the machine was more scandalous than his drivers.
1. He Sacrificed Everything
Enzo Ferrari could have resigned himself to a comfortable, anonymous life—but his intense drive for success would never allow that, no matter the cost. And that cost was great. From his shadowy second life to an endless train of slain friends, Ferrari’s fast dreams came with bitter betrayals, immense heartbreak, and one big secret.
2. Violence Was In His Life From The Beginning
Enzo Ferrari was born one wintery February in 1898. Born to a steady middle-class Italian family in the sleepy town of Modena, the first event of any consequence to happen to Ferrari was the outbreak of WWI, when he took up arms in the 3rd Mountain Artillery Unit. But right after this, Ferrari learned the meaning of tragedy.
3. His Family Was Decimated
Before Enzo was 20 years old, he would lose half his family. Not to the ravages of WWI—but to something much more heartless. In the wake of the conflict, influenza raged, and the disease took both Enzo’s father as well his brother with it. Two years later, it would nearly take Enzo himself, almost ending his career in the process.
Perhaps through the sheer force of his significant will, Enzo survived. By then, he was already on a fast and furious path—emphasis on the furious.
4. He Got Rejected
With his family roots rotting underneath him, Ferrari knew he had to support his bereft mother somehow. After watching racing as a very young boy, he had always been intrigued by the sport, and now went to the bigger city of Turin, Italy to apply for a job at Fiat. What he got back was crushing disappointment: They turned him away.
But this is where Ferrari showed a dark side that would only grow with age.
5. He Was Vengeful
Reportedly, after this rejection in his time of need, Ferrari went out of the Fiat headquarters and swore vengeance. The young, determined man vowed never to forget Fiat’s snub, and perhaps even then developed a dream. He would become great in motorsports one way or another, and Fiat would come to regret it. His rise from there was frighteningly fast.
6. He Got A Taste Of Speed
In no time at all, Ferrari had secured a job at another car manufacturer, this time in Milan. Though he started as a test driver for their cars, he soon started racing, entering his debut race in 1919. By 1920, he was a racer for none other than Alfa Romeo, one of the bigger racing teams in Italy at the time. Only, this is where Ferrari’s story takes a twist.
7. He Wasn’t What You Think
Enzo Ferrari is now synonymous with probably the most famous race car team in the world, so it’s somewhat shocking to realize that he was, at best, only a mediocre racer. He won a handful of races around Italy, but never distinguished himself beyond journeyman status. Then again, other aspects of his life are even more surprising.
8. He Was One Big Lie
Even at this time, Enzo Ferrari had an overblown sense of himself, and insisted on putting forth a flattering image of himself. He was able to tell whoever he was talking to—usually moneyed aristocrats—what they wanted to hear, and be who they wanted him to be. As he got more famous as the so-called “Commendatore,” this only solidified, with his image becoming that of a stately, aloof, and elegant Italian hero.
The “real” Ferrari, however, was nothing like these portrayals.
9. He Was Incredibly Rude
In reality, Ferrari was no smooth, refined European—not at all. In fact, he was infamously not only ill-tempered and prone to screaming matches, but he was also undeniably crude. At dinner tables, he reveled in telling bawdy jokes, complaining about his enemies, and burping and scratching himself whenever the urge took him.
These kind of urges were about to get him into quite the bind.
10. He Married Under Duress
At this time, Ferrari met the alluring dancer Laura Garrello while he was in Turin. They soon fell into a relationship, and even began living together shortly after 1921. There was just one issue: This co-habitation was deeply scandalous in Roman Catholic Italy, and it drove them to a fateful choice. In 1923, the pair married, likely in order to make their relationship more convenient and acceptable.
It may have brought Ferrari respectability, but when all was said and done, it was a grave mistake.
11. He Had Fast Friends
In 1925, Ferrari was still driving for Alfa Romeo, newly married, and in the spring of his life and career. He had equally vigorous friends, too: One of his closest teammates at Alfa Romeo was the brilliant Antonio Ascari, a fearless driver who wrangled his dangerous cars like horses. Then one brutal day in July, that all changed forever.
12. He Witnessed A Horrible Crash
One fateful afternoon, Ferrari and his team were running in the vaunted French Grand Prix, which took place just to the south of glamorous Paris. Only, nothing else about that day was glamorous. Ascari was putting in one of the races of his career, and was leading on lap 23, when he whipped his car around a left-hand corner and lost control.
