It's mid winter, northern Italy, February 1898, and it is snowing heavily. Heavily enough, in fact, to prevent one young couple in the area from officially recording the birth of their son until two days after the event, on 20 February after his actual birth on the 18th - so forever after, 20 February 1898 would always be quoted as his birth date. And as it would turn out, that would become typical of the new arrival's relationship with authority and convention almost throughout his life, when he never seemed to have much time for doing things the 'ordinary' way. Because Enzo Anselmo Ferrari, as the boy was officially registered at two days old, would achieve great things, but rarely by working to the book.
The family lived on the outskirts of Modena, where Enzo's father, Alfredo, ran a small but busy metalworking business that, for most of the time, gave the family a fairly comfortable lifestyle. Enzo had an older brother, also called Alfredo, who was two years his senior. They shared many things, including a bedroom when they were young, and a love of homing pigeons, but in one respect they were quite different, and with a surprising twist. Alfredo senior would have liked both boys to follow in his footsteps and become engineers, but while young Alfredo accepted the idea and studied diligently, Enzo (who would become synonymous with some of the most exotic automobile engineering in the world) never showed the remotest interest in formal engineering training, or to be honest in a formal education at all.
At school he was far more interested in sports than in academic subjects, and he fulfilled one of his childhood career ambitions by briefly writing local football match reports for the prestigious newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. But he grew out of an even bigger ambition, to become an opera singer, and in September 1908, he switched ideas again, after his father had taken him to nearby Bologna where he saw Felice Nazzaro's FIAT winning the Coppa Florio road race. Now, the ten-year-old Enzo Ferrari wanted to be a racing driver.
He had already had contact with cars, at a time when they were still rare in rural Italy where the family lived. His father owned one, and had started to service and repair cars for other owners in his workshops. And in his early teens, Enzo himself began to learn how to drive. How little did he know then that there was going to be such a famous marque of sportscars known as Ferrari, and would go on to world recognition on the road and on the racetrack.
At the same time, Enzo Ferrari was being forced to grow up very quickly. In 1914, World War I broke out; and in 1916, within months of each other, Enzo's father and brother both died - his father from pneumonia, his brother from an illness contracted during military service. In 1917, Enzo followed him into the army, and was assigned to be a blacksmith, shoeing horses. Like father and older brother, though, he suffered illnesses, and after a round of operations and hospital stays he was discharged in 1918, with what looked like poor prospects for the immediate future.
The family business had died with his father and brother, he had no real qualifications, and there were very few jobs on offer. He found one, though, and with a motoring connection - driving refurbished ex-military light vehicle chassis between Turin and Milan, for a Bolognese engineer who had started a business rebodying them for the civilian market. And it was through this apparently mundane driving job that Enzo Ferrari moved a step closer to that still burning motor sporting ambition. History would show how he fulfilled his dreams with the number of Ferrari sales that have been acheived since that time. The world just wouldn't be the same without the prancing horse.
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