Strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante Logo

Strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante Logo

Delwyn Mallett delves into the strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante logo. Exactly what’s behind Ferrari’s logo.



Italian fighter Ace Count Francesco Baracca, while on a strafing mission against Austrian forces in June 1918, crashed fatally on the Montello hillside in the northern province of Treviso. The fuselage of his biplane was adorned with the Cavallino Rampante (Italian for ‘prancing horse’), his personal emblem and that of the squadron he commanded.

There is some confusion surrounding his death. The Italians believe he was brought down by ground fire but there is support for the Austrian version that he was shot down by one of their fighters. When the crash site was reached three days later by Italian forces, his body was recovered and taken to his birthplace for an emotional funeral. Almost a century later his emblem is one of the most recognised and prestigious logos in the world, propelled to that position by another great Italian merchant of speed: Enzo Ferrari.

It would be difficult to overstate the passion that the Italian nation showed for motor racing in the early years of the 20th Century. Indulged in by the wealthy but embraced by the proletariat, it was perhaps uniquely supported and promoted by intellectuals, poets and artists – Nuvolari’s tortoise mascot was given to him by poet, polemicist, soldier, revolutionary, proto-fascist (and one of Ferrari’s favourite authors) Gabriele D’Annunzio. The machine and speed, in particular as represented by the aeroplane and motor car, became symbolic of Italy’s progress from an agrarian economy to a modern industrial state.

Baracca, a decade older than Enzo, was born in 1888 in Lugo di Romagna. At the age of 19 he enrolled in the military academy in Modena and, as a passionate equestrian, soon became a sublieutenant in the Royal Piedmont Cavalry, whose official emblem was a Cavallino Rampante. Like many dashing young men of the era, Barraca was fascinated by the aeroplane and, after learning to fly in Reims, France, in 1912, he became a pilot in the Italian air force. Italy entered the First World War in 1915 with the French and British, fighting against the Austro-Hungarian forces in the appallingly difficult mountainous terrain along the Italian-Austrian border.

Baracca scored Italy’s first aerial victory of the war in April 1916, while flying a Nieuport 11. Other victories followed and he became a national hero. In common with other aviators, Baracca decorated his craft with the Cavallino Rampante of his old cavalry regiment. By the time of his death, Baracca’s tally was 34 and he was revered as Italy’s ‘ace of aces’. The young Enzo couldn’t have failed to have been in awe of his exploits.

In 1908 the ten-year-old Enzo Ferrari and his older brother Alfredo were taken to the Via Emilia in Bologna by their father to watch their first motor race, an event that altered the course of the youngster’s life. Enzo enlisted in 1917 but, rather than being sent to the front with a gun, was given the task of shoeing mules – perhaps, given his surname (etymologically close to ‘blacksmith’), some military official felt it was a good gag.

Enzo’s father and brother both died of illness during the war; he himself was invalided out of the army in 1918. After recuperating, and being rejected for a job by Fiat, in 1919 he found work with Milan-based CMN (Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali) and soon fulfilled his ambition to become a racing driver. Driving a skimpily bodied CMN, he was classified ninth in the Targa Florio.

Alfa Romeo, returning to car production after the war, offered the young hotshot a job as a test driver, and Enzo had his best Targa result in 1920, placing second in his new Alfa mount. He would remain tied to Alfa for the next two decades. The reins of Baracca’s prancing horse changed hands in June 1923 after Ferrari, in a crowdpleasing performance, won at the Circuito del Savio in Ravenna. There he was congratulated by Baracca’s father Count Enrico, and introduced to his mother, Countess Paolina Biancoli. Later, as Ferrari recalled, the countess suggested that he use her son’s prancing horse on his car as ‘it will bring you good luck’. A cynic might say that it had not brought her son luck and Ferrari, it seems, did not take up the offer immediately, though this was almost certainly due to the fact that in the same year, after Ugo Sivocci’s quadrifoglio-adorned car won the Targa Florio, Alfa Romeo adopted the four-leaf clover emblem for its team cars.

