The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari

From its founding in 1929 until its liquidation in 1937, Enzo Ferrari’s Alfa Romeo racing stable scored an astonishing 144 wins in 225 races.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 1
December 2, 2021

Alfa Romeo’s commercial director in the early 1920s was Giorgio Rimini, a strong supporter of engineer Vittorio Jano and a close ally of founder Nicola Romeo. In his role, Rimini advocated the merits of racing to generate positive publicity for cars and companies. He traveled with Alfa’s racing team, giving enthusiastic support to its major races and events.

One member of that team was Enzo Ferrari, who, working in Alfa’s Milan sales depot, acted as Rimini’s right arm. Ferrari was rewarded with an Alfa Romeo distributorship in Emilia-Romagna, but he, in his own words an “agitator of men,” had another idea. Inspired by a discussion over a celebratory dinner on October 5, 1929, Enzo decided to set up his own team to prepare and enter racing cars for enthusiasts to drive. A few days after the inspiring dinner, Ferrari traveled to Alfa’s base at Portello in Milan to pitch his scheme, in which Alfa Romeo would become a part of his private racing team, his stable or scuderia.

“Alone in the presence of management not particularly interested in maintaining Alfa Romeo’s presence in international competition,” wrote biographer Luca Dal Monte, “he talked and talked. He expounded upon his idea, a program from which all would gain: Alfa Romeo would remain active in racing, a cutting-edge activity from which solutions for everyday cars would continue to come. Drivers and clients would go on racing and buying Alfa’s sports cars. Italy would still be properly represented on international grounds.

“He saved the knockout punch for last,” added Dal Monte. “By having his racing team enter their cars, he said, if they won it was Alfa Romeo that won. If they were defeated, the burden would be borne by his Scuderia. He offered shares in the new racing team in exchange for first-rate technical assistance and high-standard logistic support.”

Alfa Romeo managing director Prospero Gianferrari agreed to a cooperation. The company’s in-house racing organization, Alfa Corse, would continue in parallel, reserving the right to enter the latest cars in major races. The factory entries would wear a bright red versus a deeper burgundy hue for Ferrari’s cars.

Registered as a business on November 29, 1929, the Società Anonima Scuderia Ferrari became an official entrant of Portello’s cars. In December, the Scuderia received one P2, two 6C 1500 Super Sports, and three 6C 1750 Gran Sports, plus spares and equipment.

Of these, the P2 was the most important, for it was the Vittorio Jano design that had raced successfully for Alfa under the 2.0-liter Grand Prix formula in 1924 and ’25. Revived by Portello for free-formula races from 1926 onward, it was followed in 1930 by a trio of improved or Modificato P2 versions much more to Ferrari’s liking.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 2

First home of Scuderia Ferrari, in Modena.

ENZO FERRARI’S TIMING WAS FORTUITOUS, as racing to strict Grand Prix rules was in the doldrums in the late 1920s. Just four companies built cars for 1926’s 1.5-liter limit: the French automakers Bugatti, Delage, and Talbot and Italian newcomer Maserati. After two seasons, neither Delage (dominant in 1927) nor Talbot would continue in 1928.

For these firms, the cost of building and maintaining such exotic and specialized cars became excessive in relation to the promotional benefits that the races provided. Hemorrhaging money, the 1.5-liter Formula expired. What would follow it?

In Paris, the ruling AIACR threw up its well-manicured hands and offered what amounted to Free Formula or Formula Libre rules for 1928. Eligible cars would have to weigh between 1,213 and 1,654 pounds and races would have to be over at least 373 miles. In fact, only one race, the 1928 European Grand Prix at Monza, was run to these rules. Thereafter, European races for open-wheeled cars ran more or less to the tastes of the organizers.

Although conducted without much reference to the international authorities in Paris, Grand Prix racing—increasingly controlled by circuit owners and managers—was surprisingly healthy into the early 1930s. Bugatti and Maserati were well-established as capable builders of first-class racing cars, while Alfa Romeo was the lone major automaker still producing suitable machinery—and Enzo Ferrari was its representative.

Ferrari established his scuderia in the town of his birth, Modena, located in the plains of Emilia-Romagna on the south side of the Rover Po. Initially, its base was on the Via Emilia, in a workshop in the Carlo Gatti machine-tool company Ferrari had already been using.

“In former times I was working in Turin, Milan, and Switzerland,” he said. “They were all places which told me much more about my own flat, monotonous, foggy birthplace, with its baking-hot summers, where there are no lakes, no beaches, and just a few hills on the skyline.”

In the southeast quarter of Modena, just outside the historic center and near the Via Emilia, Ferrari found an imposing art deco building with living quarters above an area that would serve as an Alfa Romeo showroom. Behind it was space for a workshop.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 3

Enzo Ferrari stands to left of Achille Varzi and Carlo Canavesi, who drove their Alfa 6C 1750 GS to second place in the 1930 Mille Miglia.

