The autoroute to Beaune lay ahead, an inkblot of asphalt. Behind him a few remaining lights of Lyon flickered in the rearview mirror as the big Renault sedan settled into a steady lope at 125 mph. He would be in Paris before dawn.
He was a driver. At eighty-two years, he still handled an automobile with the same authority and resolve that had carried him to three victories at Le Mans. Twenty-four hours. Around the clock. Those races were his specialties. He had never been a sprinter, never particularly fast in the twitchy, pitiless single-seat Grand Prix machines. But give him a full-fendered Alfa Romeo or Ferrari sports car and he could run like a marathoner, hour after hour, kilometer banked on kilometer, crushing the opposition with his sheer grit and the reserves of muscle coiled in his compact bricklayer’s body.
He checked his watch. The hands were slipping toward three o’clock on the morning of August 14, 1988. It was a drive he had made a hundred times: Modena to Paris, now a headlong rush along the table-smooth Italian autostradas and the French autoroutes. For forty years, the mission had been the same. The central theme had been the cars, those low-slung beasts that had caused him so much joy and grief. Up and down the autoroutes, crossing and recrossing the spine of the Alps like some crazed tourist, back and forth over the bleak expanse of the Atlantic, always with one singular purpose—the glorification and enrichment of the most supremely outrageous, overpowered and oversexed automobiles of the modern era, the crimson bolides of Modena and Maranello—the magic machines of Enzo Ferrari.
Ferrari. There had been times, often lasting months, even years, when he wished he had never heard the name, but too much time had passed for that. Seventy years, he mused. He had known this incredible man since 1918, when both had been young veterans poking around the postwar automobile business in Milan and Turin. Ferrari had made Luigi Chinetti a rich man while making himself richer. Ferrari had made him important and respected, while elevating himself to world fame and becoming a demigod to the poseurs and nouveaux who seemed prepared to sell their firstborn into slavery in order to obtain one of his automobiles.
It had all been an insane aerobatic display of emotion and ego warfare and now he was tired of it all. They had dueled too long and, if a winner had to be declared, it would have to be Ferrari. But did he not always win? Did he not always prevail, sometimes coming off the mat after repeated, bloody knockdowns to land a knockout punch? They had sparred many times, hugging between rounds, and he had often scored well, but now it was over, and the old warriors had fought their last fight. There would be no more confrontations, no more angry words, no more window-rattling arguments, no more lawsuits, threats, walkouts or vile insults, all generally forgiven or forgotten. Still, Ferrari towered over his life, having given it purpose and meaning, and for this he knew all the madness had been worthwhile. Yes, Ferrari had been at the center of it all.
Both men were hard, unyielding, classic Italians, easily tempted to let a relationship flare into wild boasts, vicious insults and bare-faced fabrications. For all the years he had known Ferrari, business negotiations with him remained an elaborate, protracted drama of artful parlays, suspended agreements, temper tantrums, operatic claims of impending bankruptcy, social ruin, family shame, incurable disease and violent death. It was in this Byzantine atmosphere that Ferrari had thrived and men like Chinetti had either learned to survive or been summarily defeated. At the core of any dealings with him had been the money—preferably Swiss francs or American dollars. Winning automobile races had been his obsession, but only if the money was right.
As the carefully preened image of Enzo Ferrari had risen to world prominence, Chinetti and those other old associates who had been with him since before the war had faded into the shadows. Ferrari shared the spotlight with no one, not even the man who had helped create a market for his automobiles larger and more lucrative than anyone could have imagined. Chinetti understood the crazed, comic-opera politics of the factory as well as anyone. On his numerous trips to Maranello he learned when to flatter, when to threaten, when to simper, when to sulk and when to primp and pamper the soaring ego of the man who rivaled the Pope as the most famous and popular personage in all of Italy.
