On 27 July 1961, Enzo Ferrari was let off charges of manslaughter following the deaths of eleven people – the driver Alfonso De Portago, his navigator, Edmund Nelson and nine spectators, including five children. De Portago was driving a Ferrari 335 S, with the number 531 in the 1957 Mille Miglia when the car flew into the crowd after a tyre burst on a straight between Cerlongo and Guidizzolo, in the province of Mantua.
Immediately after the tragedy, the Italian authorities banned motor sport for several months on home soil and the Mille Miglia was never run again.
According to the prosecution, Ferrari was responsible for choosing a type of tyre that was not suitable for the performance of his cars. It took over four years for the charge to be overturned on the grounds that, according to the Mantua Court, “the accusation is manifestly unfounded.”
“I went with my father to Mantua a few times, when the trial was on and he often recalled that his passport was taken from him after the tragedy as he was under investigation,” recalled his son Piero on a Rai programme, “History is us.” It was one of the most critical and difficult moments: he was absolved and the proceedings ended favourably, but it left its mark.”
What really happened in Guidozzolo? Enzo Ferrari wrote about it in his book, “Piloti, che gente.” “De Portago’s tyre got pinched on the metal cats’ eyes which mark out the middle of the road and that was why the tyre exploded. It was following this incident that the insidious innovation of cats’eyes was banned from all roads and motorways.”