Red wedge

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Spazzaneve, meaning ‘snowplough’, was the original Ferrari 312 B3. A sawn-off macine that never raced, it left an indistinct footprint in this famous marque’s history. However, the step forward it provided triggered an avalanche of titles for Maranello. Paul Fearnley tells its story – and drives it

Ferrari SpA Sefac should have been deep into a comfort zone by 1972. Almost three years had elapsed since Fiat’s 40 per cent buy-in, a move meant to engender confidence and clear direction via healthy budgets and sturdy solidity. Instead, it had fostered insecurity and intrigue. An economic slump wasn’t helping, and Ferrari now featured in the financial sections as well as on the back pages. What, exactly, were Fiat getting for their money, the analysts wanted to know?

In theory, Enzo and his racing team were their own bosses (Fiat dealt with the road cars). In reality, Gianni Agnelli was their overseer and paymaster. He loved Ferrari, all that the name stood for, but business was business.

To compound matters, 74-year-old Enzo was ill with diabetes, and unknowingly overdosing on cortisone tablets prescribed for a painful knee; star driver Jacky Ickx was grumbling that B2 was slower than its predecessor; designer Mauro Forghieri was uncomfortable with some of the Fiat appointments to his tight-knit squad. It was an edgy time at the Scuderia.

Forghieri had joined Ferrari in 1959 and been in charge of its race programme since ’66, barring an out-of-favour spell in ’69. He had overseen all aspects of design — engine, gearbox, suspension, aero — and race-engineered in F1 and sportscars. He was, not unnaturally, beginning to feel careworn. Though he publicly scoffed at press rumours of his imminent ‘sabbatical’, privately he was not averse to the idea. “I wanted a pause for reflection,” he says today, “to think some new ideas through, to work with a clean sheet of paper.”

As opinionated as Enzo, his working relationship with Il Commendatore had been stormy on occasion, but their mutual respect and trust were rarely far from the surface. Which is why Enzo eked out a small budget to fund his designer’s latest pet project. Forghieri didn’t get his ‘pause’, though, and so continued a gawky joint F1 relationship with Sandro Colombo, a Fiat appointee from Innocenti, until the end of the season. Even so, he still planned to flip Ferrari onto its design head.

Aesthetics out; efficiency in. Long, slim cars out; stumpy, stocky cars in. Downforce and polar moment of inertia were the hot tech topics of F1: the Lotus 72’s wedge was partly intended to generate downforce across its bodywork and also to improve airflow around the rear wing; Tyrrell’s 005, which made its debut in Austria in August, had centralised and lowered mass, placing the driver almost exactly amidships within a short 94-inch wheelbase. Forghieri was not alone on the ledge, therefore, but he was about to jump further than the rest.

“We were not more intelligent than the others, we were more lucky in that we were also working with the sportscar [his dominant 312PB]. With this car we were beginning to understand what it meant to have a large flat surface running close to the ground.”

At back-to-back tests in Stuttgart University’s wind tunnel, it was discovered that the two-seater, with its enveloping body, generated much more downforce than its slender monoplace cousin. Even with its wheels still exposed, surmised Forghieri, an F1 car with a wide, flat top surface would generate greater aero grip than did the current ‘Coke bottle’ cars of Tyrrell and McLaren etc. This would, in turn, mean that a larger percentage of the car’s weight could be sited within its wheelbase instead of hanging a chunk of it over the rear in a quest for better traction. It would also mean that less rear wing would be required, ergo more straight-line speed.

That was the germ. The seed was Spazzaneve (spat-za-nay-vay). The flower was Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T. The harvest was seven world titles — three drivers’, four constructors’.

Word of a new Ferrari leaked out even before the 1972 South African GP, round two of the championship. Clay Regazzoni let slip that he and Ickx had assessed a full-width nose at Vallelunga and deemed it an improvement. This was unlike any full-width nose ever seen before: a huge spatula affair, plunging to the floor, gently concave-curving along its leading edge, ailerons at its trailing edge, all bounded by moulded endplates and punctured by two gaping NACA ducts. What’s more, this distinctive proboscis would soon be bolted to a racing car unlike any ever seen before.

Boxy and slabsided, its cockpit conning tower rose from a calm sea of red-riveted aluminium and fibreglass. Head-on, it looked fabulously aggressive, a snarling bulldog, broad-shouldered and purposeful. Unfortunately, the dog analogy continued from side-on, from which angle its forward-mounted (just behind the front wheels) radiators, 93-inch wheelbase and minimal overhangs made for ungainly proportions. Enzo, who still mourned the passing of front-engined GP cars, detested it; Forghieri didn’t care. He had poured his heart and soul into it, pored over the wind-tunnel data, somehow poured a quart into a pint pot. The gearbox still hung out the back, but he was working on that…

Forghieri: “Spazzaneve was a very important car for me — and Ferrari. But it was always meant to be an experimental car. It was a base for me to study aerodynamics. It represented a big change in my mind.”

Its testing began behind closed doors. And that’s how Forghieri wanted it to stay. As far as he was concerned, this car was born in Fiorano and it would die there. This was a project not to be queered by the quirks or qualms of competition.

