One of the greats of Formula 1 leaves the scene: goodbye to Ciccio di Cefalù, he made the shoes of the pilots

His departure from the scene, like any great actor, had come well in advance. Delivering to the minimum eternity of the fanatics of motoring stories words that now sound like valid advice for everyone, a good secret not so much to face life but enough to pursue the results that make it less bitter despite the difficulties.

«Don’t think of me with sadness, know that I am a happy man because I have fulfilled my dream: to become part of the racing world, the one I have always loved. Getting to know and become friends with many drivers, becoming a supplier to Scuderia Ferrari, and even achieving a certain notoriety all over the world»: this was said by Ciccio da Cefalù a year ago, it was January 20, 2022, lowering the gate forever his shop on the waterfront. There, where the older ones had stopped, rigorously barefoot, as if it were a sign of respect for those they considered worthy of them. And that farewell letter to his profession, to the passion that made his life famous, appears today as the actor’s bow before his audience as the curtain falls and the last applause is heard.

He made... shoes for Formula 1, Ciccio Liberto closes his shop in Cefalù


He made… shoes for Formula 1, Ciccio Liberto closes his shop in Cefalù

Ciccio da Cefalù, the inventor of running shoes, died this afternoon at the age of 87. And now that it’s gone, it seems to still hear that thread of voice that until the last few days told the stories of the pilots with extreme precision. Always starting from their feet: «Mario Andretti? 43. And Lauda? The 41. You know, the pilots all have small feet, hardly anyone had more than the 43. Apart from Vic, but that’s another story…». He still remembered by heart the foot size of all the racing champions he made shoes for. What then, shoes… What Ciccio, for everyone like this, did was invent something new, designed specifically for the riders. For people who risked their lives at over 200 per hour on the village streets of the Targa Florio or at over 300 per hour on the Formula 1 tracks. And his shoes worked so well that there was no driver of the romantic years of motoring who didn’t ordered at least a few. And up to the very moment, when he had closed his shop, orders had continued to arrive from all over the world.

Even if a pair of running shoes, inspired by his first model, is now everywhere. But those shoes, those of Ciccio da Cefalù, have a soul as well as a story. It was Ignazio Giunti who asked him to make them. It was 1967, Ciccio had been making shoes for decades (“I started in my uncle’s shop when I was less than 10”), when Ignazio Giunti showed up in his shop. He was ready to drive the Alfa 33 to the Targa and asked him for a special pair of shoes. Ciccio created them, thinking like a pilot: wide and flat sole to be comfortable and better press on the pedals, high laces to better adjust the closure and then the glued leather. In truth this, and only this, was the only thing that changed over time: the heat of the engines sometimes melted the glue, better to sew them. And so that model that sent everyday shoes aboard racing cars to the attic has come down to the present day.

Ciccio would still work, even in these months when the shop was no longer there. But he was tired, weakened by Parkinson’s disease: “It’s time for me to dedicate myself, to my family,” he said a year ago as the curtain on his public life was falling. And in that moment he did not want to give up a message of hope: «Do not think of me with sadness. I am a happy man because I have fulfilled my dream of becoming part of the racing world.”

He actually did a lot more. The shoes he invented convinced Enzo Ferrari to make him the official supplier of Maranello for years. His fame arrived in Hollywood and Porsche, just 5 years ago, to present its new car, shot the commercial in Sicily, transforming that mini-film into a tribute to him and his shoes. Those who met him in recent months also tell us that Ciccio kept thinking about that golden age in which he was the protagonist. And for this he continued to thank Giunti, Nanni Galli, Geki Russo. And then Vic. His surname is Elford and he won the 1968 Targa: he had heard Giunti talk about those shoes and a few days before the start he went to Ciccio’s shop.

He was missing his left big toe and asked for a pair of asymmetrical shoes. With which he won. Rumors spread that those shoes also brought good luck. Everyone wanted them. Ickx, Reutemann, Fittipaldi, Regazzoni, Arnoux, Merzario. And now that these names slip away like in an almanac, a sense of painful speed remains. It’s time that has gone too fast. And that Vaccarella, Vic Elford and now Ciccio took away in a year or so.

Of course, you need to have a somewhat romantic soul to identify the points that bring together the common destiny of these heroes. And perhaps you don’t even need to be so romantic to grasp that bittersweet taste of nostalgia that comes immediately when walking along the Cefalù seafront you see a pastry shop where Ciccio’s shop was for years, a destination for champions from all over the world. It is time that history is made. Even if Ciccio continued to tell it like a fairy tale: “«to a thing? Niki won a world championship with my shoes. And when he died you wanted to be buried in the Ferrari overalls and my shoes.’ Too bad time runs so fast, Ciccio. After all, too much faster than cars.

In the photos of the gallery Ciccio Liberto in his workshop in Cefalù

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