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Romeo and Juliet

Trust the Italians to name a couple of automobile robots after the most famous lovers in the world.

autos Updated: Apr 01, 2010 07:41 IST
Mahesh Shetty
Mahesh Shetty
Hindustan Times

From Milan, we take an intercity train that is soon hurtling through the Italian countryside. Flying past my cinemascope window typical of European trains, are round bales of crop dotting mile after mile of neatly tilled farmland, the odd solitary farmhouse with its solitary tree, and small stations where we won’t stop — all soaked in that languid yellow-orange palette typical of both, Italy’s topography and the walls of its buildings. Before I’ve had my fill, I reach Modena, about 180 km south of Milan, and home of Ferrari. A 15-minute drive from the station, and I’m at Maranello, outside a 136-acre complex of low buildings with the horse prancing at the entrance.

Courting classics
A few paces in after the gate is a courtyard with an installation — a vertical lattice of metal pipes, and a Formula 1 car ‘driven’ into this pillar, about eight feet off the ground. The building in front is the Ferrari Classiche, where older Ferraris are restored and certified for a fee. This facility can get any part made for any classic Ferrari ever built. There’s a full-time team working on a spare parts database for every Ferrari model since inception.

Behind this team is a room — more like a vault, really — with shelves that hold logbooks for every single race that Ferrari has raced in. Each register, some dating back to the late ’40s, has the life story of every lap of every race — mechanic’s notes, driver’s inputs, the works. And on one of the shelves, casually tossed into a box, are a bunch of Ferrari seals used to stamp the authentication certificate a car gets when it comes out of Ferrari Classiche.

Old school
Speaking of school, Ferrari is so serious about its people bringing passion to their work, it built, in 2008, the Scuola dei Mestieri, (School of Jobs), created to transmit knowledge and skills to its young employees. And who better to head the school than Luigi Bonezzi (60), who was part of the first batch of students of Ipsia A. Ferrari, the technical school that founder Enzo Ferrari started in Maranello in the ’60s. Bonezzi joined Ferrari in 1966. As he shows us around, he stops at a couple of robots affectionately called Romeo and Juliet.

Horse whisperers
Romeo and Juliet assemble valves and guides through a process called thermal interference. The valves are cooled in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees. The robots then insert the valve into the cylinder head. Finally, the valve and guide are dipped into cold water, generating a thermal shock that makes the two pieces indivisible. A match made in heaven.

Actually, inside the assembly plant, it doesn’t look dramatically different from any average automobile assembly line — spotless floors, cars in varying stages of completion crawling along the line, young men and women walking around in candy-coloured overalls. So, sure, it feels like any other factory tour, but it’s always special to watch the birth of a legend.