A rare peek inside Ferrari’s factory of dreams
As an address, Via Abetone Inferiore 4 in the northern Italian town of Maranello won't stir the soul like Paris' Champs-Elysee or London's King's Road -- unless you're an aficionado of the automobile. This is the home of Ferrari, manufacturer since 1947 of some of the planet's winningest racing machines and most stirring sports cars.
On a recent afternoon, I presented myself at the factory gates in the hopes of taking a peek inside. I felt like Charlie Bucket waiting to slip inside Willy Wonka's candy factory; Ferrari offers no public tours, and the golden ticket is a Ferrari vehicle serial number and lots of advance notice. (No on both.) Or a press credential and decent standing with the keepers of the Prancing Horse keys. (Check.)
"A tour of Ferrari is a treat only for some, typically our customers or the sponsors of our Formula One team," says Stefano Lai, Ferrari's lanky bilingual communications director, handing me a visitor's pass. "What you'll see inside speaks to our attitude not just toward our cars but also our people."
Over the next two hours, I and six stoked California Ferraristi are given a leisurely look at the sprawling 36-acre complex, including prolonged stops at the 160,000-square-foot machine shop where Ferrari 8 and 12 cylinder engines start life, the cozy engine assembly area where workers patiently assemble each power plant by hand, the sprawling assembly line, and the Gestione Sportiva area, where, if you visit during the right time, you'll see Ferrari Formula One cars being cobbled together. Off limits are offices and test facilities where future cars are in development.
In the marque's darker days of the '70s and '80s, its antique manufacturing made Ferraris synonymous with both arresting beauty and mediocre quality. (In 1985, I sat in a months-old 512 BBi with a glowing light alerting the engine cover was open, when it wasn't. The owner simply shrugged, saying it was that way from new.)
Today, Ferrari looks like a manufacturing leader. The factory's gleaming glass and steel structures are the work of celebrated architects. Ferrari planted 25,000 trees and 200 species of plants around the factory to cut its carbon emissions. There's also an array of solar panels, a power station burning natural gas and a fleet of red bikes that some 2,500 red-suited employees use to get around. It's part of a modernization by Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who calls the ethos Formula Uomo, "uomo" meaning man in Italian.
No matter which facility we drop in, no one seems to be in a rush or yelling. Often the loudest thing heard is the dull squeak of rubber wheels against a painted floor. Carts containing parts for each car roll from station to station. An almost Teutonic sense of order reigns, and nowhere more so than in the assembly line facility.