Happy Sixtieth, Ferrari North America!
Images Courtesy of Ferrari North America and Mr. Bruce Meyer
In the US, Ferrari has fielded some of the most famous race cars ever to thunder down a raceway many of which were born of the close relationship between il Commendatore himself, Mr. Enzo Ferrari, and Mr. Luigi Chinetti.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Luigi left France with racer Rene Dreyfus’s Ecurie Bleu team (owned by Ms. Lucy O’Reilly Schell) to compete in the Indianapolis 500, but remained throughout the war working for importer and dealer Mr. Alfred Momo. He eventually received his US citizenship, and it is around this time that Luigi’s importance increased tremendously.
However, Luigi was initially important because he won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1932 and ’34 in an Alfa Romeo (it was probably around this time that he met Enzo). Later, anecdotal evidence states that Luigi visited his old friend Enzo, his factory bombed by the allies as it had produced tools and materiel for the Italian forces during the war. During this visit, he supposedly told Enzo that if he could build twenty or so cars, Luigi would sell them in America. Whether or not this exact conversation took place is almost beside the point.
What certainly did happen was that Luigi took Ferrari’s first victory at Le Mans in 1949, which began to establish Ferrari’s reputation and re-established Italy (defeated in the war) on the world stage. More impressive was that Chinetti drove all but twenty minutes of that twenty-four hour contest.
In 1956, he formed the NART (North American Racing Team) with backing from wealthy racers Mr. George Arents and Mr. Jan de Vroom. Luigi’s close relationship with Ferrari ensured a consistent string of competitive cars and allowed the vaunted North American Racing Team to enjoy great successes including victories at the 24 hours of Le Mans, 24 hours of Spa (technically not a NART win, although Chinetti won in 1949, driving a Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta), Daytona (before it was even a twenty-four hour race!), and countless smaller tracks around the US and world. It became the team that established the high ranking of Ferraris on American racing circuits, and largely, was responsible for Ferrari’s survival as a retailer of cars through the quantity he sold to wealthy individuals in North America. In addition to the racing cars, the team commissioned many limited-run special variants of Ferrari road cars, most notably, the spyder version of the Ferrari 275GTB/4.
Additionally, according to Ferrari historian Mr. David Seibert, “It is very probable that the concept of the original 250 GT California Spyder was John Von Neumann’s–he was the California distributor, and thought that a lightweight open fairly simple Ferrari–think of the Porsche Speedster, which he also distributed–would do well in California. That idea was taken forward to Ferrari by Chinetti. (Ferrari 250 GT SWB Spider California, Seibert) The now hugely valuable California Spyder was essentially an open version of the Ferrari 250 GT Long Wheelbase Berlinetta, known as the “Tour de France” for its successes in that event. This was roughly ten years before the 275 GTS/4 NART.”
As a result of his direct Emilia-Romagna connection, Luigi was often able to get engines and cars for his customers that he may otherwise been unable to get.
This year, Ferrari North America celebrates their sixtieth birthday and we’re celebrating this storied motor company’s history too. In the coming weeks we’ll be featuring editorials, graphics, photos, and videos that showcase some of the personalities, the rarest cars, and events that shaped their history and helped to make Ferrari what it is today. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Mr. David Seibert and Ms. Morgan Theys for their help.