Role in Ferrari History: The man who made Ferrari what it was in the marketplace
Ask most any die-hard Ferrari fan about Girolamo Gardini (1923-1994), and at best you’d get a raised eyebrow. But speak with insiders, such as Belgium importer Jacques Swaters and prominent client Count Giovanni Volpi, and they would unhesitatingly declare that it was Gardini who created the mystique around Ferrari by playing the market like a fiddle. Gardini was a master at building desire, orchestrating who would have to wait for a car, who would get it tomorrow, and who wouldn’t get one at all.
He was born in 1923 in Modena, the only child of a small shop owner who sold grain. He joined Ferrari’s Auto Avio Costruzioni company in 1942, working first in purchasing, then assuming administrative duties. He became the company’s sales manager in 1950, keeping the role until his departure 11 years later. Gardini’s philosophy on building the Ferrari mystique was simple: “The cars must be ‘required,’” he told this author in 1994, “never ‘offered.’” In other words, the purchaser went to Ferrari, not the other way around.
That philosophy worked like a charm, and had the era’s most prestigious coachbuilders, and some of its most important automotive figures, lined up at Ferrari’s door. Gardini recalled milestones such as the importance of the 166 Barchetta and how Henry Ford came calling, desiring one. Word filtered through the market that one of the world’s most important industrialists had purchased a Ferrari.
Gardini also marveled at Carrozzeria Vignale’s creativity and its ability to “make a car in 20 days.” And by his lights, it was the work of another coachbuilder that truly transformed Ferrari into a “modern” firm. “The true start of the Ferrari factory,” he said, “was in 1958 when Pinin Farina built 100 cars that were the same.”
Gardini played an instrumental role in the creation of the 250 GTO, but was ousted from Ferrari in 1961’s Purge before final development was completed. Gardini was forever loyal to Ferrari, and the respect he had inside the firm caused a number of other managers to also get fired when they tried to convince Enzo to hire him back.