Luca Dal Monte’s new Fer­rari bi­og­ra­phy is a must-read, and the author is a story of his own

Automobile - - Ethos -

LUCA DAL MONTE is thor­oughly Ital­ian. Born and raised in Cre­mona, home of Stradi­vari, in the Lom­bardy re­gion of north­ern Italy by the left bank of the River Po. Lives to­day in Mi­lan. Ran press op­er­a­tions for Fer­rari and Maserati, two of the most es­sen­tial, es­sen­tially Ital­ian mar­ques. He’s also writ­ten sev­eral books, in­clud­ing a novel called La Scud­e­ria and, most re­cently, Fer­rari Rex, a weighty yet won­der­fully col­or­ful bi­og­ra­phy of Enzo Fer­rari. There’s a fair chance it will be­come an Ital­ian minis­eries.

Yet, in­trigu­ingly, 55-year-old Dal Monte cred­its Amer­ica— where Fer­rari Rex is only just now avail­able in English and reti­tled as Enzo Fer­rari: Power, Pol­i­tics, and the Mak­ing of an Au­to­mo­tive Em­pire— for his suc­cess.

On a U.S. press tour, Dal Monte has come to meet us at Dominick Euro­pean Car Re­pair, a mecca for all things old­car Ital­ian, in White Plains, New York. We’re meant to drive off in a rare and valu­able 1966 Fer­rari 275 GTB be­long­ing to a gen­er­ous cus­tomer, an early-pro­duc­tion long-nose model with sev­eral unique de­tails and a value in ex­cess of $3 mil­lion. I of­fer Dal Monte the first drive, but eye­ing the steady driz­zle of a cold Westchester morn­ing along with some spir­ited dis­plays of lo­cal driv­ing skill out­side the garage, he de­clines: “Not to­day.”

I, how­ever, don’t have to be asked twice to drive the first 275 GTB I’ve ever sat in. Still, de­ter­mined to re­main on task, I ask Dal Monte, “What is it about you and Amer­ica?”

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with you guys,” he says. “I be­long to the Race to the Moon gen­er­a­tion. I re­mem­ber watch­ing the Apollo launches and splash­downs on TV, dream­ing of one day go­ing to the U.S.

“I also be­long to the post-JFK gen­er­a­tion. My mom and dad re­mem­ber to this day where they were when they heard the news of JFK’s as­sas­si­na­tion. I know all Amer­i­cans [of a cer­tain age] do, but in Italy it’s more rare. Per­haps as a con­se­quence of this, I de­vel­oped an in­ter­est, which be­came love and then pas­sion, for U.S. pol­i­tics and his­tory.”

Dal Monte ad­mits to a teenage predilec­tion for U.S. sit­coms like “Happy Days.” “And then, I mean, you go back to ‘The Brady Bunch’ in the early ’70s, that was [Amer­i­can] high school at its best!” he says. He proudly says that this, along with un­der­stand­ing par­ents and an unlikely ex­change pro­gram be­tween Cre­mona and Owens­boro, Ken­tucky, brought him to Amer­ica for his se­nior year of high school. He liked it so much he de­cided to stay for col­lege at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky, study­ing po­lit­i­cal science and Amer­i­can his­tory while writ­ing for the Ken­tucky Ker­nel, the school’s news­pa­per. His chil­dren at­tend Amer­i­can univer­si­ties, and Amer­i­can pol­i­tics re­mains his fa­vorite sub­ject. As ev­i­dence, he has an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing more than 600 but­tons, posters, and con­ven­tion fly­ers dat­ing as far back as 1896.

Af­ter his U.S. school­ing, though, it was back to Italy for com­pul­sory mil­i­tary duty. Dal Monte cast around for jour­nal­ism jobs upon com­plet­ing his ser­vice and ap­plied to Peu­geot on a lark. He wound up land­ing a plum as­sign­ment in the French au­tomaker’s Ital­ian press of­fice. With no ex­pe­ri­ence, he chalked up this early ca­reer suc­cess to the em­ployer ap­peal of his English lan­guage skill and first­hand knowl­edge of Amer­ica. Ditto Toy­ota, which hired him a few

years later to head the press ef­fort for its newly es­tab­lished Ital­ian op­er­a­tion, and then Fer­rari, which sent Dal Monte back to the U.S. in New Jersey to run its North Amer­i­can press of­fice. He then helped re­launch Maserati in the States be­fore re­turn­ing to Italy to over­see the com­pany’s world­wide press op­er­a­tions.

In Dal Monte’s view, the Amer­i­can con­nec­tion led to jobs that capped his ca­reer. They also put him in a po­si­tion to gain en­hanced ac­cess to rel­e­vant Fer­rari and Alfa Romeo doc­u­ments, mak­ing a bur­geon­ing his­to­rian’s job eas­ier. The Enzo Fer­rari tome joins a grow­ing list of works that in­cludes over­views of Fer­rari cars and rac­ing, a 100-year his­tory of Maserati, and La Scud­e­ria, a spy and love story set against a 1930s rac­ing back­drop. As for the Fer­rari bi­og­ra­phy, the Ital­ian press has hailed it as the most schol­arly and deeply re­searched bi­og­ra­phy of Il Com­menda­tore yet, of the ad­mit­tedly few that have been writ­ten.

