Captain Piero Calamai of the ill-fated Andrea Doria, Italy’s most
luxurious ocean liner, makes the following entry in his logbook for the
Departure Naples. Thursday, 19 July 1956. A total of 1,134 passengers
(190 First Class, 267 Cabin Class, 677 Tourist Class), 401 tons of
freight, 522 pieces of baggage, 1,754 bags of mail, nine automobiles
parked in the general garage area, and two sealed in watertight auto
containers. Cargo hold #1 has the container with the 1956 Prototype
#9999CN Chrysler Norseman. Cargo hold #2 has the container with the 1956
Prototype 250GT 56Comp 001 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta.1
Seven days later, on July 26, 1956, the world watches as the Andrea
Doria capsizes and sinks in the foggy North Atlantic Ocean fifty miles
south of Nantucket Island. The damage done after being broadsided by the
Swedish liner Stockholm is fatal. Fifty-one passengers lose their lives.
It is the first maritime disaster to be televised live, and the only one
where two priceless experimental automobiles are included in the
ship’s manifest: the 1956 Prototype #9999CN Chrysler Norseman and the
1956 Prototype Ferrari GTO Berlinetta.
The Chrysler Norseman, a concept car built by Ghia in Torino, Italy, was
truly a monument of automotive design technology. Chrysler was hoping to
integrate the Norseman’s advanced and innovated design features into
future production models.
The Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta Prototype, considered by many to be the
most beautiful sports car ever made, was the first example of the
thirty-nine eventually produced. Its aerodynamic design was a major
technical achievement and a tribute to the genius of Italian design
engineering. The Colombo all-alloy 3.0-liter V12 engine developed 300
horsepower and was the most admired engine in the world.
News of the cars being on board the Andrea Doria spreads quickly
throughout the world of wealthy car collectors. Dive boats on Long
Island and New Jersey begin to advertise dive expeditions to the Andrea
Doria. Incentives to salvage the cars, fueled by rumors of actual
sightings, escalate, prompting affluent collectors from all over the
world to finance costly dive operations to locate and raise the cars.
But gaining access to the cars is very dangerous; they are down 240 feet
inside the ship on forward Deck C. Drawn by the lure of fame and riches,
divers take unnecessary risks inside the ship. Several get their lines
tangled in the twisted metal of the wreckage and die of nitrogen
narcosis. Some cannot find their way out of Deck C and drown. Several
are still missing.
Collectors eventually abandon their quest to find the GTO. Not until
fifty-two years later, when the bow of the Andrea Doria collapses, is
interest in raising the GTO rekindled.
1Collision Course: The Andrea Doria and the Stockholm by Alvin Moscow.
The information given in the captain’s logbook entry about the
contents of the ship is factual with the exception of the listing of the
July 17, 1956, Tuesday at 2:00 a.m.
High on a ridge in the western Alps near Torino, Italy, a 1956 Fiat
Bartoletti auto transporter owned by Ferrari S.p.A. meanders south
toward Genoa. Its oversized coach tires crunch the wet gravel of the
Strada dell’Assietta, the treacherous thirty-five-mile road known for
its soft terrain, steep hills, and sharp curves. While the rain has
stopped, visibility is nearly impossible as muddy grime sticks to the
windshield like mortar. The howling wind makes the transporter unstable
and difficult to control.
Despite the turbulent weather, Antonio Grimaldi and Giancarlo Bandini
are determined to complete their mission. One year ago, the longtime
members of Enzo Ferrari’s inner circle were assigned a secret project
to build the most beautiful and competitive sports racing car in the
world. Built by hand for his personal approval, the car was designed for
the racetrack as well as the highway.
However, the prototype never saw the production line. Il Commendatore,
or Knight Commander, the official title and venerable sobriquet of the
man who led the Ferrari autocracy, flatly and angrily rejected it. So
now, under the cover of darkness, Antonio and Giancarlo are secretly
transporting the car to the Port of Genoa for shipment to the United
States aboard Italy’s most luxurious ocean liner, the SS Andrea Doria.
Once it arrives in New York City, it will be placed in secret storage
away from the public eye.
But navigating the Assietta is pushing Antonio’s driving skills to
their limits. Moreover, the transporter’s 92-horsepower six-cylinder
diesel engine provides only a small amount of torque, making it
difficult to navigate the steep mountain grades of the road.
“You should slow down on the curves and hills, Antonio. When you touch
the brake pedal, I can feel the tires slip!” Giancarlo says in a
disturbed voice. His gangly outstretched legs push down hard against the
floorboard as his bony fingers squeeze the armrests with a deathlike
“Is this your first roller-coaster ride?” Antonio asks with a
“This is no time to make a joke. We could get killed on this road!”
