Mauro Forghieri was more than an engineer. He was a Ferrari god.


A Franschhoek Motor Museum initiative

Waking up to the news of a fallen idol is crushing. Mauro Forghieri was much more than just a Ferrari hero. He was my god.

I was privileged to know Mauro. Truant as ever with my cousin Massimo at Kyalami in that heady fortnight prior to the ’76 South African Grand Prix, Ferrari’s SA connection Jack Nucci cornered us fifteen year olds in the pits.

Forghieri, Montezemelo & Lauda

It may as well have been God

No. He never reported us to the headmaster, Nucci rather trotted us down to the Ferrari box. And presented us to Mauro Forghieiri. It may as well have been God. Before we knew it, we were packed into a Fiat 128 and driving down the main straight with Montezemelo, to learn how to set up the Scuderia’ Heuer top speed kit.

That went on annually for an incredible decade until F1 left the great old Kyalami. Sitting down the straight timing alongside Norah Tyrrell and Jean Sage, eating those famous Ferrari pasta lunches as part of the team, my seat the T4 rear wheel, the wing my table. And somehow, standing on the podium with Jody and Gilles. I even had a pen pal called Enzo.

I got to know Mauro reasonably well through those splendid truant years. But it was refuelling our Zagato Otto Vu at the Agip at that sensory overloaded Friday night Mille Miglia stop in Rome a while later in ’87, that really brought Mauro Forghieri home for me.

Forghieri in the 158

What Mauro Forghieri was all about

A tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Mauro, his jersey over the shoulder, umbrella in hand. We had a splendid conversation. He’d taken the trouble to look us up and came to find my dad and me that evening. That is what Mauro Forghieri was all about.

Far deeper entrenched in Ferrari lore than many would ever believe, Mauro’s dad Reclus worked with The Old Man Enzo Ferrari, Bazzi and Giberti in the late 1930s. He made parts for what became the Alfetta that so dominated the first years of Formula 1.

The family later moved to Monaco to avoid Fascit pressure in the pre-war years. Vengeance for Mauro’s grandfathe writing poorly of the system in French newspapers after turning his back on Mussolini. Reclus fettled top end cars to earn his keep, before moving on to the aero industry and making propellers in the War.

Mauro Forghieri 1968

Mauro was obsessed with Aircraft

That had a profound effect on young Mauro. He became obsessed with aircraft. He’d while away much of his spare time sketching futuristic airplanes. Always with propellers, never jets. That led Mauro to enrol at a Modena university to study maths and physics.

His marks earned him a place to study mechanical engineering at the exclusive University of Bologna. Dad Reclus had by then re-joined Ferrari to run the machine shop. Mauro spent some time at Maranello as an intern under chief engineer Andrea Fraschetti in 1957.

Fraschetti taught Mauro the importance a rigid chassis. He tasked young Forghieri with the design and stress calculations of a section of frame for the 156 V6 Monoposto. That car ultimately took Phil Hill to Ferrari’s first rear-engined F1 world championship in 1961.

Pondering that balance

Forghieri dreamed of working on airplanes

Forghieri’s dream however remained to work in the aero industry. He’d applied to join a gas turbine company in America. While he waited for an answer from the US, Fraschetti died in a testing accident at Monza.

Enzo Ferrari had kept track of young Forghieri’s progress through his dad. Fraschetti had also spoken very well of Mauro, which prompted Enzo to approach young Forghieri to join Ferrari. To gain experience while he awaited news from across the pond. Mauro duly joined Ferrari in January 1960.

Forghieri had barely found his feet at Ferrari when just as Phil Hill had won his 1961 world championship, Enzo implemented his famous Black Monday at Maranello. Engineering boss Carlo Chiti, team manager Romolo Tavoni and five other senior managers had become frustrated with Enzo’s wife and company co-owner, Laura meddling in Ferrari affairs.

