“For three years I had been driving cars with super chassis that handled well but just couldn’t hold a candle to their rivals when it came to power. Then, suddenly, here was the 312B1 with its flat 12 engine. The moment I tested it for the first time I knew this was a completely different proposition. But three times I drove it at Modena, and three times it blew apart, always something drastic like breaking its crankshaft. I thought, God, I can’t stand another season of this.”
Those words were spoken by Ferrari driver Chris Amon at the end of the 1969 season. In his view, Mauro Forghieri had produced a gem. But despite his faith in Ferrari’s extrovert, volatile and forceful chief engineer, Amon decided to leave the team. It was a decision he regrets to this day. Talking about the engine that would take Amon’s successors to so many wins, Forghieri recalls: “I decided on the 180-degree Mauro Forghieri, dubbed a genius by Lauda despite the difficulty of working with him engine configuration for two reasons. There was a slight weight saving compared with the earlier V12s and the centre of gravity would be significantly lower in the chassis. There was the added benefit of a smooth upper surface to the rear bodywork, and we decided to hang the ‘boxer’ from a rearward extension of the monocoque which could also be used to carry extra fuel.
“The 312 engine had four main bearings, the crankshaft was machined from a special alloy billet imported from the USA and it had four chain-driven overhead camshafts running on needle rollers. To cure those early crankshaft failures, we had a specially developed coupling between the crankshaft and flywheel, the purpose being to transfer flexing stresses along the length of the crankshaft.”
Forghieri had developed the engine during the 1969 spell when he had been ‘banished’ to Maranello’s special projects department. “I began to think of the ‘boxer’ configuration at the end of 1968 after a year of pole positions, leading races and then disappointing retirements with Chris Amon.”
Of course, Forghieri’s flat 12 also powered the 3-litre Ferrari 312PBs which contested the Sports Car Championships in 1972 and ’73. The first year they won every race they entered, but the rival Matras got the edge the following year. Forghieri remembers them as F1 two-seaters while Mario Andretti, a member of the high-profile Maranello driving team in 1971 and ’72, put it all in perspective when he remarked: “Man, those were racing cars you could really grow an affection for.”