“Giancarlo, my friend, if I go any slower I’ll be in reverse. Just
relax. We’ll be okay.”
Riding anyplace in any kind of weather with Giancarlo is enough to give
Antonio a throbbing migraine. Even his good-natured taunts cannot calm
Giancarlo’s uneasiness. They’re good friends, and most of the time
good friends tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies, if not their
imperfections. But today, Antonio has his hands full keeping the
transporter on the road. Today, he wishes Giancarlo would just shut up.
“This is not a smart thing that we do—to be on the Assietta in this
kind of weather—it’s stupido!” Giancarlo’s wire-framed Ben
Franklin glasses with foggy, oval shaped lenses keep sliding down his
nose. “I’m not in a laughing mood,” he says, as he pushes his
glasses back up where they belong. Sweat beads form on the wide bald
patch on his head, saturating what little hair he has on the sides.
“We should have waited for better weather!”
“When the boss says ‘go’ I go,” Antonio says without hesitation.
“You have to trust him.”
Giancarlo cringes as small rocks bouncing under the front and rear wheel
wells remind him of flak he encountered while flying a dive-bomber for
Regia Aeronautica Italiana during World War II. One of the few Italian
pilots who survived the war, Giancarlo still suffers from the trauma of
air combat. It isn’t uncommon for him to become catatonic in stressful
situations. His doctor calls it combat stress reaction. Antonio just
calls it combat fatigue.
“I hear strange noises from the Berlinetta in the back. The straps
seem too loose,” Giancarlo says. “If they come off, the car will be
ruined, and so will we! And what if the sospensione breaks? We won’t
be able to drive it off! Then what are we gonna do?”
“Stop worrying,” says Antonio. “The car is insured for one
million. I placed the straps over the tires instead of the axles. That
way, the suspension does all the work.”
“I don’t know, I still don’t trust it.”
“If we keep stopping to check it every time you hear something, by the
time we arrive at Genoa the Andrea Doria will be halfway to New York.
Then you know what happens to us?”
“What?” Giancarlo asks.
“You and me, we’ll both be working for Fiat!”
“I’ll never work for that company! I design beautiful racers, not
Antonio smiles affectionately at his friend, then struggles to keep his
eyes on the road. He is a tall, handsome man of thirty-four years with
broad shoulders and a muscular build. His dark brown eyes are bloodshot
from lack of sleep, and his long black hair, streaked with silver, is
soaked with rain, since he has manually wiped the mud off of the
windshield several times. His normally clean-shaven, angular face is
starting to show signs of stubble from having spent the last two nights
in the transporter.
“I can’t believe Enzo—to just shut down our project like that!”
Giancarlo bursts out with chagrin. “Zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds, the
quarter mile in 11.5 seconds, the best design and best engine ever made,
and Enzo—he no longer wants to make the car!”
“I was there the first time he saw it,” Antonio says. “He slammed
his fist on the hood and left the building.” Antonio hesitates,
weighing his words, feeling an immense loyalty to Il Commendatore. “I
told him I thought it was the most magnificent sports car ever made. He
ignored me and said it would be the last time those bastards screwed
“Ah . . . once you get on the wrong side of the International
Automobile Federation, you pay a big price. Not even Il Commendatore can
change the certification rules for racing, the omologazione.”
“But Giancarlo, the rules were changed after the car was built.
Originally, he only needed to produce twenty-five cars to sell to the
public. Now the rules say he must produce one hundred. That’s unfair!
He intended to play by the rules until the IAF blindsided him.”
“He makes a big mistake! I don’t care what you say, Antonio!”
“Ah, but Il Commendatore—we should never question him. Remember how
much he has done for us?”
“More for you than for me,” Giancarlo says somewhat defiantly.
Antonio thinks to himself how Enzo Ferrari graciously hired him after
his release from serving five years’ prison time at Regina Coeli in
Rome and Gorgona Island Penal Colony north of Elba. He was accused of
stealing a new Ferrari Tipo 166 back in 1948 from the factory showroom
“It still makes me very sad for you,” Giancarlo says.
“I’ve been out for two years now. Life goes on, my friend.”
“But you didn’t do it!”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Life is unfair.”
“Yes, sometimes it is.”
Giancarlo is finally quiet. Antonio’s unjust treatment upsets him. He
finds it difficult to understand how Antonio can be so nonchalant about
spending five years of his young life in prison for a crime he didn’t
commit. Life really is unfair. *
Excerpted from "GTO: Race to Oblivion" by Roger Corea. Copyright © 2017 by Roger Corea. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.