Pondering the 312 with Drake

Ferrari executed his Maranello Massacre

The seven approached a lawyer, who wrote to Enzo on their behalf. Drake did not take to such cowardly behaviour very well at all. Rather than the expected tantrum, a sombre, resolute, and frightening Ferrari quietly sat with his unhappy men, one at a time. Then, as they left his office, each was handed a letter by Ferrari’s aide. They were summarily fired!

With Maranello’s Monday Massacre executed, Enzo calmly called wide-eyed 26-year old Forghieri in. And promoted him to head of motor sport. Mauro tried to tell Ferrari that he never had enough experience. Enzo simply told Forghieri to shut up, do his job and that he (Ferrari) would do the rest…

That was the start of an incredible relationship. Ferrari had lost his own son Dino to illness five years earlier. But he’d known Mauro since he was a child. Yet, while they clashed heads as often as they fought the outside world at each other’s side, Forghieri and Ferrari would go on to make history together for more than a quarter of a century.

Mauro Forghieri, Monaco 1961

Forghieri tackled Ferrari’s obsolete F1 car

‘Dazed, but excited’, Forghieri took the bull by the horns. Or more literally the horse by the reins. Like it is today with Binotto and Brawn, Mauro summarily lured the great engineer Vittorio Jano out of retirement as consultant, summoned the mercurial problem solver Luigi Bazzi, Angelo Bellei and Franco Rocchi. And they set to work.

Forghieri and Jano tackled the 1500cc fuel injected V6 and V8 Formula 1 engine to replace the obsolete Formula 1 cars. Those John Surtees championship-winning 1964 and ‘65 158 and 1512 ‘aero’ F1 designs also took Ferrari into monocoque chassis construction.

At the same time, colourful, diligent, imaginative and at times explosive Forghieri developed the now priceless front-engined 250 GTO. He later masterminded the first rear-engined V12 250LM Berlinetta, which evolved into the P2, P3 and on to the sensational 1967 P4.

Forghieri, Surtees & Jano

Propelled by Ferrari’s fascination of The V12

Back in Formula 1 and propelled by Enzo Ferrari’s fascination of 12-cylinder engines, Forghieri went the simple to design, but costly to build V12 route when Formula 1 changed up to 3-litre cars from 1967.

Always innovative, Forghieri’s cars would evolve even visibly as the seasons progressed. His ’68 312 was the first F1 car to have an aerofoil. Jacky Ickx sensationally drove it to victory in a soaking French Grand Prix.

Mauro considered the P4 among his favourite Ferraris. But the expensive Le Mans project hindered Formula 1 progress with the by then outdated V12. So, Ferrari shifted Mauro over to a new experimental department soon after Fiat took over, following the Ford debacle.

Mauro Forghieri & Jacky Ickx

Forghieri went to work on the flat-12 engine

Forghieri went to work on the new flat 12 engine for 1970 with Salvarani, Maioli, Marchetti, Panini, Lugli and Piccagliani. Ferrari had proposed an all-wheel drive car to show Maranello’s advanced technology off to Fiat. The FIA however banned four-wheel drive.

Enzo Ferrari paid very close attention to Forghieri’s flat 12 F1 and sports car projects. Ickx and Regazzoni came on form too late in 1970, and Ferrari started well but the cars suffered severe Firestone tyre vibrations in 1971. Then Enzo fell ill and shifted Mauro to the new Advanced Office, with Sandro Colombo in charge of racing.

The 312 B2 had suffered a poor run in ’72, by the time Ferrari had recuperated. The Old Man called Forghieri back to the race team and stopped the sportscar project to concentrate on F1. Forghieri soon developed the ‘snow plough’ Spazzaneve and then the 312 B3 for ’74.

Scheckter, Villeneuve & Forghieri

Forghieri was Convinced by a shorter wheelbase

Mauro was convinced by the balance advantages of a shorter wheelbase F1 car with radiators each side, instead of out front. And the extra downforce generated by broad sidepods. Lauda and Regazzoni proved his concept by winning races. So, Forghieri pushed that short, squat theory even harder in the 312 T, T for Transverse gearbox, in 1975.

