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Auto pioneer celebrates 90th birthday

MARANELLO, Italy -- Enzo Ferrari, the grand old man of automobile racing, celebrated his 90th birthday Wednesday by giving his employees the day off while he returned to his desk for a full day of work.

Declining any formal celebration and rejecting television coverage, Ferrari marked the occasion by sitting down to lunch with his 1,700 workers in a huge shed on the grounds of the Ferrari Racing Stables, where he builds Formula I racers and luxury cars.

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'It's just family here,' a Ferrari employee reported.

Ferrari gave his employees the rest of the day off but said he would return to his desk after lunch and work until 8 p.m. -- a normal workday for the world reknown auto pioneer, associates said.

Italian newspapers carried pages of photographs and stories about the man Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper called 'the best known Italian in the world.'

Flags flew in the town of Maranello and the Ferrari emblem, a prancing black steed on a yellow shield, was in every shop window.

The city of Modena, where Ferrari was born and still lives, gave him a special birthday present -- a museum devoted to his life and work. But officials of the north central Italian town, 30 miles north of Bologna, said he asked them to delay its opening for a few months to let the fuss die down.

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The last of the automotive pioneers, Ferrari became addicted to auto racing at the age of 10 when his father, owner of a metal shop that produced hand-machined locomotive parts, took him to a road race in nearby Bologna.

After serving in the Italian Army during World War I, Ferrari won a spot on the Alfa Romeo team and won 13 of his 47 races.

Deciding he was more interested in building cars than racing them, he founded the Scuderia Ferrari in 1929 as a racing stable for Alfa Romeo. In 1939 he struck out on his own, but it was not until after World War II that he was able to put a Ferrari team on the track.

Hand-built and painstakingly engineered, Ferraris are the measure of what fast cars are all about and have been since they first started appearing on the world's race tracks in 1947. A well-preserved Ferrari from the glory days of racing in the late 1950s can fetch up to $300,000 on the specialist automobile market.

In 1947 a Ferrari won its first victory in the Rome Grand Prix.

It was that win that led Ferrari to adopt the black prancing horse emblem for the cars he would build under his own name.

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The parents of Francesco Baracca, Italy's World War I flying ace, saw the race and gave Ferrari their late son's emblem, the prancing horse, as a token of their appreciation of his skill behind the wheel.

Since then Ferraris have chalked up more than 5,000 racing victories, including nine Formula I championships. Nine Ferrari drivers have died in crashes over the years.

The Scuderia Ferrari also turns out less than 100 luxury cars for private owners each year. Models like the 12-cylinder Testa Rossa sell in the $100,000 range and have top speeds approaching 200 mph.

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