EXCLUSIVE: A New Book Launches on Italy’s Kennedy-like ‘Camelot,’ the Agnelli Family Ferrari Dynasty

MILAN The Agnelli family, which built Fiat and owns Ferrari, is the Italian version of Camelot if there ever was one — complete with the grit, glamour, tragedy and decades of incredible fashion.

Author Jennifer Clark, who published “Mondo Agnelli (Agnelli World): Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty” in 2011 about their industrial prowess, will release a new book on Tuesday, “L’Ultima Dinastia,” or “The Last Dynasty” in English, published by Solferino Libri, which is a more intimate look at the family’s triumphs and tribulations.

The nonfiction book traces the family’s roots back to its formidable family patriarch, Giovanni Agnelli, a senator who was one of the founders of Fiat in 1899 and who Clark describes as the “Henry Ford of Italy.” After the untimely deaths of both his son, Edoardo, and eventually his daughter-in-law, the half-American aristocrat Virginia Bourbon del Monte, his grandson Gianni would take the reins in 1966 and see the company through Italy’s terrorism of the 1970s and massive expansion during the 1980s. 

Clark digs deep into the archives and interviews with family members to depict a more human look at the legendary Gianni Agnelli’s life. Born in 1921, he also married a half-American aristocrat. Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, Clark wrote, became pregnant with his child and therefore issued him an ultimatum for marriage. The beautiful Marella’s poise and grace led to her rise in international circles and she was among Truman Capote’s famed “Swans.”

In addition to his own marital issues, Gianni struggled with his brother Giorgio’s schizophrenia in the ’60s and later with his son Edoardo’s drug problems. Starting with Edoardo’s tragic death when he jumped off a bridge in 2000, Clark propels the story into the 21st century with an in-depth portrait of the inheritance battle over Gianni’s estate, which continues to evolve between his daughter Margherita and her three children from her first marriage. Her first three children are filmmaker Ginevra Elkann; Lapo Elkann, the founder of Italia Independent, and Gianni’s chosen heir John Elkann, who is now the chairman of Stellantis, of which the Agnelli family is the main shareholder and which owns 14 automobile brands including Fiat, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo and Citroën. John Elkann also oversees the family holding company Exor, which acquired a stake in Christian Louboutin.

Last Dynasty Agnelli book, ferrari owner

“The Last Dynasty”

Courtesy of Solferino Libri

“I put together the pieces of the inheritance battle over Gianni’s estate between his daughter Margherita and her mother Marella Agnelli with new information, in a way that explains the questions that we are seeing today about why the fight has continued for 20 years,” Clark told WWD, adding that the narrative also explains why the three Elkann children grew so close to their grandparents after their mother Margherita married conservative Orthodox Russian aristocrat Serge de Pahlen, who she wrote made their home life difficult.

Clark said the current family leader John Elkann, who oversaw the Fiat merger with Chrysler in 2014 to form Stellantis, gave her input as she wrote the book and whose staff at times helped with the fact-checking process.

“I had worked with John Elkann and other family members for my first book, and we had established a relationship of trust. For my new book, I met several times with John Elkann in his office, and with other family members who generously invited me into their homes. I am very grateful that they trusted me with telling this story,” she said.

Clark, the former Italy bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires and automotive industry expert, is in the process of submitting the manuscript to English-language publishers for her 424-page tome, which will hit Italian shelves Tuesday.

Edoardo Agnelli

Edoardo Agnelli, son of Gianni, as a child.

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