An unpublished story: Enzo Ferrari and the foundation of the Modena Automobile Club
On January 29, 1926, a handful of gallant men met to plan the
founding of an Automobile Club in Modena County. Leading figures of
contemporary society, these men would play central roles in the
organization of local automobile events for years to follow. A
month later, on February 26, the Modena Automobile Club was
The following members were appointed to be part of Club's Board of Directors: Claudio Sandonnino (President); eng. Ubaldo Magiera, Dr. Giovanni Corni, Mr. Giulio Aggazzotti, Kt. Enzo Ferrari, Dr. Giorgio Baggi, lawyer Carlo Ramazzini, accountant Angelo Chieregato, and Mr. Carlo Nava (Councilors).
Although its members included leading Fascist figures from Modena and from all over the country (like Giovanni Corni e Vittorio Arangio Ruiz, for example), the Club was an admittedly apolitical association.
Article 2 of the Club's Charter illustrates the main goals of the association: "To promote and encourage the growth of motor racing; to join forces for the successful organization of car racing events; to defend the common and private interests of motorists; to ensure the implementation of a regular tourist service for conventions, conferences and such, and finally, to enforce, in accordance with the directives established by the Italian Automobile Club, any action which may support the development and protection of automobile users in the Province of Modena". There was a £.50 admission fee to join the Club, while yearly membership dues amounted to £.100.
The following month, on March 5, Enzo Ferrari took on the role of Technical Manager of the Club along with Claudio Sandonnino and Giovanni Corni. And among charity obstacle races, fox hunts for the Club's members, requests for a Modena Aircraft Club football or for 200 A. C. Modena badges, the Managers also found the time to consider the organization of what would become a "legendary" race - the 1-kilometer Via Nonantolana Competition. However, more critical issues - like road safety and road conditions - were also paramount for the Club's administrators at the time. In particular, they made it a priority to alert drivers about "a number of inconveniences caused by inaccurate signs posted at mountain bends, and grade crossings which are not always sufficiently elevated, due to the misplacement of mounds of gravel or other materials". Another pressing issue was the establishment of a corps of City Traffic Police. The Automobile Club fought hard for this good cause, but eventually had to come to terms with "the slowness and the uncertainties of the Authorities in taking an action which has already been taken in other cities."
Finally, on November 27, 1927, the purchase of a vehicle to be used by the City Traffic Police was taken into consideration. The vehicle in question was a Citroën Torpedo, "equipped with spare tires". The cost of the car amounted to £. 16,000, which - it was decided - would be paid in monthly installment. But as shown by the minutes of the Club, money was tight for the Modena A. C. at the time, and at the following meeting a three-month extension of the payment had to be requested. Everything had to be documented with the utmost precision, while each expense, no matter how small, had to be planned down to the last cent.
On April 30, 1928 shortage of money forced the Club to decline the donation of funds for a Physical Education Performance sponsored by the Balilla National Institution. "We have already contributed …" was the Club's official explanation. Money matters also put the organization of the "Modena Circuit" race at stake. The Club had previously arranged a careful advertising campaign trying to promote the "Modena Circuit", placing ads on a number of newspapers like the "Gazzetta dello Sport", the "Gazzetta dell'Emilia", the "Corriere della Sera" and the "Littoriale".
The organization of the race had reached an impasse, and Enzo Ferrari, enraged, left the Club.
Eventually, the "Modena Circuit" race took place, but … there was no money left to buy a prize for the winning competitor. And since the winner ended up being Enzo Ferrari himself … Heaven help us! Minutes dated January 4, 1929 reveal in fact that: "Following Ferrari's insistent and continuing requests that he be granted payment of the remaining amount of money from the prize won at the 1928 race, and taking onto account the fact that the Club does not have any available reserve funds at the moment, the President and the Councilors in attendance have decided to issue and sign a £. 10,000 bill at the Banca Popolare, and pay Mr. Ferrari and the other contestants with the proceeds of said bill".
In the meantime, three gas stations were opened in the area, one in town and two in the surrounding areas. The Club "invited any lady possessing a driver's license to become a member, and form a group".
However, at that time Italy desperately needed her men … President Sandonnino's presence was requested in Somalia by Governor S.E., who was none other than Guido Corni, from Modena (Councilor Giovanni Corni's own brother), and who would be unanimously appointed honorary member of the Club in September 1931. As a consequence, Dr. Cosimo Manni became the Club's new President in November 1928.
