How an Employee Uprising Almost Killed Ferrari – The Great Ferrari Walkout

Ferrari Collage 6 photos
Photo: Ferrari - edited by autoevolution
Enzo FerrariFerrari 156 F1 SharknoseFerrari 250 GTOATS 2500 GTBizzarrini 5300 Strada
From its creation as a sports car manufacturer - not just a motorsport endeavor called “Scuderia” - and until Il Commendatore passed away in 1988, Ferrari had become known as an almost totalitarian organization, with Enzo running the company not unlike a military dictator.
This is probably the main reason behind Ferrari's success both on the track and on the road, but on more than one occasion it had some pretty dire consequences. One of the most important ones was the very birth of Lamborghini, while another resulted in Scuderia Ferrari getting its tooshie kicked by none other than Ford at Le Mans, for four consecutive years.

Probably the biggest Ferrari scandal in history is the one that almost culminated in the downright ruination of the company, especially since it came at a very difficult time for the Maranello outfit. This was the early '60s, when Enzo had already amassed a serious number of arch-rivals that stemmed from the common desire to best both his company's fantastic sports cars and himself as an almost tyrannic business ruler.

Some say it was an old-school mutiny among Ferrari's best engineers, but the fact is that it started mainly because Enzo had a very basic method of dealing with people that he didn't see eye-to-eye with. I'm not sure if it involved some classic Italian swear words but it definitely resumed into something like “if you don't like it here or what I'm doing, you're free to do it your own way, but somewhere else.”

This is pretty much how Il Commendatore “convinced” Ferruccio Lamborghini to start a competing sports car company or Ford to demolish Ferrari at Le Mans from 1966 'till 1969. It was pure and simple stubbornness that almost cost Enzo his company on more than one occasion, and the biggest one of all came the closest to sealing this deal in 1961.

It started because of a woman. Sort of.

Without any actual connection to the real “Night of the Long Knives,” what later became known as “The Great Ferrari Walkout” had a somewhat similar theme as the 1934 political purge that took place in Germany. In short, every single opponent to Enzo's despotic ways was either laid off or left on his own accord in a matter of days, leaving the carmaker without some of its most successful engineers and designers.

The process that resulted in this downright death blow stemmed from something that had happened over several years at Ferrari, but culminated in 1961: internal tensions between Enzo and his employees, some which also revolved around Laura Garello, Enzo's wife.

According to most accounts, the biggest dispute regarded Laura's increased involvement in company affairs in the years preceding the walkout. Her implication in how Ferrari was being run didn't bode well with one of the carmaker's Sales Managers, Girolamo Gardini, who frequently argued with Enzo over this predicament. Over time, the discussions became so heated that Gardini simply cornered Enzo and threatened to leave the company if Laura wasn't taken out of the Ferrari equation.

Ferrari 250 GTO
Photo: Ferrari
Obviously, Il Commendatore refused to comply with such a demand from one of its employees and promptly laid off Gardini, who wasn't exactly an immovable pillar in the company's upcoming plans but he was one of the key people responsible for its success.

As it happens, Girolamo Gardini wasn't the only one who was against Laura's involvement in how Ferrari rolled, especially when it came to her bad-mouthing certain figures in the company, so his thoughts were largely mirrored by a number of other critical employees as well.

Sports car development chief Giotto Bizzarrini, chief engineer Carlo Chiti, Scuderia Ferrari manager Romolo Tavoni and a number of five other key people backed Gardini. As a matter of fact, they went as far as sending a group-signed letter to complain about Laura's meddling with the Scuderia.

Following the news of Gardini's dismissal they all left the company in October 1961, leaving Ferrari without some of its best executives and with upcoming sports car projects in limbo. Some say that they were actually all sacked by Enzo, while others say that it was a common decision made among themselves. Either way, that is less important than the possible consequences of this sudden turn of events, especially considering the context.

Inauspicious timing

The Great Walkout came at an already difficult time for Ferrari, whose motorsport division was struggling to cope with an increasing number of track-related tragedies. A magazine from the time had even wrote that the factory was nothing because “it was built on dead men.” Ferrari Grand Prix driver Eugenio Castellotti had been killed in an accident on the now-defunct Modena Autodromo circuit in 1957, while Fon de Portago had crashed and died not even a month later in the last and probably bloodiest Mille Miglia race, taking several spectators with him. The row of Ferrari motorsport disasters had continued in 1958, when Luigi Musso was killed at the French Grand Prix in Reims, while Peter Collins died on the yet-to-be-nicknamed “Green Hell,” also known as the Nurburgring, all in the span of just a couple of weeks.

Even though the Scuderia secured both the World Championship of Drivers and the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers titles in 1961 - thanks to the genius of Phil Hill and the speed of the distinctively designed Ferrari 156 F1 “Sharknose” - the two triumphs had been overshadowed by Wolfgang von Trips' death at Monza, a crash that also took the lives of fifteen spectators.

Ferrari 156 F1 Sharknose
Photo: Ferrari
The bad omen caused by the increasing death count in racing, the arguments with Ferruccio Lamborghini and the Great Walkout, culminating with the spanking it got from Ford at Le Mans almost forced Enzo to close shop in the 1960s. Arguably, the engineers and designers that left during Ferrari's “Night of the Long Knives” caused the biggest amount of damage to the company, since it was more than just a PR blow and an actual loss of talent from Maranello's rather small family of employees.

Not to mention that almost immediately after leaving Ferrari, Giotto Bizzarrini, Carlo Chiti and Romolo Tavoni teamed up to form ATS (Automobili Turismo e Sport), a soon-to-be arch-enemy of Ferrari both on the road and on the track, thanks to plenty of funding from Count Giovanni Volpi.

Fortunately, all these wretched events didn't manage to put an end to Il Commendatore's dream of racing, instead empowering him to bounce back and become even more successful. In some ways, we have to actually thank almost all of Enzo's enemies over the years, since they are partly and not necessarily directly responsible for the Prancing Horse's evolution over the years.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Alex Oagana
Alex Oagana profile photo

Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories