“The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been stirred” – Soichiro Honda (1906-1991)
“The day I saw my first motor race I felt profound emotion” – Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988)
There are a number of parallels in the lives of the founders of the automotive dynasties that bear their names. Both Soichiro Honda and Enzo Ferrari shared twin passions for creating automotive machines and for racing them.
Honda and Ferrari were born worlds apart though both were the sons of men who worked with metal. In Italy Ferrari's father was the proprietor of a small iron working shop and in Japan Honda grew up as the eldest son of a blacksmith. Both families were poor and couldn't afford to properly educate their children. Enzo Ferrari had only seven years of formal schooling before he had to go to work to earn a living and Soichiro Honda left school when he was 16.
While one of Ferrari's first jobs was as a test driver for a small car manufacturer Honda started as an apprentice in an automotive repair shop and by the time he was 25 he owned his own garage. In 1936 Honda set up a business to manufacture piston rings for engines and, shortly after this, Ferrari began building machinery to make ball bearings. Both enterprises contributed to the war effort in their respective countries.
In 1945 Honda sold his piston ring business and set up the Honda Technical Research Institute. He bought surplus military engines, fitted them to bicycles, and could hardly keep up with the demand for his machines. He formed the Honda Motor Company and in 1949 the first motorcycle to bear the 'Honda' name was built. Honda called this 98cc creation 'The Dream' and his business grew and prospered beyond his wildest dreams.
But Honda had another dream, which had its origins in the 1920's when in his spare time he had built a primitive racing car using an old V8 engine. At the same time Ferrari had also been bitten by the racing bug and before the Second World War he was an amateur racing driver, then founded his own team, the Scuderia Ferrari, using Alfa Romeo cars. In 1946 Ferrari began making his own racing cars and soon began producing less highly tuned versions for use on public roads. These sports cars, riding on the success of the Ferrari racing cars, became the most desirable machines for wealthy automotive enthusiasts and exotic status symbols for the rich and famous.
Meanwhile Honda also began to use racing as a means to promote his vehicles, not just in Japan but around the world and not just on two wheels, but four. After winning successive Motorcycle World Championships, in 1961 and 1962, Honda produced his first sports car (based on a motorcycle engine) and to realise his ambition to become a major international manufacturer of passenger cars Honda decided, like Ferrari, to compete at the pinnacle of motorsport.
While Ferrari began entering his cars from the beginning of the World Championship series, in 1950, Honda did not make his F1 debut until 1964. From then to 1968 Honda built both the chassis and engine for his F1 cars but Honda's greatest success came when he concentrated on supplying engines to existing F1 teams – from 1983 to 1992, then from 2006 to 2008. Five times the World Driving Champions had Honda engines behind their backs and Honda-powered teams won six Constructors' Championships. Over the years Ferrari's record is 15 driving titles and 16 team championships but the dry statistics in the record books don't do justice to the influence of the two men who masterminded the machines, nor do the numbers reveal the full impact their mechanical creations have had on the public, especially F1 fans.
It's significant that both the screaming Ferrari and Honda engines (especially the V12s) made arguably the most evocative noises in F1 history. That eerie, high-pitched, spine-tingling wail that so captured the public imagination added much to the mystique of the sport. It's as if those unearthly sounds echoed the passion that drove Enzo Ferrari and Soichiro Honda.