Materazzi witnessed and participated in the most revolutionary era in the history of sports cars and motorsports. Born in Cilento in southern Italy in 1939, Materazzi started his automotive engineering career with Lancia in Turin.
After a few years working on mainstream Lancia models, beginning in 1970 Materazzi got involved in Lancia’s outrageously ambitious World Rally Championship contender, the Stratos. Soon, Materazzi became a preeminent expert in turbocharging, engineering powerplants for Ferrari’s Formula 1 team in the early 1980s.
Soon, Materazzi would apply his turbocharging knowledge to roadgoing vehicles. He developed the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V8 that powered the Ferrari 288 GTO, and refined the architecture and layout of that vehicle, shifting it from a transverse to a longitudinal drivetrain layout. By 1984, Materazzi was named chief engineer at Ferrari, overseeing the development of the GTO Evoluzione and the last vehicle ever built under the supervision of founder Enzo Ferrari, the legendary F40.
Materazzi’s career didn’t stop there. When businessman Romano Artioli bought the rights to the Bugatti name, he appointed Materazzi as technical director on the quad-turbo V12-powered EB110. In addition to working on the engine, Materazzi helped refine the carbon fiber monocoque, improving structural stiffness and tweaking the all-wheel drive system for more neutral handling.
For a man whose fingerprints are found on some of the greatest high-performance vehicles of all time, Materazzi is a surprisingly obscure figure. I only learned of his death by chance, when a friend sent me a LinkedIn post from Italian automotive engineer Alessandro Rossi. Most of the details of Materazzi’s career that I’ve cited here come from puzzlingly obscure websites or Wikipedia. His name is not as widely known as Enzo Ferrari, Leonardo Fioravanti, or Marcello Gandini. But Nicola Materazzi’s impact on racing and sports cars cannot be overstated. We’ve lost a great mind.