From Ferrari With Love
Celebrating the one-off cars built by Ferrari for Gianni Agnelli, the new MEF Modena exhibition has opened its doors online.
Having officially opened on March 12, the Gianni Agnelli and Ferrari: The Elegance of the Legend exhibition is a dedication to one of the brand’s most loyal clients, confidantes and partners. The opening date, which marked the 100th year since Agnelli’s birth, saw the exhibition go live on MEF Modena’s social media and website until the physical space reopens. Its digital launch, a pivot many galleries and cultural institutions have taken during the pandemic, was complemented by free virtual live tours that ran until April 1.
Born in Turin, Italy, Agnelli was an industrialist and president of FIAT. Affectionately known as the “avvocato,” or the “lawyer,” he was a prominent figure in Italy’s modern history. His relationship with Ferrari was one founded on both personal interest and business. In terms of business, Agnelli became CEO of FIAT in 1963 and, in 1966, chairman. In June 1969, it was announced that 50 per cent of Ferrari had been purchased by FIAT.
But, before any of that, it was his personal love for Ferrari that drew him to the brand. The models on display in this exhibition don’t just showcase that love, but also Agnelli’s familiarity and devotion to style. It was a devotion so notable that he was named one of five best-dressed men in the history of the world by Esquire magazine, and fashion designers among the likes of Nino Cerruti have named Agnelli to be an inspiration.
As Ferrari executive chairman and CEO John Elkann said in a statement, the exhibition “combines, on the one hand, the excitement that the most beautiful cars in the world evoke in people who love driving, and on the other, the enormous respect and real passion that my grandfather had for Maranello [Ferrari] cars — a passion that led him to make every Ferrari he owned special and which we are happy to share with all the enthusiasts.”
The Ferrari 166 MM is just one of the cars on display. Customized with fine blues and greens, and fitted with a bespoke cabin, it was Ferrari’s first one off for Agnelli. It was created after he saw it at the Turin Motor Show in 1948, where he described its sleek design as “barchetta” or “little boat.” A term that, like the car itself, has stood the test of time and has been used in the industry to describe open-top racing cars since.
The 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter is another. As well as setting a new trend with its effortless pairing of two-tone 456 blue and a magnolia white roof, it introduced two headlights designed to make high-speed driving as easy in the dark as it is during the day. The 1959 Ferrari 400 Superamerica is also on display. Bodied and fitted out by Italian car design firm Pininfarina, the car brought with it a new chapter in Ferrari Grand Tour styling.
Fast-forward through the exhibition’s timelines and you see not just the movements of Agnelli’s style and influence, but also Ferrari’s fierce devotion to creating cutting-edge cars. In 1989, Agnelli added the Ferrari F40 to his collection, customized with an exclusive black-fabric seat upholstery and a Valeo electric clutch. In 2000, he took the 360 Spider as inspiration to create a one-off barchetta clothed in a silver-grey livery. This model became a wedding gift for Luca di Cordero Montezemolo, Ferrari’s chairman at the time.
The exhibition ends with a car dedicated to the long-standing collaboration between Ferrari and the lawyer. Unveiled just two weeks after his death in 2003, the Formula 1 car was a heartfelt gesture from Ferrari to the memory of someone who had embraced its community so completely.
“My father was impressed by the avvocato’s power, acumen and ability in business,” says Piero Ferrari, Ferrari’s vice-chairman and non-executive director, on the mutual respect and esteem shared between the two. “They understood each other intuitively, and that relationship consolidated over the years, culminating in the agreement in 1969 that created one of the strongest partnerships in the automotive world. I was with my father on that historic day when I had the pleasure of meeting Agnelli. From then on, with FIAT by his side, we felt that our company had a guarantee of continuity and development.”
Gianni Agnelli and Ferrari: The Elegance of the Legend is open now virtually at the MEF Modena.