Located at Viale Trento e Trieste 11, it was acquired with the help of a million-lire line of credit that Enzo negotiated with Modena’s Banca de San Geminiano. The bank’s risk paid off with Ferrari’s life-long loyalty, which must have rewarded it many times over. At the young age of 31, Enzo Ferrari was ready to put wheels under drivers.

THE DECLARED ROLE OF SCUDERIA FERRARI was to help its stable of wealthy amateurs compete—50 (!) in its first year, 1930. Not without controversy, however, Ferrari also engaged professional drivers of the caliber of Tazio Nuvolari, Luigi Arcangeli, Giuseppe Campari, Achille Varzi, Mario Umberto Borzacchini, Luigi Fagioli, Louis Chiron, Antonio Brivio, Guy Moll, Mario Tadini, and Carlo Pintacuda.

While the revived Alfa P2 was a worthy and versatile racing car, it wasn’t ideal for the needs of Ferrari and his paying clientele. Enzo often covered the 110 miles from Modena to Milan to alert Prospero Gianferrari and Vittorio Jano to the kinds of cars he would need to achieve the victories he promised.

Alfa Romeo responded by creating a new high-performance model that made its bow in 1931. Starting in 1929, Jano and his team had designed an eight-cylinder version of their successful six. The new engine utilized the 6C 1750’s bore and stroke (65 × 88 mm) for a displacement of 2,336 cc, and being able to use the six’s valve gear effected a savings in cost. To avoid potentially damaging harmonic vibrations in the crankshaft, which would mean bigger main bearings, Jano laid out the engine as two fours back-to-back, with a gear train between them to drive the camshafts, water and oil pumps, and Roots-type supercharger.

The eight delivered 142 bhp in touring-car form, 165 bhp for sports-car racing, and 178 bhp at 5,400 rpm for Grand Prix racing. The first completed 8C 2300 was driven on the road from Milan to Ferrari in Modena in December 1930.

Although more sports car than racing car, in stripped short-wheelbase form the 8C 2300 was Scuderia Ferrari’s entry in the 1931 Italian Grand Prix. Lasting ten hours, in accord with the AIACR’s strange rules, the race was moved from its usual September date to May 24. Two 8C 2300s were the class of a mixed field, placing first and second ahead of a 4.9-liter Bugatti. The Alfa was subsequently dubbed the “Monza,” a benison of its brilliant success in a demanding event.

Alfa Romeo’s Monza opened the door to great success at Le Mans, the Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia, and other classic races. It was also a sales success: In all, 352 were made of three successive series, selling for between $4,790 and $5,160. (This did not include ten Grand Prix versions and nine specifically for Le Mans.) It was powerful evidence of the commercial benefit of the alliance between Alfa and Ferrari’s Scuderia.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 4

This Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 won the Bobbio-Passo del Penice hillclimb in June 1931.

The 1932 season provided a good measure of Scuderia Ferrari’s role in European racing. “The total of the competitions and races in which it took part reached 39, some of which were in the top league,” wrote Piero Casucci. “These included the Grand Prix events of Tripoli, Alexandria, Berlin, Nimes, France, the Marne, Belgium, Nice, Italy, Masaryk [Hungary], and Spain, as well as the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, the Ciano Cup, the Acerbo Cup, the Stelvio Cup, and the Spa 24-hour race.

“In all,” Casucci concluded, “the Scuderia’s drivers were placed first on 26 occasions, second on 13, and won 12 category championships. There was also a motorcycling division which took part in 12 competitions, and which numbered among its ranks illustrious names such as that of Giordano Aldrighetti, who won eight races that year.”

THE FUTURE LOOKED EVEN MORE PROMISING because Vittorio Jano was developing a proper racing car. Dubbed simply the Tipo B, the new car first competed on June 5, 1932 in the Italian Grand Prix, a race whose length had been reduced to a mere five hours. For aces Tazio Nuvolari and Giuseppe Campari, two Tipo Bs were entered by Alfa Corse, while Ferrari had to make do with his Monzas. Against strong Maserati opposition, the result was victory by a lap for Nuvolari with Campari in fourth. As with the P2 and 8C 2300, Jano’s design had won its maiden race.

The B’s engine was akin to that of the 8C 2300, but with a longer stroke of 100 mm. Though it debuted at 2,654 cc, successive bore increases took it to 2,905 and then 3,165 cc, with power moving up the scale from 200 to 265 bhp. This was Alfa’s first true monoposto, with its driver seated centrally above a unique final drive that placed the differential behind the transmission, with separate shafts going to a ring and pinion set at each wheel.

