The annals of business history are filled with stories of companies that engaged in rivalries with their competitors. In some cases, those rivalries began in family disputes. For example, athletic-wear manufacturers Adidas and Puma came about because the Dassler Brothers, the founders of Adidas, couldn’t see eye to eye and parted ways, according to Business Insider. Similarly, back in the 1980s the famed “Cola Wars” pitted Coca-Cola and Pepsi against each other in both popular culture and at the cash register.
Since most people who can afford to buy a car couldn’t dream of shelling out half a million or more for their ride, they may not be aware that the founders of two of the biggest high-end car manufacturers — Ferrari and Lamborghini — carried out a feud with each other over the course of several decades. What’s more, the dispute began over a mundane mechanical part that cost a trifling amount of money.
This is the true story of the rivalry between the founders of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Ferruccio Lamborghini made his fortune selling agricultural equipment
Ferrucio Lamborghini was born to a wine-growing family in 1916, according to the book, “The Complete Book of Lamborghini,” by Pete Lyons. However, the young Italian seemingly cared less about agriculture and more about agricultural equipment, showing skills at mechanics around the family farm.
By the late 1940s, he had turned his fondness for tinkering into a successful business producing tractors; indeed, the company still manufactures tractors to this day.
By the 1960s, Lamborghini had made a fortune as an industrialist, and according to Car and Driver, he liked to spend his money on high-end Italian sports cars. In particular, he had a taste for Ferraris.
“When he became a wealthy industrialist, he bought two Ferraris: a white one for him, and a black one for his wife,” said a former employee.
Indeed, so proud was Lamborghini of his possessions that he’d make it a point to take visitors for a ride in them. “Every time important customers used to come to the tractor company to sign contracts, he would take them to the restaurant while driving the Ferrari,” recalled the employee.
A trifling mechanical problem plagued Lamborghini's Ferraris
Though Ferrucio Lamborghini loved driving his expensive Ferraris, he was not very good at it. “He kept burning the clutch,” said a former employee. He would then have to take his machine to the Ferrari dealer for a 1,000-lire repair job (referencing the lira, the currency Italy used at the time).
One day, tired of having to pay for expensive repairs at the dealership, Lamborghini realized that he, too, was a manufacturer of mechanical devices, many of which used clutches. Further, he had a team of mechanics in his employ. According to Car and Driver, it was then that the tractor manufacturer discovered two things. The first was one of his own mechanics could easily replace the clutch, which was roughly standard for vehicles across the automotive and agricultural industries. And second, the part cost 10 lire — about 1% of what he was paying Ferrari mechanics to fix it.
“Ferruccio Lamborghini . . . he started yelling, he was so mad because he said, ‘I pay for my tractor 10 lire [for this part], and I paid Ferrari 1000 lire for the same part,'” according to the former employee.
Did Enzo Ferrari insult Ferruccio Lamborghini?
From here we enter the hazy netherworld between corporate lore and documented historical fact.
According to one version of events, Lamborghini got the chance to talk things over with Ferrari. Longtime Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni told Car and Driver that the car manufacturer insulted his boss.
“Enzo Ferrari told him: ‘You are a tractor driver, you are a farmer. You shouldn’t complain driving my cars because they’re the best cars in the world,'” Per Balboni, Lamborghini purportedly responded, “Oh, yes, I am a farmer! I’ll show you how to make a sports car and I will do a sports car by myself … to show you how a sports car has to be.”
However, The New York Times posits that Lamborghini’s real reason for going into the car business was considerably more practical: seeing the high markup placed by car manufacturers, such as Ferrari, on mundane parts, the tractor company decided there was money to be made manufacturing exotic cars.
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