Ferrari Daytona

It wasn’t exactly the most fleet-looking Ferrari, but the Daytona was quick, and it proved a real heavy-hitter for years on track. Today, it’s still terrorising historic grids
By Richard Heseltine

The sense of disappointment was palpable. Somehow it appeared just so, well, predictable. When ushered in at the 1968 Paris Motor Show, Ferrari’s big-boned and full-bodied 365GTB/4 was met with muted hoopla. The world’s motoring media was quick to label it a dinosaur, a GT throwback that was a bit too ‘safe’ in outlook. Tractor magnate Ferruccio Lamborghini had already stolen the limelight with his almighty Miura, the swoopy flight of fancy for which the term ‘supercar’ was especially coined, a device which flicked two fingers at convention with its radical mid-mounted transverse engine layout. It represented the future, and this latest offering to wear the Prancing Horse motif appeared more like an asthmatic pit pony by comparison.

All of which was soon – and conveniently – forgotten, the balance of the universe restored, once it transpired that the Sant’ Agata upstart was nowhere near finished: short cuts are the long way around and all that. The Daytona – to give the model its more romantic if non-official tag – may have appeared dated in outlook but it worked. And it was faster, too, if only by two miles per hour overall. What’s more, in time it had something its rival never did – motor sport kudos.

Sure, it was never a copper-bottomed motor sport masterpiece; not even close. It wasn’t even a truly great Ferrari racer, but the Daytona remains one of the most memorable if only for the sheer length and breadth of its frontline career. Consider this: as late as 1979, 10 years since it first appeared trackside, the model placed second overall in the Daytona 24 Hours. By this point it had been out of production for a full five years. Not bad for a relic.

Yet its competition activities were never blessed with much in the way of factory interest. The Daytona was conceived from the outset as a road car, albeit one that for all its relative convention wasn’t without its quirks. Here was an odd blend of newfangled technology with traditional coachbuilding practices. The basis was a steel chassis on to which the engine and suspension hung, with other, smaller frames supporting the radiator, unstressed body panels and the floorpan. Unusually, the latter comprised a glassfibre tub, which also formed the door sills and the front and rear bulkheads, all bonded together to form one unit. Onto this, artisans at Carrozzeria Scaglietti, a long-time Ferrari collaborator, formed the bodies from individual sheets of metal, which were shaped and teased over wooden bucks before being welded together.

And what a body. Penned by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti, the Daytona began life as an after-hours, strictly off-the-books project. “Ferrari had the 275GTB coupé which was still quite new. There certainly were no plans to replace the car: it was supposed to remain in production for several more years,” he recalls. “I never really liked it, though. It was nice in profile but a bit long and narrow – too pencil-like – when you saw one in three-quarter view. I had in mind something different, and in late 1966 we had a couple of Ferrari chassis in the factory. Normally I saw them just as bare frames, but these already had their V12 engines and suspension. When I saw them, I had this incredible idea. I realised that there was the possibility of doing a very special car. I don’t know what inspired me but seeing those chassis did something! When my ideas were shown to Mr Ferrari, he liked what I had done and so asked for a 1:1 model. Il Commendatore saw that and was pleased but suggested the track was not wide enough so we added maybe 6cm to the front and also to the back. And that is how it came out.”

And beauty was more than skin deep. The Daytona’s heart was an effective – and proven – 12-cylinder unit, a 4390cc 60deg double overhead cam all-alloy jewel fed by six gurgling twin-choke Webers. In road trim, that meant 353bhp at 7500rpm and 318lb ft of torque at 5500rpm. And in an age when it was customary for manufacturers to seasonally adjust their performance figures, the Daytona independently reached an honest-to-God 173mph during a 1970 Road & Track test, with Phil Hill braving billionaire hotelier and car collector Bill Harrah’s example. Closer to home, Autocar managed to eke out a further 1mph and recorded a 0-100mph time of 12.6sec while it was at it.

So it was quick. Certainly quick enough to pique the interest of gentleman drivers. Ferrari also cottoned on to the fact that the association of a competition pedigree would provide a boost to road car sales while producing revenue for its customer assistance department at Maranello. Endurance racing was likely to be its metier, reliability being everything, so the Competizione edition wasn’t exactly extreme. Contrary to popular belief, only the initial batch (as many as five) of these so-called ‘lightweights’ had mostly ally panels which, when combined with Perspex glazing and a glassfibre bonnet, resulted in a kerb weight of 1230kg (around 400kg less than the regular road car). Some demon cylinder head porting and hotter cams along with increased spring rates, competition shock absorbers and wider boots completed the makeover.

