1954. Burger King opens their first restaurant in Miami, West Germany beats Hungary at the FIFA World Cup and Ferrari officially starts selling cars in the United States. Things have never been the same ever since.
Enzo Ferrari – reportedly – never left the country, though he wanted to offer his race and road cars across the big pond. He appointed Luigi Chinetti as the American importer, and this is his story…
Meet Luigi Chinetti
If there’s one name you should remember today, it’s Luigi Chinetti. Chinetti was an Italian racing driver who immigrated to the United States during the Second World War. In total, he competed in twelve 24 hours of Le Mans, won three of them, and took first prize twice at the 24 hours of Spa Francorchamps. He also knew his way around the business of selling cars. It’s what you might call the perfect resume for working with the great Enzo Ferrari.
Chinetti was born in a small town north of Milan in 1901. He quickly became interested in cars and got his first job in the automotive industry at the age of 16. He worked for Alfa Romeo as a mechanic and worked his way up to a sales position in their Paris dealership. It was during this time with Alfa Romeo that Chinetti and Enzo first met.
Chinetti was interested in racing as well, so he developed his skills on the side. His first big appearance was at the 1932 24 hours of Le Mans. Together with his co-driver Raymond Sommer, he managed to win the endurance race in an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 LM. In 1958, Chinetti founded the North American Racing Team (NART). We’ll save that story for another time, because it’s one you don’t want to miss.
His work as Ferrari importer
During the Second World War, Chinetti moved to the United States, but in December 1946 he flew back to Modena to meet with Enzo Ferrari. At this time, Enzo was thinking about starting a company and Chinetti recommended to build race (and eventually road) cars. When Enzo asked how he would sell exclusive cars, Chinetti promised to take care of that. Enzo agreed. Chinetti had world-class racing abilities and his selling skills were even better; Ferrari could not have gained a better representative.
Enzo and Chinetti sat down with a few other executives to set up a plan to sell race cars to privateers. To finance the production, they would eventually introduce road cars. In 1948, just a year after the introduction of the first Ferrari, Chinetti sold his first Ferrari, the 1948 166 MM Barchetta (s/n 0002M), to California radio executive Tommy Lee.
In the early years of his importing career, most of the sales Chinetti made were kept secret to protect the privacy of his clients. In 1954, he officially emerged as the U.S. importer for Ferrari.
Ferrari and Chinetti became a great team
Chinetti opened his first dealership in Manhattan and eventually moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. This business remains open, owned by Miller Motorcars – a Ferrari-Maserati dealership.
The American market was growing every year and offered great potential for Ferrari, so much so that they started producing cars solely for the U.S. market. The first one in this range was the 340 America (1950–1952). This front-engine V12 grand tourer produced about 197 bhp. Ferrari only build 23 units with different types of bodyworks: 11 by Vignale, 8 by Touring and 4 by Ghia.
The America series also included the 342 (1952) and 375 America (1953–1954), the 410 (1955–1959) and 400 Superamerica (1959–1964), the 500 Superfast (1964–1966) and the 365 California (1966–1967). One of the most icon Ferraris, the 250 GT California Spyder, was the work of Chinetti and West Coast representative John Von Neumann. Both thought there would be a big potential in an open-top car for wealthy clients in California. They were right: the original price was around $13,000, but its current price is in the $15-$20 million range.
Another icon was the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder. Chinetti talked to Sergio Scaglietti and Enzo about the idea of a successor to the 250 GT California Spyder. The NART moniker, referring to his racing team, was never part of the official name. Still, Ferrari fitted the car with a NART badge, as seen on the picture above.
Throughout the years, several memorable models were produced with the U.S. market in mind: 333 SP, 575 Superamerica, California and the F60 America. The latter is the one that celebrates all of the successes Ferrari had there since 1954.
There is so much more to talk about when it comes to Chinetti, so stay tuned. The impact he had on Ferrari’’s legacy is indescribable. The U.S. market remains their most profitable market to date.