Spectators watched, breathlessly, as his speeding car slammed into nearby fencing and overturned. Then they watched the horror truly unfold.
13. He Lost His Teammate
In the melee, medical help was painfully slow in coming, and when they did get to Ascari they saw his wounds were grave. Besides a ghastly leg injury, he also had a brutal head wound. It was too much, and Ferrari’s teammate perished on the way to the hospital at just 36 years old. It would be far from the last death Ferrari witnessed—or the worst—but the effect on him was enormous.
14. He Couldn’t Go On
By Ferrari’s own account, Ascari’s brutal end was part of what forced him to eventually retire from racing, especially given his own lackluster results on the track. This decision became iconic. Instead of racing more often, Ferrari began working on the development of Alfa Romeo’s cars, forming his own “Scuderia Ferrari” under them in 1929.
By the mid 1940s, he had set up his own independent shop, and his incisive management skills were on full display. So was that old dark side.
15. He Was A Master Manipulator
Already Enzo Ferrari was a man who insisted on getting what he wanted: Even though he had a team of brash drivers, he knew how to keep them in line. He played mind games with them and played their egos off each other, often promoting and demoting men to make his targets jealous.
Besides this, he also convinced them to subordinate their identities to the already-prestigious Ferrari name. They were his drivers, not individuals. But he did have two racers he prized above all else.
16. He Got An Iconic Victory
In the early Ferrari lineup, no two drivers were as famous as the reedy, electric Tazio Nuvolari and the vigorous, vital Giuseppe Campari. Both racing legends in their own right, they gained icon status when they worked together to wrest the Italian Grand Prix back from the French in 1930. Ferrari was undeniably close to these men—until the next tragedy took that all away.
17. His Race Went So Wrong
September 10, 1933 was the famous Monza Grand Prix, and it was already a race track that turned Italian racing fans rabid with expectation. This time, it was to be a day of reckoning. Ferrari watched from the pits as Giuseppe Campari sped off the line in a heat against a Maserati and several other cars.
But when the time came for the machines to come roaring by the pits again, four were missing, and everyone knew something was terribly wrong. Nobody could have guessed how wrong.
18. His Friend Was Lost
As whispers filtered down the track, Ferrari got blood curdling news. There had been a massive crash with four of the cars. Campari and the Maserati driver hit wheels at full speed, then both spun violently off track, taking two other cars with them. When the dust cleared, responders found Campari had perished on impact, with the Maserati driver succumbing to his injuries soon after.
For Ferrari’s soul, this was the beginning of the end.
19. He Closed Himself Off
Up until that day, Ferrari had never lost a driver in one of his own cars. It shattered him from the inside out, and for a time he couldn’t see a way beyond his grief. Then, he made a cold-hearted oath: From then on, Ferrari virtually never fostered friendship with or even compassion for his newer drivers. Yet he did still have one soft spot.
20. He Got An Heir
In 1932, Ferrari’s wife Laura gave birth to their only son, a boy named “Alfredo” but called “Dino”. Ferrari, a traditional Italian father to his core, doted on and boasted of Dino every chance he got, though the boy was sickly from the beginning. Still, Ferrari’s picture-perfect nuclear family was just that: Only a picture. In reality, his home life was already scandalous.
21. He Was Obsessed With One Thing
Even more than machines, Ferrari was obsessed with one thing: women. He frequently and casually cheated on Laura, but it went far beyond that. His behavior was shocking even to his inner circle. Although he regularly seduced women, one of his colleagues revealed “He didn’t really care for them. They were symbols to be carted off to bed—notches in the belt, that’s all”.
His disdainful behavior didn’t stop at his conquests, either.
22. He Was Competitive In Every Way
It wasn’t enough that Ferrari got all the women he wanted and more, he also liked to wave them in front of other men like it was a competition. When he met one Casanova-like friend, he had no qualms asking him how many women he’d slept with in his life. When the man thought about it and then boasted, “three thousand,” Ferrari immediately scoffed, “Only three thousand?”
Inside his factories, however, Ferrari’s methods were much different.
