Yesterday we heard the news that Enzo Ferrari’s former private secretary and team manager, Romolo Tavoni died at the age of 94 at his home in Casinalbo near Modena.
For me, it was a deeply personal loss as I have known Romolo for over 63 years and my first visit to Maranello to visit Ferrari. He came striding out from under the archway in his formal grey suit and tie and made me and my old Scottish friend Sandy Forrest, very welcome.
To him it seemed strange that a 23 year old journalist would drive all the way from Scotland to Maranello to visit the factory but it was the beginning of an interesting friendship.
Romolo had planned a career in banking and joined Credito Italiano in Modena. One day the manager called him in and they had a client who needed help and that client happened to be Enzo Ferrari and Tavoni was taken on as his private secretary. So it was he to took me round the factory for the first time and back in those relaxed days there was no problem about taking photographs
Romolo was tall, quiet spoken and polite but as I got to know him better I also saw him getting into a flaming temper over something that had not been done to his liking. By that time he had also become the racing manager so his time was divided between running the racing team and tending to Enzo Ferrari’s needs.
Remember in those says the racing department was relatively modest unlike today and yet, again unlike today, the competition department was not only involved in Formula 1 but in sports car racing, the European Hill Climb Championship and GT racing each with their own team of drivers whose travel plans had to be organised so Tavoni had a tough job.
He took over the reigns in 1957 and was faced with not only the tragedy in the Mille Miglia where the Marquis de Portago and Ed Nelson were killed but also the death of Eugenion Castelotti. However, a few years later there came the great purge at Ferrari in which Tavoni was placed at the centre. In the early 1960s Laura Ferrari, Enzo’s wife started to attend the races and Tavoni admitted that her presence did not help the running of the team. Things came to a head as far as he was concerned at the British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1961. In the hotel after practice Tavoni explained that Mrs Ferrari was under medication and could be unpredictable. He was sitting in the lounge with members of the team when Mrs Ferrari arrived for dinner. She asked Tavoni what he was drinking and he remarked it was Coca Cola at which she grabbed the glass and poured the Coke ever him. He returned to his room, changed and then had dinner However, things did not improve and other members of the team including Carlo Chiti urged Tavoni to have a word with Mr Ferrari about Mrs Ferrari being present at races. Obviously Tavoni was reluctant but eventually he mentioined this and Ferrari called a meeting that ended with a number of key members being fired including Chiti and Tavoni.
For Tavoni this was devastating and he privately spoke to Mr Ferrari but though sympathetic he insisted that, no, he had to go.
Tavoni then joined the Italian Motor Racing central body but was then recruited to be the director of racing at Monza a job that suited him and his organisational skills. Shortly after that Enzo Ferrari contacted him and asked if he would be prepared to come back to Maranello to run the new test track at Fiorano. It was a dilemma but Tavoni was loyal and said that he felt he could not just walk out on the job at Monza and there he stayed and was to retire to his house in Casinalbo between Modena and Maranello.
We met from time to time at a local hotel to talk about his days at Ferrari and he remained actively interested in racing and in Ferrari for the rest of his life. He an Mauro Forghieri were close friends and Forghieri was a frequent visitor.
To me Romolo Tavoni was a gentleman who had an almost impossible task at a time when Ferrari were at their most active. His banking training meant he had a personal discipline but could enliven any conversation about Ferrari or racing with a lot of arm waving, forthright comment but, most of all, humour. Those of us who had the privilege of his friendship will always remember him as a very special administrator in a very special job with a very special Company.