Farewell, 'Mr. Ferrari'

End of an era at Ferrari

Few brands in the world are as prestigious as Ferrari. And few people are more associated with the Ferrari brand than Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

Di Montezemolo has been at the wheel of Ferrari since 1991. Yet he has been a presence at the iconic sportscar company since the 1970s, when he worked alongside the company's legendary founder Enzo Ferrari.

With his flowing hair, stylish suits and Italian flair, "Luca" (as everyone called him) was a god in the racing and sports-car world. Billionaires around the world vied for his attention and favor, eager to get their hands on the latest models and special editions.

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He has also presided over the company's strong financial success. Ferrari reported record first-half earnings Thursday, with profits up 5 percent to €185 million and sales up 14 percent to €1.35 billion.

It's not surprising, then, that collectors, dealers, buyers and the rest of the vast global army of Ferrari fans are in a state of collective rage over Montezemolo's resignation Wednesday. Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 tycoon, compared Montezemolo's departure to the death of Enzo Ferrari.

"His leaving is for me the same as Mr. Enzo dying," Ecclestone told Reuters. "He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari. You don't see anything else."

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo waves after the introduction of La Ferrari during the 83rd Geneva Motor Show.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Marcel Massini, one of the world's top Ferrari historians and advisor to Ferrari collectors, said that much of Ferrari's financial and brand success is owed to Montezemolo.

"You look at the financials today and the brand, he needs credit for a lot of that," Massini said.

The big fear among Ferrari owners, he said, is that Fiat Chrysler will try to make Ferrari more of a mass brand. Media reports suggest that one source of tension between Montezemolo and Fiat Chrylser Chief Sergio Marchionne was Montezemolo's strategy of capping production at 7,000 cars a year and raising prices to make Ferraris more exclusive. Ferrari's F12 Berlinetta retails for $318,000, while its new LaFerrari sells for $1.4 million to the lucky 499 buyers who could get their hands on one.

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Many Ferrari enthusiasts point to Porsche and MaseratiFerrari's sister company that has tripled sales by offering lower-priced carsas a sign of where Ferrari could be headed.

"It all depends on how far Fiat is going to go," Massini said. "Even if Sergio says they have no plans to raise production, people worry that they will. I would be happier if they reduced production to 4,000 to 5,000 cars rather than going for the big numbers like 10,000 or 20,000. In the early days, Ferraris were truly special, only the top people owned them. They should not become mundane like so many other luxury brands today."

Maserati, he said, "just isn't exclusive anymore."

Massini said the changes at the top of Ferrari are unlikely to effect prices for the vintage Ferraris, like the 1962 Ferrari GTO that just became the most expensive car ever sold at auction, for $38 million, including auction fees.

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If Ferrari builds more cars, he said, prices for some of the more recent models could actually increase because they are more scarce.

"Check back with me in two years," he said. "Until then, we won't really know what the effects of this change will be on the brand or prices."

—By CNBC's Robert Frank