On August 28, however, all that changed: Spazzaneve was revealed to a clamouring press. Monza was two weeks’ away. A new car was expected, almost demanded. And here it was — Ferrari’s 1973 racer, nice and early. But praise was far from universal. There was disquiet about the car’s outlandishness, while its strange aspect made it an easy target for cartoonists. This was the antithesis of what Forghieri had intended: public humiliation rather than private consolidation.

His ‘experiment’ was now in the hands of a fragmenting racing team, who hated it. Mechanics moaned that it took eight hours to change an engine (please note, quick swaps unnecessary on a test vehicle!) and Ickx, having back-to-backed it with his regular B2 at Monza, dismissed Spazzaneve with a few well-placed barbs in the press. Its entry for the Italian GP was withdrawn before practice had even begun. Forghieri was not amused.

The press lapped up the discomfort and discord, but this was to miss the point. Superfast Monza – even with its two new chicanes – was not this car’s target, never had been. The sport was heading down a medium-speed, high-downforce, constant-radius-corner route. Like it or not, Nivelles, Zolder and chicanes were the future, not Spa.

Forghieri: “In the wind tunnel, we had much more downforce with Spazzaneve than B2, even though it was smaller, because we had four times the bodywork area. Of course, such results can feel different on the track, and I knew we had a lot to learn – but I was looking far ahead.” There were others at Ferrari, however, who felt Forghieri had been holding the team back by his tardiness in building a true monocoque; Spazzaneve was another spaceframe clothed in riveted aluminium sheet. Firestone had been a vociferous critic of this aspect of the B2. Forghieri had dug his heels in on the matter, but Colombo, now in sole charge of the F1 programme, put in a call to fabrications experts, TC Prototypes, on the recommendation of Firestone’s Bruce Harre. And thus a four-man operation in Earls Barton, Northants, built Ferrari’s first monocoque F1 car.

There were some extenuating circumstances for this decision to contract out – strikes were paralysing Italy – but Forghieri was stung by the politicking involved. Spazzaneve: unveiled too early, written off too soon, unwanted, by some, from the start – but an ideal smokescreen for a powder-keg story of a British-built Ferrari.

“People said I was arguing with Colombo about the ‘Thompson’ chassis, but I was in no position to do so [his stock had dropped that low]. And people said I did not like monocoques. That’s not true. As long as a chassis is stiff, I don’t care what it’s made of, or how it’s made. And anyway, Spazzaneve turned out to be stiffer than the B3 of 1973. If you have ‘zero’ wheelbase, you have a very stiff car!”

Forghieri insists he is not a revengeful man, but his satisfaction at being asked, by Enzo, to return to the F1 programme late in 1973, to put matters right, can be imagined.

The ‘British’ B3 had proved a makeweight and the team was in total disarray, reduced to one car after Ickx had finally gone ‘freelance’. Arturo Merzario was the last man standing. ‘Little Art’ had been given a few frights by the twitchy Spazzaneve, too, but the times he’d set with it at Fiorano (unbeaten until the 312T arrived in 1975) made him realise that Forghieri was heading in the right direction.

Forghieri revamped the monocoque car in time for the Austrian GP, replacing the front radiator with hip-mounted ones, fitting a new airbox and widening the track. Merzario qualified sixth and finished seventh. It was a turning point.

That winter new signing Lauda pounded around Fiorano. The ‘snowplough’ nose was history, but his 1974 B3 adopted Spazzaneve‘s centralised mass and wide body, adapted its short-wheelbase approach and accentuated its driver-forward layout With more luck and/or experience, Lauda might have won the championship. As it was, consistent Regazzoni went into the last round with an outside chance…

There were no tides that year but with a strong driver pairing, whizz-kid manager (and Forghieri fan) Luca di Montezemolo on board, and a vindicated, rejuvenated designer at the helm, Ferrari was a small step (a transverse gearbox) away from a period of dominance. But had it it not been for the ‘Snowplough’, it might have been drifting still.

Thanks to Simon Kidston of Bonhams and Adria International Raceway (tel: 00 39 0426 901964) .The car will be auctioned in Gstaad on Dec 20.

Technical specification

Engine

Type flat-12, alloy head and block, pressed-in cast-iron liners, DOHC, four-valve heads

Capacity 2991cc

Bore x stroke 78.5 x 51.5mm

Compression 11.5: 1

Max power 470bhp @ 12,500rpm

Carburation Lucas, indirect fuel-injection

Ignition Magneti Marelli

Drivetrain

Gearbox 5-speed

Clutch dry, multi-plate

Chassis

Type semi-monocoque

Wheelbase 2380mm

Track (f/r) 1560/1570mm

Weight 540kg

Suspension (f) independent, double-wishbone, inboard vertical coil springs/dampers, anti-roll bar

Suspension (r) independent, lower wishbone, top link, inboard horizontal coil springs/dampers, anti-roll bar

Running gear

Dampers Koni, adjustable

Steering rack-and-pinion

Brakes Lockheed, discs, four-piston, outboard (f), inboard (r)

Fuel capacity 200 litres 

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