In 1924, entered for what would have been his most important race to date, the Grand Prix de l’ACF in Lyon, Ferrari had a crisis of confidence and pulled out. Dogged by ill-health, for the next few years he appeared intermittently behind the wheel while building his business as an Alfa distributor from his new base in Modena. Then, in 1929, at a dinner of motor sport enthusiasts, he had the idea that would set him on his way to fame. He proposed to two of the men he was dining with that they should start a ‘racing club’ to prepare cars for wealthy clients who wanted to go racing without getting their hands dirty. The Società Anonima Scuderia Ferrari was duly registered on 1 December 1929.

The Ferrari version of the prancing horse made its first appearance on the new company’s notepaper and on the masthead of the periodical La Scuderia Ferrari published by the company. The magazine fulfilled another Ferrari ambition. As a child, he had decided that he would like to be an opera singer, racing driver or sports journalist. Alfa Romeo, a publicly owned company under severe financial pressure, decided to outsource its racing activity and use the Scuderia Ferrari as its de facto factory team. Enzo occasionally competed at the wheel of a Scuderia Alfa, with mixed success, and his last competitive appearance was in the Bobbio Penice hillclimb in 1931. The first appearance of the Cavallino Rampante was on the winning Ferrari Alfa 8C 2300 in 1932 at the Spa- Francorchamps 24 hours. So it seems that Enzo never raced, as the Countess Paolina Biancoli had hoped, carrying her son’s prancing horse.

 In Ferrari’s hands the horse underwent several ‘improvements’. Baracca’s had both hind legs on the ground and its extravagant tail pointing downwards. Ferrari’s version was more ‘rampante’, balanced on one leg with the slimmed-down tail flicking saucily upwards. On his racing Alfas the prancing horse sat in a yellow shield, the official colour of Modena, topped by the Italian tricolour in a thin chevron stripe and the letters S and F, for Scuderia Ferrari, in a cursive script either side of the horse’s grounded leg. The shield has remained part of Ferrari’s iconography to this day.

In 1938 Alfa took its racing team back in-house, creating Alfa Corse. Ferrari returned to Milan and, in November 1939, he left Alfa. Unable and unwilling to conform to being a mere employee, he decamped back to Modena and rebranded himself as Auto Avio Costruzioni. Ferrari agreed not to compete against his old employer for four years but almost immediately accepted a private commission to build a brace of sports cars for what would be a truncated 1940 Mille Miglia. Largely Fiat-based, with streamlined bodywork by Carrozzeria Touring, the sleek straight-eight-powered cars, unbranded other than by the number 815, put up a good show and led the event at one point, but both failed to finish due to mechanical troubles.

With another World War underway, and this time Fascist Italy on the German side, Ferrari put his factory to work producing small four-cylinder aero engines and petrol-driven grinding machines. In 1943 Ferrari moved production to a second factory in the small town of Maranello, 17km from Modena, which would soon become forever famous as the home of Ferrari automobiles.

The first car to carry the maestro’s name and the rectangular bonnet badge took shape during 1946 and made its debut in 1947 at the Piacenza circuit. The chunky little 1500cc V12 Ferrari 125 (125cc per cylinder) was leading the 30-lap race with three to go when a fuel pump failure brought it to a halt. Two weeks later the 125 was victorious in the Grand Prix of Rome and a legend was born. An unbroken 70 years of participation in motor sport followed: 16 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championships, 15 Drivers’ Championships and an unparalleled succession of desirable road cars has made Ferrari one of the world’s most famous and coveted brands, and the Cavallino Rampante has long been an instantly recognisable logo. In 1952, to differentiate his race entries from the increasing number of customer cars on the circuits, Ferrari reintroduced the shield he’d last used on his Scuderia cars in the 1930s. In various forms from etched metal to three-dimensional versions, the prancing horse has also featured as a stand-alone symbol on radiator or engine grilles since 1959. Although Ferrari’s horse has been redrawn many times since 1929, few will have noticed the 2002 ‘clean-up’ in which it underwent a gender reassignment from a stallion to a mare.

The dynamics of the luxury goods market started to change fundamentally during the 1970s and ’80s, and conspicuous consumption began to be viewed by many as a virtue rather than a vice. ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it’ became the credo of the day and consumers began to define themselves by the brands they bought – as a consequence, labels migrated from the inside to the outside.