23. He Was A Clean Freak
By the early 1950s, Ferrari had witnessed enough racing success to be a major player in Italian newspapers and sports gossip, and his factory in Modena was run like the tightest of ships. No matter his evening romps, Ferrari was on the factory floor every day like clockwork, and one employee felt “he always cared more for the mechanics than for the drivers”.
A meticulous boss, Ferrari also insisted, the employee recalled, that “every tool had to be in place before we’d climb on our bicycles and leave for the day”. All the same, Ferrari’s cruel, enigmatic side showed in the factory too.
24. He Was Unpredictable
Strangely enough, Ferrari was nearly intolerable when his cars were winning races. If he and his drivers were on top of the field, his employee noted, “he’d be a madman, screaming at everybody”. The alternative was somehow worse. Whenever the Prancing Horse was losing, “he was quiet. Very quiet. Like a humble man”.
No one quite knew what to expect from him—and his vengeance could and did come out of nowhere.
25. He Got Into A Public Screaming Match
Around this time, the internal politics at the Ferrari factory shifted, and Enzo decided to promote a younger engineer while demoting his long-time employee, Gioacchino Colombo. The fallout was brutal. Offended beyond belief, Colombo engaged in an all-out screaming match with the equally enraged Ferrari, with everyone in the factory leaning into hear.
Eventually, Colombo threatened to quit. When he got up to leave and do just that, Ferrari was ready with a jaw-dropping rebuttal.
26. He Acted On A Dark Threat
Ferrari was many things, but a trusting man wasn’t one of them—so there was no way he was going to let Colombo quit, take up with a rival team, and give them inside information about his racing engines. Instead, he literally picked up the phone and called the Modena police, insisting that they scour Colombo’s apartment and make sure there were no blueprints he could take with him.
As it happened, Colombo eventually did leave for a rival team, proving Ferrari right, at least in his mind. It would soon be the least of his problems.
27. His Son Was Going Through An Alarming Change
Amidst the cut-throat politicking of Ferrari’s world, both on and off the track, his private life was falling completely apart. His son Dino was now in his 20s, and although he had always been slightly ailing, it was clear something was very wrong. Like his father, Dino liked to spend long hours in the factory tinkering, but his movements were now becoming odd and stiff.
The horrible truth arrived soon after.
28. He Got Terrible News
With Dino barely able to walk without assistance, the Ferraris finally sought out a diagnosis. They got back a gut-wrenching reply. Dino was likely suffering from Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, a severe and fatal disorder of the muscles that gave the young man very little time to live. But Enzo Ferrari wasn’t used to giving up, and his reaction was desperate.
29. He Had A Breakdown
According to Enzo, Dino’s diagnosis set off a period of complete delusion in him, one where he would win back Dino’s health and beat the disorder, just as he won on the racetrack and beat his competitors. Enzo made caloric tables, kept immaculate records of his son’s various vitals, and tracked the progress of the disease. As he put it, “I had convinced myself that [Dino] was like one of my cars”.
Or, so Enzo said. Some close to him tell a more unsettling story.
30. He May Have Been A Horrible Father
Racer Carroll Shelby also spent a lot of time with Dino during this period of the boy’s life, and his recollections put Enzo in a new light entirely. Shelby believed Enzo’s publicized devotion to Dino was just more smoke and mirrors for his perfect image. According to Shelby, Enzo almost completely ignored his son, even in his ill health, and the boy spent most of his time at the factory counting down the hours with mechanics and customers, not his loving father.
Whatever the truth, none of it slowed Dino’s tragic end.
31. He Had A Brutal Goodbye
After months of steadily declining health, Dino was eventually hospitalized, and everyone had to come to the cruel truth: No caloric table or special attention was going to save him. Reportedly, Ferrari was often seen during this time sobbing as he entered and exited the factory, and on June 30, 1956, the 24-year-old Dino passed after a long and brutal battle. Then came the aftershock.
32. He Lost His Passion
After Dino’s death, Ferrari was never quite the same. The next afternoon, someone called him to let him know that one of his drivers had won the French Grand Prix. But Ferrari, mired in his grief, waved the call off and claimed that after Dino’s passing, he had no more interest in racing cars, and he was done with them forever.
This, of course, didn’t happen. Some of Ferrari’s other behavior during this time also didn’t ring true.
