The Incredible Story Behind Ferrari's Prancing Horse Logo

Ferrari is one of those iconic sports cars everyone knows can only belong to the rich and famous... or mustachioed investigators. These almost mythical beasts rev the body's engine in even the most benign bystanders when seen cruising down streets in the wild. The fire-red Italian cars are more akin to works of art than four-wheeled modes of transportation. Even the yellow logo with the prancing horse emblazoned on each Ferrari has become recognizable from a mile away.

Wait. A "prancing" horse? Aside from the incredible number of horses under the hood of a typical Ferrari, what do these majestic animals have to do with the Italian automaker?

In 1923, during a race at the Savio Circuit in Ravenna, Italy, Enzo Ferrari sped across the finish line in first place, driving an Alfa Romeo RL. Ferrari was years away from becoming famous for his own line of cars and was at the time racing for Alfa Romeo. He even managed its racing team until he retired from the sport in 1931.

Get on your horse and fly

A letter Ferrari wrote to a friend is the only documented evidence of the following events. Part of the prize for winning the Savio Circuit race was meeting Count Enrico Baracca, father of Francesco Baracca, the famous Italian WWI fighter pilot credited with shooting down 34 enemies in combat. He had the picture of a black prancing horse on the fuselage of his plane. Baracca was killed in action in 1918 and became a national hero in the years after his death.

This first meeting led to a second where Ferrari met Francesco's mother, Countess Paolina Baracca. During that second meeting, the Countess told Ferrari that if he put her son's prancing horse on his cars, it would bring him good luck. According to Motor Trend, the horse was initially painted red, but after his death, his fellow pilots painted it black to mourn his passing. 

However, it wasn't until 1932 before the famous prancing horse logo would first appear on a motor vehicle. And it wasn't even a Ferrari, but an Alfa Romeo 8C Monza used by the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo racing team (via Motor Trend). Ferrari changed a few of the features, such as adding a canary yellow background to represent his birthplace of Modena, Italy, dropping in the letters "S" and "F" (which stood for "Scuderia Ferrari," his racing division), and including red, white, and green stripes of the Italian flag.

The shield and logo have evolved over the years, but the prancing horse is still the most prominent feature.