On March 30, 1929, a long list of critical issues was ready to be discussed at the Club's General Meeting. The list included such topics as the institution of City Traffic Police corps; free parking for the Club's 212 members; a £. 0.50/liter discount on gas for members; the institution of a Committee Office (free for members); the organization of new races and finally, the search for a new, more suitable main office. At the Meeting, Enzo Ferrari emphasized once again the pressing need to address the Club's financial matters, but Cosimo Manni, the Club's new President, replied that he would be unable to attend to these concerns. It may be sheer coincidence, but after this Meeting, Enzo Ferrari's name no longer appears in the Modena Automobile Club's minutes - not until after the end of the War, at least.
By January 1930 the number of Club members had increased to 305. The following November, the Council approved the purchase of a pre-owned vehicle to be used by the City Traffic Police as a replacement for the old Citroën. The Council decided to buy a Fiat 503 Stanguellini, for a total of £. 7,650.
The Twilight of a War
For a long time, the Automobile Club had been entertaining the hope to incorporate both the Automobile Division of the Prefect's Office and the Railway Society Office into its headquarters. Unfortunately, on account of the "categorical rejections of the Managers of these offices", their dream would never be fulfilled. However, in 1939, the Automobile Club was asked to include the Aircraft Club into its main office.
Sports activities were languishing: "Little has been done beside small supporting actions". Regrettably, the organization of sports events required large amounts of money - up to thousands of Liras - and just like in modern society, people were mostly attracted to this type of events by "names of great drivers, who will agree to participate only when consistent prizes are at stake".
Financial concerns were still paramount in the Modena Automobile Club's priority list. Ongoing political pressures were another. In June 1932, for example, the Club was advised to buy a Treccani Encyclopedia, a recently published set of books endorsed by the "regime". Once again, the Board of Directors had to play a waiting game, and politely turn down the offer: "should there be any surplus when we draw our closing balance for the year, the purchase could possibly be made". But how to turn down an appeal made by the Red Cross?
As a matter of fact, around the same time when the Club was invited to buy a Treccani, Senator Vicini requested that a car race be organized to benefit the Red Cross. At first, the Automobile Club attempted to graciously reject the idea, but was soon after forced to accept it. It was agreed, however, that the event would be a short obstacle race, which would take place on the Panaro field. As anticipated, in the end the race left the Club with an unpleasant taste in its mouth - a "debt of £. 1,687.35...
Further pressure would soon be put on the Modena A.C. by a local company, demanding that the Club's private gas station be made available to their members, too. The request, which would have certainly helped relieve the Club's financial concerns, was promptly dismissed on the grounds that "it would eventually erode the Automobile Club's freedom of action, and moreover, we cannot depart from the principle we believe in, that we will only supply gas to our members". This certainly makes for a great morality lesson, an outstanding example of loyalty given by the Modena A.C. and the members of its Board of Directors. With great determination, the latter kept pursuing the Club's mission of being socially helpful, as demonstrated by the organization of a "driving school class for Judges" in 1933.
On August 24, 1935, Kt. Carlo Benassati took on the role of President of the Club, whose associates had now grown to 708. Members could now enjoy, among other things, the benefit of free insurance "against the partial or total theft of one of their vehicles".
While growing in size, the Club also had to contend with growing financial responsibilities. The organization of local sports events, and in particular of the 6th edition of the Modena Racing Course - now a prestigious international competition - increased the Club's expenses from £. 20,000 in 1936 to £. 40,000 in 1937.
After that, the Automobile Club's minutes seem to disappear, until 1940. Then, in the period between 1940 and 1940, the Club's daily life would be inevitably linked to the events of World War II.
From vehicles to ... a bicycle
When Italy went to war, the Modena Automobile Club had to come to terms with a new, unpredictable set of circumstances. To begin with, all car sports events were cancelled, and money became an even bigger concern. At a time when gas and vehicles were no longer as easily available as in the past, many members were forced to leave the Club. On the other hand, the number of institutional "obligations" for the Modena A.C. - like the establishment of paramilitary driving schools - was bound to increase.
Trips to other towns became increasingly more frequent - and inevitable - to acquire basic equipment: propane tanks had to be bought in Parma, while one had to travel to either Florence or Ancona to find teaching materials for the School.