This contentious friendship of the old warriors had often stretched to the point of shredding, yet the bond could not be broken. As for Chinetti, he came to know Ferrari too well—to understand his chameleonlike public persona, his ability to orchestrate the press and the public, to artfully and floridly articulate positions perfectly tailored for his audience, to play the lovable, beleaguered, poverty-stricken patriarch one minute and the ruthless, egomaniacal despot the next. He had seen the public Ferrari, the regal old don who oozed respectability, as well as the private Ferrari, the ribald, belching, farting, cursing, bragging, hectoring “Modenese paesano” who bore his lower-class background like a caste mark on his forehead. He knew him as the consummate manipulator of men, especially of the racing drivers who had driven the vermilion cars of the Scuderia, sitting in splendid isolation in Maranello monitoring his teams’ successes and failures by telephone, telex and television but not attending a single automobile race for the last thirty years of his life.
There was no question that he was uncomfortable in large crowds, and as the years passed, his public appearances were restricted to flawlessly choreographed press conferences during which he traded verbal blows with the fickle and often contentious Italian sporting press. His true friends could be counted on the fingers of one hand and included a few longtime, utterly faithful business associates. Beyond that perimeter he tended to a flock of supplicants, sycophants, customers, adoring fans and a legion of racing drivers with baronial aloofness, handing out favors, slapping wrists, administering punishments and settling arguments from an invisible throne.
Once, when asked to comment on an observation made by another close associate that Ferrari cared little for his drivers, despite his public bleatings to the contrary, and that he in fact felt closer affinity to his mechanics in the shop, Chinetti paused for a moment, then replied, “I don’t think he liked anyone.”
Now he was driving away from that place in Emilia, that place occupied by that Goliath of a man whom he somehow knew he would never see again. He rushed on, calling up part of the reserves of endurance that had served him so well since he began to drive automobiles at unseemly speeds.
He was on a long, flat stretch when a sharp explosion shuddered through the Renault, jarring the steering wheel and causing him to jerk upright in the seat. He slowed to a crawl, checking the dimly lit instrument panel for a possible source of the detonation. It had been a thunderclap, spearing the car without warning. He groped for a reason. The car felt perfect. No strange noises or vibrations, no odors of burning wire, boiling oil or frying paintwork. Cautiously he rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the autoroute and climbed out. It was still. Moonless. Only the distant hiss of traffic intruded on the otherwise tranquil scene. He walked around the car, feeling the stiffness in his legs following the long hours behind the wheel. He poked under the automobile, then lifted the hood. He could find nothing that even suggested a possible murmur, much less the deafening salvo that had mysteriously rattled out of the night.
Nonplussed, but relieved that the Renault was undamaged, he crawled back aboard and resumed his journey. He reached the southern suburbs of Paris by dawn. Traffic was building and his pace was slowed by the notorious anarchy that was the daily Parisian commute. He turned on the radio. A newscast was beginning.
It was the lead story. In matter-of-fact tones a voice announced that earlier that morning death had come to Enzo Ferrari at his home in Modena, Italy.
Ferrari. Dead. It was expected, but somehow it stunned him. This old warrior, this curmudgeon, this masterful manipulator, this tireless competitor, this overwhelming presence, this imperfect but perpetually fascinating man was finally gone. A blizzard of incomplete thoughts rushed through his brain: What of the factory? The racing program? His son Piero? His mistress Lina? Would the aura of the automobile survive now that its life source was gone? Would the technocrats at Fiat destroy the personality of the company? What of the fabric that the Old Man had so carefully woven over the years? What part would be preserved and what would be shredded? He ruminated about these things, reaching no conclusions.
And then it struck him. He checked his watch in disbelief. No, not possible. He was a rational man. Yet it gnawed at him. The explosion on the autoroute. That great, thudding noise in the Renault. If the radio bulletin was correct . . . yes, if it had given the time of Enzo Ferrari’s death accurately . . . that ominous burst of sound had come at almost the same moment as Enzo Ferrari’s last breath. Surely there was no connection . . .
Copyright © 2023 by Brock Yates. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.