It is in Ferrari’s DNA to be alone against the world. That is how it has been since even before the company existed, when there was only a man by the name of Enzo Ferrari. Since 1929, Ferrari has distinguished itself by the unparalleled continuity of its top management. In the 70 years since the company was founded and the almost 90 years since the Scuderia Ferrari was launched, there have been just three men at its helm: all of them very different individuals, all men of substance, who found taking on the world the ultimate satisfaction. And that included a time when they had to go against the world.

Scuderia Ferrari was not the first or the only motor racing team of its day. Others had come before it and failed miserably despite the prestigious names behind them: Emilio Materassi and Tazio Nuvolari. The ‘Flying Mantuan’ launched his own team in the late 1920s but it was short-lived. However, Enzo Ferrari had more than just an idea, he had a conviction. He knew what the future held and attempted to get there first.

The world may not have been ready for Enzo Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari was already at war with the world. He founded Scuderia Ferrari in the autumn of 1929 and it fielded its first car in 1930. It was a hugely efficient organisation that not only purchased racing cars for its own official team, but also hired them out to the many gentlemen drivers of the day, provided support to owners, and liaised with race organisers, sponsors, suppliers, automobile clubs, and national and international racing bodies. Nobody had ever done anything like this before, and so not everybody immediately grasped the importance of what Ferrari had set in motion.

Nuvolari, for instance, definitely did not. In fact, he fell out with Enzo and quit sensationally before making just as dramatic a return when he realised how utterly essential the revolutionary Modena Scuderia really was. Ferrari may have found himself all alone when he lost the greatest racing driver of his generation, but he kept ploughing his own furrow and was vindicated by history.

Enzo Ferrari learned a valuable lesson: nothing motivated him like having the world against him

By the time Nuvolari returned, Enzo Ferrari really was standing alone against the world. The two leading teams of 1935 – Mercedes and Auto Union – were German. There has been much controversy – some of it exaggerated – about the Reich’s financing of the teams. But the funds were there and the state machine certainly was more of a help than a hindrance.

Ferrari was buying his cars from Alfa Romeo, but it had stopped designing and building new models. The P3, for example, was launched in 1932. Compared with the powerful, wind-sculpted new German cars, it looked outdated. However, Ferrari succeeded where others would never have dared.

Sunday 28 July, 1935 was supposed to be a day of celebration at the Nürburgring, which German propaganda referred to as “the most Aryan of all.” But Ferrari and Nuvolari stepped in and spoiled the party as Nuvolari drove his outdated P3 to victory in a race that included five Mercedes and four Auto Union cars.

Never before had the Germans unleashed such power and talent, but Ferrari put them all in their place. Nuvolari won to huge applause from the admiring German audience who took the defeat in good spirit. But he provoked the fury of the Third Reich: Major Hühnlein, the powerful head of motor sports in Nazi Germany, left the track to avoid presenting the Scuderia Ferrari’s Italian driver with his prize.

A year after conquering Germany, Ferrari and Nuvolari did the same in the United States. The Vanderbilt Cup was making a return after many years’ absence and offering the kind of prize money that was totally unthinkable in Europe. The winner stood to take home $20,000 – a sum that it would have taken a well-paid Italian almost 21 years to earn.

The Americans lined out an impressive string of locally built cars, while Europe was represented by a couple of Bugattis and a pair of Maseratis. Ferrari sent over three of the new Alfa Romeos the company had finally produced. But one would have sufficed as Nuvolari triumphed, crossing the line eight minutes ahead of Jean-Pierre Wimille’s Bugatti.

While it seemed Ferrari had the world at his feet, it was actually still very much against him. Controversy had always raged in Italy about the role of the various scuderie. When things were going well, the state machine ignored them, but it now decided to follow the German example. Ferrari was at first put into temporary receivership and then merged with Alfa Romeo, which was virtually an arm of the state.

After achieving and winning so much (Italian championships, the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, European Grand Prix, international speed records), Scuderia Ferrari suddenly vanished. 

Enzo was given his marching orders, but agreed to work for Alfa Corse, a gilded cage if there ever was one. However, he had learned a valuable lesson: nothing motivated him like having the world against him.

Taking on the world and winning may not have brought happiness on its own, but it helped

Ferrari returned to Modena and was soon thumbing his nose at the clause Alfa Romeo had put in his severance contract when it let him go six days after World War II broke out. The clause prohibited him from building cars under his own name for four years but he completely ignored it and got away with doing so more than once. First of all, he produced the 815, not exactly an inconsequential first car, which came close to winning its class in the 1940 Mille Miglia. Remarkably, however, Ferrari did not attract the ire of the people at Alfa Romeo, who knew what he was up to and yet turned a blind eye to it. He returned to the Mille Miglia and racked up six consecutive victories between 1948 and 1953.

When the factory he founded in the meantime began producing cars under his name and with the Prancing Horse on their hoods, Alfa Romeo became his arch enemy. For two years Ferrari struggled to get near the performance delivered by Alfas, but his determination and hard work were eventually rewarded.

Ferrari finally beat Alfa Romeo on 14 July 1951, when the Argentinian driver Froilán González gave the Prancing Horse its first F1 victory at Silverstone. The World Drivers’ title came in 1952 courtesy of Alberto Ascari, who repeated that same feat the following year.

But Ferrari discovered that success was bittersweet. Taking on the world and winning may not have brought happiness on its own, but it helped. Circumstances, regulations and adversaries changed, but Ferrari and the Prancing Horse remained a constant presence on the racetracks around the world. Others came and went, but Ferrari never wavered. 

TASCHEN has published Ferrari, a collector’s piece celebrating the automotive giant’s legacy, encased in a replica Ferrari engine designed by Marc Newson. There are 1,947 editions available (the year Enzo Ferrari founded the company) and each book features hundreds of unseen photographs, drawings and sketches from the Ferrari archive. Ferrari: The Art Edition (numbers one to 250): £22,500; Collector’s Edition: £4,500.