This is how Carlo Biscaretti of Ruffia describes the young aristocracy that finds itself there: “we were all young, enthusiastic in the grip of a kind of automotive euphoria, and in the knight Agnelli we instinctively felt our spiritual leader who forced us to witness his disputes, in which he already gave clear signs of his vision of the future and of the creative power”.
Giovanni Agnelli, born in 1866, was a young cavalry lieutenant when he went to visit Professor Enrico Bernardi, of whom he had eagerly read the monographs dedicated to his studies on mechanics being fascinated by his research on the petrol-powered combustion engine, and personally witnessed the tests of the “Lauro” engine, filed as a patent in 1892 and presented mounted in the first three-wheels in a row motor scooter.
At the time, cars was still a laboratory experiment but Agnelli returned to Turin with a project in mind that could not remain unrealized. At that time he loved to spend his days at the workshop of Luigi Storero, a daring pioneer who traded in tricycles imported into Italy under the name Phoenix, and Dion engine. And it is actually riding one of these first motor vehicles, to be precise a quadricycle, that Agnelli participated in 1899, together with his friend Biscaretti, in the race organised on the occasion of the annual Verona Fair, winning brilliantly in the category of “light cars”.
Agnelli on Phoenix quadricycle
After all, his passion for engines had been fueled by participating in sports competitions himself and he knew how to recognize the skills of a good driver. His team counted the names of the protagonists of that first season of competitions that will decide the beginning of Motor sport: Vincenzo Lancia, Pietro Bordino, Felice and Biagio Nazzaro, Alessandro Cagno, Carlo Salamano.
Agnelli (right) with driver Pietro Bordino at the 1927 Milan Grand Prix / Felice Nazzaro in Fiat #4, winner at the French Automobil Club Grand Prix, 1922
Portrait of Edoardo Agnelli / Donation letter
At his side, until the 1960s, a key man for the years of economic rise, Vittorio Valletta, already a trusted man of the senator, with whom FIAT achieves important goals. Agnelli’s contribution in the company’s history becomes decisive especially in the difficult years of the crisis, in which he shows that he knows how to move skillfully in the world of entrepreneurship as in that of politics, flanked by his beloved brother Umberto.
The life of Gianni Agnelli, better known as the Lawyer, was a life of passions. One of them, perhaps the strongest and most rooted in his DNA, was the one for cars. As a child he dabbled in driving a Baby Bugatti, a small car with an electric motor, scale model of the Type 35 racing, made in 1927 by Ettore Bugatti for his son Roland and produced in about 90 units, for the lucky children of an elite who could have access to such expensive fun. A precious childhood game to which Gianni remained attached and which he donated in memory of his friend Biscaretti at the time when the Museum was finally inaugurated in the headquarters of Corso Unità d’Italia in 1960.
Agnelli on Baby Bugatti / Lawyer’s Letter
A passionate and great connoisseur of cars, Gianni Agnelli was also a sophisticated collector, his 1936 Mercedes 540 K for example, was also donated to the Automobile Museum, a luxury sports car, with an 8-cylinder engine, supercharged by a volumetric compressor that can be inserted from the driver’s seat, 180 hp of power and very high performance. Very few were produced by Daimler Benz’s factories and it is considered an excellent example of the german pre-war car technique.
Mercedes 540 K on display in the “Everything changes” museum section
Gianni Agnelli next to his Ferrari 365 P Berlinetta Speciale, 1969
This acquisition allowed Fiat and Ferrari to collaborate with the common goal of technical development but at the same time allowed Enzo Ferrari to maintain that autonomy of management of its brand that he will retain until his death, in 1988, when 90% of the share package passes to the Fiat Group.
Gianni Agnelli, Niki Lauda on the left and next to him Mauro Forghieri (Giorgio Bellia Archive)
The bibliographic sources consulted for the drafting of the article are kept at the Documentation Center of the Museum