While liv­ing in Fer­rari’s Modena heart­land dur­ing his ten­ure at Maserati, Dal Monte was sur­rounded by older folk who had worked with Enzo. He of­ten met them af­ter work fol­low­ing ini­tial in­ter­views, and they filled in de­tails and re­mem­bered things they had not in ear­lier con­ver­sa­tions. His po­si­tion with Maserati gave him ac­cess to a wide range of pri­mary ma­te­ri­als, too. “One of the great­est as­sets in my re­search was the Alfa Romeo archive in Arese, near Mi­lan,” he says. There Dal Monte found Enzo Fer­rari’s per­son­nel file from when he man­aged Alfa’s race team. It doc­u­mented Fer­rari’s im­por­tance to the great Ital­ian rac­ing power in the in­ter-war pe­riod as well as el­e­ments of his fi­nan­cial acu­ity. “Much like a Broad­way pro­ducer, he used other peo­ple’s money to fi­nance his en­deav­ors,” Dal Monte points out. His was a kind of schol­arly cu­rios­ity and deep-dive re­search not al­ways as­so­ci­ated with the pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sion.

“There are two kinds of PR peo­ple: those who come from mar­ket­ing and those who come from jour­nal­ism,” Dal Monte says. He sees him­self in the lat­ter camp; though his own ex­pe­ri­ence in tra­di­tional jour­nal­ism was slight, his for­ma­tive years in col­lege for­ever shaped his per­spec­tive. Facts, anal­y­sis, and color, not mar­ket­ing fluff, be­came his fo­cus. Per­haps in­evitably, in 2015, he left PR for good.

“Af­ter 30 years in a world­wide po­si­tion, there was re­ally noth­ing I could add to my job pro­file, I guess,” he re­flects. “And in the mean­time, writ­ing had be­come my sec­ond pro­fes­sion. You reach a point when you’re 50 and say, ‘I’d rather do it to­day than wait any longer.’”

Past em­ploy­ment with Fer­rari not­with­stand­ing, Dal Monte’s eight years of re­search into one of Italy’s most fa­mous fig­ures has not re­sulted in a ha­giog­ra­phy. It con­tra­dicts Fer­rari’s own 1962 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, for in­stance, by in­clud­ing the story of how, long be­fore he ran Alfa’s win­ning race team or set up a suc­cess­ful car com­pany, the young Fer­rari was fail­ing at run­ning his own first busi­ness, a coach­works. In fact, the man didn’t build his first Fer­rari car un­til he was 49, af­ter World War II, which ought to lend hope and in­spi­ra­tion to late bloomers ev­ery­where. Dal Monte’s opus also runs down Fer­rari’s se­rial in­fi­delity to his wife, though he sees its roots in her life­long de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, which made her pull away from him. “He needed some­one,” the writer says.

Of course, all of Italy for­gave and con­tin­ues to for­give Fer­rari for his trans­gres­sions. “If you grew up in Italy in the ’70s, Enzo Fer­rari was a tow­er­ing fig­ure,” Dal Monte ex­plains. “There was the Pope, and then there was Enzo. I am not kidding; by the mid-’70s, Enzo had reached a demigod di­men­sion. He was the Grand Old Man not just of mo­tor rac­ing but of the coun­try. You could even hear him call into some of the early TV au­to­mo­tive/mo­tor rac­ing shows and speak—to the point of shout­ing—with the talk show host in or­der to de­fend his cars and his driv­ers. More the cars than the driv­ers, ac­tu­ally. He was ev­ery­where.

“When I did the re­search for my book, I was able to sci­en­tif­i­cally con­firm what I re­mem­bered from those days: There was hardly a day in which na­tional news­pa­pers did not have a story on Enzo. It was in­evitable, when dis­cussing his cars, races, or driv­ers: You must men­tion or quote him.”

Dal Monte re­mem­bers as a teenager in the late ’70s tak­ing an hour­long train ride to Modena early one morn­ing with his brother, just to catch a glimpse of Fer­rari hav­ing his morn­ing shave at a bar­ber­shop. Fer­rari stared out at them star­ing in at him and smiled.

“I had wanted to write a book on him for a long, long time,” Dal Monte says. “But I didn’t want it to be a book like all the others. I wanted to tell more. More of the man, and of the men and women around him. When I was hired at Fer­rari, I gained ac­cess not just to ar­chives but to peo­ple. And it was at that point I re­al­ized that if I re­ally put my mind at it, it could be pos­si­ble.

“Of course, I love cars, es­pe­cially sports cars. But my fas­ci­na­tion with Enzo went and still goes far be­yond that. It was his life­long strug­gle to suc­ceed, to be­come some­one, to beat the odds, to go down in his­tory that in­trigued me. In so many ways, Enzo was like [Ron­ald] Rea­gan: a man with no par­tic­u­lar spe­cific qual­i­ties that made it big. There’s a beau­ti­ful book on Rea­gan whose sub­ti­tle reads, ‘How an or­di­nary man be­came an ex­tra­or­di­nary leader.’ In my opin­ion, that ap­plies to Enzo Fer­rari as well: ‘How an or­di­nary man be­came an au­to­mo­tive gi­ant.’” AM

“Af­ter 30 years, there was re­ally noth­ing I could add to my job pro­file. ... Writ­ing had be­come my sec­ond pro­fes­sion. You reach a point when you’re 50 and say, ‘I’d rather do it to­day than wait any longer.’”

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