The Tipo B swept into the 1933 season as the fastest and best Grand Prix car of the year. But all was not well at Portello, as, in January, Italy’s fascist government swooped in to bring the company under the management of the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale.

“The company had contracts to build aero engines,” said historian David Venables, “but even so it was making a loss. The factory at Portello was out of date and needed re-equipping, but there was no capital to do this.”

It cannot have been difficult for the directors to decide Alfa Corse would not race in 1933. Money would be saved and the Scuderia Ferrari would continue to keep the Alfa Romeo name in the public eye. However, Enzo would have to continue his fight in the Grand Prix wars with his outdated Monzas, rather than Jano’s newest creation.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 5

Ferrari and Jano stand behind a streamlined Tipo B, its low-drag bodywork developed by Cesare Pallavicino of the Caproni aircraft company.

“As well as casting his plans into confusion,” added Venables, “it must have been a tremendous blow to Ferrari’s pride when he was told that he would not be having the Tipo Bs, which would remain stored at Portello and not race at all. He made several trips from Modena to Milan to plead his case but the Alfa Romeo directors were adamant. The cars remained stored at Portello.”

Turbulence in Alfa’s executive suites was partially to blame, as Prospero Gianferrari was out, and with him an entire echelon of management. A new man, ex-Fiat engineer and production expert Ugo Gobbato, was in. He was returning from two years in Russia for bearing-maker RIV, and had toured the United States to see its scientific organization of work.

Gobbato had his hands full. In 1933, Alfa built only 408 automobiles and a paltry 103 aero engines. One of his first decisions was to close the doors of Alfa Corse and entrust all works-supported racing to Scuderia Ferrari. Then, effective April 7, 1934, Gobbato nominated himself as Alfa’s technical chief, replacing Jano, who would oversee passenger and racing cars. Coming from Isotta Fraschini, Giustino Cattaneo took charge of aero engines, propellers, and trucks.

Thanks to Gobbato’s decision, Scuderia Ferrari finally received not only the existing stock of Tipo Bs but also a new batch of seven built at Portello under the strict supervision of Gianbattista Guidotti. With his first-class workshop run by Luigi Bazzi, Ferrari was well able to solve problems with Jano’s designs and create distinctive cars when necessary.

For example, in 1934 Enzo knew the Tipo B would have its hands full racing the new German cars on their fast AVUS home track at Berlin, so he commissioned an aerodynamicist to design and build a special low-drag body. A smooth shape with fairings behind its wheels lifted the Tipo B’s top speed by 12 mph and granted victory to Algerian racer Guy Moll.

Such Modena-based initiatives amounted to little, because it was soon obvious that Alfa’s Tipo B was no match for the new cars that Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union tailored to 1934’s new Grand Prix formula, which limited car weight to a maximum of 750 kilograms or 1,654 pounds without tires and liquids. “This was intolerable to national pride,” said one observer of Alfa’s eclipse, “not only for sporting enthusiasts but also for the national fascist hierarchy.” As a result, Gobbato commissioned Jano to commence work on a new Grand Prix car to uphold Italy’s honor.

The engineer chose Bruno Trevisan to create a new V12 engine to rival the Germans. It was a work of commendable purity, with a vee angle of 60 degrees. Two valves per cylinder were angled symmetrically at the wide 104-degree spread that Jano favored. The twelve’s dimensions were 70 × 88 mm for a capacity of 4,064 cc.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 6

Nuvolari drove his 12C-36 to fifth place at Brno the following year despite a missing tire.

All the engine’s main castings were in light alloy. Driven directly from the nose of the crank was the input lobe of a Roots supercharger that blew into the inlet manifolds. Under the blower was the inlet ducting for two horizontal twin-throat Weber carburetors.

By Alfa Romeo’s racing-car standards, this was an epic engine, its most potent yet. Boosted at 11 psi, it produced 370 bhp at 5,800 rpm.

“They were confident,” wrote Laurence Pomeroy, Jr., “that with the extra power they would be able to take full advantage of their new independently sprung chassis and reassert in 1936 the supremacy which had been theirs only two seasons before.” The engine was installed in a new Jano chassis which had hydraulic brakes and a Porsche-designed rear transaxle and swing axles with a Porsche-like trailing-arm front suspension.

Although denied success in the major races by the German teams, the new Tipo 12C-36 won four times in 1936, at Barcelona, Milan, Modena, and, most important, the 300-mile race on the new Roosevelt Raceway on New York’s Long Island for the George Vanderbilt Cup. Though no Germans were present, this gave both Nuvolari and Alfa Romeo major bragging rights over the winter—and Portello a degree of overconfidence.