33. He May Have Exaggerated His Grief
Ferrari now burrowed deep into the image of a devoted, grieving father to Dino. He set up a virtual mausoleum to his son, made it a part of his daily morning routine to visit the grave for the rest of his life, and grieved loudly and publicly about his lost boy. But as always with Ferrari, this wasn’t the whole truth. Even those close to him thought it was partly performative.
Nonetheless, some of his grief, at least, was real. And it would have far-reaching consequences Ferrari would never predict.
34. He Became A Recluse
Ferrari had never been an expansively minded man, but Dino’s passing made his world shrink even further. Always reluctant to travel, he now became a bona fide recluse. By the end of his life, he had never stepped on an elevator, much less an airplane. Perhaps most alarmingly, although he had been distant from his racing drivers since Giuseppe Campari’s end, he soon ceased to care much about their fates at all—only rarely making appearances trackside—and saw them only as extensions of his machines.
This callousness would bring about cold, cruel consequences.
35. He Lost A Father And Son
Just as Ferrari became completely disengaged from the human side of his team, terrible things began happening. Indeed, the 1950s were a string of horrific ends for his drivers, including Italian national hero Alberto Ascari, son of the Ferrari’s ill-fated teammate Antonio. But the most infamous event of all happened in 1957, and took out more than just a driver.
36. He Participated In A Dangerous Race
For Ferrari and his team, the Mille Miglia—an enormous, demanding road race snaking through nearly 1,000 miles of Italy—was the ultimate test of bravery. Many drivers detested it, including Ferrari’s up-and-coming racer Alfonso de Portago, a dashing and daring gentleman racer who complained, “There are hundreds of corners in the Mille Miglia where one slip by a driver can kill fifty people…it’s a race I hope I never run”.
The first year de Portago ran it, this nightmare became all too true.
37. His Driver Caused A Tragedy
The 1957 Mille Miglia ended with a top three finish for Ferrari cars—but in the wake of what happened that day, this was only a footnote. Just 40 miles short of the finish, Alfonso de Portago was pushing for the top spot when his front tire hit a kilometer marker and spun out of control…then arced into a crowd of spectators watching from the roadside.
In the end, Portago, his navigator, and 10 onlookers including five children were gone. The backlash came for Ferrari instantly.
38. He Was An “Assassin”
In the face of this unfathomable tragedy, the Italian government immediately shut down the Mille Miglia forever. Then they went one step further. They charged Enzo Ferrari with manslaughter, laying the lives at his feet because they believed de Portago’s car had suffered from faulty construction. Although this was unfounded and Ferrari escaped any charges, it left a black mark on his name; one of the driver’s wives would forever after call him “The Assassin”.
Tragically, the close of the 1950s brought worse.
39. He Lost His Entire Team
Since Dino’s death, the reaper had haunted Enzo Ferrari, and there was one last, large swoop of his scythe at the end of the decade. In 1958 and the first month of 1959, Ferrari lost no fewer than three of his drivers in Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, and Mike Hawthorn—his entire starting lineup for that season—in one accident or another.
Italy revolted at the news, with the Vatican itself writing in its official newspaper that Ferrari was an “industrial Saturn…who continues to devour his own sons”. Which makes Ferrari’s next move all the more repulsive.
40. He Stole His Dead Driver’s Girlfriend
After Luigi Musso’s fatal accident, Ferrari sunk to perhaps his lowest low. Musso’s mistress, Fiamma Breschi, was a beautiful actress who, even in the midst of her grief, caught Ferrari’s eye. Although the exact nature of their (possibly unconsummated) relationship has some plausible deniability, what isn’t deniable is that he set her up in a residence in Bologna, then Florence, and continued to visit her weekly for years, “always [returning] with a smile on his face”.
41. He Became The One To Beat
For years, Ferrari had been building a luxurious empire of fiercely fast, magnificent-looking cars, and the first half of the 1960s—with some legendary wins at Le Mans and Formula One—rocketed him to international superstardom. Wealthy Americans were obsessed with him, slick European aristocrats wanted to be him, and everyone wanted to buy his passenger cars. There was just one problem...and it could have destroyed his life.
42. He Had Shady Business Practices
Although the passenger-car side of the business brought in much-needed money to Ferrari, he had nothing but disdain for it and his well-to-do customers, and only cared about the racing side of things. Besides being extremely risky for his brand if this ever got out, This led to one infamous moment.
