Not everyone has a relative who was friends with Enzo Ferrari. Peter Mann, whose grandfather Pierre Louis-Dreyfus was one of Ferrari's most important clients, is one such fortunate person. Mann discovered this friendship in 2011, the year Louis-Dreyfus died, at the age of almost 103. Deciding to put his grandfather's papers in order, Mann began to go through his relative's archives and it was then that he discovered a collection of letters Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrari had written to each other decades earlier. Mann recalls that the letters were in a box labeled simply 'Cars'. "I thought they were car magazines or brochures, since, after all, my grandfather was a huge enthusiast," he explains.
"Instead, it was like a treasure chest. Amid notes, letters and several instruction manuals, I found mountains of documents, covering a time span of three years, between my grandfather and Enzo Ferrari, and Luigi Chinetti. I felt like an explorer who had discovered a new continent." Among other things, the letters tell of how the races went and they highlight the great esteem between Ferrari and Louis-Dreyfus, a French industrialist who also loved motorsports and was one of Ferrari's first-ever clients. The history of the car company is also told in these documents.
For example one letter, sent a few days after the 1951 Silverstone win, reveals Louis-Dreyfus paying compliments for the great performance. That was the historic Grand Prix, the first time that Ferrari had beaten Alfa Romeo, the company where Enzo Ferrari had learnt his trade. Many of the letters were about one particular car, a 340 America. Reading them, Mann tried to find that very car.
"Doing research, I managed to discover who the owner was, and I ended up sharing with him the photos of me sitting in it when I was six months old," he recalls. He was tempted to make an offer to buy it. "But then I remembered the words of Enzo Ferrari, who said that the best Ferrari is always the next one." So, instead, Mann decided he would rather buy a new one, to take to the track and compete. Mann says he was always a Ferrari enthusiast, ever since he was a child.
His passion only grew as he grew up: "When I was 15 I went to Maranello, hitchhiking for the last part of the trip, to see the company where Ferraris were born. Often, during the time I lived in Paris, I would go to Charles Pozzi, the French importer, to look at Ferrari cars, dreaming of when I would be able to own one." Reading his grandfather's letters inspired Mann to try racing, following the passion he had always felt, even as this went against his family's wishes. "My family never wanted me to be a racing driver, though that's what I always wanted to do. My grandfather agreed with my parents, so I was only able to start much later."
Mann has raced in the 24 Hours of Spa (which he won, in 2014), the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona. His grandfather, too, raced and won not only at Le Mans, but also at Spa. The racing passion still flows in the family. In 2017, Mann's son Simon debuted in racing. "Racing with him in a Ferrari for his first race was a very emotional experience," Mann recalls. Many years after those letters were written, the automobile industry is in the midst of a revolution.
"On the horizon I see a lot of electrification and hybrids, the disappearance of the music of an engine, little soul, and overthinking," Mann says. But he has hope. "This is the message I took from reading the correspondence between Enzo Ferrari, with his handwritten signature in purple ink, and my grandfather: as long as Ferrari is around, the passion tied to cars will always have a home. Maranello."