The Great Ferrari Walkout Almost Killed the Company

The Great Ferrari Walkout Almost Killed the Company


Perhaps the biggest Ferrari scandal in the Maranello Outfit’s history is the 1 that almost finished the company, as it came at a very difficult time for Enzo Ferrari.

It happened in the early 1960’s, when Enzo had a number of arch-rivals chasing him stemming from the common desire to best both his company’s sports cars and himself as a tyrannic business leader.

Some say it was a 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.

One of his favorite retorts to anyone that thought differently than the Boss did heard this, “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 Henry Ford to build a car to beat Ferrari at Le Mans from Y’s 1966 through 1969.

Enzo Ferrari’s stubbornness almost cost him his company on more than 1 occasion, and the biggest one of all came the closest to sealing this deal in Y 1961.

What became known as “The Great Ferrari Walkout” happened when every opponent to Enzo’s demanding ways was either laid off or left on his own accord in a matter of days, leaving the iconic Italian carmaker without some of its most successful engineers and designers.

The process that resulted in this almost deadly event stemmed from something that had happened over several years at Ferrari, boiled up and culminated in Y 1961. The internal tensions between Enzo and his employees, somehow revolved around Laura Garello, Enzo’s wife, business management advise.

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 did not auger well with one of the Italiancarmaker’s Sales Managers, Girolamo Gardini, who frequently argued with Enzo over Laura’s style.

The discussions became so heated that Mr. Gardini cornered Enzo and threatened to leave the company if Laura was not taken out of Ferrari management equation.

Il Commendatore refused to comply with such a demand from one of his employees and promptly laid off Mr. Gardini, who was not an immovable pillar in the company’s upcoming plans, but he was one of the Key people responsible for its success.

Mr. Gardini was not the only 1 at Ferrari who was against Laura’s involvement in how Ferrari was run, 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 other Key people backed Mr. Gardini. And 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.

Even though The Scuderia secured both the World Championship of Drivers and the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers titles in Y 1961 thanks to the genius of Phil Hill and the speed of the distinctively designed Ferrari 156 F1 “Sharknose” – the 2 triumphs had been overshadowed by Wolfgang vTrips’ death at Monza, a crash that also took the lives of 15 spectators.

Phill Hill in the 156 F1 aka The Sharknose

The bad omen caused by the increasing death count in racing, the arguments with Ferruccio Lamborghini and the Great Walkout, culminating with the hammering Ferrari got from Ford at Le Mans almost forced Enzo to close shop in the 1960’s. As, the engineers and designers that left during the walkout caused the biggest amount of damage to the company, since it was more than just a PR blow and the loss of Key talent from Maranello’s small group of employees.

And 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 track, thanks to plenty of funding from Count Giovanni Volpi, though it soon faded with little success.

But, all these events did not, could not put an end to Il Commendatore’s dream of racing, instead empowering him to come back and become even more successful.

I believe that we have to thank Enzo Ferrari’s enemies over the years, since they are partly responsible for the evolution of the company into the Aristocrat of the automotive world.

Have a Happy Christmas!

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