He once pre-sold a custom, all-blue coupe to a wealthy Frenchman, whose wife loved the color. Except when he got a better offer for the singular car from an even wealthier American, Ferrari sold it to him without a second thought—then made the (very confused) Frenchman drive away with one of the factory red cars when he came to collect. Even after all that…the Frenchman still thanked him for it.
43. He Read About Himself Obsessively
Despite Ferrari’s flippancy for the moneyed set and his own country-bumpkin behavior, he remained obsessed with his refined public image. Depending on his track records in any given season, the press would either paint him as a national hero or a vile villain, and you can bet Ferrari was reading the comments.
He constantly pored over any articles about him, especially the negative ones, then plotted ways to respond and spin his PR. Perhaps this was because there was one part of his life no good PR could change.
44. He Had A Serious Affair
Ever since the 1940s, Ferrari had been holding onto a ruinous secret. At 46 years old, he had fallen into bed with a beautiful woman—his employee Lina Lardi. Of course, he’d done this many times before…but this time was different. Not only did Ferrari gain more from Lardi than an ego boost, genuinely drawing comfort from their relationship, she soon came to him with earth-shattering news.
45. He Hid An Entire Second Family
Soon into their romance, Lardi confessed to Ferrari that she was pregnant, bearing him another son, Piero, in 1945. Unlike Dino, who had been sickly ever since he was a boy, Piero was strong and hale. He was also completely classified: Although Ferrari visited Lardi and his illegitimate son for years, he kept the boy’s existence completely hush-hush, especially from his wife Laura.
Which only made her discovery of the whole affair that much more disastrous.
46. It Was An Open Secret
Eventually, especially as Piero grew up to look quite like his father, all of the journalists in the Italian press knew of the boy’s existence. And while we don’t know exactly when Ferrari’s wife Laura found out about Piero, we do know that she did, quite likely painfully near Dino’s passing. Her reaction was pure vengeance.
47. His Wife Despised His Son
Laura Ferrari detested Piero from the moment she heard of him, and that hatred grew the moment she laid eyes on him. Whenever Piero would walk around his father’s factory in Modena, Laura was liable to scream at him and call him names. Soon, Piero learned to avoid her entirely…but it wasn’t a situation either party had to endure for long.
48. He Had A Bittersweet Loss
In 1978, when Ferrari was entering his 80s, his wife Laura Ferrari passed. She did not go gently. Laura had suffered for years from pains and difficulty moving her legs—perhaps related to her son Dino’s own issues—but that was the least of it. Near the end, her mind had reportedly started to go to, with her angry mood swings becoming full-blown paranoid vendettas.
Had she witnessed Ferrari’s next move, that anger would have boiled over.
49. He Moved On
After Laura’s passing, Ferrari dealt his late wife an unforgiveable betrayal. He not only installed Lina and Piero in his residence, he also legitimized Piero as Piero Lardi Ferrari, re-instating the heir he had lost in Dino in the process. For Ferrari, though—if not for Laura—it was something of a happy ending. If only his professional life had followed suit.
50. He Suffered Another Major Loss
Although Ferrari is still a mythical name and mythical team, the Commendatore’s later years were all too human—and all too tragic. He suffered through the fatalities of many more drivers, including the daring, bold Gilles Villeneuve, who perished at the wheel of a Ferrari in 1982 during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. But that wasn’t Ferrari’s final tragedy.
51. He Was Afraid Of Italians
1988 was to be the ailing, 90-year-old Ferrari’s last year on Earth. Unfortunately, it was also one of his most dismal racing seasons on record, with the brash McLaren team beating him in every race he saw. He took bizarrely drastic action. Knowing he had little time left, Ferrari insisted that when he passed, the press only report his passing a day after his funeral took place—so Italians upset at his losses wouldn’t be able mob it.
Then came the twist.
52. He Got One Last Win
Enzo Ferrari had weathered his team through mortal danger, financial woes, and the evolving landscape of racing for decades—and while he wasn’t always winning, he never lost for long either. So it’s fitting that just weeks after his passing, Ferrari finally broke through their bad luck and finished 1-2 at none other than that year’s Italian Grand Prix.
The cars change, the drivers change, but Ferrari’s name stays eternal.