The 312 T brought Niki Lauda’s first, and Ferrari’s first F1 World Championship since Surtees in the V8 in 1964. Lauda added a second title after that epic 1976 season, in the evolved 312 T2 in 1977. Mauro rated the 312 T, his P4, and the 312 PB prototype as his most satisfying Ferrari designs.

He may not have invented ground effect, but Forghieri’s first attempt at that technology brought another world title with Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve’s 312 T4s. Ferrari had perfected ground effects. That in spite of the challenges of the broad flat-12 engine stealing much of the space needed to make the car’s underbody venturi work as intended.

Mauro Forghieri
Mauro Forghieri & Jody Scheckter

The turbo era could not come soon enough

The clash between the flat 12 and ground effect was exasperated when the 312 T5 fell well short of its V8, V12 and turbo rivals in 1980. The turbo era could not come soon enough for Maranello.

Forghieri designed Ferrari’s first turbocharged V6 F1 cars. The 126 C2 and C3s went on to win the 1982 and 1983 constructors’ championships. Ferrari and Forghieri sadly lost another driver’s title to tragedy with Villeneuve and Pironi.

With younger, volatile, and ambitious young Ferrari engineers snapping at his heels, Mauro also found himself engrossed in protecting Ferrari’s interests in the ongoing FISA-FOCA power war. Frictions with Marco Piccinini and Enzo’s son Piero Lardi Ferrari led to ever increasing and even rowdier than usual quarrels between Mauro and The Old Man.

Clay Regazzoni & Mauro Forghieri

The real Ferrari years were over

Mauro pondered resigning, but for Fiat’s Vittorio Ghidella suggesting that he shift from Racing to Ferrari’s Engineering arm. So, Mauro worked his final two years at Ferrari away from F1. He however always closely consulted Enzo on racing matters.

With The Old Man ailing and his influence waning in Maranello’s passages, Mauro left Ferrari after 27 years in 1987. Enzo passed in 1988. The real Ferrari years were over. Mauro went on to work for Lamborghini on its F1 project before a series of consultancy roles well into his retirement years.

While he abhorred the faux elements of the modern sport, Forghieri kept closely abreast of Formula 1 throughout the rest of the life. Appalled by the arrival of faux effects like DRS and electric ‘push to pass’, Mauro perennially questioned why F1 simply does not slash aerodynamic downforce on the cars. He of course had a most valid point.

Enzo & Mauro

Ferrari and Forghieri were like father and son

Forghieri’s relationship with Ferrari was more akin to that of a father and son. Their rows were infamous at Maranello. But Enzo clearly loved and hugely respected Mauro’s genius and vice-versa. Together they won four Formula 1 Driver’s and seven Constructor’s World Championships, let alone countless Le Mans and sportscar wins and titles.

Many years later, Forghieri reflected on his Ferrari years. “We were a true family,” he explained. “Our life was our work, total commitment, for little pay. We were not just colleagues, we were brothers.”

His only surviving World Driver’s Champion summed Mauro up perfectly after learning of his former boss’ passing this week. “There’s no question, If you look at what Forghieri achieved,” Josy Scheckter reflected. “His projects were brilliant, and he was absolutely a huge part of the Ferrari story.”

Only that much!

Mauro Forghieri was a brillliant engineer

A people’s person as much as he was a brilliant engineer, Forghieri found no problem getting along with difficult people. Like Enzo and Laura Ferrari, and Vittorio Jano. He also always admitted that Enzo Ferrari had a great understanding of human weakness.

Something it appears that Mauro Forghieri, the very glue that gelled Ferrari together for twenty-seven years, learned to appreciate very well, too.

Vai bene, Capo.



This Auto Classic Feature is a Franschhoek Motor Museum Initiative
The Franschhoek Motor Museum has a regular display of significant cars, articles, and memorabilia on display including several out of South Africa’s significant Formula 1, Formula Atlantic and indeed the Formula South Africa eras. Visit to learn more and plan your next visit.

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