PIERO FERRARI remembered the time a few years ago when he was invited to appear at a 'Columbus Day' rally in New York City. He dutifully showed up at the annual Italian-American celebration, expecting only to make an appearance.
Suddenly, Piero was asked by his hosts to stand up in front of tens of thousands of New Yorkers and make a speech. Everyone wanted to hear from Enzo Ferrari's son.
No one asked Piero to make a big speech at his father's induction at the European Automotive Hall of Fame in Geneva - just accept a copy of Enzo Ferrari's plaque and perhaps say a few words.
But Piero spoke willingly - and movingly - about his father. At the podium, he embraced Sergio Pininfarina, who presented him with the plaque.
It was a special moment, Sergio Pininfarina himself having contributed much to the Ferrari legend with his company's designs.
Piero Ferrari - vice chairman of Ferrari SpA - is an intelligent, friendly and unpretentious man, who looks like his father. He's without airs, though Piero admitted that he likes the way his name smoothes the way through US Immigration.
'The customs officer usually asks if I am related to Enzo Ferrari,' he says. 'When I say, 'yes, I am his son,' I go through much faster.'
He talks affectionately about his father, but also speaks the truth.
'He was a crazy man,' Piero said, 'not a businessman at all.'
But he was infected by his father's burning desire to win races and to build the world's finest sports cars.
Piero remembers sitting in his father's office and listening to him talk with other great men of the auto business. Some of them were inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Enzo Ferrari. Once Alec Issigonis came to Maranello to present Enzo with a special Mini. The two giants talked about cars, while the young Ferrari hung on every word.
Piero still has the Mini.
It was a joyful night in Geneva. Bernd Pischetsrieder thanked BMW, the company that fired him two years ago, for bringing out the New Mini and thus honoring Issigonis, his great uncle.
Annette Diesel spoke beautifully of her late husband's grandfather - Rudolf Diesel. She gave me a photograph of the Diesel family taking its first ride in its first car, a red NAG, in 1905.
In the picture, Rudolf sits in the passenger seat with a chauffer at the wheel.
'He never drove a car,' said Frau Diesel.
Jutta Benz, the great granddaughter of Karl Benz, wondered why there were no woman inductees. Jutta suggested one candidate - her great-grandmother, Bertha Benz, who was the driving force behind her husband and who took the first long-distance automobile trip - 100 kilometers, with her children - in 1888.
Claude Satinet, head of Automobiles Citroen, spoke of showing Andre Citroen's original memos to his executive team. The founder's powerful words are still relevant, he said.
Annick Renault-Fabry, eldest grand-daughter of Louis Renault, talked of her family's mission to repair his controversial reputation.
This was a night to remember the miracle that Louis Renault created in Boulogne-Billancourt. The company he founded with his brothers Marcel and Fernand has survived many crises. And its new Vel Satis may have been the star of the 2001 Geneva show.
Indeed, the influence of Hall of Fame members was everywhere to be found in Geneva. William Lyons' company, Jaguar, introduced the new X-type at the show. Volkswagen announced the revival of the Bugatti brand. Ettore Bugatti's daughter, Terese Bugatti De Mateos, received her father's Hall of Fame plaque and revealed that her own daughter would soon begin working for the new Bugatti company.
Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign showed the TwentyTwenty concept car - a much-praised interpretation of a future Aston Martin.
But probably no Hall of Fame member was more evident on the floor of the show than Rudolf Diesel, whose self-igniting engine is the hottest thing in the European car industry at the moment.
The two living members of the Hall of Fame were here - Giugiaro and Gianni Agnelli. The two could not be more different. Giugiaro has been the ultimate hands-on genius; Agnelli the least hands-on of any Hall of Fame inductee.
But Agnelli saved a company that might have been lost to the ages - like so many other European automakers after World War II.
Agnelli had help, just as Henry Ford II did in post-war America. Vittorio Valletta and Dante Giacosa, Agnelli's two great allies, will surely enter the Hall of Fame someday. But Fiat's survival required Gianni Agnelli's special skills.
Rising to the podium, this great man who turns turns 80 today (March 12), said 'I accept this on behalf of my grandfather, Giovanni Agnelli.'
His modesty was touching. Agnelli has shown how a great family should manage a great company. He was composed and courageous in crisis. The big decisions were left to Agnelli alone and his instincts were unerring.
Agnelli embodies something all Hall of Fame members had - enormous personal charisma. They led by force of personality. That may be the most important shared trait of the 13, the one thing that binds them all.
More than mere industriousness or genius or vision, the power to impose their will on large enterprises is what set these men apart.
There was talk at the Palexpo about who was not in the Hall of Fame - Armand Peugeot, Wilhelm Maybach and Battista 'Pinin' Farina, for instance. But when these and other immortals are inducted it will be a new cause to celebrate. Each one deserves his day. One by one, the Hall of Fame will recognize the great leaders of this industry and allow us to get to know them better.
Some present-day executives wandering the halls of the Palexpo in 2001 will have their plaques on the wall one day. I believe that Carl Hahn and Sergio Pininfarina, two selection committee members and the evening's presenters along with Keith Crain, will both enter the Hall of Fame.
Hahn made the original Beetle a phenomenon when he ran Volkswagen of America and he later led VW in the years when it emerged as the strongest car company in Europe. At the Hall of Fame gala, Hahn sounded like the chairman again - reminiscing about the greats of the industry and charming the gala dinner guests.
As for Sergio Pininfarina, well, I came to realize during this night that he probably grasps the auto business better than anyone alive. He knows everyone and understands everything.
The brand managers who play such a prominent role at modern auto companies should study the lives and careers of the Hall of Fame members. So should car project leaders and designers and CEOs. The magic they seek can be found in these men.
Each December, the new Hall of Fame members - as selected by a distinguished jury - will be announced in the pages of Automotive News Europe. But the Hall of Fame does not belong to Automotive News Europe or to the Geneva auto show. It belongs to the European auto industry.
Together, we can maintain its integrity. The immortals who entered the Hall of Fame last month and those who will be admitted in the future deserve nothing less.
E-mail Richard Johnson at [email protected]