Of Corsa

Carbon McCoy

Volume 46 Issue 21

Oct 9, 2021

Italian red, Ferrari red seem synonymous but how did red become the color for Italy and Ferrari?

    Rocco Motto of Rivarossa, Italy, north of Turin, who later founded Carrozzeria Motto, only bodied half a dozen or so Ferraris. The first one, the 125 S, S/N 01 C (010 I), being the first Ferrari to be fitted with a Motto Torino-badged body, in 1947.

 

    But 40 years before that – when Rocco was just three years old – an Italian aristocrat from Migliarino, northeast of Bologna, participated in, and ultimately won, the first Peking to Paris race in 1907.

 

 

    Scipione Borghese – or, as it said on his driver’s license, Prince Luigi Marcantonio Francesco Rodolfo Scipione Borghese – was the only Italian out of 40 entrants to register for the 15,000-kilometer trek, all of whom dropped out save for five teams: Scipione raced under the Italian flag, three other teams raced under the French flag, and there was a single Dutch team whose driver, con artist Charles Goddard, was slated to secure second place before he was arrested for fraud as he approached the finish line.

 

    Despite the race committee canceling the race before it ever began, those five teams went ahead with their pioneering, intercontinental competition.

 

    So confident was the Prince in his 7,433-cc 1907 Itala 35/45 HP, that he intentionally aberrated from the race – several hundred miles, from Moscow to St. Petersburg – just to attend a dinner in honor of the team, after which he headed back to Moscow to rejoin and then win the race.

 

    Borghese’s chauffeur, Ettore Guizzardi, actually did most of the driving, from 10 June through 10 August 1907, on the 14,994-kilometer journey (9,317 miles) from Peking (now Beijing), China, to Paris, France, the entire point of which was to demonstrate that automobiles were a viable alternative to trains and steamers, even on long trips.

 

    An accomplished politician, mountaineer, industrialist, diplomat, and explorer, winning the first-ever Peking to Paris is just a notch in the belt for a man of Scipione’s caliber – which is just as well, seeing as how the only prize to be had was a magnum of Mumm Champagne, which was another aberration from the cases of Lanson Champagne Borghese brought along for the trip.

 

    There were no rules to the race, whose odyssey shadowed a telegraph route that traversed terrain virgin to the presence of automobiles.

 

    Fuel-laden camels left Peking and camped out at stations along the course.

 

    Competitors were left to their own devices navigating countryside for which there were no roadmaps, and through which there were often no roads.

 

    After Scipione put Italy in the history books, the country adopted the red color of his Itala as Italy’s official racing color, rosso corsa, literally racing red.

 

    Since the 1920s, rosso corsa was the fiery livery blurring around circuits via Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and the Brothers Maserati, decades before Tazio Nuvolari piloted Ferrari’s Motto-bodied 125 S to victory (twice) in July, 1947.

 

    In Formula One, a car’s color is determined not by the nationality of the driver or the car, but rather the nationality of the team entering said car.

 

    The 1964 Mexican Grand Prix was the last time Ferraris wore colors other than red – John Surtees, Lorenzo Bandini, and Pedro Rodriguez, in 158 F1 S/N 0005, 1512 F1 S/N 0007, and 156 F1 S/N 0004, respectively, all flying N.A.R.T. colors in protest of Ferrari’s planned mid-engined racecar agreement with Italian Racing Authorities.

 

    And by 1968, national colors had been mostly replaced by sponsorship liveries – like Shell and Marlboro (and whoever makes gumballs).

 

    But not Ferrari. Ferrari always maintained its rosso corsa livery, despite the shade’s variance over time.

 

    Through the decades, Ferrari’s Rosso Corsa has gradated – from the dark, original, almost-brown Rosso Corsa from the 1940s, to the almost-orange shades of the last 15 years, like Rosso F1 2007, Rosso F1 2009, and Rosso F1 Storica.

 

    Rosso Cino, Rosso Barchetta, Rosso Scuderia – these are but a few of all of the prancing horse crimsons that exist because of, and stem from, Rosso Corsa, and are easily discernible from Rosso Corsa, which itself, today, is noticeably lighter than the Rosso Corsa worn by a young Scuderia Ferrari.

 

 

    And the exotic reds we see on some of today’s road cars – the rogue rouges like Rosso Fiorano, Rosso Fuoco, and Rosso Monza Tristrato – are all inspired by Ferrari’s decades of motorsport successes.

 

    Some Ferrari colors, like Grigio Ingrid, have a story all their own; while others, like the various rosso corsas, are the milestones in an ongoing history whose roots far predate any of Ferrari’s ambitions.

 

    The tradition of Scuderia-inspired colors finding their way into the road cars has expanded to include non-reds, like Blu Corsa, which debuted with the 488, or Grigio Corsa, which is a popular color for stripes and even wheels.

 

    Ferrari’s long, rich history of its kaleidoscope of colors can be traced back to the success of the Scuderia – the Scuderia that has literally made red synonymous with winning: racing red.