In June 1940 the Club finally decided to buy a … bicycle, while trying to settle a number of small payments here and there. Considering the series of tragic events taking place at the time, these may seem trifling concerns, but contributions and offerings to a number of institutions helped the Club secure its ties with contemporary society.
If on one hand the Club was willing - or, at times, forced - to make small contributions, on the other it found itself unable to afford certain privileges. On September 2, 1941, it was decided to "do without a phone in the main office, and consent to the installation of a telephone in Director Tito Braidi's home. The Club will cover any installation cost and yearly fees associated with the service."
On June 14, 1944, Benassati stepped down as a President of the Club after granting compensation for damages caused by the bombings to all employees working at the Club's headquarters. A very generous act indeed.
Commissioner Gaetano Zavattini succeeded President Benassati as a Prefect. The minutes of the time are scanty and mostly limited to records of expenses. Everyone was anticipating the end of the War, which wouldn't be too far now. And then finally a record certifies that on September 29, 1945, a 'Liberation bonus' and further compensations for war damages would be given to all employees.
The first meeting after the war
On February 15, 1946, Commissioner Zerbini summoned the first company meeting to take place after the War. The main goal of the meeting was to appoint the new Executive Council in front of 29 Club members, among which were Enzo Ferrari, Vittorio Stanguellini, Camillo Donati (a lawyer associated with the Maserati group), driver Nando Righetti, from Modena, and Count Uberto Pignatti Morano, who would be later appointed President. Interestingly enough, the core group of members had come to include new affiliates, like the Modena Road Transport Co-op and the Montecenere Road Transport Co-op - a definite sign that the spirit of the time was changing.
In Modena and in general all over the country, the most pressing issue in those days was the reform of the R.A.C.I. (Royal Automobile Club of Italy). The process entailed a reorganization of all services delegated by the State, like the collection of circulation taxes and the management of the P.R.A. - Public Automobile Register. It also involved the promotion of a recovery in the economy, the organization of sports events and the restoration of benefits and services for the Club's members. However, it would take a renovation of society at large - one inspired by the key concept of "democracy" - in order for all these changes to take place.
With the first post-war Club meeting, held in 1946, a world of new, unlimited possibilities seemed to open up for Modena's industries and for the automobile culture. In the Club's minutes, we find an entry describing a long speech made by Enzo Ferrari to criticize the Commissioner's financial management of funds, and also to request - with the support of fellow members Donati, Righetti and Mario Sandonnino - the establishment of "a restricted committee for the promotion and study of better, improved norms which would allow all Club Members to actively participate in the election of an Executive Council". Ferrari's proposal was accepted, and a new committee was appointed without delay.
The exclusion of Enzo Ferrari
Obviously, Ferrarri was afraid that he would be cut off from a town where Maserati and Stanguellini were the leading car manufacturers. Therefore, he sought to obtain the protection and opportunities he desperately needed from the institutions. We should not in fact forget that Ferrari was "a self-made man": not a nobleman, not a rich person, and neither did he belong to the "highest" ranks of local society. On the other hand, he wasn't a proletarian either: after all, he was fighting so hard to endorse a sport - car racing - which had hardly anything to do with the working class. After reading the Automobile Club's minutes, after going through records of his speeches, we can sense the personal tragedy of a man who was trying to move the world while nobody in the world would as much as lift a finger for him. We can also understand the dynamics behind the foundation of an Aerodrome/Racetrack in town, one which he would never get to manage or direct. Or the unspoken, deep-rooted reasons laying behind the destruction of that racetrack, and the failure to replace it once Ferrari eventually became a synonym of motor racing in Modena. In conclusion, people did not love Ferrari, but then again they also found it impossible not to admire him.
As a further confirmation of what has just been said, Ferrari was not elected as a member of the Executive Board… On March 11, 1946, 321 Club members were invited to take part in the election of the Executive Board. However, only 63 of them actually showed up to vote. The voters chose former-Commissioner Gaetano Zerbini, driver Nando Righetti, Count Uberto Pignatti Morano, motor engineer Vittorio Stanguellini and lawyer Camillo Donati - Maserati's trusted man - as the new members of the Board. Ferrari was the only car manufacturer in Modena to be left out of it. And interestingly enough, while Zerbini was elected with 46 votes, Pignatti Morano with 34, Stanguellini with 30 and Donati with 22, Enzo Ferrari was left out with just … 8 votes.
(Research by Nunzia Manicardi on unpublished Modena A.C. materials)