MILAN (AFP).- It's the black prancing horse's 70th birthday and gleaming Ferraris are out in force in Italy this weekend to celebrate.
Some 500 sleek, purring sports cars are gathering in Milan on Friday before the festivities move to Modena, where founder Enzo Ferrari was born, and end with an exclusive party in Maranello, where Ferraris have been made since World War II.
"Ferrari is a mythical brand: it has had a fabulous track record in speed and represents the pinnacle of the sports car," automotive historian and enthusiast Patrice Verges told AFP.
For luxury motor fanatics and punters alike, there is something "magic" about Ferraris and their distinctive sound.
"Having a Ferrari and being watched is part of the game," Verges says.
It all started when Enzo Ferrari, a racing driver, formed the "Scuderia Ferrari" ("Ferrari Stable") in 1929 and prepared and fielded Alfa Romeo racing cars.
It was not until 1947 that the first Ferrari (125 S) was born -- designed by Ferrari, produced at the Maranello factory and bearing the brand's symbol, a black horse on a yellow background, bordered by the colours of the Italian flag.
The stallion, rearing up on its back legs, its tail swept upwards, was chosen as a tribute to Francesco Baracca, a World War I Italian air force ace who used to paint a prancing horse on the side of his planes.
The pilot's mother suggested Ferrari use it as a good luck symbol, and he added the canary yellow background as it was the colour of his hometown of Modena.
The Ferraris soon took the luxury world by storm. The cars were, and still are, reserved for a "happy few" willing and able to shell out at least 150,000 euros ($180,000) -- or over one million euros for limited series editions.
Patience is a must: Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne said last year the waiting list for a Ferrari 488 was three years.
The brand, which split from Fiat Chrysler (FCA) in 2015 and is now listed in Milan and New York, boasts enviable results: 3.1 billion euros turnover in 2016 for 8,014 cars delivered, and a net profit up 38 percent to 400 million euros.
Its success lies in its ability to combine "industrial craftmanship of the highest quality" with "an extremely close dialogue with its customers," says Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, professor of strategy at Milan's Bocconi University.
The personalisation options are extensive -- from steering wheels, to seats and dashboards -- and customers are welcome to visit the factory, where all requests are welcome as long as they don't alter the car's safety or engineering.
Carnevale Maffe is of the opinion that Ferraris have to be "earned".
"You have to belong to the club. There are so many social climbers, nouveaux riche who want to be admitted but they are looked at with some suspicion," he said.
Ferrari used to be "a brand for enthusiasts: it needed to be because its cars kept breaking down all the time, though of course no-one admitted it," says Verges.
Today, "it's more a mark of the wealthy middle class" who buy the motors as investments, he says.
The myth may have taken a hit, but the fact remains that the most expensive car ever sold at auction is a 1957 Ferrari 335 S Scaglietti, sold at auction in 2016 in Paris for 32 million euros.
On the circuits too, the oldest Formula One "stable" is still king. And it's after the best birthday present of all, with driver Sebastian Vettel in with a chance of winning the world title against Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes.
After 68 seasons, the Scuderia holds an impressive track record of 228 Grand Prix victories, 16 Most Constructors' Championships and 15 Most Drivers' Championships.
Ferrari "is not a car factory", it's "a dream factory", said Carnevale Maffe.
© Agence France-Presse