The yuppie generation wanted the rest of the world to see and envy the results of their conspicuous consumption. Brands such as Ralph Lauren ensured that its garments would be recognised instantly by strategically positioning a logo where it could be seen – in Lauren’s case, as it happens, another horse. Porsche-branded watches, sunglasses and accessories heralded the transition of automotive credibility and desirability into hitherto untapped consumer areas. Yet for many years the only way to acquire a prancing horse badge was by buying the expensive bespoke motor car it was attached to, or, if you were favoured by the great man, on the face of a presentation watch.

Today you can acquire an officially sanctioned Cavallino Rampante attached to a bewildering array of clothing and accessories from T-shirts to £1000-plus leather jackets, or from a set of six pencils at £25 to a carbonfibre knick-knack tray at more than £300. You can kit out your kids in baseball caps, and ‘limited edition’ watches come in as many flavours as cupcakes.

I suspect Enzo Ferrari would not have approved. He dressed simply and soberly and lived only for his cars, once declaring that his philosophy was to maintain exclusivity by ‘building one less car than the market wanted’. Not long after the great man had sold the company to Fiat, the respected automotive journalist Griffith Borgeson was invited to Enzo Ferrari’s private office, where he noted that, although large, it was almost empty, containing a simple desk and three chairs. The walls were almost devoid of decoration, bearing only a large photograph of his wife, a painting of a speeding red racing car and a large colour print of Fancesco Baracca standing beside his Cavallino Rampante-adorned Spad fighter – it encapsulated all that had been important in his life.

 Strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante Logo

Clockwise from left Francesco Baracca, the racing driver who inspired Enzo Ferrari – and again as a World War One ace fighter pilot, with a certain emblem on his plane; Nigel Mansell’s Ferrari in the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix.

 Strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante Logo

Clockwise from above The Cavallino Rampante was first seen on the Scuderia Ferrari racing team’s Alfa Romeos before migrating to Ferrari’s own cars; the man himself raced Alfas before conceding that he was better at running the team than competing for it.

Below and right Ferrari himself was a conservative dresser, and would probably recoil in horror at the sight of modern Ferrari merchandise, with the Cavallino Rampante emblazoned on jackets and baseball caps.

 Strange history of Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante Logo

‘Few will have noticed the horse’s 2002 “clean-up” in which it underwent gender reassignment from stallion to mare’



Ferrari’s isn’t the only Cavallino Rampante, you know…

The horse has been a potent symbol of man’s virility and mastery since prehistoric times, and has been an essential part of the chivalric ethos since the Middle Ages, with Ferrari being only one of the most recent to adopt it as its heraldic symbol or trademark.

Mobil, then ‘The Vacuum Oil Company’, patented its wonderful Pegasus logo in 1911, although it didn’t become familiar on racing cars until the 1940s. Interestingly, Ferrari’s Indianapolis entry in 1952 carried the ‘flying horse’ as well as its prancing horse.

Pegasus logo Mobil

Pegasus logo Mobil

One of Ferrari’s greatest rivals also sports a prancing horse. The story goes that, not long after it had started production of the 356, the US importer Max Hoffman suggested that the car should carry a badge. Ferry Porsche quickly did a rough sketch based on a combination of the crests of Baden-Württemberg and its capital, Stuttgart, the crest of which happens to be a prancing horse on a yellow field.

Porsche logo

Porsche logo

From 1956 to 1961 another famous Italian wheeled legend, Ducati, also used the Cavallino Rampante on the fairings of its desmodromic-valved racing motorcycles. Fabio Taglioni, Ducati’s renowned designer, was born in the same town as Francesco Baracca and his father had been a World War One pilot, though not in Baracca’s squadron. Taglioni obtained permission from Ferrari to use its version of the Cavallino Rampante, gaining Ducati the description ‘two-wheeled Ferrari’.

1956 Ducati race moto

1956 Ducati race moto

And one mustn’t forget Ferrari’s one-time nemesis, Ford, which based a whole model range on the image of a galloping mustang.

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