Experience D’Orth By Bill Orth
STROLLIN’ THE STREETS OF MARANELLO
Most Ferrari enthusiasts would enjoy a trip to Maranello as a pilgrimage to their favorite cars’ birthplace, and quite a few manage to go every year. It is common to see tifosi of many different nationalities wandering around the town. Being fortunate enough to go there every year or so has allowed me to witness some changes in the area, rather than having the usual one-time snapshot memory most fans will recall for many years. During my first visit in 1995 some old hands who were also along commented on notable changes since their first trip. Since the mid-90s, Ferrari’s footprint in Maranello has grown tremendously as the company has increased its production capacity. I thought some of you who haven’t been there yet might like a quick tour.
Maranello is a small community about fifteen miles south of the much bigger city of Modena. They are located nearly in the center of the Italian peninsula, well to the north of Rome and about one hundred miles south of the mountains that ring Italy’s northern borders with Austria, Switzerland and France. This region encompasses the broad Po River valley and has been a rich agricultural area for hundreds of years, plus the available water power was responsible for making the area Italy’s industrial center as well. The region is hot and humid during the summer and cold with occasional snow during the winters, but fall and spring are glorious. Given a fairly similar latitude, the weather during any season is actually very much like Denver’s, apart from the humidity. Whenever I’m going, I simply think about what I would need to wear here at home, and packing is simple.
It is inconvenient to fly directly to the immediate area, as the nearest airport is in Bologna, about sixty miles away to the northeast. While it is possible to connect with trains, your mobility would be very restricted in this region. It’s far better to rent a car in order to maximize the experience and to get around on your own schedule. Plus, driving in Italy is fun! Since my first visit when there was only one decent hotel near Maranello, now there are two new ones that were built primarily to cater to Ferrari’s visitors. There is several more in Modena, which is only about twenty minutes away.
If you want to actually visit the Ferrari factory, an appointment must be made at least a month ahead, through a Ferrari dealer, and the courtesy is only extended to Ferrari owners. The factory is located just north of Maranello’s center, on the main road from Maranello to Modena, the Via Abetone Inferiore. Once there, just inside the traditional green gates at the main factory entrance is a security office where your appointment will be confirmed and your guide introduced to you. Guests are taken through the upholstery unit, engine assembly area and walked down the length of the actual assembly line. Body assembly—the stamping & welding—is done off-site in Modena and the shells are painted in a new building on the Maranello grounds, but this is not open to the public due to hazmat concerns. Following the two-hour tour, you can walk across the street from the gates and enjoy a sumptuous lunch at the famous Cavallino restaurant. The factory is not a stereotypical dirty, noisy hellhole. In fact, ladies who I have accompanied through the tour always express surprise that they enjoyed the experience and found it more interesting than they had expected.
After lunch, a short walk from the Cavallino will take you to four of the independent Ferrari accessory shops that have always been mandatory stops for Ferrari enthusiasts. These stores carry huge varieties of scale models, clothing and anything else that is possible to print “Ferrari” on. The shops have been so successful that Ferrari has entered the fray with their own Ferrari Store, right across from the main gate, carrying all of the exclusive merchandise featured on their website. Two blocks from the Cavallino is the Ferrari Galleria, which is their open-to-the-public museum. No appointment is needed; just about eight euros for admission. There are constantly-changing displays of experimental cars, engineering features and Formula One displays with actual cars. On the second floor is a huge collection of the trophies won over the past sixty years, a replica of one of Enzo’s offices (he had several) more cars and many display engines. Adjacent to this building is a new addition in which are always displayed privately-owned vintage Ferraris that have been invited for a specific theme—like all the 250 series models, or perhaps all the Lemans-winning cars.