Though enlarged to 4.5 liters for the 1937 season and giving 430 bhp at 5,800 rpm, the revised V12 was impotent against Mercedes’ 575 bhp and Auto Union’s 520-plus. In the major races, the best Scuderia Ferrari’s Alfa Romeos could muster was Nuvolari’s fourth in the German Grand Prix. In minor events, against occasional Auto Union entries, wins were achieved at Turin, Naples, and Milan.

FROM THE BEGINNING OF 1937, Enzo Ferrari observed these meager results from a new perspective. Never in doubt, Ugo Gobbato had implemented his latest idea: to satisfy the pressing demands for success made by the fascisti all the way up to Benito Mussolini, he created a new relationship between Alfa Romeo and Enzo Ferrari. Its stated purpose was to “make ever more efficient the participation of the Alfa Romeo brand in international motor-racing events.”

Valid from the first day of 1937, a new agreement saw Alfa buy 80 percent of the shares of Scuderia Ferrari. Alfa would invest a half-million lire in the Scuderia plus two million worth of racing cars—a total equivalent to $131,600. The parties would decide mutually on cars to build and races to enter while granting each other exclusivity of cars and activity.

Photo: The Rise and Fall of Scuderia Ferrari 7

Alfa enlarged its V12 to 4.5 liters and 430 hp for the ’37 season, to no avail.

“Scuderia Ferrari would draw its income from the race and prize money,” wrote Luca Dal Monte, “from the reimbursement of expenses recognized by race organizers and from sponsor fees paid by automotive suppliers. For its part, the Scuderia would take care of all costs inherent to race participation—travel expenses for drivers, mechanics, staff, and support vehicles—plus ‘maintenance, repair, and eventual reconstruction of racing cars,’ drivers’ remuneration to be taken from the race money of each event, and administrative costs.

“As president and general manager,” Dal Monte added, “Ferrari would receive 8,000 lire a month for a total of 96,000 lire a year, a pretty lavish sum. The stroke of genius was the 25,000 lire a year that Alfa Romeo would pay him from now on for the rental of the building and workshop in Viale Trento Trieste, a structure that Ferrari had been using since 1930 and that Alfa Romeo now had to pay for.”

Portello’s new contract with Ferrari lasted only throughout 1937, but it was an astonishingly productive year. A team of designers deputed to Modena by Alfa Romeo proved to be exceptional. One of their creations was the Tipo 158, a 1.5-liter racing car suited by its engine size to the Voiturette category that was popular in Europe at the time. With Alfa struggling in the big Grands Prix, both engineer Gioacchino Colombo and Ferrari had pitched the idea of a Voiturette to Portello. Now they grabbed it with both hands.

“The 158 was born from Gioacchino Colombo’s hijacking of the Scuderia Ferrari in 1937,” said Ferrari. “The fact is that Gobbato sold Colombo to me and told me: ‘Well, use him for yourself.’ So we did the 158 with Colombo, Bazzi, Nasi—who was a former Alfa designer—and with Fiat defector Alberto Massimino.

“The 158 is the intellectual property of Colombo and of Bazzi,” Ferrari continued. “As for the arrangement of the cylinders, their manufacture, the crankshaft, the issue of bearings—we went crazy over these—it’s all Bazzi’s stuff. The transmission was made by Massimino. Nasi made the suspensions and finally Giberti designed details of the frame. The whole car was built in Modena in our workshop.”

While the 158 would dominate the first years of Formula 1 after World War II, Ferrari would not have the satisfaction of seeing a finished example roll out of his headquarters on Viale Trento e Trieste. For both Portello and Modena, the end of 1937 would be as turbulent as its beginning. After once again revising his views of Ferrari and his Scuderia, Gobbato decided to put the team out of business.

“On December 27, 1937, Scuderia Ferrari ceased to exist,” wrote Dal Monte. “For Enzo Ferrari, who had invested eight years of his life in the Scuderia with all the physical and mental energy he could muster, it was a bitter day. He could not say that the decision had come as a surprise but it was still a stab in the back. In eight years Scuderia Ferrari participated in 225 races with a total of 715 cars. It obtained 144 victories and 171 podium finishes.

“The only satisfaction Enzo received was that it made him rich,” concluded Dal Monte. “The liquidation of the Scuderia in fact provided him with more than a million lire-—1,142,462 lire and 5 cents, to be exact. A total of 980,000 lire came from the sale of five units of the Tipo 12C-1937—one of which was ‘built by Scuderia Ferrari with spare parts’—and three Tipo 2900 As.”

The balance of Ferrari’s compensation from Portello included severance pay for his services in 1937 and reimbursements for expenses and rents payable. Viale Trento e Trieste 11 became a service and logistics center for owners of racing Alfas and, later, Ferrari cars. Enzo Ferrari was down—but not out for the count.

Also from Issue 195

Connect with Forza:   Facebook icon Twitter icon Instagram icon