Ferrari Biographies

Gianni Agnelli

Role in Ferrari History: Industrialist who orchestrated Fiat purchase of Ferrari

Gianni Agnelli (1921-2003) was the grandson of Giovanni Angelli, a wealthy senator who could be considered the father of Italy’s motoring industry as the founder of Fiat. Gianni studied law in college but never practiced it. He served in World War II, then acted as a liaison with the Americans after Italy surrendered in 1943.

His lean build and dashingly handsome looks saw him become known after the war as one of Europe’s leading playboys rather than industrialist-in-the-making. He inherited Fiat after his grandfather’s death in 1945, and during those years the company was run by Vittorio Valletta, a powerful Fiat executive with a background in economics and banking.

In the 1950s, Agnelli was one of Italy’s highest-profile personalities, and he commissioned a number of one-off Ferraris. In the latter years of the decade, he turned his attention to Fiat, and was named the company’s managing director in 1963. He became company president in 1966, and was soon expanding Fiat’s empire, and thus his, beyond Italy’s borders. He opened factories in Poland and in far-flung Russia and South America, and started a number of joint ventures and alliances with companies such as commercial-vehicle giant Iveco. Fiat also began buying up other Italian auto manufacturers, notably Lancia, in the late 1960s.

That was a tumultuous period in the auto industry, and in the gran turismo sector in particular. Labor and social upheaval, and new safety and emissions regulations, had most every GT constructor looking to find a larger company to act as a parent. For Ferrari that partner was Fiat. Enzo Ferrari and Gianni Agnelli completed the transaction in June 1969.

The marriage was timely, for it ensured Ferrari’s survival and growth. Four years later, the first oil crisis and resulting worldwide recession spelled the end of a number of GT manufacturers, but not Ferrari. Agnelli stepped down as Fiat’s chairman in 1996, but remained a force inside the company up to his death in 2003. Through it all, he was a consistent Ferrari customer, and received a one-off Testarossa convertible in 1985.

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