By Matt Wolfe
2017 Automotive Hall of Fame Inductee Alberto Bombassei has helped his family’s company grow from a small family firm in Bergamo, Italy, into a worldwide leader in automotive braking systems. Brembo was originally founded by Alberto’s father, Emilio Bombassei, and his uncle, Italo Breda, in 1961 in Bergamo, Italy. The Brembo name was adopted about a decade later and was an amalgamation of the Bombassei and Breda family names.
The small machine shop specialized in disc brakes for automobiles and motorcycles. At the time, even Italian companies such as Alfa Romeo were importing their brake discs from the UK through companies like Dunlop. However, fate would soon play into Brembo’s favor. In 1964, a truck carrying a shipment of Dunlop brake discs for Alfa Romeo tipped over in transit. Fearing the discs may have been damaged, Alfa Romeo hired Brembo to inspect and repair the shipment.
While working on those discs, the employees at Brembo began to wonder if they were as sophisticated as Alfa Romeo had described. The company felt they could manufacture these components on their own at a more competitive price for the local automakers. Brembo entered their first supply contract with Alfa Romeo in 1964. Other Italian automakers began placing orders with Brembo, attracting the attention of Italy’s most famous automotive magnate, Enzo Ferrari.
In 1975, Ferrari asked Brembo to be the supplier for his Formula One cars. It was Bombassei who set up the original meeting with Enzo, who appreciated Bombassei’s spirit and recognized the technical expertise Brembo could provide his racing operation. Ferrari would win the world championship that year, skyrocketing Brembo to fame as a world-class supplier of brake components.
The significance of the company supplying brakes for Enzo Ferrari’s race cars still resonates with Bombassei today. “One of Brembo’s greatest fortunes has been the opportunity to enter the world of racing in 1975, when the company started to supply Ferrari in Formula One,” he said in an interview. “This has enabled Brembo over the years to test on the track new technological solutions, which have been transferred to road cars and bikes.” In 2014, all 19 Formula One Grand Prix winners were equipped with Brembo brakes.
Today, Brembo is one of the largest suppliers of brake components to the global automotive industry. The company has supplied brakes for nearly all the world’s foremost automakers including BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Honda Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota Motor Company, Volkswagen AG, and numerous others. The company also has continued to expand outside Italy, opening facilities in China, Japan, England, the United States and other locales.
Bombassei has no intentions of leaving his family’s firm. “The fact that Brembo is a family business gives strength to the company,” he said. “I don’t have plans to reduce my involvement.”