Arrivederci to Fabrizio Violati
Pioneering Ferrari collector and historic racer Fabrizio Violati has died, aged 74. The longest serving custodian of any Ferrari 250 GTO (he bought his in 1965), founder of Ferrari Club Italia and the Maranello Rosso museum in San Marino, Violati’s name will forever be inextricably linked with the marque. From a personal perspective, we will remember him as an educated yet down-to-earth character with something of the Spaghetti Western anti-hero about his craggy, tanned features and the cheroot perpetually clamped in the corner of his mouth. It’s hard to imagine there are many others in his position who would show the same respect for the petrol pump attendant as the president, nor earn as much in return.
Youngest son of a family steeped in agriculture and mineral water production, Fabrizio was born in Rome on 17th June 1935. He gained a degree in geology and joined the family firm, becoming general manager of the group that comprised brands such as Sangemini and the innovative naturally-carbonated Ferrarelle: “Still, sparkling, or Ferrarelle?” as the Seventies TV advertisements went. The firm was sold to Danone in 1987.
As an 11-year-old, Fabrizio witnessed Franco Cortese power the 12-cylinder 125 S to Ferrari’s first race victory, at the 1947 Grand Prix of Rome – on the Caracalla circuit encircling the city’s public baths. Captivated by the Prancing Horse, his lifelong obsession with the marque was sparked that spring day in May.
Violati’s own competition career started with Vespa scooters, aged 16. Having perfected the art of jumping barrels on his little wasp – 12 in all – manufacturer Piaggio employed him as a works rider, thanks to a friend sending the firm a photo of the stunt with Violati in full flight. In 1954, he won his class in the Campionato Italiano di Regolarità, a regularity championship for Vespas.
Four wheels beckoned, and modest hillclimb performances with a Fiat 600 in 1959 led to a more competitive Abarth 750 for 1960. The cars of Carlo Abarth would later feature strongly in Violati’s garage too, despite a horrific crash in the 750 putting him in hospital for six months and a ‘no more motor sport’ diktat from his family.
Still, that wouldn’t stop Fabrizio buying his first Ferrari two years later. Announced while he was on honeymoon in Monte Carlo, the 250 GTO wowed Violati and by ’65 one of the 36 was his. He paid Italian gentleman driver and ‘snow cat’ inventor Ernesto Prinoth just 2,500,000 lire (US $4000 or £1400 in old money, the equivalent of £20,000 today) for 3851GT, the ex-Jo Schlesser/ Henri Oreiller car that placed second on the 1962 Tour de France, saving it from being cannibalized by a powerboat racer for its engine. He didn’t tell his family, though when they inevitably found out they can’t have objected too much as it’s still in the collection Violati built up, and uniquely still on its original Modena licence plates: MO 80576.
Keeping a low car profile, Violati concentrated on sailing in the early Seventies, which included entering a radical Carcano-designed boat ‘Vihuela’ as part of the Italian challenge at the 50th anniversary Admiral’s Cup in 1975. But the lightweight yacht lacked sufficient sail area for the mild weather conditions.
A second Ferrari followed in 1974, a normal 250GT which was promptly joined by a 1960 alloy-bodied 250GT SWB Competizione, and the collection would continue to grow, ultimately including 25 machines you can still see on display today, such as Graham Hill’s 1964 Goodwood TT winning 330P, an ex-Villeneuve/ Reutemann 312 T3 Grand Prix car from 1978, a 250MM Berlinetta Pinin Farina and a wide selection of iconic Ferrari granturismo models from 250GT Spyder to 400 Superamerica.
Taking up historic racing in 1979 with the GTO and SWB under the Scuderia Campidoglio Motori banner, Violati became 1985 European FIA Historic Champion and won the 1989 Targa Florio Autostoriche. Between 1980 and ’84 he also entered top-line endurance sports car events with Scuderia Bellancauto 512 BBLMs – s/n 35529 featuring bespoke wind-cheating bodywork by Armando Palanca and a ‘bubble’ paintjob reflecting Ferrarelle sponsorship by the family firm. Sadly all three Le Mans 24-Hours appearances ended in retirement.
Never one to let the racing get in the way of having fun, Violati always pushed his cars to the limit, with seemingly no cares about their worth. Only Fabrizio could have qualified the GTO on pole position at Brands Hatch, led the pack round, then find himself starting from the back of the grid after having attacked the formation lap at full pelt, narrowly avoiding the flag marshal in the middle of the track and having to go round the Grand Prix circuit for a second time. Even still, he finished at the sharp end.
In 1984 Enzo Ferrari summoned Violati to Maranello and tasked him with forming Ferrari Club Italia, and the bond between the pair was such that Enzo agreed to let Violati use the name Maranello Rosso for his collection of Ferraris and Abarths, which opened to the public in the tiny principality of San Marino in 1989. In purpose-built premises since 2000, the Collezione Maranello Rosso (www.maranellorosso.com) is now a fitting tribute to Fabrizio Violati, a true giant of the Ferrari world.