You’ve all seen it, and some of us have worshipped it. But where did Ferrari’s iconic prancing horse stem from? This is the true story behind the most recognised automotive logo of them all
If you piloted European skies during the first World War, a certain logo struck fear through the heart. Donning the side of Count Francesco Baracca’s SPAD XIII fighter plane, sight of a prancing dark stallion brought mortality and death above ground. Should Baracca’s symbol of demise enter the crosshairs, you were going to meet your maker. The horse was lifted from the Baracca's family crest, but it was effectively the grim reaper.
As a legendary professional of Italy’s air force, Baracca proved to be an inspiration to young, hot-blooded Italian men. Depicting his ‘prancing horse’ upon the wings of various aircraft, with its tail pointed downwards as a symbol of courage, Count Francesco claimed no less than 34 victories, sending dozens of aviators to the grave before being shot down himself on June 19, 1918.
Baracca's exploits and untimely demise developed a champion's mantra, eventually declared a national hero his symbol of victory was adopted by many pioneering Italians – including one Enzo Ferrari. Albeit, Enzo added his own touch.
The original ‘prancing horse’ was painted red upon a white background, with subsequent plane-markings draped in back as a mark of respect for fallen pilots. Ferrari adapted this to incorporate a yellow backdrop – the color of his birthplace; Modena.
Ferrari’s adoption of the horse didn’t stem purely from appreciation, however. His association with the symbol stemmed from well before his days crafting culture’s iconic sports cars. Rather, the fateful pairing first sparked when Enzo was racing for Alfa Romeo on June 17, 1923.
Having clinched several victories, Enzo was introduced to Count Baracca’s parents. Speaking with Franceso’s mother – the Countess Paolina Baracca – she suggested Enzo should adopt her son’s prancing horse symbol. She had already allowed his cars to wear the logo as a means of good luck.
Ferrari obliged and, some nine years later in 1932, the first sighting of Baracca’s badge was glimpsed upon the Alfa Romeos of Enzo’s Scuderia during the Spa Grand Prix. Needless to say, the lucky charm brought a first and second place for Ferrari’s team that day.
Alfa withdrew from racing the following year due to financial difficulties, leaving Enzo and his lucky charm to go it alone. As time wore on and Ferrari scooped no end of victory, leaving Alfa Romeo to start his own team after World War II, the prancing horse gained prominence across the country. The logo even found stance upon the grill of Alfa Romeo's 1935 Bimotore.
Due to contractual obligations, as Alfa had bought up shares in Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo couldn’t use the Ferrari name or the prancing horse on any of his vehicles for a four year period. During this time, Enzo passed the months manufacturing machinery, but the call to motorsport and mechanical development never left his blood.
Ferrari faced no end of problems in trying to get his brand upon the industrial map, hampered when his factory was burnt to the ground courtesy of allied bombing. But his steely determination ensured the Ferrari name was soon to be known globally.
The first model considered a ‘true Ferrari’ with that prancing horse up front was the 1947 Ferrari-built 12-cylinder Tipo 125S. Debuting during the 1948 Italian Grand Prix, the Ferrari logo now featured an upwards tail, slimmer silhouette and trimmed mane.
Enzo spoke only once about the origins of his company logo. “In ‘23, I met count Enrico Baracca, the hero’s father, and then his mother, countess Paulina, who said to me one day, ‘Ferrari, put my son’s prancing horse on your cars. It will bring you good luck’. The horse was, and still is, black, and I added the canary yellow background which is the color of Modena (Enzo Ferrari’s birthplace).”
It was on the 125S that the logo’s form changed from a shield, as worn during the Alfa Romeo days, and into a rectangle. The letters ‘S’ and ‘F’ (Scuderia Ferrari) were replaced simply with ‘Ferrari’. The marque had been born, with the resulting saga consigned to some of humanity’s most celebrated events. As they say – the rest is history...