After half a century, Japan's love affair with Ferrari remains as strong as ever
Fifty years ago, when I was seven years old, I was already under the spell of the Prancing Horse. Engrossed in car magazines, on a tiny island in the Far East, I instinctively knew the charms of Ferrari.
That seven-year-old boy could discern how special Ferrari was, even when Chris Amon was struggling to win Formula One grand races and when Ferrari was defeated by Ford at Le Mans in the famous 24-hour endurance race.
Road-going Ferraris? They truly were in my dreams. I saw the Dino for the first time in central Tokyo in the 1960s – it was so beautiful I physically ached for it. The Ferrari GTB/4 awoke my desire for speed. By the early 1970s, I was deeply aware of the racing and the romance, and Maranello’s thoroughbred tradition of speed and beauty.
The Olympic Games, held in Tokyo in 1964, dramatically changed Japanese society and people. Their polite introversion turned to curiosity for the world outside Japan, expressed in particular as an eagerness to get to know Western Europe. This desire led them to learn more and more about a tiny, but truly iconic and enthusiastic, Italian car manufacturer and its charismatic founder.
My pilgrimages to Maranello as a journalist started in the late 1980s. At that point, Ferrari’s line-up consisted of the mid-engined 348, the ageing Mondial 2+2, and the Testarossa 12-cylinder supercar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the period that followed Enzo Ferrari’s passing in 1988 was turbulent, and with the old certainties gone, new ones were slow to emerge.
Despite which, a palpable emotional pull still surrounded the factory, even if it was rather lacking in its characteristic energy.
However, a new leader soon arrived and the Company was reborn. A renewed dynamism was added to the original romance. Ferrari became a standalone presence and no other company came close. In 1994, the mid-engined V8 was brilliantly re-imagined in the shape of the F355; two years later the front-engined V12 gained a new lease of life with the 550 Maranello.
I still visit Maranello and the Fiorano circuit two or three times a year and my faith in Ferrari has never been betrayed. Every time I arrive with great expectations, and on every occasion the engineers greet me with a product that far surpasses them.
Over the years, these experiences have instilled into me a solid trust of Ferrari. My reports and reviews of the Prancing Horse always include a series of heartfelt exclamations. There is no other way to express the cars’ dazzling performance, beauty and enormous charm. Or my emotional response.
The world has changed greatly over the past half-century. New communication technology provides us with a far greater wealth of information about Ferrari. We can all feel closer to the Company as a result.
In 2020, Tokyo will, once again, be hosting the Olympic Games. Visitors will soon discover that seeing a Ferrari on the streets of the Japanese capital, while never less than a treat, is a more frequent event than it was back in 1966.
However, one thing has not changed. The passion and adoration the Japanese people feel toward the Cavallino Rampante remains undiminished.