Though not officially homologated for the GT class (Ferrari hadn’t built the requisite 500 cars for Group 4 eligibility), NART nonetheless ran an ally-bodied Daytona at Le Mans in Group 5 in 1969 for Sam Posey and Bob Grossman. Despite showing a commendable turn of speed, the duo didn’t make the cut due to a collision in practice with another Ferrari – a NART-entered 206S… Matters could only improve, just not with any great sense of immediacy. Predictable eligibility rows between Ferrari and the CSI over the letter of the homologation law ensured that subsequent cars – loosely dubbed series 2 and 3 – had altogether less aluminium body content, the latter batch of five (15 Competizione models were built in total) having a healthy 402bhp and 450bhp respectively to compensate for the extra heft along with wider-still Campagnolo wheels. And results followed: Claude Ballot-Lena and Jean-Claude Andruet drove French concessionaire Charles Pozzi’s example to fifth overall and first in class in the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours (repeating the win the following year), leading home a train of four other Daytonas.

Enjoying altogether less luck that year was the Luigi Chinetti Jr/Masten Gregory NART entry, which didn’t make the flag, the former having finished second in class a year earlier.

“I did OK, I guess,” says the likable ‘Coco’.

“I finished fifth overall at Le Mans in ’71, and had some decent results at Sebring and Daytona. When we were running prototypes we’d treat the GT cars as mobile chicanes: we’d cut them off, do awful things. It was a different story when you were on the receiving end! But the Daytona was a good taxi. We [NART] had one with a ‘cheater’ nose: if you looked closely, it didn’t have front fog lights. There wasn’t room for any. We raised the back a little, too, but nobody ever figured it out.”

With demand outstripping supply, outside contractors – NART and fellow works-blessed Ecurie Francorchamps included – supplied additional competition-spec Daytonas. And with anything competition Ferrari-related tending to come with a seven-figure price tag, it’s no surprise that some road cars have more recently been rebuilt to Competizione spec, Holland’s Roelofs Engineering having prepared a half a dozen or so cars which have routinely proved super-quick (and victorious) in events such as Tour Auto. And with meetings like the Le Mans Classic and series such as the Shell Ferrari Historic Challenge providing fitting homes for these brutes, the Daytona is enjoying a new lease of life in historics. It’s best to avoid circuits with too many stop-start chicanes, though: if there’s one thing the Daytona needs, it’s space.

“It’s a big old wild animal,” reckons Sally Mason-Styrron who, together with husband Dudley, campaigns a mouth-watering selection of classic Ferraris. “We’ve had our car for 20 or so years. Maranello Concessionaires ran it at Le Mans in 1972 and then JCB the following year (see I Raced One). We’re fortunate enough to also own a Daytona road car and they are completely different to drive; chalk and cheese. The race car may as well be from a different planet. It’s still a heavy old thing, though, and Frank Sytner tells me that when he raced our car in the Kyalami Nine Hours in 1972, he couldn’t move his arms for days afterwards. Coming from Formula Ford, I imagine it would have come as quite a shock. The funny thing is, when you get it rolling, and on to fast, flowing stages on events such as Tour Auto, it really comes into its own: you can start throwing it around. And on open exhausts, it sounds amazing. It really is very special.”

She’s not wrong. While it may not have received much in the way of frontline support from Maranello, and wasn’t really up there with the marque’s Grand Prix and sports car programmes, there was – and remains – more to the Daytona Competizione than just a string of second fiddles. Its tally is an impressive one.

A bit Cro-Magnon it might be, but the years haven’t blunted its edge: driving one will wear you out, but you’ll emerge pleasantly exhausted afterwards, and tripping over an over-excited tongue. Which, by our reckoning, is what Ferraris should be all about.

One to buy
Ferrari Daytona – £POA
From: ETS Vanderveken SA +32 2770 7292

NART conceived umpteen variations on the Daytona theme, this one-off being perhaps the most restrained. What began life as a regular ’72 Spider (car number 71 of 121 made), it was later damaged during shooting for Barbra Streisand vehicle, A Star is Born, and sold to ‘Coco’ Chinetti. Rather than repair it, the NART boss instead commissioned Giovanni Michelotti to reconfigure it in a more contemporary style. The car was shown on the Michelotti stand at the 1980 Turin Motor Show and subsequently spent time in the US before returning to Europe. It’s on the button and represents an entry-level way into the world of coachbuilt Ferraris.

Others to consider

Porsche Carrera RS
Looks fantastic, arguably the best road car Porsche has ever made, and a proven racer.

De Tomaso Pantera
Italo-American hybrid was big on looks, less so on reliability. Occasional successes trackside.

Ford Capri RS2600
Le Mans class-winning pedigree before you factor in its touring car heritage.

Daytona specialists

Bob Houghton Ferrari 01451 860794
Moto Technique Ltd 020 8941 3510
Ferrari Classiche +39 0536 949111
DK Engineering 01923 287687