If you get in your rental car and work your way around the perimeter of the Ferrari factory grounds, you can see buildings that house departments you will never get in to see, like the big new wind tunnel, the foundry, the paint building, etc. A slow cruise through the village of Maranello will show you some interesting ‘shrines’ to their most famous resident, like an F-1 wheel & tire set into a display in a public park to commemorate Enzo’s contributions to the community. Within a half-mile of the town square in any direction you will be back out into the farming countryside. During your wandering around, you will occasionally see new cars sneaking out of factory gates with “Prova” license plates hung on the rear bumper and disappearing up into the surrounding hills. Thirty-five miles later, each comes back to the factory with a report of “OK, ready to be shipped” or “XYZ needs to be adjusted.” Eagle-eyed True Believers may spot pre-production or prototype cars slinking around under black-and-grey camouflage tape. The street that runs in front of the Galleria, Via Dino Ferrari, is the road to the main entrance of the Fiorano test track, so interesting cars may buzz by on their way to or from a test session. There are several sidewalk trattorias where you can sit under an umbrella and have a snack while watching for what might pass by. The track itself is impossible to get into, but there are a couple clandestine vantage points to try if you happen to hear the F-1 cars on the track. The main road past the factory gates will take you a few blocks north and over an overpass. There is a sidewalk on the bridge and by walking up there, you can look down onto the track.
Just a few hundred yards beyond the overpass, on the left side of the road, is the famous Montana Restaurant, where many Ferrari luminaries like to eat—and so can you. Although Schumacher & Todt usually ate in a private room downstairs—and Michael was reputed to help out in the kitchen occasionally—you can have your hotel make a dinner reservation there for you—but bear in mind that dinner in Italy doesn’t start before 8:00PM. The Montana is decorated in a Golden Corral-type western theme, but the traditional Italian food (no ribs) is terrific and the staff speaks helpful English.
By now your family will be asking, “What else is there to do in Maranello?” Well, not much. There really aren’t any ‘sights’ of interest to most tourists, and the only other significant industry there is the manufacture of ceramic tile, and you will drive past numerous plants doing exactly that. In fact, the tile from Maranello is so popular, it is surprisingly likely that some in your home may have come from there. (I have looked at tile boxes in several tile stores here in Denver and seen ‘Fabbricazione en Maranello’ frequently) Up the road in Modena you can drive by the location of Enzo Ferrari’s original Alfa Romeo race team headquarters, where the Scuderia Ferrari actually started in the 1930s, but there’s a new building there now that’s a grocery store. Around the corner and up the via Emilia a couple of blocks is the large apartment house in which Mr. Ferrari lived for much of his adult life. The central part of Modena is interesting because it was one of Caesar’s original walled cities along the via Emilia, which was the main Roman road through the region. The cities were built in a circular fashion, enclosed within a protective wall, with streets radiating out from the central plaza, in which was always the Duomo, or cathedral. To provide shelter from the elements (and arrows), most sidewalks are covered by roofed arcades, leaving just the narrow street itself open to sunlight. The architectural style is interesting as is the experience of seeing how typical Italian city-dwellers live.
On the outskirts of Modena is the Maserati factory, in which a car nut can also arrange a visit, and if you drive south out of town on the via Emilia, you will pass the original Scaglietti works, where the bodies for many of Ferrari’s legends were built, and now is where all of today’s Ferraris are stamped and welded together. The Modena Ferrari dealership is located across the street, too, but visits can be awkward, as not many of the staff speak English. For a cross-cultural experience, the tiny village of St. Agata Bolognese is about twenty miles outside of Maranello towards the northeast, and that is where Lamborghini’s factory is located, right along the main road toward Venice. I understand that visits may be arranged through US Lambo dealers, but I have no experience with the process.
All in all, a Ferrari enthusiast can occupy himself for a full day in Maranello and then be sated and ready to go places the rest of his family wants to see in Italy. Those who are seriously planning such a pilgrimage, can go to the ferrariofdenver.com site and find a step-by-step Google Earth tour with exact locations for each of these attractions
-- Bill Orth –