Today I am remembering an old friend, Sergio Scaglietti. This most humble man passed away in his apartment in Modena six days ago, and already I am missing him.
Sergio was born in 1920, and grew up in abject poverty. He went to work at a young age in the auto industry, learning to repair cars when he was barely a teenager. He survived World War II, eventually opened his own carrozzeria (body building shop) in Modena, and his exceptional skill soon caught the attention of Enzo Ferrari. By the mid-1950s the two were business confidants and close friends, building numerous championship winning cars together, and Sergio remained in Enzo’s inner circle until the “Old Man” passed away in 1988.
I first met Sergio in the mid-1990s. He was one of the greats in Ferrari and automotive history, yet to my knowledge no one had ever written a major profile on the man. Who was this guy, I wondered, and what was his story? I got Automobile Quarterly to bite on the piece, so I arranged an interview with Scaglietti through Girolamo Gardini, Ferrari’s former sales manager from the late 1940s to 1961. We met at Gardini’s house in Modena, and Gardini’s delightful daughter Elisebetta handled translation duties.
I saw Sergio a few months later for follow up questions, and we just seem to hit it off. After the article ran in AQ, I proposed to Pebble Beach we honor Scaglietti at the Concours in 1998; after all, why wait for someone to pass when you can get them while they are still alive? They went for it in a big way, and flew Sergio and his grandson Stefano over and put them up at the Lodge.
It was Sergio’s first ever trip to the U.S., and I picked them up at the San Francisco Airport and played chauffeur over the next several days. When we were driving through Gilroy as we made our way to Monterey, Sergio stared out the window, wide-eyed like the little kid he always remained, saying immenso, immenso (immense, immense!) over and over at how large California seemed to be.
When we arrived on the peninsula I drove them through Carmel before going to the Lodge at Pebble Beach. There are always all sorts of collector cars on the streets during “the week,” so I turned to Sergio and said in Italian, “Did you see the GTO,” referring to the 250 GTO—likely his greatest creation for Ferrari.
He immediately started looking around, asking, “Where? Where?” so I pointed to a 1966 Pontiac GTO, a car that got its name after that Scaglietti-bodied Ferrari, and said, “There!”
Sergio burst out laughing, for he loved good jokes.
He was also passionate for America’s western movies, something I relayed to Texan Bob Smith. Bob is one of the world’s best Ferrari restorers and a huge Scaglietti fan, having refurbished a number of his cars over the years. He was in charge of the Ferrari Club of America’s annual meet in 2001, and flew over Sergio and Stefano over to Texas as the guests of honor. Bob told me where to take them shopping in Dallas for authentic western wear, an experience Sergio loved. On one of the last nights the Club took over a working western town, and Sergio was like a kid in a bigger-than-life cookie jar. We got him involved in a shoot out skit where his compadres were going to break him out of jail, and he hammed it up and beamed that entire night.
Scaglietti was so important to Ferrari history that they named the recently discontinued 612 Scaglietti after him. When I saw Sergio at his apartment shortly after the car’s launch, he told me in amazement how Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo had called him a couple of hours before the car’s unveiling, saying “You need to come here to see your car.” Sergio didn’t have a clue the company was planning that.
The last time I visited him, I could see Sergio was slowing down. He used a cane, and when we walked to our favorite restaurant near his apartment, he held my arm as we crossed the street, Scaglietti smiling and gabbing away in his Modenese dialect. Over dinner he would occasionally turn to Stefano, give a subtle point or nod towards me, and ask “Qui e lui?” (Who is that?). Stefano would then tell him and then Sergio would break into a wide grin, pat my arm and say “Wiston, Wiston!” He always seemed to leave out the “n” out of my name when he said it.
Sergio was an absolute prince of a man, one everyone who knew him loved. At this time, my thoughts are with the Scaglietti family in Modena.