The bright red race cars at the Museo Ferrari attracted almost as many visitors last year as Jackson Pollock’s iconic splashings at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
In August, the museum hit a new all-time record for daily visitors, 2,422 -- more than the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan had on Easter Sunday. When tickets were free.
Last year about 330,000 people trekked to the museum in Maranello, the center of the Ferrari universe, up from 220,000 people in 2012. And the number is expected to increase this year.
That’s because Museo Ferrari director Antonio Ghini is a man who understands his public, and aims to give visitors what they want.
“We have created a place where people can live the dream,’” he said. “The man, the brand, the races. The victories, and the defeats. And people respond to this.”
Granted, Ghini has an easy task, in a sense. Ferrari is one of the world’s most popular brands. Its Facebook page has 16 million “likes,” not as many as pop star Taylor Swift (72 million) but still a lot for what seems to be a car company.
But as any Ferrari fan will tell you, it’s more than a car company. It’s a potent mix of Formula 1 racing victories, cutting-edge technology, human daring, and mind-blowing car design. The heroic age of car racing in which Ferrari played a leading role has echoes of NASA’s quest to put a man on the moon, in which man uses technology to overcome human limitations.
Ghini understands that people come to see the Museo Ferrari because “it’s like coming to Lourdes or Mecca.”
So he encourages his visitors to have “the experience.” That means, for example, he leaves a group of five cars on the first floor worth over €120 million completely unprotected, except for some tape on the floor asking people not to get too close. Although of course they do.
Likewise, he removed a ban against taking photos.
“I put a stop to that!,” he said. “People put them all straight onto the Internet!”
The Museo Ferrari last year broadened its reach and now manages the Museo Enzo Ferrari in nearby Modena as well. Visitors to the Maranello museum can take a shuttle bus to Modena to see the workshop where Enzo’s father worked, and an audiovisual presentation about Enzo Ferrari’s life.
The commercial appeal of the Ferrari museum is probably not transferrable to most other cultural institutions in Italy. Not many museums can offer a Formula 1 race simulator, an “on board” Formula 1 race car photo opportunity at €20 a pop and a Ferrari factory-and-race-track tour.
But at a time when the Ministry of Culture has nominated new directors for Italy’s top 20 museums, it might be useful to look at Ferrari’s success at pulling in more visitors.
In addition to photo ops and race simulators, the museum attracts visitors with thematic shows dedicated to Ferrari’s rich racing and design history. They have covered such topics as the relationship between Enzo Ferrari and Sergio Pininfarina (who designed many of Ferrari’s most iconic cars), the evolution of the Supercar (from the 250GTO to the Enzo), to the 60-year anniversary of Ferrari in the US.
“Each time we take on a theme that will take the visitor on a voyage, that will tell him a story,” said Ghini .
The current exhibition looks at “the Eight Secrets of Ferrari,” in which eight prominent people in automotive history reveal a secret. World-renowned car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, for example, has designed some of the world’s top-selling cars, like the first VW Golf or the Fiat Uno, but did only one for Ferrari. A “secretly-designed” Giugiaro prototype for Ferrari is on display for the first time ever at the show.
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